Tom Thacker of Gob and Sum 41 Speaks on Rocking Out Gracefully
As a member of two of Canada's most influential pop-punk bands, Tom Thacker has a few words to spare about the country's musical history.
When you think of Canadian pop punk, anything from DIY mercenaries like Propgandhi to flaccid softies like Simple Plan can pop into your head. Though the subgenre has always been dominated by the international success of Ajax, Ontario pranksters Sum 41, I’ve always felt Canadian pop punk was best represented by Vancouver’s Gob.
Founded in 1993 by guitarists/vocalists and remaining members Tom Thacker and Theo Goutzinakis, Gob rose up out a Langley garage to find quick independent success in 1994 with their first self-titled album to christen Landspeed Records. The next year they found unlikely success with second album, Too Late… No Friends, when MuchMusic put their video for “Soda” into rotation, thanks to the band’s death-defying BMX trickery and Goutzinakis’ appetite for insects. From that point on, it felt like every Gob video was something to anticipate: the subsequent “You’re Too Cool” video combined stupid and violent attempts at winter sports, “B Flat” taught the world a lesson that good deeds are only worth doing with your glasses on, and, arguably their best to date, the anthemic “I Hear You Calling” perfected the rom-zom-com years before Shaun of the Dead made it a genre. Eventually they became tourmates of the one and only pop punk princess Avril Lavigne and Sum 41, who Thacker also joined as their lead guitarist in 2009.
Two decades in, Gob have just released their sixth album, Apt. 13, a much more mature sounding album of anthemic rock songs bursting with beefy guitars, velvety smooth, confident vocals and even a piano. Noisey rang up Tom Thacker to discuss what took them so long, the dangers of sharing a rehearsal space with Glenn Danzig, why his wedding was featured in the New York Times and how often someone yells the chorus of “Soda” at him.
Noisey: You guys played the massive Amnesia Rock Fest in Quebec earlier this summer, featuring basically every rock band from the ’80s and ’90s. One question: Did you get to meet Glenn Danzig?
Tom Thacker: Nah. One thing about that show was there were a couple of potentially volatile line-up choices. Both Danzig and the Misfits were playing, and Black Flag and Henry Rollins both played. Maybe it was done on purpose, but I don’t think they did it to get them in the same room together. But no, I didn’t get to see Danzig this time, but I have seen him before. We were in L.A. rehearsing one time and we heard that he was next door. And my friends in the Black Halos had toured with him and said he’s one crazy dude. I can’t remember what exactly happened but they said he freaked out over something and lashed out. So I was kinda scared being in this rehearsal space alone one day, then all of a sudden this dude comes walking towards me and it’s Glenn Danzig. I was like, “Oh shit!” For some reason I was worried within that ten feet from me he was going to freak out and beat me up. But it was fine. We gave each other the bro-nod and kept walking. He still looks so ripped, but in reality I’m about a foot taller than him. I don’t know if that helps me though.
Do you think there are any stories about Tom Thacker freaking out?
I don’t think there are a lot, because I don’t do that a lot. There have been Sum 41 tour videos, and one in particular where I got drunk one day on the Warped Tour and acted like a fucking idiot. But it was one day.
I was surprised to see that your wedding ended up in the New York Times. How on earth does that happen?
We planned our wedding pretty quickly. We’d been together for a while and didn’t want it to drag out and become a pain in the ass. She was in medical school and I’ve been in rock bands, so our time together was limited. That’s why we didn’t get married because we wanted to have quality time. I guess she started reading the “Vows” column in the New York Times and she just filled out an application. She didn’t think we’d get in, but she tried and then wrote back. Eventually it became a feature story, and I guess it was interesting because it’s a crazy story: she’s a doctor and I’m a rocker, I guess. It was a total honour. I don’t think about much because being in a band that has received quite a bit of press, I’ve always just talked about music and kept my personal life kinda secret. But she was the one that wanted to be out there. And like I said, it was an honour.
I noticed that the article said you’re 40 years old. And yet Wikipedia has you down as 37. Why are you so enigmatic with your age?
I’m 40. I don’t know where that came along, but I tried to change my age on Wikipedia once and it just went back to that age. I understand how anyone can go in and edit the pages, but I don’t really know how that happened. Maybe a former label or management thought it was better for showbiz.
So there’s a new Gob album out called Apt. 13. Where did that title come from?
While I was writing it I was living in an apartment 13 in New York, and at the same time Theo was living in an apartment 13 in Vancouver. So that’s how we started doing the record. There’s a song called “Apartment 13” too. It was kind of a crazy time. My apartment was this tiny dorm-type room, and just chaos in the building constantly. It was in Spanish Harlem. I don’t know, it just inspired the song and seemed like the best title at the time.
