It’s been a few interesting weeks for PUP, Toronto’s bombastic four-piece pop punk patriots. The band recently appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers, performing the artful angst anthem “Kids” from the upcoming album Morbid Stuff, and though the Late Night debut did have a few sound difficulties—which was no fault of the PUP’s—it was an excellent way for the scrappy young punks to show the world what it can expect in the near future.
It’s almost been a decade since vocalist/guitarist Stefan Babcock, bassist Nestor Chumak, drummer Zack Mykula, and lead guitarist Steve Sladkowski decided to cram into a small room and churn out relatable punk rock verse, and it’s kind of amusing and somewhat ironic that the members decided to go with the name PUP.
The acronym apparently came after Babcock’s grandmother said being in a rock band was a “pathetic use of potential,” but the band has been using this potential to not only ensure careers for themselves, but create eerily relatable art for any 20-something to revel in.
“We played Riot Fest a few years ago and had a huge crowd at this festival and it was just surreal and we kind of had a moment where we were like ‘People seem to kind of give a shit,’” Sladkowski says over the phone from a busy restaurant. “We had no real ambition as far as having a career. We thought maybe as far as driving to Montreal or something to play some shows, drink some beer and then from there it’s kind of become whatever this is y’know?”
So far a few singles from Morbid Stuff have trickled out for listeners to devour, but the album as a whole—out April 5—is going to launch the group into mainstream and perhaps even international acclaim. If a punk band has a magnum opus, PUP’s is Morbid Stuff.
“In terms of where Stefan was at when the lyrics were being written, he was in some really kind of dark places and to an extent, we all sort of have been kind of struggling with mental health and found that one of the great ways to reckon with that is front it in creativity and music and see where that takes us from a cathartic experience,” Sladkowski says.
PUP’s undeniable humour and catchy as fuck vocal harmonies and instrumentation allow the album to take you to some very dark places, but pull you out before it becomes too much to bear.
“There’s some whiteness to try and balance it,” Sladkowski says. “We don’t want to be all doom and gloom all of the time.”
The lyrics are definitely part of the glue that hold a song like “Scorpion Hill” together. Babcock’s style may come from one of nostalgia and personal experience, but for that three or four minutes the listener is living what is being sung about.
“It’s funny, ’cause sometimes I will see so much of myself and things going on in my life through Stefan’s lyrics, even though they have nothing to do with me. He has this really interesting way of speaking from a lived experience that is really relatable and fascinating,” Sladkowski says.
Another aspect that puts PUP above many groups is an intense connectability with its fans, either through sweaty live shows, music videos or the recurring zine the band releases every now and then.
“People seem to want insight into who we are as creative people which is really cool,” Sladkowski says. “Music videos and touring are obviously important, but the zine is another window into our lives, which I think is a really cool thing to have with bands.”
The music video for “Kids” is another window into the metaphorical lives of PUP. Only this time it’s set in a futuristic Toronto 2059. The video has every band member playing an older version of themselves after the band has disintegrated. We are introduced to each member and their chosen path and once a serious event allows them to meet as a band, the video is no longer just a music video, but a sincere short film. Seriously, watch it for yourself.
“Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, who has directed many of our videos and [who] we’re really close friends with and is basically a member of the band at this point, he had this idea that initially started as a joke like ‘I think it would be really funny to have a video where it’s the four of you as old men,’” Sladkowski says. “And then all the Back to the Future and Demolition Man jokes came out, but then it became this really heartfelt and poignant thematic video.”
If you don’t feel anything after watching the “Kids” video then you might be a sociopath.
“We always want some reaction from anything we do as a band,” Sladkowski says. “It even says that in the song … ‘It’s pretty good to feel something.’”
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