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Canadian four-piece PUP is back with their third album, returning with their blend of chaotic guitars that cut to melodic hooks with tongue in cheek lyrics. Morbid Stuff is the band’s first self-release album after splitting ways with SideOneDummy Records, and could be their strongest effort yet as they continue to grow as musicians without alienating fans. The appropriately named album tackles issues like depression, addiction, mortality and even has time to question if saying “Bloody Mary” three times in a mirror really has any negative outcomes.
I spoke with guitarist Steve Sladkowski and drummer Zack Mykula about their new album and how the band continues to grow.
It’s hard to ignore the whole theme of the album Morbid Stuff, between the lyrics and feel of the album, what really brought that sound along?
STEVE: Well obviously we have to paraphrase Stefan a little bit because he’s responsible for all the lyrical content, but it’s in part kind of a reflection of society. But even more it’s Stefan’s capability of mining the darker side of his personality for humor and just finding a way to turn around and laugh at your depression, because sometimes that’s the best way to deal with it.
The last album, The Dream is Over was very focused about life on the road and the difficulty of that, and I’m sure you can say that was a struggle for the band overall, do you think Morbid Stuff is also a reflection of PUP overall?
ZACK: I think everyone in the band has had their own struggles with mental health and kind of just learned strategies and how to deal with that. It’s interesting because I think we all kind of experience that in our personal lives, and got there in different ways, but all kind of looked at each other when we were done making the record and thought we’re still here, and we’re still friends, we still care about each other and we’re able to kind of go through whatever comes at us together.
What is the writing process for you all? PUP often goes from very heavy and chaotic to melodic songs while constantly changing the tempo, what’s the driving force behind that?
ZACK: A lot of the time it’s Stefan (Babcock, lead singer) or Nestor (Chumak, bass) bringing in some skeleton. More often than not Stefan brings a cursory idea of a song and then we kind of just tear it apart in the rehearsal space, and we all kind of inject our own little flavors here and there. We always keep an eye on sort of serving the song and not getting in the way of each other and all that, but mostly there’s a cursory idea we tear it apart and put too many ideas into it, and then we edit it down and smooth it out a little, and then there’s a song. And that can take up to a month per song on average I feel like.
STEVE: Yeah, we’ve always sort of been like this. There’s really not a hard and fast rule within those parameters where everything needs to sound a specific way. We get better at the more we write but just sort of understanding ‘what is this song? What are the things that are important here? Is it a guitar that is important? Is it leaving room for the rhythm section with the drum and the bass to really kind of do the work or is it a guitar line, and it’s kind of whether or not is there a song on the record where that kind of shines. Or maybe all those things are happening in one song or maybe there’s like a very specific guitar line. Like in a song like “Kids” those guitar lines are so melodic and such a focal point. But nobody from my vantage point and kind of mirroring Zack, whatever the song needs is what should be there. It’s not really about any one person in the band. It’s about all four of us kind of distilling our own kind of influences and ideas and stuff, and once we sort know what the song is all about it’s kind of just refining that.
ZACK: Definitely not conventional and it can add a certain layer of frustration because we don’t have a single way doing things. But also in general I think that’s why the songs are interesting, or at least why we think they’re interesting.
I saw in the credits of the new album you thank Jeff Rosenstock for help with the writing process. What’s the background with that?
ZACK: Jeff is just like a good friend of ours, and if we would get stuck somewhere in the writing process it was a place to bounce ideas off of. Someone we trust who is obviously like a profound songwriter. And it’s just as far as I know it was Stefan having chats with him and he’s immensely creative and helpful dude.
I couldn’t help but notice that. I feel like he’s been involved with a little bit of everyone lately. That guy stays busy for sure.
STEVE: I mean he’s unstoppable. I don’t know where that energy comes from but I just saw him those couple of nights at the Bowery Ballroom. It was really awesome.
This is the first album off SideONeDummy and you decided to self-release it. What was the reasoning behind that?
