Catching Up With Pup, Self-Loathing Punks on the Mend

The Toronto band on concept albums, Coachella, and how confusing it is to feel happy these days.

The band Pup

Photo by Vanessa Heins

Over the last decade, the members of PUP have made careers out of turning their depression into a party. The punk quartet introduced itself as a “pathetic use of potential” with 2013’s scrappy, shoutable PUP and now, three albums later, has predicted its own cynical demise on new record THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND. If anything, success has made PUP doubt themselves all the more. But lately, that seems to be changing. “This is the best place I’ve been mentally since we started this band 12 years ago,” says lead singer and guitarist Stefan Babcock. There’s no enthusiasm or joy pinning up his words—instead he just sounds confused. “I’m feeling… good? That’s a weird thing for me to say. Any day that sensitive people can wake up and not feel like the world is utter trash is a victory.”

That feeling of normalcy—or rather, the absence of constant anxiety and despair—was initially spurred by the recording of THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND last year. Over five weeks, Babcock, guitarist Steve Sladkowski, bassist Nestor Chumak, and drummer Zack Mykula locked themselves in a bat-infested mansion-turned-studio in Connecticut to create the album with producer Peter Katis, best known for his work with the National. The 18-hour days shifted things into perspective: There was a readiness to experiment with synths, center the piano, and lean further into joke songs than ever before. But more important was their renewed bond. “I have negative self-talk to a degree that’s not normal,” says Mykula, “and there were huge advantages to growing together in the house as we made the record.” As Sladkowski puts it, “Even though it was an intense pressure cooker, it was the culmination of something, whether we recognized it or not: We are a support system for each other.”

The new songs are boisterous, catchy, and meta while also earnestly wading through the nuances of depression in a manner often reserved for “confessional” indie rock. PUP sound happiest when they’re taking shots at their own mental illness through punchlines, gang vocals, and chipper riffs. Perhaps that’s why their records are an instant mood-booster. When the band invites you to sing along, it feels less like being drafted into an emotional war and more like a Nerf gun fight with your friends: If you’re going to take some damage, you may as well have a blast.

As PUP plays its biggest headlining shows to date (including Coachella), Babcock and co. are riding high on a new, palpable “wave of positivity” from audiences. “There were shows in the past where a big part of the crowd is just there to fuck shit up in the pit,” he says. “As much as we love a good pit, that was never the vibe of the band. But now, after a couple years off, there’s a whole new mentality and shared gratitude between us and the crowds. The imposter syndrome is real, but I’m just trying not to let it derail how much fun I’m having.”

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