Dave Baksh of Sum 41 walks us through heaven and hell

‘I don’t want to waste my time / Become another casualty of society…’

These words are likely forever ingrained in the minds of every millennial navigating adolescence in the early 2000s. Very few modern songs stand the test of time, resonating with generation after generation while simultaneously maintaining relevance and popularity as they age. The first three that come to mind are Jimmy Eat World’s ‘The Middle’, The Killers’ ‘Mr. Brightside’ and – you guessed it – ‘Fat Lip’ by Sum 41.

A couple decades later and pop-punk – the little-genre-that-could – has had a resurgence for the ages. Between anniversary tours, “emo nights” sweeping the globe, and entire festivals dedicated to the genre and its offshoots, watching the bands we grew up with from a more mature stage in our lives is more than just a jolt of nostalgia. It’s gratifying.

“It’s unreal, and it’s nothing like when we were first coming up,” Sum 41 guitarist Dave Baksh gushes. “When we first were coming up, it was just like bottles of piss being thrown at us. We played a festival where they were giving out razor blades to the first 800 people. So those were getting whipped at us. Now, it just feels like we get to enjoy the fruits of paying our dues.”

I caught up with Dave a few weeks ago over Zoom, both of us sat in our respective home studios (one much nicer than the other, I’ll let you guess which). He had just been rehearsing one of the band’s new songs, ‘Stranger in These Times,’ for their upcoming world tour. It’s a massive stint on the road that takes the band to multiple continents from now through the Fall, before wrapping up with a doubleheader in their homebase of Toronto in January. Most notably, it will be their last, having announced their plans to disband last year.

“I think we all just decided that it’s time,” Dave tells me. “We just wanted to go out on a high as opposed to maybe getting to a point where we feel as if we are just in it for the money. That’s not something that we want to do, so why not stop while we’re still hungry and we have this beautiful thing to reflect on?”

To coincide with the band’s farewell tour, they’re also on the precipice of releasing an equally vast final album. Heaven :x: Hell, out this Friday via Rise Records, is a grand vision – a double album highlighting the dual-genre juxtaposition that the band has managed to master over their nearly 30 year career. Heaven features ten, pop-centric songs mostly akin to their seminal 2001 full-length, All Killer No Filler, whereas Hell naturally sees them wearing their love for classic, fun metal on their sleeves.

“Honestly, we felt like we’ve never been good at towing the [genre] line,” Dave laughs. “We had been searching for the perfect melding of the two and each one of us, after hearing demos, we were like, ‘let’s not try to integrate the two – let’s just make two.’ I’m sure Deryck had the idea himself, so if he’s like, ‘these guys made me write two records,’ that’s total bullshit. He was waiting for us in each of our conversations to say that this should be two records and not just one!”

The 20-song celebration of their career not only amounts to what may be their best record since All Killer…, but it’s also shaping up to be their most successful. Lead single ‘Landmines’ recently reached #1 on the Alternative Airplay chart, their first chart-topper since the 2001 single that launched both their meteoric career and this very article. 

“It’s on par to be our most successful single of all time. It’s crazy, man. I can’t believe it. Rise [Records] is just killing it for us!”

Fans will have a lot to dive into on Friday, with Heaven :x: Hell managing to accomplish the impossible: tying in a little bit of everything the band has done throughout their career, with plenty to appeal to both the newer fans and the diehards. 

“To have this be, I guess, the nightcap on our career, it’s such a beautiful thing to listen to,” Dave says, the smile hardly leaving his face. ”Especially if you’ve been a fan of Sum 41 for a long time, you can hear that process of us growing over the years. Heaven :x: Hell encapsulates 30 years of what we’ve done on each record, but within the energy of brand new songs.”

Throughout the track listing, the energy doesn’t let up. The songs are, for the most part, fast and tight, a true threadline that connects the genre-segregated collection. Songs like ‘Waiting on a Twist of Fate,’ ‘Dopamine’ and the aforementioned single from Heaven have classic, earworm choruses and huge, pounding drums from Frank Zummo, a truly underrated machine. On the flip side, songs like ‘Stranger in These Times’ and second single ‘Rise Up’ (from Hell) showcase equally anthemic melodies but with heavier rhythms, downtuned guitars and lots more of Dave’s signature, epic guitar riffs and solos, a skill he remains humble about.

“I always think of [All Killer No Filler] as a boot camp in songwriting, and how to play guitar,” Dave recalls. “We had a producer on that record named Jerry Finn. I think the biggest mistake we made in our career was not working with him on every single record. He had such a great vibe in the studio and was such a great teacher. He sat me down and told me I was a garbage guitar player and I needed to get better. He taught me the art of treating every section – whether it be four bars, twelve bars, whatever – as a composition in itself, and you deliver that performance in whatever pocket that is.”

