Do you remember way back in the fall of 2002 when Sum 41 officially changed their name to The Sums? No? Well, true, that never actually happened. But after the band released its "Still Waiting" music video, some fans really thought it did.
"Yeah, people believed that for a while," singer and songwriter Deryck Whibley told MTV News recently. It would have made some sense. After elevating their visibility in 2001 and 2002 via director Marc Klasfeld's youthful, punkish, and energetic music videos, Sum 41 — a Beastie Boys-meets-Blink-182 pop/punk/metal hybrid — found themselves competing with the latest fashionable trend in rock music: the "The" bands. You know, The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives, The Vines, et al, dominating magazine covers as the faces of the hip, so-called garage-rock revival.
That's why it made sense to rebrand themselves. The parodic "Still Waiting" video, also directed by Klasfeld, opened with Sum 41 being called into the Island Records office to discuss a new direction. "The number-band thing is out," a manic executive (played by comic actor Will Sasso) tells the group before re-christening them The Sums. And the name change is just the beginning.
"You guys smoke?" Sasso asks, then throws an unopened pack of cigarettes at drummer Steve Jocz. "Yeah, you do now. Smoke 'em up, Johnny." They get new, Euro-centric, art-school names; instead of Steve, Deryck, Dave, and Jason (a.k.a. "Cone"), The Sums now consist of Sergio, Sven, Holmes, and Thurston. Perhaps most staggering of all, The Sums now perform in a uniform of skinny ties, backlit by gigantic, lit-up letters spelling out their new moniker.
"It was so hard not to laugh the whole time," Whibley said about playing the straight man. "Every single take, [Sasso] was doing something different, and it was funny, and we're not used to being on camera and not allowed to laugh."
"At the end of the day, the thought that went into our videos was, we wanted to have a little element of humor but also an element of performance," Whibley said. "I'm not a very funny guy, so the humor was usually either making fun of something or other people being funny in the video."
In this case, Klasfeld teamed back up with the band to lampoon The Strokes, the emblems of rock music's then-recent shift from playful and suburban to cosmopolitan and sophisticated. "I went to all of those videos that were happening at that moment and sort of picked and chose and satirized things that they did," Klasfeld told MTV News. In this case, the specific look of The Strokes and the idiosyncrasies of their "Last Nite" and "Hard to Explain" videos.
"Still Waiting" is the kind of clip that, had it dropped in 2017, would be dissected across the internet for its sly references and jabs — a falling drum kit piece, a quick subliminal shot, specific lighting, and more. But Whibley insisted there was no adversarial relationship between Sum 41 and The Strokes. In fact, one night at an English hotel before the video came out, Whibley stayed up all night partying with Strokes singer Julian Casablancas, who he'd befriended due to their bands being in concurrent press cycles, and ran the idea by him just to make sure.
"Everyone else had kinda disappeared, and it's now like 9 in the morning, so it's one of those kinda parties," Whibley said. "Julian and I [were] in the lobby drinking, and I just told him, 'We got this idea for this video. What do you think? Do we have your blessing or do you hate it?' And he was dying laughing. He goes, 'Please do it! You have to do it.' So we said, alright, cool, we have his blessing."
"The way we looked at it was how quickly genres can come and go, and you can be the It band of a genre, and all of a sudden, a year later, it's a whole new thing," Whibley said. "That's why the intro was so important to us because it set up that we're making fun of ourselves. We're irrelevant now because of all these new bands that are the new cool thing."
Neither Whibley nor Klasfeld could remember precisely where the concept for "Still Waiting" originated, though at that time, the band's team (including Klasfeld and Island Records A&R guy Lewis Largent) brainstormed ideas regularly. One of those ideas, written as a treatment by Klasfeld, became the pop-culture-action-figures-come-alive video for "The Hell Song" video, which continues the gentle prodding at TRL celebrity culture. It's also, of course, a performance video.
"The reason that video worked is that video budgets were so big at that point and so outrageous that it's like, wait a second, let's go in the completely opposite direction and do something that's handmade," Klasfeld said.
Conduct any unofficial Sum 41 poll and you're likely to collect near-unanimous results that "Fat Lip" is the quintessential Sum 41 song and video. But the legacy of "Still Waiting" shines through in some of the band's most recent videos, including the web culture-satirizing "Fake My Own Death" from 2016 — directed by Klasfeld. Parody never goes out of style.
"It's almost identical to the 'Still Waiting' video," Whibley said. "We're just making fun of whatever's current right now just the same way we were. ... Now that I think about, probably one of the coolest things about those old videos and ['Still Waiting'] in particular because it's about something at that time [is that] people still come up to me and say that they like the video now. It still translates."