More about: Sum 41
“We burned out pretty bad after the last record," confesses Sum 41's Deryck Whibley, looking back at the path of a very public divorce into Screaming Bloody Murder into a gruelling few years on the road that ended with a heady lifestyle of booze and decadence, before he nearly destroyed himself and landed in rehab.
"That was a long tour," he sighs. "At the end of it, our drummer quit, I wanted to completely disassociate myself from work, the music and went into this whole different thing that was parties and drinking. I ended up in hospital. That tour really took a toll on us. I didn’t know when or if I wanted to do it again, but coming through that made me realise what was important to me."
The sun at the end of the horizon was a return to what Whibley was put on this Earth to do - make music with his best friends. Now, they're back with the classic line-up back at their core with a few additions, and ready to take on the world. Their natural chemistry intact, their place in the world assured, and driven by the fire to make it count after coming so close to losing it all.
“Meeting up with the guys, it was important that we became friends first," says Whibley. "This was something that meant a lot to us and we wanted to do it, and do it better than we ever have. This is definitely the best version of the band that we’ve been.”
The profound effect of surviving self-destruction and reaching the brink of near death pushed Whibley to find a reason to live, but it was there along. Rediscovering his purpose in life, the thought alone of picking up a guitar again and stepping on stage was enough to pull Whibley away from the edge, fight off his demons and push him to where he is today - a picture of health, and held together by his optimism for the future.
“In hospital I realised the seriousness of my condition, and how close I was to just never being around again," he earnestly nods."It really puts in perspective what you care about and what you want out of life. There are things that are important to you, and things that aren’t the things that seemed important previously, now don’t matter at all anymore.
"When you’re lying in hospital for a month, you have a lot of time to think. I realised what I wanted to do. The idea of a record and tour on the horizon gave me a lot of motivation to get better, quicker.”
And so quite naturally, their new album 13 Voices is about as far from a happy go lucky summer pop punk album as you could expect. This is a rock soundtrack to Whibley's own redemption.
“In many ways, it’s a concept record – but it’s about myself," he tells us. "It’s about my process of completely falling apart and rebuilding everything up to now. It’s the timeline of the fall and rise. The way I wrote music is different to every other album. I set up a separate big screen in my studio and I would play movies with the sound off, writing music to the images that I see like a score. I would put on Tim Burton or Tarantino films for these really dark images, so it felt like I was writing a ‘hard-score’ punk album. A lot of it to me sounds cinematic. When I listen to it, I can see the images of a movie.”
When you hear the word 'cinematic', one might automatically assume that translates to there being 'lots of orchestrated strings', met with a fair whack of OTT grand and swooping bridges along with vivid, theatrical lyrics ideal for a musical. Once again reader, that is not the case. Shredding up boundaries between punk, metal and beyond, 13 Voices is a nightmarish take on Whibley's own reality.
“There are some strings, but it’s done in a dark and edgey way," he continues. "There’s not too much light on the album. It’s been a dark and tough for me, I wrote these songs during a dark time of my life but it deals with mature life situations. The music always reflects who I am at that time of my life. There’s still a lot of me that’s 15-years-old, but I’m getting older and this is where I’m at.
“The last few records have been a window into my soul. The last one was really personal and the fans picked up on that. It was about my divorce, the way I felt and the way I hurt. With this record, it’s about my struggle and insecurities and the positivity of getting out of it.”
'Cinematic' is not necessarily what you'd expect from these guys, but that's nothing new. Each album has made a seismic dent in any misconceptions that you might have about Sum 41. Far beyond 'In Too Deep', 'Fat Lip', if Sum 41 ever were just a pop punk mess of reckless teenage abandon and bad jokes, it was only all to brief in their long and colourful history. Since then, while punk their core, the fringes of their music has wondered any which way they so fancy.
“People would call us a pop-punk band, but if you look at the body of work, it’s probably just the first two albums," shrugs Whibley. "We’re not one style of music. "We don’t look at other bands or the scene we were considered to be part of. We just do our own thing.”
But as adventurous a departure 13 Voices may be for the band, there's something at the core of the record that returns them to ‘the spirit of Sum 41’, and that's the return of axe-shredding guitarist from the 'classic' line-up, Dave 'Brownsound' Baksh.
“It’s probably the best it’s ever been right now," says Whibley of the mood in the band. "The level of commitment, excitement, dedication – every little aspect of what we do is driven by enthusiasm. We care very deeply for each other. It just feels really great. Dave is one of my oldest friends. We just fell out of touch because we were on tour and he was doing his own thing. I missed him for a long time.”
"I left room for more guitar solos on this record. Whenever Dave is in the band, I write with him in mind.”
Sum 41 fans who have been following the band with each record have been on this journey with Whibley - from the snotty punk kid in board shorts to the man who's been through every circle of hell in health, life and love and came out the other side all the stronger. Is there a message in this record for the fans who've followed a similar path? Do they ever reach out to say they relate?
“I think so, yeah," he ponders. "For sure. It ends in a positive way for me, because the album is a timeline. It’s about achieving your goal and getting back on top. I don’t do that for those things, though. I don’t try to speak to anybody, I just speak from the heart. It will probably speak to some people.”
For anyone who's ever burned out but refused to fade away, or is just fighting to come back shining a little brighter, 13 Voices could be the album for you.
Photo: Chris Chadwick
Sum 41 release new album 13 Voices on 7 October 2016.
Their upcoming European tour dates are below.
Aug 11 Rocco del Schlacko Festival - Puttlingen, Germany
Aug 12 Open Flair Festival - Eschwege, Germany
Aug 13 Taubertal-Festival 2016 - Rothenburg, Germany
Aug 14 Sziget Festival - Budapest, Hungary
Aug 16 LKA Longhorn - Stuttgart, Germany
Aug 18 Open Air Gampel- Gampel Bratsch, Switzerland
Aug 19 Highfield Festival 2016 - Großpösna, Germany
Aug 20 Lowlands Festival - Biddinghuizen, Netherlands
Aug 22 And There Comes The Wolves Festival 2016 - Wiesen, Austria
Aug 23 Prague Sounds Good! - Prague, Czech Republic
Aug 24 Chiemsee Summer Festival - Ubersee, Germany
Aug 26 Carroponte = Milan, Italy
Aug 28 Rock En Seine Festival - Paris, France
Issue Two of the Gigwise Print magazine is on sale now! Buy it here.
More about: Sum 41