Picture this: It’s 2001, summer is coming to an end, and kids are gearing up for yet another dreaded school year. As they’re packing up their brand new messenger bag with band logo sticker-covered notebooks, they turn on their clunky, pixelated computer screen to check AIM and play some music. What are they listening to? Most likely Sum 41’s timeless pop punk hit, “In Too Deep,” one of the early 2000s most seminal teenage angst bangers. The music video’s bright blue sky, the empty pool, the diving scenes, the high school kids…. It’s a skate punk classic. And guess what? Sum 41 are still releasing soon-to-be classics, even if both their audience and their sound has matured. Although, as front man Deryck Whibley told me, fans are just as excited to hear “In Too Deep” and the equally as memorable “Fatlip,” as they are to hear “Fake My Own Death” and their latest single, the heavy metal-tinged “Out for Blood.”
Their guitar solos are stronger, darker, but as vibrant as ever, because they’re made for the stage. Whibley makes sure of that. The songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist has always been a rocker at heart, loving the stage and the crowd’s energy, and making sure that every single aspect of every single song comes from a sincere place, with an ear for style, and an eye for performance. That is just a small piece as to how and why Sum 41 continues to shine in this industry, for their fans, and for the world.
As large of crowds you guys have performed for over the years, I think there is something really special about rocking out in a small venue and being able to interact with everyone there. I especially saw that in your Kerrang! special with the Tiny Dive Bar Show.
That was really cool.
It seemed it! Do you have a preference – having experienced both – to massive festival style shows or more intimate performances? Because I think there’s a lot of energy to play off in both.
Yeah! They’re both energetic, but totally different. We really just love playing on stage and it’s kind of fun to change it up and do small shows. Sometimes, even with shows, if you do anything for too long, it kind of gets boring. But even like the biggest shows, I’m doing those over and over again. You will get kind of sick of that and so it’s fun to go and do something smaller. Then you just kind of want to bounce around and be a part of all of it. That’s the fun part of performing—playing for different kinds of crowds.
Absolutely! And you’re making different connections probably with each night.
Yeah, they really are totally different. I mean, it’s exciting to have 100,000 people jumping and singing along and doing that whole thing like for the whole show. That’s one kind of thrill, but it’s also kind of cool to play to like 200 people who are dancing, laughing sometimes, and have such great energy. They’re totally different kinds of shows.
I definitely understand that as a just a concert goer myself. At live shows, Sum 41 never really shies away from their older songs and their past hits. Do you play those tracks on stage because you feel as you need to for fans or is it something that you still enjoy pulling out of your back pocket and just ripping into?
I think we love playing everything. Everything that we play on stages is what we actually enjoy plating. I’ve ever had that thing that I know some bands get into – not a lot of bands, but some bands – where you really feel like you don’t want to play some of your older stuff or whatever. I don’t really understand it, so I don’t know how to describe this, but you know that thing? It’s just for some reason they don’t want to play certain songs live and I don’t know why. We love playing our old songs. And we love playing the new stuff, too! We’re just fortunate enough to just come out, play everything, and hopefully it goes over well.
It definitely seems to be. I’m glad you brought up the idea of newer songs that you’re putting out on stage, are there songs from this new record that you think are really getting the crowd going in ways that maybe you didn’t expect?
Well, it’s hard to say because we’ve only played a couple songs, since we’re getting ready to go do the real world tour with you guys in a few weeks. We haven’t played a lot of new songs, but the few that we’ve been playing, I was surprised by. I was surprised by the reaction to all these new songs, really, because it’s always a tough one to just start playing brand new songs, even before record comes out, and that’s what we were doing. And the reaction was like, was really great. Normally, in the past and if we say, “Hey, we’re going to play a new song!” it doesn’t get a huge reaction like the old songs do. If we say, “We’re going to play an old song!” The whole crowd gets excited even though they don’t know what song it is. What was happening this time as that we were saying that we have this new record coming out and we’re going to play a new song, and then the crowd would scream like it was an old song! So that was surprising, and we haven’t even released some of these songs yet. The reaction for new music for us, in general, is so, so great and surprising at the same time.
I can only imagine how exciting that is! Now, let me tell you, I think your new record, Order in Decline, is superb.
Oh, cool! Really? Thank you!
You’re welcome. And I know it was written predominantly while on tour, your last tour. So I think a lot of musicians actually find it hard to turn out great lyrics and cohesive songs while on the road. But you seemed to create, I think, some of your most honest tracks of your career while out in the world and touring. So, because there is so much passion found on each of these songs, how did you get to that place to write them while actually being on the road?
I think there are a couple of things. I think a lot of it was started on the road, but then a lot of it was finished at home, so it kind of had a bit of both. I think a lot of the sort of spark and the energy of the songs came from being on the road, but to really sort of sit down and kind of hone it in to complete the song… I had to be at home. So, it was kind of a mixture of both. And I think I needed both! A lot of the guitar riffs and the main parts of just the music were kind of coming to me while we were touring. I would get like little lyrics and stuff like that, I would just get a lot of little bits of music, and then when I got home I would kind of be able to put it together a bit more cohesively, if that makes any sense?
