Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley would like to think he learned a lot in his first 24 years on this earth, but nothing could prepare him for the past 24 months.
During that tumultuous span, he nearly died while filming a documentary in the war-torn African nation of Congo, wrote a critically and commercially panned album about the ordeal, toured the world, parted ways with founding Sum guitarist Dave "Brownsound" Baksh, nearly disbanded the group altogether and officially entered the paparazzi zone by marrying Canadian punk-pop princess Avril Lavigne.
And needless to say, those experiences affected him immensely.
"At this time last year, we finally got off tour, and we had been on the road for, like, five years, going from album to tour and then another album and another tour. So we were all really burned out," he sighed. "We had no plans, we weren't going to do anything, and I wasn't even sure if we were going to do another Sum 41 record. I sort of thought, 'Well, maybe this is it.'
"Then, we ended up firing a lot of people around us — management, accountants, lawyers — and people quit, and all of a sudden, it was just the three of us left. It was just me and [bassist] Cone [McCaslin] and [drummer] Steve [Jocz]," he continued. "And all of a sudden I had this new life for Sum 41 again, because all the people that needed to leave had gone. For whatever reason, it felt more right than it ever had before. So at the beginning of 2006, we all got together and decided to make another record."
So that's what Whibley has spent the past 11 months doing: writing nearly 20 songs for the new Sum 41 record and preparing to re-enter the vortex of being in a hugely successful rock act. Only this time, the stakes are undoubtedly higher: For one, the new record comes on the heels of Chuck, Sum's worst-selling effort by far, a darker and more mature LP named after the peacekeeper who helped the band escape from an outbreak of violence during the filming of "Rocked: Sum 41 in Congo" (see "Sum 41 On Getting Serious: 'I'd Like To Think That We're Still Goofballs' "). The new album also marks the debut of the new Sum 41: a leaner, meaner three-piece, stripped of Baksh's guitar heroics.
And Whibley would be lying if he said he wasn't keenly aware of all this. "Everything about the [Chuck] record was a f---ing mess. The band relationship was terrible, we didn't have a clear vision of where we wanted to go, we didn't really want to make a record together and we didn't get along with our producer [Greg Nori] at the time," he laughed. "Then, the whole thing with Dave happened, so, yeah, I know there is a lot of baggage attached to this album" (see "Dave 'Brownsound' Baksh Says Sum 41 Got 'Too Dark For The Public' ").
"But I'd like to think that we all learned a lot from what's happened," Whibley continued. "We realized that we needed to be a band again. Because ever since [2001's breakthrough] All Killer, No Filler, we honestly weren't a band. We were a machine."
So, rejuvenated and buzzing with the knowledge that this album is gonna have to silence a lot of critics, Sum entered Los Angeles' Ocean Way studios to begin work. And while Whibley's descriptions of the new songs — none of which have titles just yet — may have some old-skool fans excited ("We're drawing from everything we did well on All Killer and Does This Look Infected? and not so much from Chuck," he laughed), his decision to produce the album himself has been greeted with a strange disdain.
"Some people are surprised that I'm producing this album. And because I said on our Web site that I decided to do it because I write the songs, they go, 'Oh, Deryck has this huge ego now,' " he said. "But I've always written all the songs. If you ask Cone or Steve, they'll tell you I write all the songs. There are different roles to play in each band, and mine is to create the music."
And perhaps the biggest lesson Whibley has learned over the past two years is the one that he's applying in very liberal doses to the new Sum record: "Go with my gut and not give a f--- what anyone else thinks." And no, Avril doesn't appear on the disc.
"We can't wait for fans to hear this album. And we can't wait to get out on the road and prove ourselves to people," Whibley said. "The past is the past, and it's helped me understand that I need to follow my gut instincts. Because the only times I've ever made any mistakes or done something I've regretted, it's because I didn't listen to my gut. So, from now on, I won't let anyone else make mistakes for me. And, yeah, I realize that saying that makes me sound like a total di--."