Sum 41

Sum 41 wants its fans to give it the finger. That’s the middle finger extended on the left hand, four fingers on the right. Frontman Deryck Whibley invented the “41 salute” onstage one night after he saw too many devil horns thrust in the air during the melodic punk band’s metallic nods like “Pain For Pleasure” from the full-length album All Killer No Filler.

More than platinum sales, tours with Blink-182, a “Saturday Night Live” appearance and an MTV 20th Anniversary opening with heroes Rob Halford and Tommy Lee, a band having its own personal rock salute is a veritable sign of success.

“Vanilla Ice had a sign the ‘V,'” Whibley noted before rattling off the generic east side/west side, the horns and thumbs up all overdone, he believes.

During the band’s Edgefest set opening for Blink-182 at the sold-out Molson Amphitheatre in Sum 41’s virtual hometown of Toronto (they hail from Ajax, about 45 minutes east), he conducted 10,000 skyward 41s.

“We’re going to try and keep doing it so a year from now it will be an implied thing. Everyone will know how to do it,” Whibley explained.

Sum 41 might not have to wait a year. The band gets to test it out on its headlining tour in the U.S. with fellow Canadians Gob and American band Unwritten Law.

“It’s hard to believe that people don’t know which hand is their right hand,” marveled guitarist Dave “Brownsound” Baksch. “There’s a lot of 14s in the crowd.”

Fourteen could also signify the mentality of Sum 41 when it comes to its antics and interviews. And it’s working for them. Up until the four-piece started injecting their goofy personalities into their live show, Whibley, Baksch, bassist Jason “Cone” McCaslin and drummer Steve Jocz played it straight catchy energetic punk but no talk, no props.

“We’re all very shy people,” Baksch swore.

High school buds Whibley and Jocz started Sum 41 exactly 41 days into the summer of 1996 and played at a friend’s basement concerts. With their first gig scheduled at the Chameleon Caf‚ in Ajax, Whibley took a long shot and invited Greig Nori from signed Canadian guitar-pop band Treble Charger to check out the show.

“I don’t know why he came because people come up to us and ask us to do all sorts of stuff,” Whibley said, implying he never does.

Sum 41

Sum 41 recorded a demo with Nori and he decided to manage the band as well. At 17, and still in school, the four-piece (guitarists and bassists came and went) played all-ages gigs almost every weekend at the Chameleon for a year.

By December 1998, EMI Music Publishing (Canada) had signed Sum 41 and funded the recordings. In the year that followed, most of the Canadian labels had heard their demo EP and seen the band live as late as June of ’99 at the El Mocambo during North By Northeast, but no deal was forthcoming.

It wasn’t until EMI paid for the band to show its true colors via a homemade electronic press kit (EPK), complete with water gun drive-bys, topless girl, Fatboy Slim-style dance routine outside a movie theatre, and a pizza grab that A&R execs really took notice.

Nori was in Los Angeles recording the new Treble Charger album when EMI sent out the packages in early fall of ’99. A week later, he was fielding three major label calls a day.

“It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

When a string of weekly showcases was arranged at Toronto’s Ted’s Wrecking Yard in November, the silliness continued a trampoline, Martin Lawrence cardboard cut-out, pyro, wacky medleys, costume changes.

“When it came to our live show, we thought, ‘What can we do to make this fun?'” Whibley explained.

Nori said about nine U.S. labels flew up to see the band. After seriously considering three American deals, Sum 41 signed with Island/Def Jam. Label A&R VP Lewis Largent, fresh on the job from an exec position at MTV, had seen the EPK at Rick Krim’s office in New York when he was still at EMI Music Publishing. At Ted’s, he had bee-lined for the stage after Sum 41 invited anyone to come up and jump on the trampoline.

Largent, who signed the band with director of A&R Rob Stevenson, said, “I was thinking this trampoline thing is either going to be the biggest mistake of all time or they’re going to go, ‘That’s a guy that we can hang with.'”

Nori, busy with his own band, took on partner Terry McBride (who manages Treble Charger) just prior to the deal signing. The band elected to keep its Canadian recording rights separate, signing with Aquarius, owned by the legendary Donald Tarlton.

“Aquarius (specifically Terry Flood) was the first label that was interested before anyone gave a damn about Sum 41,” Jocz said. “Diamond Donald Tarlton, the godfather of Canadian strip clubs, he’s awesome,” Jocz added, alluding to the release party for the teaser EP, Half Hour Of Power. The Toronto peeler bar The Zanzibar saw the band members don thongs, Whibley a cowboy hat and Baksch a fake boob breastplate.

“Being in a band isn’t a license to be goofy; it’s a license to be ourselves,” Whibley said.