Sum 41’s Frank Zummo: my top 5 tips for drummers
Back from the brink
Back in 2013, the future looked bleak for pop punk titans Sum 41.
Founding member Steve Jocz had just left the band, and frontman Deryck Whibley was in the midst of some well-documented personal issues which threated to cut not just the band short, but also Whibley’s life.
Just a few short years later and things in the Sum 41 camp are looking a world away from this turmoil.
In 2015, Street Drum Corps sticksman Frank Zummo stepped into Jocz’s sizable shoes. A year later former guitarist Dave Baksh returned to the band and a new album, 13 Voices, followed. Meanwhile, 2017 has seen the band slay the summer festival circuit with a glut of sublime performances. When we speak with Zummo, he tells us that this resurgence began with a bunch of quick-fire writing sessions as soon as he joined in 2015.
“We went straight into writing,” he explains. “It was fun to be part of that creative process. Dave came back into the band at the same time as well. Without sounding too cheesy it was a magical thing to be part of. Plus, I saw Deryck go through everything that he went through and to see a friend come out of that better and stronger than ever was one of the coolest things ever.”
His arrival may have helped kickstart another successful chapter for the band, but Zummo admits that getting to grips with Sum 41’s back catalogue was no mean feat.
“It is the hardest thing I’ve done,” he says. “It wasn’t a case of learning a set of 12 songs. They wanted me to learn everything, the entire catalogue. They pull songs out, we don’t do the same set every night. I then had to learn how they interpret the songs live.
“Deryck is very particular about where the kick drums land because of what he is singing. He and I spent a lot of time working on the drum parts. The hardest thing though was learning him as a frontman. Now, if he moves his arm I know where he’s going and I got him. I had to learn his language of when he wants things louder, softer, when there is a breakdown.”
Ahead of one of those aforementioned arse-kicking festival shows, Zummo sat down with us and shared his top five tips for drummers.
1. Learn to the music that you love
“My dad gave me his record collection, headphones and the drums. I was self-taught until about seven and then I took formal lessons.
“We never jammed together, he just let me figure it out for myself. I knew this was what I wanted to do so I did everything I could to make it happen.
“Everyone wants to play to their favourite music. I think that is the best way. You’re figuring it out on your own and falling in love with it on your own instead of having someone telling you, ‘This is how you have to do it.’
“I learned to Led Zeppelin records, P-Funk, James Brown, Bowie, all of this great stuff. That was my base; funk drumming and rock ‘n’ roll drumming. I always wanted to be a well-rounded drummer.
“In my youth I studied everything; jazz, I played in orchestras, on cruise ships, everything I could do. I wanted to make sure that I could work as a drummer for the rest of my life. This is all I could do, I never wanted to have a real job.
“I wanted to be the guy where if you call me saying you have a jazz trio gig I can do it, I don’t want to be the guy that says, ‘No, sorry, I only play rock music.’ I am a rock drummer at heart, but I studied all of this stuff so I could constantly work and have a career.”
2. Don’t be close-minded
“I studied with Bobby Sanabria who is an incredible Afro-Cuban drummer. He would kick my ass.
“All of that stuff was so foreign to me. He was hard on me. I would come in and if I didn’t nail something that I had been working on right away then he would send me home. He was hard on me but I feel that some of that has stayed with me.
“I have a street percussion group, we came over here with Thirty Seconds To Mars and did Wembley Arena, it’s like a punk rock Blue Man Group, and in that I sneak in a lot of those Afro-Cuban licks.
“Even with Sum 41 I have a drum solo and there’s some parts in there that has my upbringing in. You are what you’ve been taught.”
3. Time to solo? Keep it musical
“I want to make my drum solo really musical.
“I went into the studio with Deryck and took Sum 41 riffs from songs that we’re not playing on tour and mashed them up with LL Cool J and Run DMC. I play over that and then I have a freeform part.
“The goal for me is to make sure the audience doesn’t lose the beat. I want the audience to clap and participate and not make it wanky. I treat it like a song rather than an insane thing.
“I play with an EDM group Krewella and I learned a lot in that dance world about how important the beat is.”
4. Embrace electronics
“I’ve always been a huge electronics fan. I had the original ddrum kit. I still have that at my mom’s in New York.
“I brought that sound into Sum 41. There’s a lot of cool sounds. We don’t have any playback. We have five of us on stage, we all sing and we have three guitar players so we can pull it all off.
“But, there were sounds and cool loops from the records that they weren’t doing live. I got the stems and there’s even some keyboard lines that I play with my left hand.
“I had to sacrifice some of the drumming for that. That is taking a hit on your ego for the music. I have a couple of pads to do all of that stuff on.”
5. Don’t let the guitarist drown you out!
“Right now I’m playing two kick drums, one rack, two floors.
“They’re mahogany drum with ample reinforcement rings. These guys have a lot of Marshalls on stage so I said, ‘F*** it, I’m going for a big kit!’
“There’s actually a lot of double kick in Sum 41 that people don’t realise. People are like, ‘What the f***, you’re a pop punk band.’ There’s a lot of metal in this band. That suits me because I grew up a metal kid, I love playing two kick drums. They’ve got ten Marshall stacks on stage so I’ve got two kicks and a gong!
“I have a US rig and a European rig. I just switched to SJC Drums last year. It has been amazing. The technology they have and the art drum kits that we have created are incredible. We created a kit based on the work of street artist Shepard Fairey and SJC was able to etch the art into the shells.”