Sum 41’s Dave Baksh Looks Back on Pop-Punk Career

Farewell tour makes final Charlotte stop on May 15

Dave Baksh performs with Sum 41 with a fiery background
Dave Baksh performs with Sum 41 in 2023. (Photo by Stefan Brending)

Sum 41 guitarist Dave Baksh is trying to place the name of the first Charlotte venue his influential band played.

It’s a really old place where tons of bands have carved their names into the woodwork,” Baksh says. “You set up merch and take a look around you, and you see all the legends that have played before you.”

Bask is summoning memories of The Milestone, the Queen City’s most illustrious and oldest music club, but it occurs to me that he could also be describing himself and his groundbreaking, long-running and legendary Canadian pop-punk band. 

In 2001, Sum 41 burst upon the US music scene with its debut LP All Killer No Filler, a combustible Molotov cocktail of youth, arrogance and fun. Lead single “Fat Lip” was a burst of bratty, no-rules exhilaration, drawn from Beastie Boys rap, skater-boy ska, melodic punk rock and thundering heavy metal. 

Detractors at the time labeled Sum 41 the “Canadian Blink-182” and mall punk, but they missed the point. Sum 41’s members played to an audience that looked and thought like them. Lead singer and chief songwriter Deryck Whibley’s sneering smart-assery was a rallying cry for kids trapped in the affluent dead end of suburbia. 

In time, Sum 41 expanded its worldview, documenting the band’s visit to the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo to support nonprofit War Child with 2004 album Chuck, and envisioning the collapse of the hollow American Dream with Underclass Hero in 2007. 

And now, it’s all coming to a close. Sum 41 is calling it quits on an illustrious music career with its “Tour of the Setting Sum,” which touches down in Charlotte — not at the 150-capacity Milestone but the 5,000-seat Skyla Credit Union Amphitheatre on May 15.

“Ever since we were kids we always said that we didn’t want to end up going too long,” Baksh says when we speak weeks prior to the band’s final Charlotte gig. “When [Whibley] said, ‘I think I’ve had enough of Sum 41,’ all of us understood fully. It hurts, of course, because it’s such a big void to fill. But at the same time, to go out on top — not a lot of bands have the guts to do that.”

Sum kids start a punk and metal band

Baksh credits his father with sparking his enthusiasm for music. Every morning the elder Baksh would play a record from his eclectic collection while he got ready for work.

“One groove that always got me … was a song by The Band called ‘Up on Cripple Creek,’” Baksh says. “There was something about Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ that hit me too.”

Baksh’s tastes had expanded to heavy metal by the time his high school classmates Whibley and drummer Steve Jocz asked him to join their fledgling band. Although pop punk was the band’s focal point, Baksh’s beloved metal also served as a sonic touchstone, providing Sum 41 with an exquisite tension and musical sophistication lacking in peers like Green Day. 

The band’s blistering 2004 track “We’re All to Blame” deftly dovetails between stuttering thrash metal, tuneful pop and a lilting folk-rock interlude complete with Whibley’s plaintive vocal and delicately strummed acoustic guitar.

The band’s eighth album and farewell release is the double LP Heaven :x: Hell, which highlights Sum 41’s mastery of catchy pop punk on the first disc, and its facility with jackhammer metal on the second.

“With this latest record, I would describe [the band’s sound] as ‘finally figured out,’” Baksh says. “We always tried to balance our love for heavy music with our love for the more palatable version of punk rock. It’s not a regret, but I wish we figured this out a little bit earlier, and learned to lean in on what we love and let the song take the writing in the direction that it needs to go.”

Dave Baksh performs with Sum 41 in Germany in 2017. (Photo by Sven Mandel)

At the peak of Sum 41’s popularity, Baksh had to make a decision about where he needed to go. In 2006, citing “creative differences,” Baksh left the band he helped shape. Today, Baksh says the real reason he departed was due to two factors. On one hand, the band’s hardcore partying was getting out of hand.

“Everybody was partying so much that it was affecting the good time that we were having on tour,” Baksh says. “We had that male bravado, not willing to admit that we all needed some time off and were exhausted from the road.” 

A far more important reason for Baksh’s departure was his deteriorating home life.

“Without getting into crazy specifics, I felt I was going home to a world that was in a lot of turmoil,” Baksh says. He chose home over the band, subsequently launching metal group The Brown Brigade with his cousin who was “going through a rough patch.” 

In retrospect, Baksh feels it was therapeutic to walk away from Sum 41, but he regrets not being open and vulnerable enough to tell his bandmates the true reason for his departure.

“Unfortunately, the way that they heard was that we had musical differences,” Baksh says. “I didn’t have the guts to explain what was happening in my home life at that point, because I didn’t want to show any weakness.” 

Baksh return to the band, Sum 41 under fire

Nine years later, in 2015, Baksh received a phone call from Whibley. The two former bandmates reconnected and held one of their most meaningful conversations, Baksh remembers. They let each other know there was no animosity about Baksh leaving the band. 

Baksh also explained why he left. A subsequent call from Whibley paved the way for a Sum 41 reunion.

“[Whibley] phoned me up and said, ‘I’m going to talk to everybody else in the band. I’m not sure if they’re into Sum 41 anymore, but regardless I’d like to play music with you again,’” Baksh says. 

Deryck Whibley with Sum 41 in Budapest in 2017. (Photo by Sylwia Sarama)

Today Baksh says he’s thankful at being given a second chance to be part of something near and dear to his heart. Sum 41, he stresses, is still ferocious. Baksh describes the current incarnation of the band as hungry.

“[It’s like] we dusted off an old car and fixed it back up,” Baksh says. “Now it feels like the band is firing on all cylinders again.”

In a career filled with cherished memories, one stands out above all for Baksh. In 2004, Sum 41 traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the Canadian branch of the British nonprofit War Child, which works to improve the wellbeing of children impacted by conflict. 

The band planned to work on a documentary that depicted the effects of the country’s decades-long civil war.

Baksh says they got “caught up in a firefight” while they were there. Though the guys did not come under direct fire, the fighting was threateningly closeby. Combat continued for several days. When it failed to subside, U.N. Peacekeeper Charles “Chuck” Pelletier arranged for armored personnel carriers to evacuate the band along with other civilians from the war zone. 

Sum 41’s album Chuck is named after Pelletier.

“I think every single one of us [in the band] accepted the fact that it was going to be the place where we died,” Baksh says, calling the experience his “most life-changing event.”

“[My experience in the DRC] made my life better, because it enriched my perspective to make me thankful for every single breath that I get.” 

A similar sense of gratitude informs Baksh’s current job of playing for Sum 41 fans for the very last time. Whether they prove to be heaven or hell, he’s thankful for each day he gets to spend with his bandmates.

“I would like for people to come to the live show and be entertained,” he says. “That’s all I could hope for as a goal and a legacy.”

Like Baksh, fans will also get a chance to bid farewell to Sum 41, living proof that a high school band can seize the opportunities that come its way, leave its mark in the music industry and discover the world in the process.

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