PUP: When life throws punches, make a ferocious new album

A hemorrhaged cyst on Stefan Babcock’s vocal cords could have put an end to the Toronto band's plans. Instead, he tried to walk to the tip of South America.


PUP with Jeff Rosenstock at the Phoenix Concert Theatre (410 Sherbourne), Thursday (May 26), 7 pm. Sold out.


There’s been a lot of talk about the gruelling tour schedule Toronto punk band PUP undertook for their debut album: more than 250 shows that resulted in a hemorrhaged cyst on Stefan Babcock’s vocal cords and a doctor’s recommendation that he quit music forever. 

In response, Babcock tried to walk to the southern tip of South America.

“[Disappearing into the wilderness] is the only other thing I can think of that does a similar thing to me as writing music. It can effectively calm me down and give me perspective on life,” he says, lying on a couch in bassist Nestor Chumak’s parents’ basement (also PUP’s jam space). 

“Just fucking off from society – I try to do that a couple times a year when I’m feeling particularly crazy.”

He didn’t make it all the way, but two weeks in the mountains helped him regain his sense of self. And the challenging times inspired the bird-flipping title and subject matter of PUP’s ferocious, rollicking follow-up, The Dream Is Over (Royal Mountain).

Doubts is about feeling like a brutal loser, Can’t Win about ruining your life, Pine Point about broken towns, DVP about getting fucked up and wanting to die. There’s also a deeply stirring ode, Sleep In The Heat, to his late pet chameleon, Norman.

“When we were recording that song, my girlfriend was in the studio, and I remember her turning to Dave [Schiffman], our producer, and being like, ‘There’s one fucking love song on this record, and it’s about his goddamn fucking chameleon.’”

Babcock insists he’s “not an 80 per cent bummer dude,” but he really did wonder whether he needed to quit music. 

“I don’t think there’s any way I could deal with my shit, though, without this band. Well, without music in general. I’m gonna be one of those dudes who’s 60 and still writing songs no one is listening to or gives a shit about.”

Right now people definitely do give a shit. There’s huge excitement around PUP’s brand of sonic catharsis, and this sophomore album, thanks in part to their debut’s Juno Award and Prism and Polaris Prize nominations. 

So if a hemorrhaging vocal cord cyst and punishing tours can’t stop PUP, is there anything that could?

“We learned pretty early on that expectation is a quick way to kill your band,” guitarist Steve Sladkowski says.

Babcock pipes up with what could be PUP’s motto: “The only expectation: create stuff you like, play shows, die.”

music@nowtoronto.com | @mattgeewilliams

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