This is The Anthem, where we’re telling stories behind classic albums and songs by interviewing the people who were really there. This week, we’re homing in on Sum 41’s eternal 2002 single “Still Waiting.”
Sum 41 grew up fast. Barely six months after dropping the final single from their goofy, ever-so-catchy debut album, All Killer No Filler, the Canadian quartet reemerged with the lead single from its follow-up, Does This Look Infected? Quite simply, “Still Waiting” signaled their move from innocence to experience. Vocalist Deryck Whibley, bassist Jason “Cone” McCaslin, guitarist Dave Baksh and then-drummer Steve Jocz were entering their 20s with 300 or so live shows and much more musical experience under their belts, but also with a far greater awareness that the world was bigger — and scarier — than it looks outside the walls of high school.
Does This Look Infected? marked a heavier turn for the band both sonically and lyrically, with their subject matter becoming ever more serious by touching on drugs, insomnia, HIV and the increasingly ugly state of the world. The band were coming of age in a fraught post-9/11 climate where fear and jingoism bubbled under the surface as George W. Bush launched the War On Terror — and a real war against Iraq was on its way. It led Sum 41 to turn their hand for the first time to political songwriting, birthing a song whose immortal refrain remains depressingly relevant in 2023: “So am I still waiting for this world to stop hating?”
How it started
DERYCK WHIBLEY (VOCALS): The record [Does This Look Infected?] was pretty much written. We were already in the studio making it, and for some reason, this little idea came into my head when I wasn’t even trying to write songs anymore. I thought I was done. I woke up with this chorus in my head. I went and sang it and all of a sudden had a riff right away, which became the verse riff. I knew I wanted it to have screamy, shouty verses. I’m screaming as hard as I can in those verses. It’s one of those songs that came out exactly the way I heard it in my head.
JASON “CONE” MCCASLIN (BASS): We were in Toronto doing pre-production, and we were wrapping up. It might have even been the last day. “The Hell Song” was going to be [the lead] single. “Over My Head (Better Off Dead)” was probably going to be the second single. Deryck came in with this little cassette tape, and he says: “I got this rough new song.” We all listened to it, and it was so rough and distorted, and we were like, “This is really good.” It was way different from All Killer No Filler because of the screaming, it was in a minor key. It was darker. We all agreed at that point that we had to try and fit that song in, so we took it to New York and finished it in the studio there.
WHIBLEY: There was just so much pressure in those days, from myself, from the label, from everybody involved, because we were following up a record that had sold a few million [copies]. [We] had to deliver to prove that [we] weren’t this one-album band. Right away, everyone agreed that the song, even though all I had was a verse and a chorus, was probably going to be the first single. You could tell that there was something special about it, that it was better than everything else on the record. In the first week of recording in New York City, I stayed back at the hotel every day trying to finish this song. Everybody was asking me, “Is it finished yet?” I stayed in the hotel for a week till it was done. In retrospect, it was quick, but it felt like it was taking a year because everybody was hounding me for it.
[Sum 41 pose for their AP cover in 2002 / Photo by Chapman Baehler]
MCCASLIN: The Iraq War at the time was such a big thing. Even though we were Canadian, we spent a lot of time in the U.S. We were only like 22 years old at the time, but we would talk amongst ourselves, and we [all thought] it was insane that this war was actually going to happen. Even being 22 from Canada, we were really affected by it. We lived through the Gulf War, and it was following the same lines.
WHIBLEY: Traveling the world on that tour for the first time on the All Killer tour [gave us] more of a sense that there’s this world out there. It’s not just where we grew up and our friends in high school and all that stuff. So you’re starting to really pay attention to all these things that are going on in the world and all these atrocities. We thought this war was very clearly not about what George [W.] Bush and his administration were saying it was, and that’s what the song became to me. At the same time, [with] some of the lyrics, you almost don’t need to know what the song is about, especially with the chorus, because it is just relatable. It’s just the simplest lyric. I remember [producer] Greig Nori saying, “I don’t know about the lyric ‘So am I still waiting for this world to stop hating?’ It’s a little juvenile. It’s a little basic.’ I remember thinking, “I don’t know how to make it anything else other than what it is.” It may be juvenile and simple, but that’s what all this bullshit is in the world — it is all juvenile and stupid.
The music video
MARC KLASFELD (VIDEO DIRECTOR): Sum 41 exploded in 2001, but then in 2002, the scene shifted, and indie bands like the Strokes, the Hives and the White Stripes all became popular. The video ended up becoming partly a satire of that whole band movement. We took elements from one of the Strokes’ videos, some of the Hives with what they were wearing, making fun of and commenting on the hip bands of the time. It comments not only on that trend but trends in general and how trends come and go.
MCCASLIN: We were in England for Reading and Leeds, and we were staying at the same hotel as the Strokes. We went up to Julian [Casablancas’] room, and we had a couple more drinks. We said, “We have this idea for the video. We want to run it by you.” We told him the whole idea: “We want to dress up the same and have the set like you guys. You’re the new cool thing, and pop punk is getting pushed out.” He was like, “I love it. You guys have to do it.” We got his blessing at six in the morning!
KLASFELD: The guy in the beginning, Will Sasso, he’s so phenomenally talented. I just gave him a briefing of what I wanted the scene to be about, and he just adlibbed the shit out of that scene. He was just so funny, and I think the biggest problem for the guys was trying to keep a straight face during the whole thing because the dude was so funny.
MCCASLIN: The other thing that was funny about it was the trashing thing at the end. I remember the whole crew was like, “Do not touch the lights!” And I think the sign was always gonna get pushed down, but the lights behind us, the lighting people did not want them broken. And, of course, we broke them. At that point, we were just drinking a lot all the time. So as the day went on, video shoots can be 20 hours long. We were annihilated by the end, absolutely hammered. That whole trashing scene in the end. I mean, a lot of us couldn’t even walk. That’s how we did it back then.
KLASFELD: The guys have always kept a sense of humor about their stuff. In my estimation, that’s what people have always liked best. They’re really good at it.