PUP is a punk band from Toronto that has been the subject of considerable success in the past year, with a new self-titled album currently spreading across the world’s punk-rock consciousness, and a tour that has traced through nearly every major North American cultural center, and Iowa. According to Rolling Stone they’re one of Canada’s next great musical exports, while according to everyone else they already are. I will avoid talking about them in an overtly Canadian context however, as that seems to occasionally jumpstart an odd, misplaced sort of patriotism in thicker skulled Americans (An unfortunate handicap, I know). Instead I’ll describe them from a purely musical standpoint, as a talented four-piece punk act that is great at writing songs and even better at amplifying them. Their onstage presence is an organic mixture of sweat and kineticism that is still able to cultivate emotion without falling into the unforgiving cliché of angst rock; they’re loud, but artfully so. I was able to talk with ¾ of them before their show at DC9 this past Wednesday, in the veiled coziness of the venue’s sofa-laden back room. As each enjoyed an in house meal of burgers and fries, the three members in question (Stefan Babcock, Steve Sladkowski, and Nestor Chumak) led me to conduct one of the most pleasant interviews I have been a part of.
* Any mention of homicide is fictional and a reference to this music video.
What were your initial goals when you formed?
Steve: I don’t know if we really had any- we were just kind of hanging out.
Nestor: We just threw it around- worst case we’d just play a bunch of shows around Ontario.
Stefan: We didn’t start the band thinking we were going to tour all the time, it just kind of happened- and we’re very happy about it. Really though, it was a mellow beginning.
Your music video for “Guilt Trip” is rather shocking- is there any autobiographical basis for it?
Steve: Yeah, I guess Nestor, Zach, and I have all known each other for a long time; we had all been playing in bands- Nestor and Stefan met initially a few years ago, right?
Steve: But we’d all been around in Toronto playing in bands for a while- and murdering police officers.
Has touring for your new album given you all any new perspective towards future work?
Stefan: I think its going to dictate a lot about how the next record sounds, because you write about what you know, and all we’ve been doing since the last record is touring. It’ll inform a lot of the lyrics. I also think we’ve always been a live band more so than a studio band, and playing live more and more gives us a better sense of what kind of band we actually are and what kind of band we want to be.
I was actually going to ask you something similar, about if you prefer more your recorded work or your live work.
Stefan: Live. I mean I’m really proud of the record, and the guy that we recorded with –Dave Schiffman- is fucking amazing. But we’ve always made recordings so that we could play live; from the very beginnings of this band we were always like “we want to play shows, how do we play shows?”
Nestor: Even our record, Dave Schiffman said it should sound like the best show you’ve ever played. I think that that was the mentality of the recording.
Steve: They’re dependent on each other too- at least for me anyway. It can sometimes be hard to choose because there is stuff that we did on the record that I really like that we don’t do live for whatever reason. But playing live, connecting with people and sweating through your clothes every night, is great. I love it.
Do you prefer playing DIY venues, or more traditional venues?
Stefan: I think that we kind of started off as only doing DIY stuff and house shows- like a lot of bands- but we are now getting used to playing in real venues. I personally love playing in small venues where there’s no stage or the stage is low. I like to feel that I am connecting with the audience. We’ve played a fair number of shows now, mostly opening for bigger bands or festivals, where you’re playing on a massive stage in front of thousands of people and there’s a barrier. I mean, I guess I’m getting more used to it, but it’s not something I particularly love. I don’t like not being able to see people’s faces and, I like to feel people’s spit while they’re singing along. That’s what gets me off in a live setting; and on those big shows it’s really cool and fun and it gets your adrenaline pumping, but it kind of feels to me that there is much less of a personal connection.
Steve: It’s a different type of performing too. If you’re on a bigger stage your body moves differently, and you have to communicate closeness in a different way because there is more distance. That to me has been one of the challenges; learning that what works in a smaller room doesn’t always work in a bigger room, and vice versa.
Nestor: I think people are a lot more forgiving in a DIY space because shows will tend to not sound as clinical as in a bigger venue. You just go with the flow.
Stefan: One of the coolest shows we ever played was in this kid’s basement in Kingston, Ontario-it was tiny- I think two or three times the size of this room. It was fucking awesome. I was really sick that day- I couldn’t sing- and we were just like “We are just going to do PUP Karaoke”. That’s all I said before I turned the microphone around, and kids just piled on top of each other in this shitty basement and sang all of our songs.
Steve: I got elbowed in the face.
Stefan: For me one of the most fun- It was one of the smallest crowds we have every played to, but I just felt more connected to kids who like our band than I’ve ever felt in my whole life. They were part of the performance. That was really fucking cool.
I’ve heard Toronto has a good punk scene; are you happy to be in D.C. with all of its ‘punk heritage’?
Stefan: Yeah. It’s fucking awesome.
Steve: I think it’s one of my favorite cities on the east coast.
Stefan: There’s so much punk history here.
Nestor: Ryan for example- the lead singer of Typefighter- is in like three different bands, and I feel that there is a lot of happening because of that.
Steve: A lot of cross-pollination.
The DIY scene in D.C. is very interconnected.
Steve: It’s funny too in political capitals that you often find thriving punk scenes- in Ottawa it’s the same thing; there’s a thriving punk scene and there has been for many years.
Stefan: In Ottawa there are a lot of thriving punk bands, and they’re doing it because it’s fun and there’s a good scene. They’re not blowing up over there, but they put on great shows in great venues. It’s fucking amazing, a really great city.
Steve: I think part of it is that there is so much political culture, and that sometimes exists as opposition
Stefan: Ottawa has two to three times as many punk bands as Toronto; less bands that you’ve heard of, but people that are still making punk music.
Toronto must have one or two million people on Ottawa too.
Steve: It’s turned out that there there are a lot of bands, like METZ, The Flatliners, The Cancer Bats and Fucked Up-
Nestor: A couple of the of the METZ dudes, aren’t they from Ottawa?
Steve: Yeah. A lot of people come from Ottawa and other cities- Ottawa is only six hours from Toronto. There are a lot of ‘ex-pats’ so to speak, of other cities. Southern Ontario is thriving right now really, for punk. You have Single Mothers from London, Ontario, and The Dirty Nil from Hamilton. Lots of bands all over the place, and bands in Toronto that we love, like PKEW PKEW PKEW (gunshots). There’s like a pretty vital underground, and it spreads across a lot of cities.
*For more information on PUP visit http://www.puptheband.com/