Click to view the fullsize image.Unexpected Grammy nomination brightens a dark time for Canada's Sum 41
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - A little less than a year ago, Sum 41 released "Screaming Bloody Murder," a self-produced, years-in-the-making album that was intended to subtly indicate a new direction for the erstwhile pop-punkers.
But just when all the attention was supposed to be on the Ajax, Ont., band's new disc, it was instead focused on a disc of a different kind — the troublesome one in singer Deryck Whibley's back, a recurring injury that has derailed tour after tour and kept the group's momentum sputtering.
As it turns out, someone was listening. And there was a sense of vindication around the band when word came down that their furious rocker "Blood in my Eyes" had been nominated for a Grammy Award for best hard rock/metal performance.
"I could tell after talking to Deryck, (the nomination) kind of rejuvenated him a little bit," said bassist Jason (Cone) McCaslin in a recent interview.
"He's been a little bit not in the best mood obviously, cancelling all these tours. And I could tell he just felt like: 'Oh yeah. This is great.' And we started talking about the tours again and getting back and doing something.
"So I think in that sense, yeah, it's going to be good for us."
For Whibley, the trouble really began around five years ago, when a planned jaunt through Eastern Canada had to be cancelled after doctors discovered a herniated disc in Whibley's back.
The situation worsened in 2010 after Whibley says he was attacked in a Japanese bar, leaving him with a slipped disc. Tired of cancelling dates, the band soldiered ahead anyway until Whibley collapsed onstage in Sendai, Japan. More cancelled tour dates — this time on the Warped Tour — followed.
As if he hadn't already suffered enough misfortune, Whibley was hospitalized in Australia last March with pneumonia. And then this past August, Whibley's back issues flared up again and the band once again had to pull out of some Warped Tour dates. All tour dates for the rest of the year were cancelled as well, leaving the band idle.
Then last month, Sum 41 cancelled yet another spate of dates, this time in the U.K. In a rather ominous statement, Whibley wrote that he had been warned by doctors that the back injury could confine him to a wheelchair. His only option was to "look at reality" and listen to the doctors.
While all this was going on, Whibley also dealt with his very public divorce from punk-pop princess Avril Lavigne.
Needless to say, it's been a bleak period for a band that once traded in carefree pop confections.
"I think we're all kind of a little depressed about the whole situation," McCaslin said.
"I mean, we ended the tour in August. So we've just been kind of sitting around doing nothing, and when that starts happening, you start (to wonder): 'How much longer are we going to be off for?'"
During their downtime, drummer Steve Jocz has worked on a screenplay while McCaslin helped to produce an upcoming LP by Lindsay, Ont., alt-country outfit the Strumbellas.
They might rather be touring with Sum 41, but McCaslin says Whibley's health is the primary concern of everyone in the group.
"The biggest thing, I think, is no pressure on him," he said. "We do talk all the time but we keep it kind of light. And we don't talk too much about scheduling. As soon as you start saying: 'Oh, we've got a tour booked in two months,' then I can see him starting to get a little bit anxious.
"He's had such a bad history with his back for the last five years now, that he just needs to get it better once and for all so we can just move on with our career rather than cancel here, cancel there.
"I think we've just gotta give him enough time to get it sorted out completely."
Beyond the much-needed morale boost it carried, the Grammy nomination was meaningful in part because of the category in which Sum 41 is nominated.
Listeners who have lost touch with the band over the years might have raised an eyebrow over the classification of Sum 41 as hard rock/metal. Indeed, James LaBrie — the Canadian lead singer of one of Sum 41's competitors in the category, the prog-metal group Dream Theater — admitted he was a "little bit baffled" to see the band nominated against his own.
But "Screaming Bloody Murder," and specifically the Grammy-nominated track "Blood in my Eyes," found the group unearthing their sludgiest racket in years, shifting the band even further from their roots in bratty, bawdy pop-punk juvenilia.
"I actually give the Grammys some credit for discarding what we've done in the past and actually looking at the song," McCaslin said.
"If it was for group or something, then I could maybe see us not fitting into that category. But I think the song is as hard and heavy as the other songs that are nominated.
"Whether we were poppier in the past, that doesn't really matter in this circumstance."
With stiff competition from the Foo Fighters and Megadeth, McCaslin says he's not anticipating actually winning the award. But he's looking forward to the ceremony all the same — even though he admits he typically finds award shows "kind of boring" — because lately, good news has been hard to come by for Sum 41.
"Our band never really has expectations for awards," he said.
"It doesn't matter either way to me (if we win). We're all pretty happy about just being nominated."