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PUP are embracing their heavy side with album two

Words: Ryan De Freitas.

PUP exploded into existence in 2013 with their unbelievably brilliant debut self-titled album and caught everyone off-guard. No one could’ve seen their off-kilter brand of punk rock coming and the album was – quite rightly – universally well-received. Now, with a new record on the horizon and a whole lot of eyes and ears pointed in their direction, the Toronto four-piece would be forgiven for feeling the weight of expectation this time around. It’s not external pressure they’re worried about, though.

“There’s no way anyone could have higher expectations for this record than us,” explains drummer, Zack Mykula. “We put our own interests ahead of anyone else’s. Expectation from others is definitely a thing we’re aware of, but it wasn’t the key thing.”

“Yeah, Zack nailed it,” continues Steve Sladkowski, the guitarist whose left-field lead lines give PUP so much of their character. “The amount of pressure that could come from the outside will always be minor compared to the pressure we put on ourselves.”

“There’s no way anyone could have higher expectations for this record than us.”

It’s hardly surprising to hear that this is a band who hold themselves to a high standard – the cent-perfect musicianship displayed on that first record doesn’t just happen by accident – and that self-critical attitude lends even more weight to the fact that the band sound so sure that they’re an even better band now.

“We know what kind of band we are now and what we sound like, so we just wanted to be that but better,” answers vocalist, Stefan Babcock. “We had no clue about our identity prior to the first album being out. We started writing off folk songs with acoustic guitars and stuff – pretty much the polar opposite of what we ended up as – but now here we are with a stronger, more confident sense of what the band is.”

“And we’re just better musicians,” adds Sladkowski. “We play together way better from having played so many shows and that’s really helpful. You could really hear it when we listened back to the new songs in the studio. It sounded better just because we now play better as a band. The importance of that can’t be understated.”

“It’s heavier than the first record.”

All positive signs, but what does the record actually sound like?

“It’s heavier than the first record,” Babcock reveals. “It’s not like Cancer Bats heavy or whatever, it’s still a PUP record, but there’s definitely more aggression, frustration and angst in there.”

“Yeah, we used some drop tunings on a couple of songs this time,” Sladkowski continues. “I think we all preferred the heavier songs on the first record ourselves, so we just honed in on that and focused on playing everything with more purpose and intention.”

“Less sadness, more anger,” Babcock summates.

You’d be forgiven for expecting the opposite of this, though. Surely a band on as obvious an upward trajectory as PUP’s would have reasons to be cheerful. It turns out, however, that ‘cheerful’ just isn’t Babcock’s forte as a songwriter.

“I find that I write better when I’m frustrated or angry and I don’t really write when I’m happy. It’s just not something that crosses my mind to do. I go through periods of weeks or months where I’m happy and I don’t write, but then that happiness gives way to anxiousness that I haven’t been writing and leads me back to a place where I can write. It’s a cruel and hopeless cycle, but it works itself out in the end.”

And as cruel and hopeless as it may be, it certainly does work out for us listeners, because before the end of the summer (exact date TBC), we’ll all have a new PUP record to dig into.

Taken from the January issue of Upset. Order a copy here.