It’s been seven years since your last album, Muertos Vivos, and you started making this one in 2010. What took so long?
I remember at the time everyone in the band was talking about getting it out quick because the last one had a three-year gap. So I went to Vancouver with these songs and we started working on these songs then. And then Sum 41’s touring picked up quite a bit. We were everywhere in the world: Europe, Russia, China. We also hadn’t toured North America in seven years, which was crazy. And I also had to be here. I couldn’t just stay in Vancouver to work on the record. Plus there were relationships. Like Theo moved to Thunder Bay and back. Loved ones died. People were breaking up. Shit like that happened throughout that time. It was a mixed bag of pretty much every thing that couldn’t happen, which might explain for the growth that happened lyrically on the record.
Your bandmate in Sum 41, Deryck Whibley, nearly died from alcoholism. How is he doing these days?
He’s doing better. It’s crazy and it’s heartbreaking to see something like that happen. Everyone is out on the road partying, and once in a while someone will keep it going for days somehow, and it’s hard to tell when it does turn bad. I don’t think anyone expected that to happen so quickly. But maybe it’s a good thing, because he’s still here and he’s getting better. But it’s fucking scary.
The teaser for the album makes it seem like you’ve become all wise and mature. Then at the end we see Theo’s ugly face. Do you feel like Gob has grown up with this album?
We’ve obviously grown because 20 years ago we were just kids. People in music tend to stay young at heart, I guess. We definitely don’t want to be a fucking joke. And that’s how I think we’d be perceived it we kept releasing Too Late No Friends over and over again throughout the years. So we’ve evolved musically and not necessarily with what has become popular or what other punk rock bands have done. We don’t generally listen to punk rock or bands within our genre. We listen to stuff like Kanye or Chopin, whatever it takes to keep ourselves interested in music. But at the same time there will always be people coming to our shows, even if we turn 100, yelling, “’Soda’! I want to jump in a lake!” So we’re always going to play it at shows.
How often do people yell, “I want to jump in a lake!” at you?
I mean, we’ve played it three or four times at some shows because people keep yelling it out. We’ll play it, then someone will yell for it. We’ll play it again, and someone will keep yelling for it. And then they’re still fucking yelling for it at the end, so we usually just close our shows with it because we sort of have to now.
You sound like a proper singer on Apt. 13. Did you work on your voice?
I took some vocal lessons for a while but I didn’t notice a difference. The vocal coach would be like, “Do you hear how clear and metallic sounding that was?” And I’d be like, “No, I don’t hear it at all.” So I’ve never really been a proper singer, and I kind of like it when it sounds like my vocal cords are going to explode. I don’t really attribute it to anything but maybe getting older and my balls dropping, so I have a deeper voice. I do find it harder to reach the higher notes now. Compared to when we first started putting out records, which were crappy recordings and the only way to make it sound good to us was to yell as loud as possible. And it would sound like a dog barking. So we’ve tried to evolve as a band and become better musicians. It’s sort of the same thing, but we’ve always tried to improve and write better songs.
Gob have always made awesome videos, some I would even call iconic in Canada. Which video was the most fun to make?
I think “Soda” was probably the most fun. They’ve all been fun for the most part. We’ve always had a bit of a “fuck you” attitude ... not totally because I think we’re respectful people, but if someone tries to tell us what to do we will say "fuck you." If a label says we should change something we’ll just say, “fuck you!” Even if they kiss your ass and say it sounds great we still say, “fuck you!” We want to be able to differentiate between good and bad and not have anyone tell us what to do. Early we were signed to Mint Records and they wanted us to make music videos and we thought videos were fucking stupid. We didn’t want to be that band on MuchMusic making videos. And I suggested we would do a video if we could build a ramp and jump our bikes into a lake. And they thought it sounded awesome. And in hindsight it was fucking awesome and that’s why we were doing it. We shot that video and it was fucking fun. And it became a unique video and ironically MuchMusic played the shit out of it. We got a big fanbase because of that, but we were very shortsighted at the time and never really thought about having a career in music. We were taking it too seriously until after that, I guess.
With all of those stunts did anyone get hurt?
I don’t think anyone got hurt jumping bikes into the water but the opening shot a guy does a 360 on a tabletop. Originally two guys were going to do it, one before the other, and the first guy wiped out and hit his head. And it was a pretty long jump, but we sent him to the hospital and just shot the other guy doing it. The guy was fine after, I think it was a small concussion. That was the only real injury.
When was the last time you watched Going the Distance?
[Laughs] I don’t know. I probably only watched it once. But it was fun doing it y’know. I honestly had no idea what the movie would be like though.
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