Posted by: Scott Clancy
Toronto pop-punk band PUP wrapped up the latest leg of their American tour here in Chicago to a sold out crowd Thursday the 23rd. Their third album “Morbid Stuff” brought them to the Metro earlier this month, on the 4th, for a show that also sold out so quickly that this last one was tacked on to satisfy the high demand Chicago fans have for a PUP show. “Morbid Stuff” was released back in April, has been present in the college radio charts since, as well as on WLUW’s air waves. WLUW staff members Paul Quinn and Scott Clancy, along with their friend Jeff, were invited onto PUP’s tour bus (which had a microwave) to talk to singer/guitarist Stefan Babcock, bassist Nestor Chumak, guitarist Steve Sladkowski, and drummer Zack Mykula about “Morbid Stuff,” Rage Against the Machine, salads, Robert Smith, touring, Chicago music, and Chicago organization “Our Music, My Body”, and so much more. Check out the interview and look for “Morbid Stuff” out on Rise Records.
Paul: Today’s the last day of the leg of the tour, right?
Paul: How you guys feeling?
Band: Home tomorrow! Too tired.
Stefan: Feeling tired, but lucky.
Nester: Yeah, just like it was awesome. Yeah, it just works out perfectly. Like my wife’s birthday tomorrow, so it’s actually, it’s actually good timing.
Scott: You’re going home, you said after this? How long are you guys home for?
Stefan: A couple of weeks. Couple of weeks where we’re more or less on tour. We started this tour kind of mid to late March and we’re pretty much on tour til December, but we got a couple of weeks here and there. So we’ll get her first little break starting tomorrow and then back at it. It will be great.
Paul: So, Morbid Stuff came out, you guys came around for tour, how has been the fan reaction? Going and playing all over the country so far?
Stefan: It’s been awesome. Uh, yeah, it’s been really good. Most amazing thing is like playing these songs, you know, a week after they came out and having crowds shout the words back in their face, like, people know the songs already. And that’s been really, pretty rewarding.
Steve: I think we maybe underestimated it. Like you look at a city like Chicago and we have a night booked at the Metro, you know, we played a few weeks ago and it’s sold out so quick. We were all kind of like taken aback, and I’m not trying to be disingenuous. We just weren’t sure what the reaction was going to be and the fact that it’s been like this overwhelming really kind of kept us going, to like fight through fatigue just from, you know, the demands of being on the road when you know that people are this excited.
Paul: Jeff and I were at the first night and it was fantastic. Both Casper Skulls and Ratboys are fantastic too. How was the first leg of tour of being with those two bands?
Stefan: So, both of those bands, I just can’t say enough good things. Like not only are they fantastic bands, but they’re all great people and touring with your friends who are in really good bands just makes life so much better and easier. We’ve done, we’ve run the gamut of tours from, you know, people who have been our friends forever that we just love hanging out with and bands that we just haven’t gotten along with. And being on this tour with just, you know eight other people who we all love and admire for their musical abilities and personality has been just awesome.
Nester: Yeah. And I know Casper Skulls is getting home and they’re going to finish the record and I know Ratboys, they’re sitting on a record. Yeah. Like they played a couple of new songs here and there. I like they are going to clean up when they put those records out, like both bands are going to be fucking so good.
Scott: So, I want to talk about your new record Morbid Stuff. What differentiates the new one from past PUP releases? Is there a personal theme to it or what kind of goes into it rather than the other ones?
Stefan: Well, I think we’ve kind of always stuck to our guns in terms of what kind of band we wanted to be. We’ve all known from day one… or day five what this band should be and I think the three records, in my opinion, people may not agree, but in my opinion, each record has been better than the last. And I don’t think it was about trying to do anything different, but it’s just kind of about each record has been about getting better as a band, getting more confident as songwriters and just sort of leaning into the thing that we know we want to be good at. The third record has been a bit of a continuation of the first two and in the same kind of vein our goal has been with all the records to do the same thing, but better, and to not repeat ourselves. So I think we accomplished all of that on the third record. You know, it’s not a perfect record, but we feel good about it.
Scott: So, what kind of band did you set out to be then? You said like day five, you had that idea of what kind of band you wanted to be?
