Sum 41: “We’re not ashamed of anything, we’re not afraid of anything – we just do what we do”

After headlining this year's Slam Dunk festival, frontman Deryck Whibley told NME about the band's upcoming double album and why they're still doing "what we want to do"

Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley has spoken to NME about their new “accidental” double album and the upcoming anniversary tour for ‘Does This Look Infected?’.

Confirmed earlier this year but still without a release date, Sum 41’s new double album ‘Heaven And Hell’ is almost finished, according to Whibley. Speaking to NME after headlining Slam Dunk festival last month (June 3-4), he revealed that there are about four weeks of work left to do on the record but “the only thing holding it up is the touring.”

“Music will come out sooner rather than later,” said Whibley, who is pushing for a new single to be released this summer.

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Written during the pandemic, ‘Heaven And Hell’ will feature one disc of metal-inspired songs (“there are definitely songs on there that are heavier than anything we’ve ever done before”) and one of pop-punk-influenced tracks. “‘Heaven’ is weird because it doesn’t sound like either of our first two records, but it fits in with that style. It sounds more confident than those early records though,” the band’s frontman said.

Sum 41 Deryck Whibley
Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley CREDIT: Rune Hellestad-Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

That was helped by the fact that the band didn’t set out to write one album, let alone two. “I was asked to write songs for other people,” explained Whibley. “With that, you’re not worrying about anything, you’re just trying to write something you think somebody is going to like.” But once Whibley had seven songs finished, he decided to keep them for himself, which “kickstarted my creativity because the pandemic was so uninspiring”.

“The reason that it’s a double album is because it told us it needed to be,” Whibley continued. He sent all the demos to the rest of the band, thinking they’d help him pick the 12 best but “one by one, they told me they liked the idea of a double album. Plus, if they’re both done, I’m not going to want to sit on one. I’m already going to be thinking about the next thing.”

After releasing two genre-defining pop-punk albums and the heavy metal explorations that followed, Whibley said this upcoming project shows that Sum 41 still have much to prove.

“It feels like you’re a new band on every record,” he said. “It’s a very critical world and every time you put something out into it, everyone has their preconceived thoughts on what you should, can or can’t do. It always feels like you’re proving that you’re still a good band or proving that you’re better than you were.”

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While Whibley said that he has “never cared” for the label pop-punk (“I never liked it, but I will accept it”) the frontman explained how the current revival of the genre hasn’t necessarily made things easier for the upcoming record. “The songs were written before it, but once people started noticing the resurgence, everyone was saying how lucky it was,” he said. “And it potentially is, but ‘Heaven’ doesn’t sound like all this new stuff. We have our own sound. Hopefully, people find that interesting.”

Before ‘Heaven And Hell’ is released, Sum 41 have a huge tour planned to celebrate their first two seminal pop-punk albums ‘All Killer, No Filler’ and ‘Does This Look Infected?’. Rather than playing both albums back-to-back, Whibley said that the band will be playing a “greatest hits set with some songs from those albums that never get enough attention sprinkled in”.

Sum 41 have celebrated their second album ‘Does This Look Infected?’ at various anniversaries over the years because “it just seems to be what people ask for the most”. “For the longest time, I didn’t know why I toured so much but I’ve realised, I really enjoy seeing the joy on people’s faces in the audience,” Whibley explained. “I like seeing the excitement they have. I’ll never understand a band like Radiohead, who I love, but will perform nine songs nobody cares about and then a track like ‘Karma Police’, which makes the whole crowd lose their mind. Why wouldn’t you want to do that with every song?”

However breakout debut album ‘All Killer, No Filler’ never really gets the same amount of love. “For the longest time, I didn’t think it was a very good album and I didn’t care for it.” admitted Whibley. After doing interviews around its 20th anniversary in 2021, the frontman went back and re-listened. “I thought I was going to hate it but it was actually better than I thought! There’s a lot of great energy on it and there’s a looseness to it. We’re not very good at our instruments but we somehow managed to make it work.”

Now, Whibley said that he sees the upcoming shows as a chance to truly enjoy playing the songs in a way that they didn’t allow themselves the first time around. “We weren’t expecting ‘All Killer’ to do what it did,” he said. “It felt like we’d cheated our way in and there was this inherent embarrassment of our own success.”

He continued: “I’ve never really been one for a lot of attention. I don’t do well with it unless I’m on stage playing music. I’ve gotten better with it over time but everything up until my early thirties was a very uncomfortable public time for me. Obviously, the band took off and we were everywhere, then once Avril [Lavigne] and I got married, that was seven years of unwanted, public attention that was hard and uncomfortable to deal with. Then I went into the hospital [for alcohol abuse], which was another round of attention. But once I got out and got sober, I was at an age where I could deal with things better. Everything got a little more comfortable.

He added: “At this point, we know who we are. We like who we are. We’re not ashamed of anything. We’re not afraid of anything, we just go and do what we do, so it’s a whole different feeling.”

While their new album revisits the past, Whibley said that he hopes it reminds people that Sum 41 “have always just done what we want to do”. “Even with all the success in those early days, we weren’t trying to get on the radio,” he said. “We weren’t writing music to be successful. Over the years, styles kept changing and a lot of bands from our genre changed with it, trying to chase that new sound. We just said ‘Fuck it, we’re a guitar rock band, and we’re sticking with it’. So if we put out a record, it’s because that’s what we really want to do, not because it’s a trend or anything.”

That mindset is validated by the fact that later this year Sum 41 will headline London’s Alexandra Palace. “We’re all very excited,” said Whibley. “I’m always nervous. It’s that kind of business, you can’t count on anything.”

The big gig almost didn’t happen though. Way back when this tour was originally being planned, Sum 41 were offered the chance to play just before My Chemical Romance at the emo and pop-punk revival festival When We Were Young in Las Vegas. “It sounded great, but it would have meant cancelling the Ally Pally show, which we definitely weren’t going to do,” Whibley explained. “Since then, that festival has turned into this huge fucking deal but you know what, I don’t regret saying no. Yes, it sounds like a big and shiny opportunity but I’d rather do our own thing.”

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