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Sum 41 talk Underclass Hero

Sum 41, Underclass Hero

Feature by Jack Foley

WHEN it came time for Sum 41 to start work on their fourth Island album, singer/songwriter/guitarist Deryck Whibley wasn’t even sure there was a band after the exit of original member, guitarist Dave Brownsound, and the split with their old management company.

“We were kind of left with nobody,” he says, meaning that he ended up producing the album himself. “All the odds were stacked against us. People were saying we couldn’t recover from all these changes. There was so much doubt.”

The result, Underclass Hero, marks a step in a bold new direction for the group, whose three full length albums, 2001’s All Killer No Filler, 2002’s Does This Look Infected? and 2004’s Chuck, have sold over 7 million units worldwide.

“We haven’t been this together since our first album,” boasts Deryck. “I would only have done this record if everyone was into it. There was no point otherwise. There was a lot of negative energy out there.”

For the new album, Whibley was forced to look inward and make the songs his most personal yet, dealing with his absent dad (Dear Father (Complete Unknown)) and Walking Disaster), Dave quitting the band (So Long Goodbye), and his inner demons (Speak of the Devil and Count Your Last Blessings).

And continuing the direction of more political songs like Does This Look Infected’s Still Waiting and Chuck’s We’re All to Blame are harsh condemnations of the current administration such as Confusion and Frustration in Modern Times, March of the Dogs and The Jester – the latter two particularly critical of Bush.

“I had to decide what I wanted to say with my music,” continues Whibley. “I asked myself all these questions and then just pulled up my own answers and started writing songs based on those themes.

“I wanted to make an album that meant something important from beginning to end. I wanted it to have relevance and significance.

“It’s not a concept album, it’s not about fictional characters in a made-up story but there is a constant idea that runs through the record. It’s a deeply personal statement that reflects the confusion and frustration in modern society.”

Stylistically, Sum 41 continue their unique meld of raucous punk-rock and thunderous heavy metal. The first single, Underclass Hero, is a rallying call to arms.

But there are different instrumental touches like the jangly pop intro to Dear Father (Complete Unkown), the icy piano line which opens and closes Count Your Last Blessings, the Beatlesque Ma Poubelle the melodic acoustic guitar in Best of Me and So Long Goodbye.

“You can’t help but grow up a little,” says Whibley about the band’s musical and lyrical maturity. “We now see the artistic side of music. We wanted to make this the most artistic punk-rock record we could. We approach music differently now. Things now have a purpose. We care more about the craft of it now.”

That growth can be traced back to the group’s trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004, where they were trapped under fire from a local skirmish before being led to safety by a United Nations worker named Chuck Pelletier, after whom they named their third album. The politicization of the band continues on the new album.

“We’re still f***ing idiots who do stupid shit all the time,” says Whibley. “I still get in trouble. I can’t help myself. We’ve gone through so much over the past 10 years.

“But the thing I’m proudest of as a writer is being able to meld different styles of music together and make them work in a way that seems very natural.

“[With this album] I wanted to push the boundaries of what our band can do and what punk-rock can mean. I’ve always listened to melodic, acoustic music lately and I’ve always written stuff like that, but never finished it enough to put on an album.”

Read our review of Underclass Hero