Punk veterans Sum 41 have a lot of feelings about the social and political turmoil embroiling the world at the moment.
While it would be typical of a punk band to write a protest record at a time like this, the band explicitly wanted to avoid that on their seventh full-length, Order In Decline. The record’s as reactionary to the hatred being spread around the globe as it is a personal reflection of lead vocalist/guitarist Deryck Whibley’s views of society and his own life.
“All of that stuff that is going on when you watch the news or, for us, from traveling around and being in a different country almost every day— especially when we’re in Europe—you start to realize everywhere you go, it’s chaos, division, confusion, hatred and it’s all for different things,” Whibley says. “Every country has its own version of it. It was everywhere we went, and then I came home, and I started writing music.”
After Sum’s extensive worldwide tour came to a close in 2018, Whibley returned to his Los Angeles home and started writing what would become Order In Decline.
Whibley worked relentlessly on instrumentals and completing the majority of the material in just under a month. When he was watching the news while getting ready to start his day in the mornings, though, he found himself overwhelmed with negativity.
He determined that he wanted his music to act as an escape from the constant gloom in the news cycle.
“When I started writing lyrics and the words started coming out, I thought, ‘Goddamnit, I don’t want to write about this stuff! I want an escape from it,” he explains. “I don’t want to write about Trump and all of his bullshit. Now this asshole is taking over my music?’ That’s what I thought.
“I kept trying to change words, but the way that I write is I just let it come out. I usually just let it come out and follow it, but this time I was really trying to stop myself and change the words. Every time I would change it, it wasn’t making sense, or I wouldn’t like it.”
America’s current political climate seems like the worst-case scenario to many people. However, the band behind classics like “Fat Lip” and “In Too Deep” have firsthand experience with dark world politics.
Back in 2005, the band released a documentary of after being trapped in a hotel by African warlords and the dangerous evacuation mission that followed.
Whibley found his lyrics kept returning to social and political issues: He knew he didn’t want to write a protest record and continued rearranging songs to reflect that. The musician stopped to contemplate a deeper meaning. Why was he writing about these problems?
Ultimately, he created a record that was more about his life at the moment than the world as a whole.
“I’m not going to talk about specific policies and trying to change the world or impeach the president and all of this kind of stuff,” he explains. “But I can talk about how I don’t like [Trump]. I can talk about my own personal feelings, I guess. If I have some sort of anger, I can write an angry song, but I’m not necessarily saying, ‘Time’s up, we need to impeach the president.’
“A lot of people are. There’s a whole movement trying to go down that road, and I support that route to a certain degree. I’m all for voting him out, but yeah, he’s not my kind of guy.”
Consequently, Order In Decline contains Sum 41’s heaviest material to date. Tracks such as “Turning Away” or “Out For Blood” are essentially metal songs, but the band don’t shy away from the ballads that have always been present in their discography.
One of the most personal songs on the record to Whibley, “Never There,” is a piano-driven track discussing the lack of a relationship between him and his father, though it nearly didn’t make it on the album.
“I didn’t want to write that song,” Whibley says. “I fought that song. It wasn’t even supposed to be on the record. When I sat down at the piano, I wasn’t even trying to write a song that day. I was just playing the piano for fun.
“Something started to come out, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a catchy melody’ and went with it, and I said a couple of words, then wrote those down. As it went on a little longer, I was like, ‘What am I writing about here?’ I thought, ‘I know what I’m writing about. I’m writing about my dad.’”
Whibley explains the strength of his relationship with his mother, his father hardly even enters his mind. He understood the topic was coming from a subconscious place, and after thinking about his true feelings on the situation, he came to the conclusion that his dad “must feel worse than I do because he’s lived his whole adult life without knowing his son, whereas I grew up with a great mom and never even thought about him.”
“Never There” was originally planned to be given to another musician to use, but after discussing it with his manager, Whibley finally gave in and made it a Sum 41 song.
“I said [to my manager], ‘I have this other song, and I’m thinking of giving it away to somebody. Do you have any thoughts on what I should do or who I should give it to? Because it’s not a Sum 41 song.’
“I played it for him, and he thought, ‘Why would this not be a Sum 41 song?’ I thought it’s a heavier record, and it didn’t seem to fit. He [said], ‘This is totally a heavy song. It’s just heavy in a completely different way.’
“Once he said that, I thought I would start wrapping my head around it, and I started trying to fit it into the sequence and thought, ‘You know what? I actually do like it now.’ Once he made me realize that it is a heavy song, just in a different way, it all made sense.”
After all, the frontman has been vastly candid about his personal life, offering fans a glimpse into the struggles he’s experienced over the course of several full-lengths.
Whibley says he realized he enjoyed including personal reflections in his music around 2007 with Underclass Hero, but he firmly believes it’s something musicians should only do if they’re comfortable with it because “it’s not that comfortable a lot of times.
“It wasn’t necessarily intentional, but I noticed that [the records] became more personal, and I enjoyed the process of writing better,” he shares. “I don’t really know why: Maybe it’s cathartic, or maybe I like the idea that to me, it’s a way to be original to yourself because it’s your story. It’s a way to be honest in music.
“Personally, it can be heavy, but it also can start to mean something to somebody else, and I only know how to talk for myself,” he resigns. “I don’t know how to talk for other people.
“Sometimes people will come to me because I’ve been so open about when I was in the hospital and getting sober that I don’t necessarily know how to talk to people going through those things even though I’ve gone through it myself—because it’s very individual.”
While Order In Decline may sound like a lot of doom and gloom, Whibley feels positive about where the world is heading. The band address the issue of America’s president on “45 (A Matter Of Time),” relaying a heartfelt message that Trump won’t be in office forever.
Even though the U.S. and Canada are experiencing trying times, Whibley’s experience touring across the globe reminds us that political turmoil isn’t isolated to North America, and change will eventually arrive.
“Nobody is really that unique, and that’s when I realized it’s different issues that people are divided on or things that are going on in someone’s country,” he says. “But we’re all the same. Everyone felt the same; everyone acted the same. There were just different reasons for it.
“I would say it’s a matter of time because again, I’m not one to say we need to impeach the president,” he opines. “It is what it is, It’s not what a lot of people want. It’s what some people want, but that’s the process of government, It’s a matter of time. He’ll be voted out or the worst happens, and he’s reelected.”
This feature originally appeared in AP issue #371 with cover stars The Driver Era, which is available here.