“There was just so much noise in my head.”
Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley is lucky to be alive. Against all the odds, his band are back fighting fit with a new album in tow.
Words: Steven Loftin.
“When this record comes out it’s going to be our twentieth anniversary – that’s pretty fucking cool!”
During their time as a band, Sum 41 have produced timeless pop punk staples that are still played with the same enthusiasm and excitement that they were fifteen years ago; ‘Fat Lip’ and ‘In Too Deep’ are time capsules for a generation that’s grown up alongside them. New album ’13 Voices’ marks not only two decades of the group, but their sixth full-length release – seeing the return of Dave ‘Brownsound’ Baksh after his 2006 departure, and also reaching into the past three years of frontman Deryck Whibley’s life, including his recovery from severe alcoholism that saw him admitted to an ICU in LA.
“Early on in 2001, before ‘Fat Lip’ took off, when it was just on the brink of doing something, we performed at this MTV thing for their 20th anniversary,” Deryck recalls of the moment before his band were launched into the public eye. “We played ‘Fat Lip’ and then we went into some Beastie Boys stuff and then Tommy Lee came out and played drums and then Rob Halford came out and we sang ‘You Got Another Thing Comin’’. We just did this whole medley of stuff and it was really really cool, and the next day it was like we were a different band. People knew who we were for the first time, and then ‘Fat Lip’ started to get played on radio and everything took off from there.”
With such a drastic ascension, focusing on the time that was passing rapidly was never an option. “I wasn’t counting each year or anything, so it’s definitely surprising and it’s cool, but it’s also not surprising,” Deryck muses. “For your band when you’re 16-years-old, you’re that young, you think this is going to last forever anyway because you’re that naive. Now that this has actually happened, I look back and it’s really not very common.” Over the years the band have lost and gained members, but they’ve now settled on being a five-piece with the addition of Tom Thacker (guitar/vocals) and Frank Zummo (drums), joining Deryck, Dave and bassist Jason ‘Cone’ McCaslin. “The band sort of retains the same spirit that it always has, there are things that change within the band, the sound etc., but it still to me feels like there’s always a constant something.”
Part of the band’s endurance comes down to the relatability of their songs, but it’s not something that Deryck immediately focuses on during the writing process. “I don’t think about other people getting it,” he says. “I sometimes write and think I’m being so personal that how could this relate to anybody, and then I hear from fans that they do actually relate and it’s really cool.” After the release of 2011’s ‘Screaming Bloody Murder’, which concerned his divorce from Avril Lavigne, the then four-piece found themselves approaching the end of an era. Although the album resulted in their longest but most fruitful tour, it came at a cost. By the end, drummer and founding member Steve Jocz had left the band and Deryck found himself in a crippled state due to alcoholism, not helped by three solid years on the road.
This is where ’13 Voices’ comes in. Written during his recovery period – a long and arduous process over two years – it’s almost chronological in its delivery. From opener ‘(A Murder of Crows) You’re All Dead To Me’ to finale ‘Twisted By Design’, it’s one of Sum 41’s heaviest efforts both lyrically and musically, though it’s in the title itself where the context for the album lies. Revealing where ’13 Voices’ originates, Deryck explains: “It represents my mind state while making this record, because during the whole recovery I’m doing everything for the first time sober, and there’s also all this uncertainty of if I was ever going to actually recover.
“There was just so much noise in my head, so many voices and all this chaos. It just felt like there were thirteen voices constantly screaming in my head every second I was awake, and even while I was asleep my dreams were nightmares.” He pauses, before continuing. “I actually thought at one point I was going crazy, and when you see crazy people on the street yelling at nobody, I thought I was headed towards that. I was worried for myself. I just realised that it was my own insecurities, my doubt and feeling emotion and fear for the first time in your life, and not knowing what all that stuff meant. All these questions, everything was just swirling around in my head, it felt like there were thirteen voices screaming all the time. That became my working title and it just carried through.”
One such tale from ’13 Voices’, and a particular pivotal moment for Deryck, is first single ‘War’. “That was probably the most important song for me, because it was right at a time where I was at tipping point in my recovery, and I could’ve easily just fallen off and gone back,” he recalls. “The progress seemed like it was non-existent. I was just not getting any better, I couldn’t walk, it was a year into recovery, doctors didn’t even know if I was going to be able to be normal again. It was a wait-and-see type situation, and I almost gave up. Instead of giving up I wrote these lyrics for the song, about fighting and knowing what you want and pushing harder and blah blah blah, all that positive stuff. Once I had the song, I was like I have to live up to this, it’s a song. It would be kind of stupid if I have all these lyrics and I’m just going to backwards, I’m going to have to live up to my own word. So, it kept me pushing forward.”
The album’s been complete for a while, providing a much needed break in which Deryck was able to come to terms with what he had created. “I just listened to it the other day,” he says, “for the first time almost this whole year actually. [Before] when I did have to listen I’d be objective, take myself out of it and just look at it, because I’m also the producer – I had to take my writer side out and try to look at it from a listener’s perspective. I had some time away from it, and it got to the mixing stage, where I was working on it every day, just working on it, working on it – and finally mixed it. Then we went out on tour immediately and we’ve been on the road this whole time, and I haven’t had a chance to listen to it – I didn’t even know if I really liked it. I was like, ‘I hope it’s good’. But all I know is it’s the best it’s going to be, so I handed it in and now I listen to it and it’s not as bad as I thought it was. I was actually way more happy with it the other day than I was when I first finished it.”
With the future here for Sum 41, his demons have been vanquished – which is something Deryck won’t soon be forgetting. “The whole recovery took about two years and it’s still so fresh that I’m sort of reminded of it all the time. The whole experience was so bad and so rough that I hope it stays with me, because I never want to go back there.” They’ve also found a new, healthier foothold in the presence of Hopeless Records, and Deryck isn’t one to ignore the success that’s been granted to them. “I feel pretty confident,” he laughs. “I just write music, and kind of hope for the best – all I know is everything seems to work out. I don’t ask too many questions I just try to enjoy the ride.”