Exclusive: Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley Opens Up About 13 Voices And Recovery
Sum 41 won their way into the hearts of fans with their catchy pop-punk anthems, charming humor, and nonstop party attitude back in 2001 with the album All Killer No Filler, which featured the huge hits “Fat Lip”, “Motivation”, and “In Too Deep”. The band toured and worked nonstop in the years following their initial mainstream success and even scored their first Grammy nomination in 2011 for their song “Blood In My Eyes” off the album Screaming Bloody Murder. While the band was still rolling along, the personal turmoil for lead singer and founding member Deryck Whibley was reaching an all time low. Whibley found himself in a fog of partying and alcohol that put him on the brink of death. He spent a couple months in and out of the ICU at a Los Angeles hospital and it took over a year for him to get back to feeling like himself. Shortly after leaving the hospital, his road to recovery began, as did the writing for the band’s sixth full-length album 13 Voices.
BUZZNET: Your latest album 13 Voices has been very well-received by fans and critics, myself included. Can you tell me which song you wrote first to get the process going?
DERYCK WHIBLEY: Well, I wrote it when I was just getting out of the hospital, sort of in recovery. I mean, when I was in the hospital I had like 15 IV’s in me and I couldn’t move or do anything. I was all out of commission. When I got out it was still just a slow process. I mean, I couldn’t even play guitar at first. I sort of lost everything.
There were so many things that were wrong with me when I first got out of the hospital. I could barely form a sentence, my motor skills were all fucked up, I couldn’t play guitar, I couldn’t walk. But, once I started getting back to normal and able to focus on music, the first song I wrote was the first track actually, “Murder of Crows.” In fact, for the whole record, the track listing is sort of in the order that I wrote them.
Is there a song on that’s the most personal to you? I’m sure they’re all important, but is there one that sticks out on this record?
DW: They’re all important, but there’s some that are a bit more important than others. There’s a song called “War” which is about having to fight harder and be stronger than you’ve ever been. I wrote that when I was at my weakest and kind of at a tipping point of falling off the wagon again because my recovery process was so slow. Every single day you’re working to get better and when you’re not getting better, it feels like an eternity.
I got to a point where it was like, this is never going to get better so I’d be better off to just go back the other way because even it’s going to kill me, it’s gotta be better than this. I had this realization in that moment of these lyrics that popped in my head and I wrote them down. As I wrote them down, more came and I just wrote most of this song out. I read it back to myself and thought that I have this song now and it’d be dumb for me to go back the other way since I have this song about being strong.
You produced the album yourself as well as your last two records Underclass Hero and Screaming Bloody Murder. Do you enjoy the production aspect of it as much as the writing? Or do you know how you want the album to sound and you don’t really want anyone else to take over?
DW: Do I enjoy it? Not at all (laughs). I do have a way of knowing how I want it to sound because I can hear it in my head, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want anyone else to do it. I would rather somebody else get it the way that I get it, but I just don’t think I’ve met that person yet. I usually take meetings and feel people out for each record. I don’t go into each record saying I’m going to produce this one.
I usually go into records begging management to help me find somebody who can produce this album and I just don’t seem to connect with somebody. So, it usually comes at the last second like “fuck, looks like I’m doing it again.”
So you’d like to find someone that shares the same sort of vision?
DW: I’d love to, yeah. I guess I just I know how I want it to be and it seems to me that when people come in and want to change it or have ideas, it just seems like the opposite thing than what I’m going for. It’s not that they want something in a bad way or they’re bad suggestions, but it just goes in a direction where I wasn’t really trying to go.
Usually, when you get with other people they want you to have success, and they bring up elements of things that I don’t really want or anything. Especially in a time like this when there’s so much pop and stuff like that. The sounds and those kind of genres….I don’t like them.
Right. So, you’re not necessarily concerned about a hit single as you are more of making a great album representative of where you are at that moment?
DW: Oh, exactly. I never want to go and chase the popular sound or anything. I’m the one who has to go out and play it every night, so I have to love it.
That actually brings me to my next question. There’s some bands and artists that prefer to be in a studio writing an album, and others like to be out on the road. Which one do you prefer?
DW: Definitely the road. We are such a touring band and we always have been. Records have kind of been that thing that’s in the way of being on the road but also that thing you have to do to get on the road. I don’t really love being in the studio. Although, now my studio is in my house and I love being in my house, so that makes it a lot better. I used to hate being in other studios.
The band is about to embark on an overseas tour. Are there any places you’re going that you haven’t been before or any places you’re excited to be going back to?
DW: I don’t think there’s anywhere on this tour that’s new for us. It’s a pretty long tour of 8 weeks in Europe and I think we’ve pretty much been everywhere for the most part. I’m excited for all of it because it’s selling out. Showing up to a full house is always fun.
Going back in your catalog a bit. You guys toured the 10th anniversary of the album Does This Look Infected? back in 2012. What was the reasoning to tour the anniversary of that album as opposed to All Killer No Filler?
DW: We really enjoy playing those songs live. I don’t really love a record all the way through. For some reason, every song on that record works well live and it just felt like the album to do it. People brought up doing it for All Killer No Filler or the Chuck album and I just thought to myself that there’s just so much on those albums that I don’t want to play, at least right now.
I mean things change over time. Sometimes you look back and think “I used to hate that song but now I like it.” Maybe there will be a time when we will do it, but if we do decide to do something like that, it’ll only be because I’ve grown to like that album more for some reason.
Which of your music videos was the most fun to make? I imagine “The Hell Song” must be up there. That one looked like a blast.
DW: (laughs). Geez all those early videos were really fun. “The Hell Song” was ok. It required the least from us, just us playing around with our hands for a little bit for only an hour and a half. So it didn’t really feel like we did anything. I would say “In Too Deep” and “Fat Lip” felt like we were really working because those were two days straight of up at 6 AM and working until midnight. But it was really fun too.
Oh my God, I just remembered the “We’re All To Blame” video shoot was just like a giant party where we were just hammered the entire time. That was another two-day shoot and that was a lot of fun because it was a big party. Back in those days, everything kind of was a big party. I don’t even remember half the scenes of “We’re All To Blame”. Like, I see them but I barely remember doing that.
Do you remember the moment when you realized playing music in Sum 41 was something you could make a living off of?
DW: It’s sort of a delayed reaction in the music business because you have success, but you don’t get paid right away. I don’t think I really saw any money coming in until we were making the Chuck album. We’d apparently sold millions of albums and there’s a lot of people at the shows but I didn’t see anything coming in from that. I think by the beginning of Chuck I realized that this is the real thing now once the money started coming in.
Let me get you out of here with one last question. With all you know from your career and the experiences you’ve had with this band, what would the Deryck of the 13 Voices era tell the Deryck of the All Killer No Filler era that he didn’t know before?
DW: You know, I’ve thought about that before. Some people in those early days had offered to give advice that I wasn’t really interested in listening to. I had people saying “if you ever need advice or have any questions, give me a call”, and I remember thinking that I didn’t want advice. I kind of wanted to see what happens and now I think back and wonder if I should have taken their advice or looked into it. And I kind of feel like everything that’s happened has been good. If I was going to give any advice I guess I would say that there’s going to be a lot of ups and a lot of downs but you’re going to enjoy it all, so just take it all in.