An Interview With Sum 41: Crystal Clear

In 1996, a Canadian band called Kaspir was born. 20 years later, we know this international punk quintet as Sum 41. Throughout the two decades, the remaining founding member, Deryck Whibley, has seen plenty of bandmates come and go—all of whom helped mold the band into what it is today. Currently, Sum 41 consists of Deryck (keyboards, vocals), Jason McCaslin (bass, vocals), Dave Baksh (lead guitar, vocals), Tom Thacker (guitars, vocals, keyboards), and Frank Zummo (drums)—and this grouping seems to be just right.

Clearly, Sum 41 hasn’t had any issues with wowing the public. In the band’s lifetime, Sum 41 have been nominated for seven Juno Awards (won two) and have had one Grammy nomination for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance in 2012. This year, the band continues to entrance the music industry with two nominations from the Kerrang! Awards for Best Live Act and Best Fanbase.

However, with art comes something deeper and darker in the recesses of the artist’s mind. Deryck had been struggling with alcoholism for years, which has taken a toll on his body and health. After a year of heavy partying and alcohol abuse as means of seeking detachment, he found himself in and out of intensive care in the spring of 2014. After months of rehabilitation from the strong mediations needed for repair, he found himself thinking clearly for the first time in a long while.

Two years later, after a long, grueling recovery, Deryck is back at it, jamming on stage, writing, and producing Sum 41’s newest record, 13 Voices, which is centered around his recovery. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to Deryck about the fall tour, his recovery, and Sum 41’s brand new record before he left for the round of shows.

How was your summer? I heard you guys were pretty busy.

Yeah! We toured for most of the summer and then August—we were playing at a few festivals. I mean, we were outside pretty much every day this summer, which was pretty awesome. And all the shows were great, and all of the fans were great—it was just so awesome to be back at it after being away for so long, especially after everything that I’ve been through. It feels amazing to be back on stage.

It’s gotta be fantastic. And now you have a tour in the fall, how’ve you been getting set for it?

We’re doing songs from the new record, playing a bunch of songs that we haven’t played in about 10 or 12 years, so there’s a lot of relearning new songs. So, we’re starting rehearsals in a couple of days with the whole band, so it feels like every day will just be a big rehearsal.

Is there a particular venue you’re looking forward to?

Not necessarily. There’s a lot of places that we’ve never played before and I’ve never heard of some of these venues, so I think it’ll just be good to be back on tour, going across North America because it’s been so long. I mean, obviously, we just played Warped Tour, but I mean for our own show, our own fans, and our new songs—this is the first tour where we’ll be playing any new songs, as well.

Yeah, I was wondering if you’d be incorporating any new songs because the album will be out on October 7.

Yeah! Yeah, we are!

And I saw that 13 Voices is the first album that you’ve written sober in a while.

Yeah, it is.

What was that experience like?

I would say the experience of writing it sober was awful. But the reason it was so bad was not because the writing was different or anything. It was the part when you’re not writing, or not working, that was so difficult. Because in the past, when you weren’t working on it, you would leave the studio and go out and get a drink and go to bars, or do something. Go to parties, go hang out with friends. You would do something that would take your mind off it.

Whereas when you’re sober, you go out to dinner, you see a movie, you go out to bed, it never leaves you. You’re constantly thinking about what you’re working on and start overanalyzing and over thinking and you just would never have an escape and that was the part where being sober was awful.

Having said that, I think that was because it was the first time. I think that if I were to make a record now, I would feel a lot better. Because during the first time, you’re questioning and wondering why you’re thinking this, like, “It is not good?” All these things that you’re overanalyzing. Like, “Why am I thinking this? I didn’t think like this before. Does this mean that I’m not doing a good job? What the hell is wrong with me?” You feel like you’re losing your mind. Sometimes it comes out really quickly and easily, and then other times, you have to fight for it.

How did you go about writing this album?

I had spent a few months in and out of the hospital. From just liver and kidney failure from alcohol abuse—from years and years of alcohol abuse. And once I got out of the hospital and had come so close to death, I was trying to recover, which was really difficult because in the hospital, I had all these problems with my feet—I’d had nerve damage from the swelling from all the medication I was on and atrophy from being inactive and in bed for so long. I couldn’t walk, I had to do huge rehabilitation just on my body to be able to walk again.

And then there was my mental state at the time, which was definitely affected as well, and my motor skilled were really f***ed up at the time and I couldn’t form sentences very well and I couldn’t play guitar. I had to relearn everything and at the same time, I was desperately trying to write new songs for a record because I knew that if I had music to work on, it would give me something to fight for and it would help me recover. So I’m trying to do all of this at once, which was a completely new and different experience to writing a new record. Not one that I would ever really recommend anyone do, either (laughs).

That had to have been so tough! Can you tell me a little bit about the songs?

Yeah, well I would say lyrically, the whole record is basically the process of my journey through my recovery. From the first song to the last, it tells the story of when I got out of the hospital to finishing the record. Lyrically, I would say it’s somewhat of a concept record, but it is kind of a chronicle of my recovery from beginning to end because when I write music, every record is sort of a snapshot of what’s going on in my life at that time. I only ever write about myself. I don’t write about other people, I don’t write about fictional characters, I just stick to what’s going on in my life.

You’d think that’d be kind of therapeutic.

(Laughs) Well, they say it is. But I don’t know any different. It’s what I’ve always done.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans about this tour?

Well, I would say that if you’re coming to this tour, it’ll be the most excited version of Sum 41 that you’ve ever seen because all five of us—we’re now a five-piece band, which we’ve never been before—have much more excitement for this band than we’ve ever had before. All of the things that have led us to this point in our personal lives and the celebration of our 20th anniversary of Sum 41 have combined and made this feeling of absolute excitement for being in this band.


Don’t miss Sum 41 as they pull into The Fillmore Philadelphia on Oct. 12, Starland Ballroom on Oct. 13, and PlayStation Theater on Oct. 14. Their new album, 13 Voices, is now available. For more information on the band, visit their site: