TORONTO — Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley watched from his hotel rooms as the world descended into havoc over the course of the rock band’s last tour.
The Canadian singer-songwriter can place the exact moments when he sensed the political divide growing wider. The first time, his rock band was in England on a European promotional tour as the Brexit vote dropped and “mayhem” ensued.
Months later, he saw Donald Trump’s rise to power in the U.S. election, which polarized the nation across party lines, and witnessed the heated 2017 presidential election in France that led to violent clashes in the streets.
“It seemed to get worse and worse wherever we went,” the performer said in a phone interview from Los Angeles ahead of Sum 41’s new album release.
“I would wake every day and start my morning routine. You’d have the news on, and you’re just kind of watching the chaos of the day — from Donald Trump to whatever else is going on.”
Whibley would occasionally dip into writing new songs to distract himself, but as the turmoil picked up in the outside world, he said he found it harder to escape. Trump had winnowed into the recesses of his mind, and he was seeping into the lyrics.
“My first thought is I’m not going to let this (expletive) take over my music too,” he said.
“I tried to stop it and tried to fight it… I tried to change the words, and it just felt really disconnected. After about a week, I said, ‘Well, (expletive) it. It is what it is, I’m just going to write words and we’ll figure it out.'”
Hearing Whibley talk about politics can be jarring at times.
While Sum 41 built its reputation throwing stones at authority, their rowdy pop-punk anthems mostly ignored specific targets in favour of pushing back on The Man and nameless conformity, like on the title track of their 2007 album “Underclass Hero.”
These days, the 39-year-old songwriter observes the world with more specificity.
His work on the band’s previous album “13 Voices” was an exercise in self-reflection as Whibley clawed back from years of unaddressed alcohol abuse that led him to be hospitalized in 2013 with nearly fatal health problems.
Sum 41’s latest studio release “Order in Decline,” due on July 19, inches closer towards an edgier sound for the band that started in Ajax, Ont. It’s their heaviest, most hardcore effort to date, and Whibley produced and engineered the album in his home studio.
Signs this project is different begin with the album artwork, an apocalyptic illustration of a puppet master operating overtop a man who’s enveloped by flames. Beneath him, a skull looms with glowing eyes.
While the songs don’t directly address Trump, the 45th president of the United States, some come incredibly close to calling him by name. On “45 (A Matter of Time),” Whibley sings about a man who rises to power unexpectedly, but he quickly shifts the narrative onto the people who got him there.
And on “The People Vs…” he breathlessly chastises a failed leader between guitar shreds: “I know a bad man when I see his face, and now we suffer as a human race. And he’s a bad man, but I got faith. To rid this misery he’s got to go.”
Whibley says he doesn’t necessarily consider “Order in Decline” a political protest record, despite the occasional pointed lyric.
“I’m not really talking about specific policies… There’s no specific song about gun control, so I say it’s not really political,” he said.
“I guess you could call it a personal protest.”
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David Friend, The Canadian Press