Music Interview: Sum 41: Army for democracy

By Kyle Francis

The entire hotel creaks, foundation vaporized by whizzing bullets. Four of its occupants leap a stairwell as malicious metal monsters explode drywall and wooden studs. Dust and splinters shower the men as they slide around a corner into the gaping doorway leading out into the street. They can make out the vague silhouettes of friendly Armored Personnel Carriers in the distance. Air is hot and dirty, rasping against their throats. The foliage behind the hotel rustles a warning as the death-dealers push through. The four stand in the hotel lobby. Every decision leads to risk. They’re not soldiers. They’re not embedded journalists or war videographers. They’re just rock musicians from Ontario who were in the wrong village during the wrong ethnic conflict.

Although Sum 41 survived the strike by the Rwandan militant group, a large number of people in Bukavu did not. It’s no surprise how their recent experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo has caused the band to put on a more serious face. After all, this is a band that takes pride in their ability to write music capturing the world around them.

“Our hotel was about five feet below where the fighting was going on,” recalls Dave “Brownsound” Baksh, the band’s lead guitarist. “When we were heading for the APC’s that were going to take us back to the embassy, there was actually bullets tearing up the trees and stuff all around us.”

The Ajax, Ontario based group was in the Congo shooting a documentary about the conflict when a Rwandan military leader marched his forces right into the settlement where the band was staying. The film is due out soon and Brownsound assures audiences its tear-jerking content will appeal to the bleeding-heart liberal in all.

“We definitely didn’t get airlifted out of the country for our behavior this time,” laughs Brownsound recalling their last Jackass-esque DVD, Cross Your T’s and Gouge Your Eyes; released in tandem with their last CD. Brownsound’s voice takes on a much more serious tone when beginning to speak of the conflict in the DRC, displaying maturity that belies the content of the band’s DVD debut.

“[For the documentary] we talked to child soldiers that had been used, tribes that were used and even little girls that had been raped. It’s really heartbreaking stuff.”

Tentatively named Rocked in the Congo, the band’s new movie could be criticized as playing to those victims who actually enjoyed and/or believed Fahrenheit 9/11. Merit is given to this criticism as their last DVD was released when Johnny Knoxville did a bang-up job of polluting all the television sets and youthful minds in North America. Brownsound evidences that this is not the case, claiming the only reason the band has for putting their name on the video is to get it watched by the maximum number of people. The documentary is a joint project between the band and War Child, who gave the group the information they needed to get it off the ground. Perhaps Sum 41 really are as philanthropic as they appear.

“We went to War Child with no idea of what we wanted to do. We just wanted to do something more than donate money, like a benefit concert or something,” explained Brownsound. “They told us about [the conflict in the Congo] and the type of stuff that had been going on there, so we just thought we should go and do this documentary.”

Brownsound claims the movie should be completed within a fortnight and be on store shelves not long thereafter. Popular in Canada and the United States, Sum 41 may not have the influence of Oprah, but when they take notice of an issue a large number of their fans are sure to follow suit.

The attention paid to a conflict often overshadowed by the one in Iraq by a respected group like Sum 41 is certainly a refreshing change from the vast majority of the mass-media shoving blood and oil down the throats of anyone who mistakenly stumbles into their craw.