Frontman Deryck Whibley details his long and difficult road back contained in Sum 41’s new album 13 Voices, the return of original guitarist Dave Baksh, his feelings about the band’s older material, and why he doesn’t like modern pop music.
So you’re in the middle of this tour. You have the album out now. How’s it like to have the band back in full-swing mode now?
Oh, man. It’s really good. It’s great that Dave’s back and it’s a five-piece band now. It’s a whole different thing. It’s like a whole different band. It’s exciting to play again, but it’s also exciting to play in the new version of this band because we can do things we’ve never been able to do before.
How did you like playing Colbert? I heard that was one of the things you were really looking forward to.
Yeah, it was. It was great. He was cool. We got to talk a little bit after the show and stuff like that. It was definitely something I’ve always wanted to do. He’s one of my favorites.
When I got out of the hospital and I was in my recovery, I had these real personal goals and things I was trying to do. One of the things was I would say to myself I got to get better because I got to play on Colbert. I have to. It gave me something to look forward to, and then it just kind of happened out of nowhere.
You mentioned Dave’s back in the band now. What was it like having him back in the fold and how much did he contribute on this new album?
He joined the band halfway through the album. I had already written a lot of it. The way he contributes with the record is he just has a sound when he plays something. I had this song called “Goddamn I’m Dead Again.” I wrote that real early on. I had the whole song finished and I saved the last minute and a half for a guitar solo, but it didn’t really get put on until after Dave joined the band. That was the first thing he came down to my house and played on.
I remember it was the night before we left to go play the AP Awards in 2015, which was going to be our first performance together. It was the night before that. He flew down for a rehearsal, but we also had a show in Anaheim at the Chain Reaction. So we played as a four-piece, nobody knew Dave was coming back to the band at this point, and while we played that show he stayed at my house and recorded the solo.
So when I got home after the show at about 2 in the morning, I walked into my house and he was still playing that thing. I could hear it coming from the studio, so I ran into the studio and he played me the whole thing. Anyway, it was just better than I could ever imagine and it was great to hear him back. He just has a sound, you know?
Was that out of the blue, him joining the band again, or had that been in the works for a little bit?
I guess it was in the works for a little bit, but it happened naturally. Dave and I had started speaking again, because we didn’t really talk that much when he left the band. We weren’t enemies or anything. We just didn’t really cross paths anymore. We started being friends again about a year before he joined the band.
It got to the point where we were seeing each other and talking so much that it was weird we weren’t playing together anymore. So it kind of came up out of nowhere, like why are we not playing together anymore? It was like a “well, I’m into it if you’re into it” kind of thing.
I was still going through my recovery at that point, so we weren’t really putting the band together yet. It was in the back of our minds for another six or eight months. Then as the record started to progress and I had about six songs, it was looking like, OK, I kind of have a record here. We should start getting together and putting this band together again.
Leading up to this album you went through a lot of bad stuff, with your recovery and all that, but also a little bit of good as well. What was the whole writing process of that like, just balancing all that and expressing it through songwriting for you?
Yeah, the process was really weird for me at first. Pretty much the whole record felt really uncomfortable to write, because it was the first time I was writing sober, but at the same time I was also in recovery, too. When I got out of the hospital, basically it felt like I was starting from zero with everything. I didn’t know how to play guitar. I couldn’t really form chords. I knew what my fingers were supposed to do, but I couldn’t make them do it. I had to learn how to play guitar.
I also had really bad nerve damage in my feet, so I couldn’t walk, and from being bedridden for so long I had muscle atrophy in my legs. I couldn’t support my own weight. Most of the day was spent in physical therapy, and also going to a lot of meetings dealing with sobriety, going to AA and doing all this stuff. I was working on my recovery most of the day, and then at night I would start to try and write songs again. It was sort of a weird process and everything was new. I never obviously had done anything like that.
For the longest time, it felt really uncomfortable. It felt scary and it felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. Progress was really slow. It wasn’t that enjoyable for the longest time until things started to kind of come together. Walking started getting easier, and then songwriting started getting easier. But it was torture at first, really.
What was the key for you to getting your life back on track and digging down to find the strength to persevere and relearn all that stuff?
Really, it came down to the love of music and doing what I do. Once you fuck up like that and you almost lose everything, you’re sort of stuck. When I was in a hospital bed, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t move. I had 12 IVs in me, hooked up to all these machines and stuff like that.
The only thing I could think about that I wanted to do was to get back out on stage and perform. I didn’t even care about writing new music. I had to get back out and play music again for people. That’s really what I wanted to do. It’s the thing I love the most. Making records was just the way to get there.
One thing I thought was interesting that you said about your writing was writing about yourself is one of the easiest things for you to write about. Why do you think that is?
Well, I’m not sure it’s the easiest thing. I think what I mean by that is if you’re going to write about yourself, it’s the easiest way to stay original. For me, I guess it’s just what I’ve always done. I’ve always written about myself.
If you go right back to the early stuff and “Fat Lip,” that’s who we were. I was writing about what we were like in high school, because that’s when I wrote that stuff. That was our day-to-day life. I’ve just taken that style all the way through everything I’ve ever done. I always feel like a record for Sum 41 is a snapshot of who I am at the time.