Writing your own ending naturally yields a lot of reflection. Sum 41 in particular have had a lot of ups and downs, most top of mind being singer Deryck Whibley’s well-documented struggles with alcoholism. In 2014, Whibley found himself in the hospital with liver and kidney failure as a result of relentless hard drinking. The doctors told him one more drink would have killed him. 

At the time, Dave was not performing with the band, having left in 2007 to pursue other creative projects. Having known Deryck since their first day of high school, the near-death experience almost immediately brought the two back together in more ways than one.

“It felt like the craziest gift you could ever receive,” Dave admits. “I was at a point for six months to a year where, when I saw Deryck, I thought it may be the last time we ever got to hang out. I saw him a couple of times after he was out of the hospital and instantly we remembered why we’re so close.

“There’s a kinship when you’re in a band with somebody and you truly love them. That goes beyond family, beyond business, beyond everything. You’re there and you are a part of this person’s life and vice versa. And once we got back together, especially in a room with somebody that I admired and was friends with… it was just unbelievable.”

Since Dave’s return to the band, Sum 41 recorded and released two records that have more in common with their metal influences: 2016’s 13 Voices and 2019’s Order in Decline. While the records didn’t have the same mainstream success as their earlier ones, they remain powerful declarations from a band stretching its legs again and navigating both personally and musically some of the darker experiences they had just been through. 

Hell naturally has a lot in common with these two records, yet it delivers something with even more passion and fight. Perhaps it’s the dichotomy of following a more pop-centric record like Heaven, but it could also just be a natural rejuvenation. Regardless, the songs are begging for a high-volume, live environment. With such a diverse catalogue, and a vast array of new material, arranging the set list for their farewell tour will no doubt be a Herculean task, though Dave is happy to offer a little preview of what to expect.

“Bring some popcorn and if you need it, some extra back support,” Dave jokes. “This one is for all of us that have enjoyed the entire catalogue. We are, of course, going to play the hits, but we would be total dickheads if we didn’t play some deep cuts for the really hardcore fans. It’s going to be a mix of everything. We’d love to play as long as a Martin Scorsese film, but we realize that that’s going to be really hard. We don’t want anybody’s pets starving while we’re trying to get through a set!”

Sum 41 are penning what a proper farewell should be: a celebration of their entire career, and a show of gratitude to the fans that helped make it what it was. After nearly 30 years, I asked what sort of advice Dave, now 43, would have for the 18-year-old version of himself that started a band responsible for soundtracking countless lives and summers.

“I would probably say, ‘hey, you’re going to get to a mental point where you feel like you’ve got to quit the band: don’t do it. Stay in the band. They’re going to make this really good record called Screaming Bloody Murder and you’re going to really feel like you missed out!’ 

“I would also say, ‘try not to fall victim to what I think a lot of people in their twenties fall victim to, which is having an outer shell of fragile confidence.’ I think I was big on that, and it took me a while, especially while I was out of the band, to really figure out who I was and where I fit. But I had this thing called Sum 41 that I could just pour myself into as soon as life started to stress me out.”

So here we are. The sometimes pop-punk, sometimes metal stalwarts from Canada have been through both heaven and hell to get where they are today, and it’s safe to say their fans have as well. It’s easy to look back and long for the ‘good old days’ – nostalgia is a hell of a drug. That’s what makes both genre revivals and coveted anniversary tours so exciting and ubiquitous. But after spending a lot of time reflecting, it’s only natural to be curious about what comes next. And with such an extensive touring cycle on the books for the rest of 2024, it makes sense that Dave has his sights on something a little more relaxing as he and the guys leave such a long, rewarding chapter of their lives behind. 

“I’ll always be playing music, so I’ll put out a guitar video once every, I don’t know, five years like I do right now,” he jokes. “I also just signed on with Innovative Artists for voiceover work, which will be a great challenge. We’ve all earned this time to put back into our families because everybody has a family now. My fiance and I are about to be empty nesters, so all my posts will probably be me, scarf blowing in the wind in Italy, just totally selling out.

“My step kids, I’m extremely proud of how smart they are, and I think they’ve got what it takes to do something really special for their lives. I can’t wait to see them thrive in the real world. And I can’t wait to cook bacon with my shirt off again.”

Heaven :x: Hell is out Friday, 29th March via Rise Records. Pre-save / pre-order yourself a copy right here, and be sure to catch Sum 41 live one last time as they tour the globe this year.

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