Stefan: I think we always wanted to be like sort of heavy, but poppy at the same time, you know we wanted to write hooks but be a heavy band and we wanted to do it and kind of challenge ourselves to do it in ways that other bands maybe hadn’t done. I think there’s a lot of weird stuff that people either like or hate about this band. Whether it’s kind of screwing with the time signatures a bit or you know, abrasive lyrics or you know, I don’t know.
Zack: A live show that’s about to fall apart at any moment.
Stefan: Yeah, I mean for a lot of people these are probably things that maybe turn them off of this band, but, it turns us on that it’s what kind of makes it interesting I think to be in this band, for me anyways.
Paul: Using those words, what’s the biggest turn on you guys have as a band on stage?
Zack: I don’t know. Recently it’s been at the end of Morbid Stuff when people like wave their hands to the quiet outro, like that’s been big, it’s like that people are into it. It has been very edifying, especially all the way to the end. Yeah. Yeah. And another big thing is our crowds get pretty rowdy and people respecting each other is a big part of our enjoyment and like making sure everyone can have five minutes of community as opposed to a bunch of individuals. That makes our lives better. It makes the audience’s lives better. So I’d say that’s a turn on.
Paul: Going on that branch of community, like the last show earlier in the month you guys partnered with Our Music My Body for the show, which is a really, really fantastic local organization, that we have worked with in the past. We’ve got a lot of mutual friends who work there as well and I just think they’re like one of the best charity organizations, especially in the Chicago music scene. So there’s obvious reasons why you would pick them because they do a great job, but when you guys are taking these charities to go on tour with or to have at your shows, why was it they were the choice?
Steve: As soon as the initiative got announced, they had reached out and were really, really enthusiastic and we have a lot of friends here, kind of in a similar way where like, this is a really cool organization. I think our friend Mckayla made a shirt for them or like a sticker, I can’t remember. Just getting an email from them and then they seemed really, really enthusiastic. It was cool, and I liked that they’re not fully putting the onus on individuals or bands. It’s kind of like a holistic attempt to educate venues, and festivals, and concert goers and bands. Because I think, and obviously this is one person’s opinion and you know, I’m like a straight white guy, so I have a very specific kind of experience with that. But in actually combating assault and, and making music going spaces safer, it takes kind of effort on all parts to really combat it and to continuously kind of maintain those environments. And it seems like they’re doing a really good job in kind of raising that awareness and taking a kind of a multifaceted approach to eradicating that.
Scott: That’s right. You’re right. Yeah. What do you think…? Like… I don’t know…It’s like…I don’t know if I have a follow up to that one. Right. Nevermind. What have you guys been listening to lately?
Stefan: Charly Bliss! Yeah. And their new record is so friggin’ good. It’s amazing. Um, that’s it. Just Charly Bliss.
Zack: It’s funny when we’re out on tour, I find it really difficult to listen to new music cause either my ears are just tired, which sounds silly, or I’m just like, oh, I just want to listen to like a podcast. Like I need something that’s like very chill, dulcet tones, you know.
Steve: I’m the same, but, when we were in Washington, I went for a walk down to the National Mall. And on the way there I was listening to Charly Bliss. And when I got there, I saw a bunch of white MAGA clowns just like stirring up whatever hatred they’re in to and then I turned on Rage Against the Machine. So that was like perfect setting and I forgot how awesome they are. But similarly, I have a very hard time listening to music on tour just cause we’re surrounded by it constantly.
Scott: Do you tend to refer back to what you had always loved before or do you actively seek out new music when you have the chance?
Zack: I want something that is immediately satisfying. So whether it’s something that I’ve always listened to or it’s something new that I really love, like Charly Bliss or Rage Against the Machine, that’s usually what I turn to. Cause I appreciate the act of working on writing a record because some records are very dense and you have to get through certain layers before you ever truly get it. But that’s not an easy activity on tour for me.
Steve: Yeah. I like that Big Thief record. Yeah. The little bit that I’ve heard.
Stefan: It’s good. That’s also one though where I feel like, yeah you gotta work. I listened to it twice and I’m like, I am going to love this record. I need a bit more time to work through it. There’s a lot going on with that album.
