The Dream is Over
PUP‘s new album ‘The Dream Is Over’ sees the band growing up, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.
Words: Ali Shutler.
“You want to know if I’m still a prick?” snarls Stefan Babcock. “Well I am. And you’re not going to change me,” he adds with a knowing smile. Defiant, accepting but frustrated, ‘Old Wounds’ isn’t the only track from ‘The Dream Is Over’ that sees PUP pissed off.
“I don’t want to sound too worldly because I’m only 28 years old, but my experience thus far is, you don’t stop growing up,” explains frontman Stefan, currently at home, enjoying a rare moment of calm before the album’s release. “I feel like every year of my life, I’ve learned something new about who I am and my relationship with the world. On the first record [2014’s self-titled] a lot of the themes were about confusion, uncertainty and nostalgia about youth. This record, although I’m still confused, I’m less so than I used to be. I’m coming to terms with who I am as a person and being a little pissed off about it but acknowledging that this is just life. There are still ways to enjoy life and offer something to the world even if it’s not as you imagined it to be.” That harsh reality is the bloody, beating heart of ‘The Dream is Over’. It’s a record of change, of personal growth and of disappointment in the way life works out, but there’s also resilience. A will to life.
Written in stops and starts every time Stefan, bassist Nestor Chumak, drummer Zack Mykula and guitarist Steve Sladkowski had a week or two off from their near-constant time on the road, the band would, “come home, bang out a few songs, go back out on the road, come home, reexamine the songs we’d done, bang out a few more,” and continue.
Going into the record there was the realisation that, “this was the first time any of us were writing music that we knew was going to get heard. No matter what, people are going to hear these songs,” but the band did their best to block that out. They didn’t worry about an audience on their first album, they just “made the songs we wanted to make and tried to make a record that we would be proud of. We succeeded in that and it did well for us, so why change the game plan?”
PUP have always been about gut reactions and rolling with the punches. They didn’t expect anything to come from their first album beyond making a record for each other, their friends and maybe playing a show in their hometown of Toronto but something about it connected. “I’m the most surprised person in the world,” offers Stefan. “I guess I was writing about a lot of themes that hit pretty close to home for a lot of people. I was talking about a pretty universal experience for people my age, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m more shocked than anyone else that it went so well for us.”
Dream is Over’ Stefan looked back on the past 18 months. “I recognise that we’re all living a not-so-normal life. We have an unusual lifestyle and I appreciate that, I make sure I don’t take it for granted. There was a lot of reflection on what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished, the good days and the bad days. Like everyone else in their twenties, we also have this uncertainty about the future and a nervousness about that plays into the songs as well.”
Worrying about the future fed the band’s desire to look back. “I felt like I air-quotes ‘grew up’ when I was twenty and decided what I was going to do with my life,” starts Stefan. “I’ve revised that opinion since. I feel like the process of growing up becomes you figuring out which expectations you had for your life are real and which are bullshit. It was realising the true nature of your life. There’s a lot of disillusionment on this record. Kids are told they can do anything they want to do if they set their mind to it, they have all these lofty ambitions but eventually you hit an age where those things just aren’t going to happen. Maybe they’ll happen someway, but not in the way that you had hoped they’d happen.”
There’s a brutal realism to ‘The Dream Is Over’. The idea that “you just have to learn to be adaptable with your dreams” is present throughout, but there’s still a raging hope. “You realise that things aren’t going to turn out like you anticipated but you can still find ways to be happy and do the things you love. That’s part of the challenge of growing up. The real challenge is accepting your situation, accepting your skill set and just trying to make the best of what you have and have a good time doing it. That’s where I’m at with my life. I always have dreams, they’ve just shifted over the years.”
“I’m confident in what PUP is,” he reasons. “I mean, all the four of us can do is our best. I can’t control whether people connect with the record or not. All I can say is the four of us have made the best record that we could have, and we’re proud of it. Hopefully it’ll connect with people so we can keep living this weirdo life. A lot of people have said they’ve connected with specific songs or specific lyrics and they’ve realised they’re less alone than they thought they were. I think it’s done the same thing for me. I really put myself out there with our songs and when I see that they’ve connected with people and there’s some sort of shared experience there, it feels really good. It makes me feel a little less pissed off.”