"The world seems connected by its divisions"
Noughties pop-punk flag bearers Sum 41 are back with a new album ‘Order In Decline’, their first since 2016’s ’13 Voices’. Following three years of solid touring, frontman Deryck Whibley (pictured centre) became inspired by the social and political unrest he witnessed around the globe, and has channelled that turmoil into the “heaviest and most aggressive” album of the band’s 23-year career. But while ‘45 (A Matter Of Time)’ has you-know-who in its lyrical crosshair, it’s also his most heart-on-sleeve personal record with the likes of ‘Never There’ discussing the connection with his absentee father who he’s never met. NME caught up with Bizzy D to talk Trump, why rappers love Sum 41 and whether Avril Lavigne is a clone.
Deryck, it seems like world events where looming large on your mind when writing your new album ‘Order In Decline’…
“It’s hard to ignore. Especially travelling the world and going to different countries, everywhere has the same sort of division and chaos.”
What sort of things were you witnessing?
“We’re in a bubble, but on our last album cycle, half of our crew were Donald Trump supporters and all of us were not. But we all got along fine and could laugh about our different opinions, which is how it should be. For me, the biggest problem is a lot of leaders of right-wing parties – especially Donald Trump – love to stir up division, hatred and anger and use it to their advantage and that’s a horrible quality for a leader.”
Talking of Trump, your new single ‘45 (A Matter Of Time)’ takes lyrical aim at him…
“I totally did not want to write about him at all. The day I realised I was writing about him, I thought: ‘Is this asshole taking over my music now too?! Goddammit!’ I tried to change the words but they wouldn’t make sense and were awful so I just let it happen. I was against him from the beginning and I’ve only grown to disagree with him more as time goes on. Every day there’s something new to dislike him for.”
“He relishes hatred, division, separation and chaos. He stirs everybody up, everybody fights with each other and all this shit happens, people get hurt and he sits back and enjoys it. He’s an egomaniac. He grew up as a spoiled rich kid and constantly lies all the time. I’ve known people just like him who grew up super-rich and are compulsive liars.”
Have you faced any backlash from any Republican Sum 41 fans for the song?
“Not yet, but we’ll see. (Laughs) I don’t play into his division and hatred. I’m not against anybody who’s a supporter of him because they probably have a reason for it. Unless they’re like the Neo-Nazis who marched on Charlottesville and think he’s the closest thing they’ve got to a racist president.”
It’s also a personal album. ‘Catching Fire’ is a ballad about those you’ve lost and almost lost throughout your life. Was it a difficult song to write?
“The difficult thing was knowing I was heading into mental health territory. It’s not all about that but I was entering into it a little bit and wanted to be careful to not sound like I understand what it’s like to suffer from depression because I never really have. What I was trying to do was come from a place of being the person who’s lost somebody – and I also wanted to write it as a love song for my wife [Ariana Cooper] because I wouldn’t know what to do if I lost her. At the same time I was writing it, there seemed to be a rise of celebrities taking their own lives – with Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell and Chester [Bennington] – so it was all on my mind and the song just came out.”
You referenced Chester Bennington there and you were one of the acts at the emotional 2017 ‘Linkin Park & Friends’ concert celebrating his life and legacy. Then last year, Mike Shinoda joined you onstage at Reading & Leeds, to perform ‘Faint’ in tribute. How did that feel?
“Both times were phenomenal and it was an honour to be asked. It was also nerve-wracking because you want to do right by Chester, the band, and the Linkin Park fans – and lastly, you want to do well yourself. It was scary. Both times I had no rehearsal so I was going out there and winging it.”
In 2014, you came close to death yourself when you were hospitalised for alcohol addiction. What went through your mind knowing those moments could be your last?
“It’s recent but it feels like ancient history because I’ve gone so far from that. I think I realised how important music was to me and performing live. All I could think about was I need to get out of here and back onstage. For a long time, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to, even though I knew I was alive. In the hospital, it was touch and go. I had to be thrown into the ICU [intensive care unit] a few times because things would go badly but once I was out of the hospital, I didn’t know for about a year and a half if I was ever going to be onstage again.”
“I had a lot of nerve damage in my feet – which I still do. It doesn’t hurt anymore but it used to feel like I was walking on glass or hot coals. I couldn’t stand – I had to keep my feet elevated. It was like that for a year and a half and the only thing that got me to do it [go onstage] was to just throw myself out there and try it, and then the pain started to go away.”
“The only thing I’m left with now is my feet are numb – I don’t feel the bottoms of my feet very well – but at least it doesn’t hurt.”
You’ve dubbed ‘Order In Decline’ your heaviest and most aggressive record yet. What influenced that?
“I was writing a lot of the guitar riffs when I was on the road for the last record, ’13 Voices’, so I guess I just wrote things that made me want to play live. It felt like a live record to me.”
In our recent ‘Does Rock ’N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!‘ feature with you, you recalled how Liam Gallagher once swaggered up to you and complemented Sum 41. Any other unlikely fans of the band?
“We were the first rock band signed to Island Def Jam. Everyone else was hip hop. We’d come from the rock scene in Canada where everyone hated us – for not being punk enough or poseurs. We thought these legit rappers would hate us, especially as ‘Fat Lip’ had some rapping in it. But they were all the nicest dudes. I remember Method Man, Ludacris, Ja Rule and Jay-Z were so friendly with us and we couldn’t understand it! But there was this recurring thing they’d say which made it all click. They’d be like: ‘Yeah, Sum 41! You guys are making money!’. And I realised that’s all that matters to those guys – if we’re making money, we’re cool!”
You also spoke in the Braincells feature about dressing up as your ex wife Avril Lavigne for Halloween in 2012. Have you heard the bizarre conspiracy theory about her that gained popularity last year?
“That Avril’s dead and has been replaced by a clone? I’m not surprised it was invented. I’m surprised it gained any traction because it’s ridiculous (Laughs) and the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! What’s weird is a really good friend who I’d known for a while brought it up to me, saying ‘Dude, did you hear the theory about Avril?’ I’m like (Dismissive) ‘Yeah… I know, it’s ridiculous!’ Then he’s like: ‘Yeah, but there’s some strong arguments. It’s pretty convincing!’ I was like ‘Wait! You believe it?! I don’t know if we can be friends anymore!’ That whole thing was weird to me. I’ve never talked to her about it. I should ask her about it!”
Sum 41’s new album ‘Order In Decline’ is out July 19 via Hopeless.