Zack: That’s what went on with the Mitski record for me and it’s one of my favorite records ever now.
Steve: So, I guess I didn’t get a real good idea of the Big Thief record in Oklahoma when I was going to buy a salad.
Jeff: Salads are overrated.
Zack: Not On tour, not on tour.
Stefan: Yeah. I find I can only listen to mellow music on tour. I can’t listen to rowdy, heavy stuff. It’s just too exhausting. So I listen to a lot of the mellower shit when we’re on tour and then go home and spend a couple of days of acclimatizing to normal life and then get back into whatever else.
Zack: But I also listen to a lot of, uh, the Super Mario Odyssey soundtrack because I’m playing Super Mario Odyssey.
Steve: I go to record stores fairly often on tour and will buy stuff and then when I get home it’s kind of like a nice way to sort of unwind, chill out. But there’s no way we’ll have a record player on the bus, that would be a disaster.
Stefan: We haven’t once plugged in our phones or anything to jam out to some tunes. It’s fucking forbidden. If anyone did that, I would be so annoyed.
Zack: But we’ve never made that rule. It’s just like assumed. An unspoken rule. Don’t really do that. Don’t impose your music on other people.
Jeff: The bus is an upgrade from that van from that Dark Days video.
Stefan: Yeah. I mean it’s not much of an upgrade. It just got bigger, with the same smells, but you have a microwave. It’s a little bit easier to sleep.
Jeff: If I can ask one question, everything that happened in that video, Dark Days, was that true? Or did you guys just make an animated short?
Zack: I’ve never seen the northern lights. That’s the only thing.
Stefan: Well, I was going to say it’s all true but embellished. Yeah, true-ish.
Zack: And I did barf in the sink. But yeah. Uh, in a different place, different location. Yeah.
Nester: I’d say at some point we just got rid of like what got rid of all the CDs in the van. Cause I mean if you’d have that 10 hour drive and you have 20 CDs, seems like you’ve listened to everything a bunch of times. So we just we have no more CDs.
Stefan: I couldn’t listen to Titus Andronicus’ “The Monitor” for three fucking years because I love that album. And we listened to it so much. I’m saying it as like a compliment to that album. For probably two years of touring, we listened to that every day and then one day we just decided like no more and I couldn’t listen to it for three years and I didn’t. I did listen to it once on this tour and I was like, oh, that’s awesome. It’s so good. But also now I won’t listen to it for another year. At least.
Scott: And speaking of dense albums The Cure’s Disintegration is 30 years old this year. Do you have any opinion one way or the other about it?
Zack:I don’t know what that is.
Scott: Really? Oh, it’s the best album in the world.
Stefan: Can you say it again?
Scott: The Cure’s Disintegration.
Steve: Shouts out to Robert Smith for winning is Robert Smith or Morrissey the better person. But i’m not a really big Cure fan, but I love the singles.
Zack: We saw him at Riot Fest.
Stefan: I don’t know if I saw it. I was busy getting thrown off the Weezer stage.
Steve: Didn’t you say that Rivers Cuomo was your cousin and they believed him for like a minute?
Stefan: Yeah, they let me on the stage and then one of the security guards was like, “wait a minute”. Yeah, I was like uh oh.
Jeff: Do you all know each other outside of that? You and Rivers?
Stefan: Oh No, not at all.
Scott: Do you want to?
Stefan: No, not really. I love him. I love Weezer, obviously we love Weezer. Our whole band loves Weezer. We sound like Weezer. But no, I mean, I don’t really care to meet him. If he wanted to meet us, I would be down. I’ve heard he’s not the most sociable guy and that’s cool too. So no worries on that part. I Love, love Weezer, lover Rivers, and that’s all I need. I feel like on a smaller scale, like people shouldn’t meet us. Like we’re fine. Like I think it destroys a lot of the perception. I think people have it in their heads that were like maybe wild party guys or just super fun all the time. Man, you should come backstage like 10 minutes before we’re about to play where we’re all like hunched over on the couch looking at our phones, not talking. It’s like, man, it’s a wild time.