Yes, 100 percent.
I don’t know why this time was different and I was able to write on the road. The only reason I can think of is because I was so excited about what was going on on stage for us on the last record. Seeing that reaction from the fans that whole tour was really inspiring. It made me want to make new music and get back out there.
And fans are very glad that you did! I feel like creating this music on the road, like you said, allowed you to pull on the energy from the stage. You could actually see what sound and style you want to incorporate and use the fans as a way to kind of put together a song the way fans would take best to, since the music is as much for you as it is for the fans.
Yeah, definitely! I always write music for the stage, really. For me, I don’t really ever write a song that I just want to kind of work for a record and not be played live. I always think of that first, so I don’t know, I just write music and the stage kind of inspired me.
That makes a lot of sense, because, like you said, you love performing, so why not use that as a muse?
Speaking about writing and how you put together some of these new songs, would you mind telling me a bit about “45 (A Matter Of Time) and “A Death In The Family,” because I believe that these two tracks are not just some of my favorites off the record, but they’re also very powerful in their own ways. And, probably more pointed than ever.
It was just some thoughts, you know? It was just sort of feelings I had and stuff that was sort of bouncing through out of my head. It’s not like I really sat and tried to come up with those songs. They just sort of came out. I find that when I’m writing anything, I don’t really know what it is at first and just stuff kind of comes out. I just sort of bring it back to myself after a couple of lines and try to figure out what I’m trying to say. Sometimes I like it and something I don’t. In terms of “45,” I mean, for some people it is self-explanatory and for some people it’s not. 45 is a reference to Donald Trump, who is the 45th president, who is just really not my kind of guy whatsoever. This all sort of was coming out and I actually didn’t really want to go there, because I just felt that he’s already everywhere… and now he is going to take over my fucking music, too? I was just kinda like, I don’t want to go there because of that, the fact that he is everywhere. So I kept trying to change the words and try to write something else, but every time I did try to go another direction, it did not make any sense and was going nowhere. After about a week of wrestling with it, I just said, “Fuck it. I’m just going to write whatever I am going to write, and it is what it is.” And I sort of gave up, you know, just let the words come as they may. It ended up just being that.
“Death In The Family,” to me, is somewhat of the same kind of thing. The same kind of vibe in a way. This song is how I would describe my feelings after the 2016 election, like for like a week after, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was moping around the house. I just did not know how to explain how I felt. I’d get on the phone and people would say, “What do you think?” I would just say, “I feel like there’s been a death in my family, I don’t know what to say.” That was the only way to describe me feelings about the whole thing.
Right. I think that’s maybe why these songs did just flow out of you. They just had so much personality and strength in them in – and in you. So that shows in the song itself.
Yeah, they were just there! I didn’t really try to write them. Things kind of just came out. That’s who I am and that’s what I was truly thinking of that time.
That really does show that there is strength to be felt in those lyrics and it is clear that they are personal to you, so thank you for sharing that. Going back to the topic of touring, I know that you guys have partnered with War Child for this touring cycle, an organization for social change that stemmed from the band Arcade Fire. You actually have a really interesting history with this group, having gone with them to the Congo years prior – this of which inspired much of the music on Chuck. What does working with them really mean to you?
We have just always liked what they’ve been about; the people and the things that they’ve done, but that being said, we do have some history with them and that history that we have with them was such a huge thing in our lives. The people from War Child who went with us to Africa, that was such a big part of their lives, too, so we’ve sort of been bonded with them for a long time. We’re always looking for ways to work together in some kind of way. You know, in the past that, like when we went to the Congo, that was a little bit more hands on and we went and got into a war zone and got into awful situations – which we don’t really want to get that hands on and we don’t really go to the word zone again, but this is another way that we can still work together.
They do a lot of fantastic work and I’m glad you have that connection with them.
So, Deryck, your life, both personally and professionally, has been a bit of a roller coaster – and much of it has been in the public eye. You’ve pushed through everything life threw at you and you came out on top, as you deserve, but did you ever not want to share your stories and your struggles with the world? Just keep the personal, well, personal?
Yeah. I sort of feel a bit of both sometimes. Sometimes I feel like ‘Why do I let it all out? And sometimes they just feel like it’s something that I have to do. The way I operate is somewhat easy, but also hard to explain, because I don’t really think about the way I go about things. Then, when I get asked something, I’m kind of like, Well, I don’t really have an answer, because the only way I go through life is how I speak. So if I’ve said something that day about my personal life, that is just because that’s how I felt that day, what I felt I should talk about, and what I wanted to do. I didn’t really put much thought into it and never really do. I don’t exactly know why I did that or why I didn’t do other things. I have no idea. I just sort of feel my way through life and hope for the best.
Be sure to catch Sum 41 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC on October 28!