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Sum 41: The great white hope of punk pop

Bands consisting of a guitar, bass and drums are the most basic of rock groups. Yet, their prominence on the history of music’s yearbook is quite small, only a few stand out — Rush, Green Day, Blink-182 and Sum 41, who now carry the torch.
The Deryck Whibley-led trio consists solely of Avril Lavigne’s hubby, bassist Cone McCaslin and drummer Steve Jocz. The percussionist was eager to chat with SheKnows about Sum 41’s fourth record for Island Records. Their triangle offense of rock is not by choice — original guitarist Dave Brownsound left the group.  
The Canadian exploded on the scene in 2001 with their smash “Fat Lip.” After the second single “In Too Deep” burst off the screen in the final scene of the American Pie sequel, the group went monsters-of-rock-huge, shooting past punk-brothers Blink-182 to the top of the charts. Blink has since disbanded, Green Day has gone deeply Beatlesesque-political and while still possessing an eye for the socially relevant, Sum 41 has emerged the only band of the ilk punching the riffs with addictive power chord pop.

Having worked with Iggy Pop to Ludacris, they are versatile. The band has sold seven million records and has firmly cemented its place in punk rock popular music as they release their “Underclass Hero.” Good thing; groups of lesser stature could easily be known as Mr. Avril Lavigne’s band.

But not Sum 41 — they are in a league by themselves and according to the band’s drummer, Steve Jocz, there is “no Yoko syndrome” with the “Girlfriend” singer. She’s just one of the guys.

Amongst a fury of video shoots, touring across the world and record promoting, Jocz spoke to SheKnows about surviving a civil war in Africa, growing after the quitting of life-long friend Brownsound and how in the end, three would create an “Underclass Hero” as a soundtrack for the times.

SheKnows: Hello Steve, how are things in your world?

Steve Jocz: Things are good. It is release week so we’re doing a video and at the end of the week we’re playing in Australia. And a few days later we are in Japan with Black Eyed Peas and Avril.

SK: So, tell me, where does the power rock that comes out of a three man band come from?

SJ: I think on the record it’s the 15 guitars we laid down. (Laughs). I mean, we were a four-piece until recently, all our other records were four of us, and then our guitar player left to do his own thing. He threw in the towel. But, we’re got a touring guitar player to fill in his shoes, but we’re going to keep the band the three of us because we started the band that way, you know, power in numbers. There’s three, that’s it, man.

SK: The name of the album, “Underclass Hero,” is that in any way a nod to John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero?”

SJ: Yeah, I think we had that in mind. Of course then Green Day came out and released “Working Class Hero” which is like ‘Yes that is awesome that that happened.’ It’s a subtle nod. The idea was a cool line and we took it changed it into something else. The title, it’s not really about a class in particular. It was more as I was telling you, Dave left and we got rid of our management so everyone really thought we were just f*#*! and this record wouldn’t pack it and we didn’t know what we were doing and Deryck produced it and that’s not going to work. We were the underdogs, no one thought this was going to happen and now, here we are.

SK: You guys have had a unique musical run since you first burst onto the world. How do you think your sound has evolved to where it is now?

SJ: It’s evolved in a weird kind of way. Every band, you have your first record coming out, you’re happy with some of it and not happy with other elements of the success. We probably got locked into something that we didn’t feel we should be locked in with. And then the second album, although I like it and it has some of my favorite songs on it, I think we had to rush into it. Then the third album, “Chuck” was just all over the place. I think that was because we didn’t have the greatest producer. We’ve had a weird run. Stylistically we’ve tried a lot of stuff, some of it didn’t work and some of it did. This time around, I think we look at what we did well and focus on that.

SK: Your trip to the Congo in 2004, the peace mission that certainly must have been an eye-opener. Going there with the earnest of intentions and then ending up with your lives threatened.