Something I’ve always admired about you as a songwriter is your first two records, like you said, were a snapshot of you in high school and being young. But then you slowly started to write about some political topics and matters outside of yourself, and then really embraced that on Chuck and Underclass Hero. What was that transition like for you and how do you think you’ve grown in that area over the years?
I don’t know. Those are definitely questions that I don’t ask myself or think about myself. I just write about what interests me at that time. I remember when we were doing Does This Look Infected? One of the first political things I wrote about, it was before the Iraq War was starting, it was after 9/11 and I wrote a song called “Still Waiting.” There was talk of this war. It was about to start. It was all over the news.
At that age, I was 22 years old at the time, I was really starting to travel the world quite a bit and I had this interest in politics all of a sudden that I’d never had before. It kind of came out of nowhere. I started reading a lot of books and getting really into paying attention. It sort of came out in that song. I don’t really ever think about these kinds of things. That was just my life at that point.
Do you think this crazy election cycle we’ve been stuck in the last year is going to give you some material to write for the next album?
I don’t know. I’ve been following it pretty closely this whole time. I’ve stayed away from getting into it musically just because I don’t have the interest for it musically. It feels like I’ve done it already and I don’t really care to right now. Maybe some day I will, but it is a very crazy election cycle, though.
A song I noticed perhaps some people were a little confused by its lyrics was the song “God Save Us All (Death to POP).” I was wondering if you could talk more about what you were going for there.
When I started writing that song, to me it was about I just wanted to hear more guitars. I remember when I was writing this record and people would say to me, “Why are you putting so many guitars on this record? You know guitars aren’t on radio right now.” I just thought, what the fuck? I’m adding another guitar player to this band. There’s going to be more guitars on this record than ever. I could give a fuck if there’s no guitars on radio.
Then somebody else said to me the guitar is going the way of the saxophone. I was like, what are you talking about? I couldn’t believe it. Everyone was trying to convince me that guitars are dead.
In my opinion, I just don’t care about pop music. I know people like it, and it is what it is. To me, it does nothing. I just think it’s garbage and I hate it. I just don’t like it. Since it’s my song and my record, I’m going to say death to pop, because I fucking hate it. But that’s just my opinion.
Then I also wanted to ask about one of my favorites off the record, the closing track “Twisted by Design.” What was it like writing that one?
That one was a cool one for me, personally. Every song I wrote for the record, the way they show up on the record, the tracklisting, is in order of when I wrote them. So that was the last song I wrote. I felt really comfortable at that point in my own skin. I had gotten over the really tough part of recovery. The record was pretty much done and I felt like this weight had been lifted off my shoulders when I was writing that song.
Lyrically, it’s really optimistic to me, but I’m also singing about the unknown at the same time. It wraps up the whole recovery to me. I had come this far, I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’m about to enter this whole brand new world, which is the public world.
I had done very well in my own world at home and being sober and conquering that world, but going out on tour, being in public and putting the record out there, everything that comes along with that and the public side of it, that’s a whole new world. But I felt like I was ready for it. I was ready to tackle that. That’s what I was trying to say in that song, anyway.
A little bit ago you did that feature for Noisey where you ranked your band’s discography. One of the things in that piece was it seemed you were fairly critical of a lot of your material. I was wondering if you could talk more about that and why you seem to nitpick a lot of your older stuff.
It’s not that I do, it’s just I was asked at that moment. So off the top of my head, that’s how I felt. I don’t sit around listening to those records, saying, “Man, I wish I did this differently.” If I had to look back at it, I can see maybe that didn’t come out as well as I would have liked, or that’s pretty cool. I don’t know.
I do like a bit of everything, even in the early days. I remember when we finished All Killer No Filler. I was not that happy with it. I knew I liked a lot of it, but I didn’t like all of it. I felt like we were always putting out records so quickly. I knew I liked Does This Look Infected?, but I knew it could have been better. I just had no time back then. We were pushing out records so fast.
The thing with Does This Look Infected? for me, no matter what I can’t stand the way it sounds. I hate the way it was produced and mixed. I just think it’s awful sounding. When I know how good the demos were sounding that I had done on my own, it’s hard for me to listen to the album, because the demos were better. So that’s frustrating.
Do you find that you’re usually your own harshest critic?
No, I read way worse stuff online [laughs]. No, I don’t know. I really don’t pay attention to what a lot of people say about stuff. Maybe in the earlier days I probably paid attention more to the online stuff, but these days I get the reaction live. We’re onstage every day in front of people. That’s some of the best reactions.
So what would you like for listeners to get out of this album here and your personal story that you tell through it?
I don’t know. I really did this selfishly for myself. I was trying to make a record so I could get better. I had to make a record to save my life, really. If I didn’t have this to do, I don’t think I would have recovered as well or quickly, or even at all. I don’t even know. I never really thought what people are going to take away from it. Hopefully, it can help somebody else as an example of if you work really hard, you can achieve your goal.
Have you gotten feedback about people relating to the new songs?
I do, yeah. A lot of people come up to me that have gone through a similar thing or know somebody who’s going through a similar thing. So I do meet quite a lot of people that have the same story that I do, which is why I originally came out with it. I felt like there would be a lot of people that go through the same thing. I felt like it would be important to talk about.
’13 Voices’ is out now on Hopeless Records.