Just before Sum 41 released "March of the Dogs," a song from their upcoming Underclass Hero album, to iTunes, frontman Deryck Whibley posted a bulletin on the band's MySpace page stating that, while the track is "lyrically ... one of the more political songs on the album," it was by no means indicative of Hero's content, adding, "This will NOT be a political record."
And why would Whibley post such a caveat? Perhaps it has something to do with the intro to "Dogs," a spoken-word bit in which Whibs declares: "Ladies and gentlemen of the underclass, the president of the United States of America is dead."
Or maybe it's the song's third verse, which goes "And now the president's dead/ Because they blew off his head/ No more neck to be red/ I guess to heaven he fled."
Whatever the case, it's a pretty strong statement. And suddenly — and perhaps, intentionally — Sum 41 have gotten a lot more interesting.
As luck would have it, "March of the Dogs" hit the Internet after MTV News had already spoken to Whibley about Hero (which is due July 24). And when we reached out to him for comment about the song's incendiary lyrics, he responded with a written statement:
"That line is a metaphor for how Bush is so ineffectual and incompetent as a president," Whibley wrote, in reference to the song's opening line. "It's the worst way I could think of to describe how bad he is as a leader."
Cue right-wing outrage. And, rather surprisingly, a fair amount of message-board outrage as well. When a link to Sum's MySpace page appeared on the punk news site AbsolutePunk.net, reaction was varied — although more members than you might think took the band to task for the lyrics, which some saw as irresponsible, and others saw as the work of a group of outsiders (Sum are, of course, Canadian) who don't have the right to criticize Bush.
"Am I the only one who thinks that talking about killing a president is going too far?" one post read. "I am so sick of the hyperbole in politics. Does he honestly want to kill the president? It's just taking it too far, in my opinion."
"Does he really say 'the president of the United States of America is dead' at the beginning, and then later say something like 'I know the president's dead, 'cos I shot off his head?' " another read. "Isn't that illegal?"
"When I heard they were going back to the sound of the first couple CDs, I was psyched," a third wrote. "But after hearing that first line, f--- that. They shouldn't have the right to talk about our president if they aren't from the States."
We suspect Whibley is ready for this: During our initial chat, his voice flowed with an unabashed, unapologetic confidence that's new for him. It's clear just how important and vital he considers Sum's new album to be, and that he stands behind every chord, solo and yelped vocal on it. Because — for the first time in his career — he's made a record that's completely his (see "Sum 41 Promise Return To Killer Form — Without Avril — On Next LP").
"I started asking myself all these questions that I would ask a band I was producing, like, 'What have I done in music already?' 'What do I want to say?' and 'How do I want this record to be perceived?' " he said. "I had all these questions and I started answering them by writing songs. I wanted to write about something that had significance, I wanted to make an album that was important and I wanted to make something that was 100 percent original.
"So I thought, 'Well, what is original?' and I realized that the only thing that can be 100 percent original is if I write completely about myself, and all the things that are going on in my head and in my life," he continued. "This record is really important to me, and I want everything that I put into it to come across to everybody who hears it."
Whibley produced the disc himself, and though the band recorded 20 songs, he knew "even going into the studio" which 14 were going to make the final cut. He's endlessly proud of songs like "Dogs," "Walking Disaster," "Speak of the Devil" and "The Jester," and hopes that fans will be able to look past all the advance buzz and just listen to what he has to say — although he must know this "president is dead" stuff could make that impossible. Still, he's content with the album the band has made.
"There's so much more of a clear vision on this record. And no matter what this record does, no one can tell me it isn't the best thing we've ever done," he said. "When we were making it, I told everyone around me that I was only going to listen to my gut feelings, because they'll never steer you wrong. In the past, I would listen to [them], but sometimes I could be talked out of following through.
"But this time, I decided that anytime I had a feeling, I was going to go with it," he concluded. "And it shows on the album."