The majority of the world learns how to walk, write and do basic tasks for themselves at a young age. Some people like Deryck Whibley, frontman of the pop-punk group Sum 41, had to relearn how to do all this in his mid-thirties. After a grueling battle with alcoholism, Whibley collapsed in his home in April of 2014. He had suffered major organ failure and lost most of his motor skill. Doctors initially speculated death was likely.
After extraordinary physical and mental recovery, Whibley relearned how to play guitar, went on tour and wrote the band’s sixth full length album, 13 Voices. The new album, released Oct. 7, chronicles Whibley’s recovery and how his life has changed for the better while keeping the music rough and hard.
We caught up with Whibley to talk about his recovery and 13 Voices.
What was the first song you relearned how to play on guitar?
Deryck Whibley: Well when I first picked up the guitar, I couldn’t actually play anything. I completely lost the ability to play chords or anything. It was really bizarre. I knew what I was supposed to do and I was trying to make my fingers go to the place they’re supposed to go, but I just couldn’t get them to do it, and that took a few months before I could finally start to get one chord and another chord and stuff like that. There was a bit of a process. I don’t think I really played anything for months. I don’t know if I really played a song. I just went immediately into writing, and the first thing I wrote is the very first song on the record, which is called “A Murder of Crows.”
What roles did your mother and fiancée play in your recovery?
DW: My mom, she’s a nurse, and when I got out of the hospital, I was able to leave, but I had to be under 24-hour care the whole time. Luckily my mom was a nurse, so she moved in and was able to play that role otherwise I would’ve had to have a 24-hour nurse. Both my mom and my fiancee took care of me. I couldn’t move. I was bedridden for months. Basically anything that had to be done, they took care of it.
What does the title, 13 voices, mean?
DW: It sort of represents all the chaotic noise that was going on in my head at the time of writing. When I was sober for the first time and going through all this recovery, all this uncertainty of whether I was ever gonna get better, uncertainty of if I knew how to write songs, uncertainty of if I was gonna walk again, if I was ever gonna be able to play guitar again. All theses things and questions were so much noise in my head that it felt like there was constantly all these voices at all times. For a while there, I thought I was schizophrenic or going crazy. At one point, 13 Voices is what came out. It felt like there was always 13 voices in my head at one time.
What was the point when you realized you were ready to start recording again?
DW: I never really got past the point of that. I sort of just continued through the recovery and the writing process. Then all of the sudden a year later it was done. I realized, “OK, well I’ve come this far. I’m not fully recovered yet, but I might as well go out there and go on tour.” The cycle started whether I was ready or not. I went on the first tour of February of this year, and I was pretty unsure if I was going to make it through. I didn’t really know, but I got through it all. I would say by April, May, by the time we did Warped Tour in June was when I felt really good.
“A Murder of Crows” depicts how people who you thought were close to you ditched you when things got really tough. Who were those people?
DW: They were people that I’d grown up with. I did the thing that they say you’re supposed to do when reach success. You stick close to your childhood friends and people that I brought along with me. It was basically like if you ever watched the show Entourage. It was like that. Some of my family, some of my closest friends, people I grew up with. I had my core group of friends of four or five people that were with me my whole life or when I was around 13 years old. As success happened young, I brought them all with me. I employed them all. I gave them their lives basically. As things got really difficult and I went into the hospital, they all just kinda scattered and were nowhere to be found. As I got out of the hospital, I’d realized that not only they bail on me, that’s one thing, I get it, some people just don’t have that capacity to be there on that kind of level and I can understand that, but what I found out afterwards was how much they were stealing from me and this close sort of family group that I had I realized was just the complete opposite. They had been for years and years and years. I was also pretty angry at the time. I was pretty heartbroken. That was one of the first things that happened to me out of the hospital, so that was the first song I wrote.
What was it like having Dave return as guitarist for this album?
DW: I think it’s been awesome. It was great because we never really wanted him to leave. After that many years, it was ten years apart, it kind of felt like he never left really. We just picked up where we left off. I think the sound of the five of us is different than sound of four of us. The way we are now as a band is completely different from when we are as just four people.
How would you describe yourself before and after going what you went through and creating this new album?
DW: My lifestyle’s completely different than what is was like before this album. As you get older, you go through more things, more life experiences that just change you. My whole life is different now. I’m sober. Everything’s different. At the same time, I don’t really think about it too much either. Do I really know in what ways I’m different? I don’t know. I’m sober. I pay attention to things more. I’m thinking more clear. I feel like I’m obviously healthier than ever. I’m probably happier than ever too. Life just flows at a cool pace right now.