Scott: What switches over then? So if you’re doing that before the show and then you get on stage is there something like that, like it’s just a feeling that kicks in?
Zack: We like to play music.
Stefan: That’s a better answer than I was going to say. I was gonna say do you ever work a job?
Zack: Like even your dream job, but yeah, it’s a lot. I mean that doesn’t make this any less special.
Stefan: I think there some days on tour where you’re going on stage and like, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful because obviously we love doing this, but there are days where you have to force yourself to be like: “Okay. We’re going to do this. Get it together. Get some energy. Just do what you gotta do. And for me, usually by song two or three I’m like into it and like having a great time. Even if I have to fake it for the first three, four minutes, by the fifth minute I’m like, ahhh yeah. This is why we’re doing this. It’s great.
Jeff: With your comment too like, “have you ever had a job”. We obviously have bad days going in to work too. And we all work together. We need a good crew to have that good day. I’m assuming you all are best friends, you guys have a good crew every day of the week. You guys ever get sick of each other or get at each other’s throats?
Nester: Yeah, there’s that. I mean we spent the last six years touring together. It’s basically like family now. We know exactly how to push each other’s buttons. When to push them and when not to push them.
Zack: You annoying or not annoying somebody is a skill, you know.
Steve: And think we’ve mellowed just generally, as people, which is good. Everyone can conserve their energy. I feel like five years ago I’d be like: “Stefan! Why are you going to bed? Have another beer!” And you’d be like, “I don’t want to” and I’d be like, “ah, come on!” Now it’s just like, who cares? It doesn’t matter.
Stefan: What’s changed is I don’t tell anyone I’m going to go to bed. I just go. The thing that I’ve learned about partying on tour, especially as you get older, not like we’re old, but you know, we’ve been doing this a while, is that you just have to reduce the frequency to which you do it. So I think at the beginning, like most bands, if they’re not, you know, straight edge, I think probably their first tour they go on, they get obliterated every night because it’s a fun new experience. It’s exciting. Booze is free, and also you’re nervous to go on stage. And now at this point we’ve been touring full time for six years. We can treat this more like real life where maybe you have a drink or two most nights, not all nights, but some. And then once in a while you have a lot and make an ass of yourself and then feel shame and the next day and go about your business.
Steve: I think I can count on my one hand the number of times I’ve done that on this tour.
Stefan: I think that says more about your ability to not be hungover.
Steve: But even that’s a skill that I didn’t have on our first tours.
Zack: Our livers have a lot of practice.
Steve: Stefan and I used to get high before rehearsal every once in a while.
Zack: Oh, you idiots.
Stefan: It’s like one of those dumb things. I mean, when you’re a teenager, you’re like: cool. When I’m stoned I’m a better driver because I’m more careful. It’s like shut the fuck up. Well, when I’m high, I’m so much more creative. It’s like, no, you just think you’re amazing and you suck. That’s the six years of touring with this band.
Zack: I mean, there’s something to be said for harnessing the ability to be creative without substance.
Steve: It just gives you a different look.
Stefan: Steve’s still working on that picture. Just kidding.
Steve: Write high, edit sober. What are you talking about? Come on!
Paul: Then for the last show you guys had the band Kodachrome come up on stage and play their version of Free at Last and you guys came out and you played your version.
Zack: Yeah. They’re definitely one of our favorites. I mean there are obviously a great band, but so much energy and enthusiasm for it and that like really came across. It’s like I actually gave a shit about what they’re doing.
Nester: After, you know, 253 (submissions), there’s like still a handful that kind of stuck with us. We were like, Oh shit, this one, this is actually good. You know, like these guys did a great job.
Stefan: We had a band called Tiger Castle do the same thing in Philly. And we’re going to do it once more, but we’re not talking about it yet. But it’s also been cool cause it’s been rough for the most part. It’s been rock bands, the ones that we’ve chosen to come on stage and do it up in rock bands who who are great bands that maybe are not as well-known as they should be. So it’s just the kind of cool opportunity, uh, to give those bands some exposure. Like Kodachrome is amazing and Tiger Castle are amazing and everyone should know those bands. Hopefully it’s been a little bit helpful for them as well.
<———- Morbid Stuff out now on Rise Records