PUP talks touring, fame and the dream

From left to right: Steve Skadkowski, Zack Mykula, Stefan Babcock and Nestor Chumak / NPR.com


Toronto-based band PUP released The Dream is Over earlier this summer and has now released a video for their track “Sleep in the Heat” starring Finn Wolfhard, one of the young protagonists of the super-popular series “Stranger Things”. PUP’s album has now been short-listed for the Polaris music prize and the band is coming home to tour Canada starting November 21.

In an interview with Peyton Heart this past summer, of the online publication I Probably Hate Your Band, vocalist and guitarist Stefan Babcock discussed the album and what its release meant for the band.

“Songwriting [in punk] is supposed to be honest, supposed to be artistic,” said Babcock. “That’s really important. I think there’s a lack of authenticity and people being genuine in their music now and I think it’s important that you put everything into your music and you don’t just write words that sound like they would be lyrics in a song. If you want people to have a connection with the music you’re making, you gotta be straight up and honest with them, that’s kind of what I’ve tried to do.

The album’s name, “The Dream is Over”, appears to bode ill for the group. Babcock stated that the dream could be anything, but personally the dream was to be doing exactly what he is currently.

“The interesting thing about that is that I love it, and there is nothing else that I would want to do,” explained Babcock. “At the same time, it’s not really what I expected of it.”

babcock goes on to explain that the idealization of touring and being a paid and popular musician is gone. Now that Babcock has accomplished his goal of playing music as a full-time job, he sees that it is what he wants to go but it hasn’t fundamentally changed him into another person. Often, Babcock notes, he is still anxious, unhappy and, frankly, weird.

“It didn’t fix me like I was looking to get fixed,” said Babcock. “That’s a hard realization to have. But it’s good because music for me is still cathartic. It’s still a great distraction from real life and from all the bad things that you can feel. So it’s a great distraction to have and I’m lucky to do it and I’m grateful because it’s what I wanted to do, even though it’s not what I expected it to be.”

In an interview with Misha Permian, the entire band was able to further discuss the album.

“A big part of it for me was trusting instincts—not trying to overthink too much and seeing how that philosophy would come together in writing the music and performing,” said guitarist Steve Sladkowski on the process behind The Dream is Over. “I think, for us, this is a record that we made when there was a lot going on, and our lives were kind of crazy. We were writing the record over whatever time we had, and learning how to work and find our process that way.”

“I feel we were more focused on getting it done, because there was a deadline so we could get back on the road,” added bassist Nestor Chumak. “When we made the first one, we made it in Montreal where we all slept in a one-bedroom apartment and were eating shitty spaghetti every night. Making this in our home city, it was a totally different vibe.”

“It seems like that inadvertently offset the obvious pressure of the second album,” said drummer Zack Mykula. “I will always maintain that there will be no more pressure from the outside than we can apply to ourselves. No one can say meaner things about us than we can! So a big thing was learning to squeeze every ounce of potential out of the songs in the shortest amount of time, and also trying not to lose perspective—that no matter how hard we are on ourselves, or how hard we work, so many great things have happened and can happen if we maintain our work ethic.”

“I was kind of relieved, because as soon as we finished the first record, pretty much everyone said to us, ‘You know, the second record’s really hard.’” explained Babcock. “Everyone was telling us it was going to be tough, and they would ask us if we knew how to write a record in a short amount of time. And of course the answer was ‘No.’ So I was just really pleased that we got through the experience and were all happy with it.”

Mykula noted that, as artists, they always have to be working so that when inspiration strikes you are prepared. The idea of the dream being over isn’t meant to be a negative message or idea, merely a take on a naive version of “the dream” that many hold unrealistically. Babcock argued that the dream still exists, but the group and himself personally now see it from a different, more realistic perspective.

The influences heard in the album stem from these experiences touring and making music together. As cliche as it sounds, the album and much of punk music is about relationships. Their music speaks to the worth of living physically and being involved in the world and the other people that inhabit it; often, the lyrics and sound stem from the feeling of these experiences — good, bad, happy or angry. With The Dream is Over, PUP has touched on the difficulty of growing up. Babcock notes that as a child or young person, things seem more possible — when those things are accomplished, they can be great but that false perception of reality is over.

“It’s the reality of that dream—we sleep in Walmart parking lots and we do these really tough tours,” said Babcock finally. “In that way it’s like, ‘I guess the dream is over’—but it’s still the best thing in the world.”

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