"We're all fuck ups," Stefan Babcock proclaims. "There's no reason that we should walk out to a crowd of 4000 people at a hometown headline show. It doesn't compute to me. It doesn't make sense." As it turns out, that's exactly what PUP did last summer. From a packed out crowd in the sprawling outdoor setting of Toronto's Echo Beach, to an echoingly empty punk club by the name of Sneaky Dee's for a livestream, it's been a hell of a year.
"It's been really hard," Stefan admits, "but we are also one of the luckiest." After everything they've been through to make it this far, this group of punk rock stalwarts seem like they might be capable of weathering any storm. In these turbulent times, the band – completed by guitarist Steve Sladkowski, bassist Nestor Chumak, and drummer Zack Mykula – are making the most of the opportunities they can find. "My heart just goes out to all of my friends in bands who are releasing their first record or still slogging through a lot of the industry bullshit," Stefan expresses. "They've been hit so much harder than we have."
At a time when British politicians have been advising people employed in the arts to retrain and find other jobs, any sense of security working in the music industry has been lost – and everyone's feeling the strain. "I think about what would have happened if this had happened three/four years ago," Stefan contemplates of the global pandemic and consequent lockdowns, "and I'm not positive that we would be a band if this had happened then."
When the pandemic hit and the events industry started to shut down, PUP were on tour across the US celebrating the release of their third record. "Those were some of the best shows we've ever played in our lives," Stefan reflects. "They were the most fun, the biggest crowds, the most enthusiastic response, and we were just having a great time." If you caught the band live on their (previously) seemingly never-ending tour schedule, you know just how much of a whirlwind experience their shows can be. Even so, the growing sense of unease and ever-mounting safety concerns were unavoidable, and prompted the group to make the difficult decision to draw their tour to an early end.
"It's hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that maybe the last time I will crowd surf for four years will be in Eugene, Oregon," Stefan laughs, quickly adding "nothing against that town." On paper, a band who wrote one of their gnarliest singles about how much they hate life on the road – the impeccably titled 'If This Tour Doesn't Kill You, I Will' – should surely be taking the reprieve in stride, but PUP have never been ones to play anything by the book. "I've spent so much time in my life complaining about being on tour," Stefan laments. "There was obviously an asterisk next to all those complaints. We do it for a reason: we all love it – but we're still allowed to complain about it 'cause we're all negative people," he conveys with a shrug. "That's what we do."
Pinning their cynicism with their heart on their sleeve, PUP wear their acerbic nature as a badge of honour. But more than that, it's a fundamental part of who they are. "We think it's hilarious how negative we are," Stefan declares. "It's kind of an ongoing joke on tour where we will challenge each other to be as negative as possible because it makes us laugh." It's this gleefully pessimistic energy that inspired the outfit to create their new EP. "No matter where we were, we started saying, 'this place sucks ass'."
What started out as an in-joke on the road is now the strikingly prevalent title for the band's latest release. London, Birmingham, Toronto, or Eugene, Oregon: it doesn't matter where you are; this is a title that speaks directly to you. "The EP title can be about anyone, wherever they are right now, because wherever you are or wherever you're from, the place sucks ass," Stefan proclaims. "No matter what. Blanket statement: it sucks ass right now." Both humorous and harrowing, the title embodies the energy of the EP to a T. "It feels to me like a joke that is almost too real to be funny," the frontman describes, "which is kind of how I like to think of our band."
Written and recorded, for the most part, at the same time as latest record 'Morbid Stuff', the majority of the songs on 'This Place Sucks Ass' predate the clusterfuck of a time we're currently living through – something the group found to lessen the pressures they usually associate with making and releasing new music. "I'm not great at writing outwardly political songs. Every time I've tried they come out feeling very contrived," Stefan portrays. "Unless you're extremely articulate, I don't think anyone needs four guys yelling about politics that the vast majority of their fans share with them."
From the comically cathartic dread of 'Anaphylaxis' to the ferociously freeing refrains of 'Edmonton' (via a cover of Grandaddy's 'A.M. 180'), these songs are ready to rip, tear, and roar their way through your system with an energy that's as implosive as it is electrifying. EP opener, 'Rot', is the only track to be written and recorded (in a surreal socially distanced recording session which producer Dave Schiffman oversaw from California via Skype) this year. "The way I've figured out how to write about politics is to write about it from a personal level, the way that the state of the world makes me feel," Stefan describes of the track. "All the depression and the anxiety and the existential dread that comes with what's happening right now was very easy for me to channel."
Existential dread is nothing new to PUP. "We've built a career out of being fuckups," Stefan conveys. "The more we fuck up, the better things are for the band. And the better things are for the band, the more pressure it puts on me, and the more I fuck things up." It's a theme that's made itself heard in PUP songs before, one that's given a voice on 'Rot' in the resounding line, "I'm doing something productive with my self-destruction, it's the one thing keeping me sane." "It's this beautiful, never-ending cycle," Stefan portrays, "me being a complete fuckup and that leading into us being somewhat successful at the only thing that we've ever wanted to be successful at."
Self-destruction has always played a part in PUP's songwriting. Much like their cynical attitude, this too is a part of who the group are. "Forget who we are as people, just being in this band is quite self-destructive," Stefan expresses. This too is a never-ending cycle. "There's almost this tendency for all of us to self-sabotage the band because we feel like we don't deserve to be in the position we are in and we don't belong," the frontman admits. "That self-destruction is the thing that keeps us going and keeps us happy and excited about our band." He pauses to think over his words, before laughing. "It's a bit of a mindfuck, to be honest."
From the instinctive need to self-destruct to a song written about bee stings, 'This Place Sucks Ass' has something for every fear. While everything else seems to be in an undetermined state of flux, releasing an EP of "'Morbid Stuff' b-sides" was always the plan. "Right now we have to be more vigilant than ever to be serious about what's happening and to treat everything with the respect it deserves," Stefan maintains. "Then sometimes we need to laugh and try to remember that we're all trying to make the world a better place."
Unable to do what they've always done so well and hit the road to promote the release of their new EP, PUP are commemorating the occasion with a livestream from Sneaky Dee's. Fondly described as "a dingy, piss-smelling, punk club," this is the venue where PUP played their hometown release show for their debut album. "The livestream is probably going to be a train wreck, to be honest with you," Stefan declares with a shrug that quickly gives way to a grin, "but I think it's going to be really, really fun." Promising "some weird shit" and an experience that's "very PUP," the event pretty much guarantees a spectacle – one that will be revelled in by fans all across the globe.
"Everything is awful right now. The world sucks ass," Stefan distils of the release they're about to be celebrating. "I hope that these songs and this EP can make people feel like they're not alone in thinking that, they're not alone in experiencing the mental toll that the past few months have taken on everyone." Much like their previous three records, PUP's hopes are simple ones. "I hope that people can find that light at the end of the tunnel," Stefan conveys. "What's the expression?" he asks. "Sometimes you have through hell to get to..." He pauses, before giving up on the thought completely. "I'm fucking it up." If that really is the case, it's no cause for concern here. In true PUP style, fucking up has never sounded this good.
Taken from the November issue of Upset. PUP's EP 'This Place Sucks Ass' is out now.
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