By Keith Sharp
When Sum 41 lead vocalist Deryck Whibley announced on his Facebook page May 16th 2014 that he was suffering from liver and kidney failure due to excessive drinking, the band’s future looked pretty bleak.
Yet something amazing happened when Whibley was hospitalized to address his personal health and alcoholism problems – he started writing songs. These songs are autobiographical, dealing with the personal demons he had battled throughout his musical career but also setting a positive tone for his and the band’s future.
To be release October 7th, `13 Voices’ on L.A-based Hopeless Records, represents the band’s sixth studio album (and first since their 2011 ‘Screaming Bloody Murder’ release) and features the return of lead guitarist Dave Baksh (who left the band after their 2004, `Chuck’ album), joining forces with current guitarist Tom Thacker. Also making his debut on the record is drummer Frank Zummo who replaced founding member Steve Jocz in April 2015.
As someone who has known Whibley since they were in grade nine together in Ajax Ontario, bassist Jason (Cone) McCaslin has had a front row seat in observing the band’s giddy ascendency, joining them just before they signed with Island Records in 2001 which launched ther debut album `All Killer No Filler ‘ ( and single “Fat Lip”) to No 1 on Billboard’s Modern Tracks chart.
As they racked up future success with album releases `Does That Look Infected’ (2003) and Chuck (2004), winning Juno Awards for Group Of The Year 2003 and Rock Album Of The Year in 2005 for `Chuck’ and touring the U.S with the likes of The Offspring and Blink-182, Sum 41 thought nothing of playing 300 concerts a year. But by the time they released `Underclass’ in 2007, the rigours of continuous touring had caught up to them.
First to go was Baksh in May 2006, for personal reasons, citing a frustration in not being allowed to fully utilize his own creativity. He was eventually replaced by Tom Thacker but when a herniated back problem struck Whibley during a 2007 Canadian tour supporting their Underclass release, a series of cancelled dates began to disrupt their momentum.
“When Dave left it was a big blow to us, we never saw that coming,” commented McCaslin during a phone interview. ” He’d been there since the beginning, it was like,` Oh what do we do now’.”
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The arrival of Thacker plugged that vacancy but Whibley’s back problems and personal health issues eventually disrupted the band’s momentum.
“Deryck’s back problems was the start of everything,” acknowledged McCaslin. “His herniated disc flared up during the 2007 “Strength In Numbers” tour with Finger Eleven and then he suffered a relapse when we were touring in Japan. Derek was in excruciating pain, we had to cancel a lot of dates and by the time we got to recording `Screaming Bloody Murder’ in 2011 no one was talking to each other. Things had deteriorated that much. Deryck’s lifestyle wasn’t healthy, having that back issue, not taking care of himself, everything kind of snowballed.”
For McCasin, it was painful to watch someone he had know since he was 14 going through such personal turmoil. “We all saw what was happening to Deryck but there’s only so much you can do for that person, ultimately he had to agree to help himself.”
With drummer Steve Jocz’s, departure, the band had been on virtual hiatus but when Whibley emerged from hospital, seemingly cleaned up and ready to go with a batch of songs chronicalling his past experiences, Thatcher, McCaslin and new stickman Frank Zumma were ready to roll.
“When Deryck was in hospital , I didn’t think about the band at all, all I thought about was him as a friend,” McCaslin noted. “The band had come second but when he was ready to go again, we had to repair some stuff that had happened in the past, he had to prove to us he had overcame his addiction.
Although he initially couldn’t even play guitar once he was released from hospital, Whibley quickly set about recording demos of the 10 tracks that constitute 13 Voices. “The album is all about Deryck’s recovery and how he overcame his demons,” confirmed McCaslin “Some people may think there’s a dark feeling when they listen to the album but the undertone is very positive. Deryck went through some tough times but he’s come out the other side and that’s the best thing that could happen to both him and the band.”
Clocking in at just over 38 minutes, the album’s first couple of tracks; “A Murder of Crows”, “Goddamn I’m Dead Again”, and “Fake My Own Death” are descriptive of the turmoil Whibley was facing but then tracks like “Breaking The Chain”, “War”, and “God Save Us All” document his revival and the album’s final two of the 10 tracks “The Fall And The Rise” and “Twisted By Design” are not only brimming with positivity but also rate as two of the most polished, commercially-appealing tracks the band has ever recorded.
Having left Island/Def Jam following their `Screaming Bloody Murder” release, Sum 41 turned to their loyal fans to raise money during a Pledge Music campaign. “It was a great way to re-connect with our fans,” McCaslin noted. “Our fans have always been amazing and supportive and we sent them a positive message that we were serious about coming back.”
This positive tone was reaffirmed when Baksh rejoined Sum 41 on stage for their performance at the Alternative Press Music Awards July 23th 2015. At the time it was billed as just a guest appearance but he subsequently agreed to rejoin for the new album.
“Just to be on stage, look over and see Dave playing was awesome,” enthused McCaslin. “It was like being back at the beginning, like we had a fresh start.”
Sum 41 then signed on for the Warped 2016 tour through June to August, performing with the likes of Good Charlotte, Sleeping With Sirens and Falling In Reverse. “It was great therapy for us, performance wise, working with two guitar players and a new drummer. It got us back in front of our fans and made us realize that some of our newer fans weren’t even around when we recorded our first record.
With “War” designated as the first single release on 13 Voices, the band’s cheekily titled “Don’t Call It A Sumback Tour” will kick off October 6th in Lake Buena Vista Florida and will take Sum 41 right across North America with Canadian stops in Montreal (Metropolis – Oct.17th), Toronto (Phoenix – Oct. 18th), Edmonton (Union Hall Oct. 25th) , Calgary (McEwan Hall Oct.26th) and Vancouver (Commodore Ballroom Oct, 28th) before wrapping up the tour Nov.6 in Los Angeles.
“Deryck isn’t 100% fit, he still has back problems and we have a full time masseuse travelling with us but he has convinced us he has his alcoholism problems under control,” McCaslin confirmed. “It feels like a fresh start to us. We have no ulterior motives or objectives but to just get back out there and play for our fans and promote the new record. As far as we are concerned, there is another chapter still to be written.”
For further tour information, please link to http://www.sum41.com