It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for Deryck Whibley and his bandmates in the Canadian alternative rock band Sum 41.
The quartet has been on tour for more than two years, following the release of their 2011 studio album, Screaming Bloody Murder. It’s a trek that has seen them criss-cross the globe many times and which wraps up with a jaunt across Canada throughout March and April.
Once the band gets off the road, it’s no rest for the wicked and they will begin work on a follow-up album, which Whibley hopes to have released later in 2013.
“It feels like we’ve been on tour for almost three years straight, when you consider we were actually touring for a while before the last album was even released. It’s been a long haul, but it’s been great,” said Whibley from his home in California, where he was taking a short break before hitting the road again.
He said part of the challenge of such a prolonged tour is deciding the set list night after night. With material from six albums to choose from, and a plethora of hit songs and popular album tracks, it’s not always an easy proposition.
I don’t consider myself a punk, and I never really cared if we were called punk or not. I just don’t care what anyone thinks, so I guess that mindset makes me ‘punk.’“We try to put something from every single record into the show. We can play three or four songs off every record, and that works out to about 25 songs on the night. So it’s pretty much a mix of everything. Over the past six or eight months, we’ve actually been introducing stuff that we have never played before live. When you put out a new record, you can’t play every song off of it live. So certain songs just never get played. We were pulling out songs that were on records from 10 or 12 years ago that we have never played since we recorded them,” Whibley said.
Over the course of the band’s star-studded career, which began as a humble venture between teenaged pals in Ajax, Ontario in the mid-1990s and has now grown to include 20 million albums sold and two Juno Awards, Whibley has been the group’s primary songwriter. For each album, he finds he takes a different approach to writing, including for this new record.
“It’s so drastically different from album to album. In the past I would write songs on the road, and then there are times when I didn’t. But we have been touring so much that there just hasn’t been time. And most of the touring has been out of North America. When we were touring mostly in Canada at the United States, we’d have a bus. So I could bring a little studio and have it in the back lounge. Most of the touring in the last few years has been done using planes. So there’s no way of bringing along the gear I need,” he said.
“It’s weird, because it’s so different each time. The way I used to do it in the beginning was to treat it like a job. I would sit down and try to write every day for hours. But I learned that creativity kind of comes without your control. Whether you force yourself to sit down every day and try, you’re not always going to come up with stuff. So I was torturing myself. I found when I stopped doing that, and only wrote when I was inspired and feeling creative, I came up with the same amount of songs. I would sit down for eight hours a day for two weeks straight and I might end up with one little piece. So then I realized, ‘what if I went out and had a nice dinner, walk on the beach, party, do this and that.’ I would still get that some one piece over two weeks.
“I liked the songs that came that way better. Everything was coming easier the more I just lived my life. It’s more inspirational. It’s coming more organically. The musical parts were just as good, but I discovered that the words, the lyrics were better. I found that I had more to say, because I was out there living life.”
And the tone of the next record is going to be something that long-time fans are going to be interested in seeing.
Sum 41, which also features Tom Thacker, Jason McCaslin and Steve Jocz, has never been easy to pin down, genre-wise, flitting from being seen as punk, pop, pop/punk, melodic hardcore, alternative metal and just plain alternative.
Whibley has never claimed to be any of these things, and doesn’t seem to care how his band or his music is categorized.
right from the beginning, when we were 15 years old; it was always about playing live.“I don’t consider myself a punk, and I never really cared if we were called punk or not. I just don’t care what anyone thinks, so I guess that mindset makes me ‘punk.’ To me, punk rock is about doing whatever the f*** you want, and that’s all I have ever done,” he said, as he discussed his approach to the new album.
“I haven’t come up with a direction yet. It’s in the back of my mind. I do have a couple of things, a couple of guitar riffs that I have been working on, but not full songs. I do think it will be an evolution from the last record. I’d like to keep it heavier and darker like that one, but I would also like to go bigger and different and add some new instruments. I don’t know exactly what, but I do want to change some things up.”
Interestingly, early in the band’s career, Sum 41 wasn’t all that interested in the recording process, preferring to play live – as often, and as loud as they could. That energy and passion for performance has made the band a consistently popular touring act around the globe.
“It’s funny, right from the beginning, when we were 15 years old; it was always about playing live. We always hated the studio, we didn’t like writing, we didn’t like anything but we knew we had to do it to get to the stage,” Whibley, adding that the band has become more comfortable in the studio, and he has become something of a wizard in the studio, producing, or co-producing most of the band’s music.
And another interesting fact is that, for a band with provocative lyrics for songs like Fat Lip, In Too Deep, We’re All to Blame, Pieces and Screaming Bloody Murder, Whibley struggles writing the words for his musical concoctions.
“I have always hated writing words. Although it comes a lot easier now that I am older and have done it more, but in the early days writing lyrics was a lot harder, and it’s always the last part of the songwriting process for me.”
Sum 41 hits the road with Billy Talent starting March 14 in Hastings Park, British Columbia, travelling through the west and into Ontario for dates in London, Toronto, Kitchener, Sudbury, Kingston and Ottawa before ending the jaunt in Halifax on April 16.