It’s been a couple of years since Dave Baksh returned to SUM 41, the band he co-founded back in Ajax, Ontario 21 years ago. Since his return after a nine-year absence, the band has returned to form as one of the most infectiously energetic live acts, proudly unleashing a more refined version of its punk-infused rock shows to audiences around the world, and releasing arguably its best, most powerful and even poignant album in years, 2016’s 13 Voices.
The songs are primarily composed by vocalist Deryck Whibley, with Baksh and long-time bassist Jason McCaslin, along with guitarist Tom Thacker (in the band since 2009) and drummer Frank Zummo (who joined in 2015) performing their parts with the requisite abandon and thrashing effectiveness. 13 Voices was reflective of Whibley’s recent health scare and is an open, honest assessment of the trials and tribulations of an excessive rock and roll life and a re-evaluation of what is truly important.
“I know he really laid his who heart and soul into these songs and it was just great to help him realize his vision for this album. Musically, he would have all his ideas and then maybe he would come to us and say we need a hook over this part or a solo over this part and I know instinctively what he wants because we have been working together for so long. Even with that eight or nine year gap of me being out of the band, it’s so cool that I can jump right back in because we both know what the core SUM 41 sound is,” Baksh said.
“And it’s interesting that people like you have noticed that the lyrics are maybe more mature, or at least different than they were 20 years ago, but that we still have the same energy and the same sound, and how distinctive it really is.”
SUM 41 had a pretty frenetic touring schedule upon the release of 13 Voices last year, playing a solid nine months’ worth of engagements. They are taking it a bit easier this summer, although are coming back to their home province of Ontario to open the 2017 edition of the Empire Rockfest concert weekend in Belleville, playing at the downtown outdoor venue on Thursday, July 20, with fellow Canadian punk rock veterans The Flatliners opening. Subsequent shows have Jake Clemons (of the E Street Band) opening for The Trews on July 21, with a rockin’ double bill of The Sheepdogs and The Glorious Sons wrapping the event up on Saturday, July 22.
“I think everybody loves playing back home, or close to home. We haven’t played Belleville in probably over 10 years. Playing home in Ontario is special because you can walk out on that stage and you know it’s the place where you come from. There’s a pride that comes with playing at home and seeing familiar faces and even seeing some faces of people that came out to see us before we were SUM 41,” said Baksh.
“Playing anywhere has its own special feeling. Playing at home, especially for me, is beautiful and a really awesome and heartwarming feeling.”
Baksh had already been in contact with Whibley about reunited before the singer’s life-altering – and nearly life-ending – 2014 health crisis, with years of abusing alcohol leading to both liver and kidney failure that left him incapacitated and very ill. Through lots of treatment, as well as some good-old fashioned TLC around friends and family back in Canada, Whibley recovered nicely and Baksh is thrilled to see his childhood friend back with that glint in his eye and creative fire in his belly.
“He went through a really traumatic experience for sure and it was self-induced and a lot of the last record has lyrical content dealing with learning the ultimate lesson and how important breathing is. It’s everything; it’s all we’ve really got. But there’s no question is amazing to see him back and seeing him healthy. Even when I first visited him in 2014, which was the first time we had got together for a long, long time, and he was still frail from his body nearly shutting down, but he was on the road to recovery doing the treadmill every day. I was seeing him as this recovery process was happening and how hard he worked and what amazing shape, mentally and physically, he got himself into,” he said.
“His energy level is more than when he was 17. I would even say more than when we first met when we were, like, 14. And it’s awesome to see, and it’s awesome to be that close to someone with a story that deep and that surreal. And people don’t know this, but we started talking about getting back together even before he was sick. We had been on the phone here and there talking about how much we miss playing together. We figured there would have to be something big to happen in order to bring us back together. Once he recovered he told me the band had a chance to play the AP [Alternative Press] Awards and that this would be the way to bring me back.
“We did that and wanted to see what the reaction would be to me going out and playing. And it just had this reaction where we started playing and all the kids who were inside the arena started emptying out of their seats and the floor started filling up and I remember we all were talking about it after and just buzzing because we hadn’t performed in front of that kind of an audience with this lineup ever. And it’s been like that ever since.”
SUM 41 is in the process of lining up more dates for the remainder of 2017, and into 2018. Baksh said they are looking at heading back to South America for the first time in a while, as well as a return to Europe for some winter shows.
In the interim, if you’re interested in seeing the band in Belleville, head to http://theempiretheatre.com/live-events/empire-rockfest-2017.
On July 21, SUM 41 is playing Les Grandes Fetes Telus in Rimouski, Quebec and the following evening at Festival des Bieres du Monde in Saguenay. Visit http://www.sum41.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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