ZACK: SideOne, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for them and they’re largely responsible for us getting anywhere because they really propped us up, but it just seemed like the appropriate time to kind of break off and to make some new partnerships and kind of forge ahead with some of our larger goals in general. Having Little Dipper (their own label) lets us tap into things we didn’t think we could. Instead of just releasing music we can release books or art, like comic books or other creative projects for people in the community. So really it’s like besides from breaking out on our own it’s kind of opening the field to kind of explore new artists and stuff.
So you do plan on releasing stuff from other Toronto area scene bands?
STEVE: I don’t think it’s just that. We’ve been really lucky so far with the amount that we’ve toured and the places that we went, and able to tour multiple times and the friends that we made there I wouldn’t limit it just to Toronto. I would say any of our friends or people whose work we admire I would say the nice thing about kind of being in control with this label and whatever else it may be, publishing house and what not. It allows us to each kind of look at art and artists and people who we think are doing interesting and kind of worthwhile things, and see if we can help.
ZACK: And also for anyone who might be reading about this in the magazine, there is no staff there is no label to speak of. It’s just us working on this record so before people start wanting to throw demos our way we don’t have any infrastructure to make that happen, but hopefully one day we will be able to start making partnerships with other artists and I think that’s the ultimate goal.
What’s coming up next? I know you have a big tour hitting a lot of cities in the US and Canada, and Europe.
ZACK: Canada and then Europe and then the US. I think that’s the order. I’ve been starring at these dates because I do all the web property and tour posters and stuff.
You mentioned working a lot with other artists and friends while discussing Little Dipper. As far as opening acts go do you pick bands that you want to bring with you or how is that working?
ZACK: Yeah that’s pretty much it. It’s a conversation between the four of us. We’re also talking about what bands we like, where do they live, can they play with us? Are they too cool to play with us? So, we feed that to our agents and stuff and say we want to make sure we got awesome bands that we like that we can get along with, and there’s good representation and there’s all this criteria. At the end of the day it lives and dies with our choice. This is our project and we need to make sure it represents our ideals, so we take it into our own hands.
As a band do you do anything differently now to avoid fatigue on the road? I’m sure when plenty of people think of PUP they can’t help but think of “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will.”
ZACK: We’re definitely trying to make it mentally more obtainable for the four of us by making the way we travel a little more comfortable and adding people to help us like adding a crew and that kind of stuff. But it’s also a lot of tolerance of being on the road comes from the excitement of the new songs so that on the other hand will be a big part of this because we’ve been playing the same songs for however many years and now we get to show off our new stuff. That in itself will give a little boost and invigoration so that’ll be cool.
STEVE: Yeah other than that you try and kind of, as much as possible, smooth the bumps between what your home life is and what your road life is. It’s just stuff like, Zack and I were talking about this earlier, like I’m thinking about bringing a skipping rope so I can do aerobic exercises. Stuff like that that just sounds kind of goofy or boring, goes such a long way in maintaining kind of physical and emotional health.
ZACK: It’s kind of like two ingredients to maintain mental health – not drinking and being productive and bringing stuff on the road to achieve that will in general improve our situation. So just like finding ways to do that. Like skipping rope is a good idea. Running shoes so we can run and just bringing projects to work on while you’re out there. Just trying to make it like home almost while you can.
Finally, a question for you both, is there a track on the new album that you’re particularly proud of or that you think really stands out?
ZACK: There’s a song called “Bloody Mary, Kate and Ashley.” It hits all the things I like about music. No one’s heard it obviously, but there’s like a wicked guitar solo at the end and it’s super heavy sometimes and it’s super melodic. It’s like all the things that we are and I think we really nailed it with that one, but of course someone is going to disagree with me but that would have to mine.
STEVE: I think for me there’s a tune called “Scorpion Hill” that I think that has been one of the more ambitious kind of creative and studio projects that we’ve ever undertaken. It kind of feels like almost three very distinct songs that are tied together in the lyrics, but musically it really goes in a lot of places that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from us. Like there’s a ten BPM or 12 BPM drop in tempo between the verse and the chorus and just like having been able to do that and now working on it and doing it live and really being like oh this is cool this is something we can do as a band and it’s not just studio magic. It’s just very dynamic and interesting song that we really came together and did something cool with.
ZACK: It still somehow really sounds like us even though it’s so different.
MORBID STUFF will be released on April 5.
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