SJ: Yeah, I don’t really know how that all came about. Probably, if anything, it’s like anything that happens, it just sort of happened. They gave us a list of countries and we picked the Congo because nobody knew much about it, we didn’t know the history of the war there. How it’s the worst war in Africa since World War II. Everybody knew about Darfur and Iraq, so we decided we’d go to this place because no one was talking about it. It was definitely eye-opening to see that side, especially the lifestyle. Where we live we’re pampered, well anybody in North America, really. We’re with these kids where you just give them a balloon and it’s the happiest day of their lives. A pencil, they’re ecstatic, these little things that don’t happen to them. But then all the while, we didn’t know the cease fire was fragile. That we didn’t really know. We were there for about a week when the fighting broke out. We were trapped at the hotel. There was shooting all around us. They were shooting mortar rounds from the lake across from us exploding near and around the hotel. It was frightening. That’s the closest I think we’ve come to dying except maybe drinking ourselves to death. (Laughs)

SK: You go on a humanitarian trip, not thinking you’re going to get drawn into the events that are making the need for the humanitarian outreach in the first place.

SJ: I’m still glad we went. I’m proud of it. It would not discourage us from doing things like that in the future.

SK: Your fellow Canadian, Chuck Pelletier, really helped you get out of there, to the point you named your album after him?

SJ: Well, yes. He was a U.N. guy staying at the same hotel and he got us out of there unscathed. So when we finally got to the U.N. compound, we felt that we were home free, that’s the way we were looking at it. I think initially we were joking when we told him we would name our next album after you. He didn’t know who the hell we were, or what we were talking about. Actually, when he returned to Canada much later, he realized we had a few fans and was very flattered and surprised that we actually named the record for him.

SK: What does it mean to you guys to be, honestly, from Canada, to represent a musical culture that a lot of us here in America don’t hear as much?

SJ: None of us are very patriotic. It’s nice to be able to come to any country and be able to go around and have people like you. (Laughs) There are a lot of Canadian acts, it’s the same thing. We don’t really flaunt our Canadian citizenship. We are proud to be Canadian, but we don’t think of it that way.

SK: You’re just you.

SJ: We’re citizens of the world!

SK: As any rock band should be. What was it like for you guys when Iggy Pop asked you to be his band, of all the artists from back in the day?

SJ: First he had asked us to be on his album “Skull Ring.” He had Peaches and Green Day and some other bands, and called Deryck and they ended up talking on the phone for an hour or so just about whatever. Then we hung out with him recording the album and he’s this awesome guy. Then, we did Letterman with him, MTV Latin Awards with him, the Toronto Awards, ten things where we’ve just been his band — did a video with him. He’s been over to Deryck’s house, he’s a cool dude. It’s a pleasure to work with someone who’s… he’d try to explain to us about this band he was in called The Stooges, we were like ‘We know! We know you!’ He’s very humble.

SK: In many bands it’s so important that the group possess a lead singer that brings something unique. What do you as a drummer, sitting in the back, feel that Deryck brings to you guys?

SJ: Well, he’s a talented guy. I think he’s a great front man, which is kind of funny because in real life, the Deryck I know is very quiet and shy. He talks to me, but if you really don’t know him, he doesn’t really talk. Then when he gets on stage, he’s a madman running around yelling at people, jumping around smashing his guitars. This whole other character takes over. I think that’s true of a lot of front men and women. He’s married to Avril Lavigne. Avril’s the same way. She’s really quiet, shy, doesn’t talk much, she gets on stage and bing! There she goes. She is one cool woman.

SK: Over rock history, many times when those lead singers get married that often causes some serious problems. But for you guys, the band-in-law, that’s Avril Lavigne. Hey, that’s pretty cool.

SJ: I think her with us is great. We don’t fight about anything anyway. It’s just not in any of our natures. There’s no reason for bitterness or jealousy. There’s nothing like that with any aspect of the band whatsoever. So, I mean, there’s no Yoko syndrome, none of that. I think people want that because it’s a little more fun to read. (Laughs) It’s totally the opposite.

SK: She’s also right there on the same musical path. It’s seems like a match made in heaven.

SJ: Seriously… I think we’re a few steps ahead. (We both laugh.)

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