In the Doghouse: A Conversation with Pop Punk Icons PUP

PUP © Vanessa Heins
PUP © Vanessa Heins
Approaching their 10th year as a band, PUP have released perhaps their most excitable record to date – with more time than ever spent in the studio, this is a band that is keen on honing their craft and show no signs of slowing down.

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The four-piece punk outfit from Toronto have never been set to cruise control throughout their musical endeavors. Playing over 250 shows a couple years back the recent announcement of just over 100 seems trivial to one of the most important punk bands of recent years. Their third full-length album Morbid Stuff (released April 5th via Rise Records) has already taken the community by storm, with lead single “Kids” cracking the 2 million mark in Spotify streams alone!

PUP Morbid Stuff
Morbid Stuff – PUP

Morbid Stuff tackles some of their most grueling lyricism to date but is met with pure joy at the end of it all. Juxtaposed greatly with glistening guitar riffs and beyond catchy hooks, the band finds catharsis in the negatives of life. What has been described as their “mainstream record,” PUP is slowly approaching a decades worth or hard work and commitment to their craft. While perhaps taking more time for themselves these days, there is no sign of slowing down in the near future.

Steve Sadlowski of PUP made time this past week to connect from Glasgow, Scotland to New York City via FaceTime with Atwood Magazine, talking on past experiences of touring, playing on national television and what it’s like to create a very personal form of expression alongside their best friends.

Listen: Morbid Stuff – PUP


Atwood Magazine: Hearing that story behind your previous album The Dream Is Over’s title, (this warning from Stefan’s doctor to stop singing) I find I still get chills from it. Did you ever return to that doctor or just kind of give him a “hey we’re still going!” since then?

Steve Sadlowski: I think we are tenacious in that regard. We’ve been working both individually and as a group for so long that it feels good. We’ve all learned to listen to our bodies a bit more. Have it something that helps drive our decision making. Whether that be trying not to stay up as late, or party as hard, you know, those sorts of things.

Yeah it sounds like it is part of the maturation process of doing what you guys do.

Steve Sadlowski: I think that’s definitely the right word for it, maturation. Getting a little bit older. (laughs) Getting a little bit slower too.

In slowing things down, was there a hiatus you guys took for yourselves just to sit and reflect on what is going on and what you guys are trying to do?

Steve Sadlowski: Oh, yeah. I think one of the big things too is that, with the past couple of records when we were just sort of writing and recording them. We didn’t really have a ton of time inside the recording studio. [With this record] we kind of were able to get enough time to write the songs in advance, something that we have always wanted to do. In the past it was us playing the songs live and that was what the records were. With this album we were more prepared in the songs and were given much more time in order to work through them. We had more time in the studio and were able to use it as a creative tool, rather than just a way to capture songs, if that makes sense.

More of a whole body of work.

Steve Sadlowski: Yeah, I feel like on the record there are a bunch of interludes and interesting production that we got through working with Dave Schiffman. When I play it back it certainly still feels like a PUP record, but it feels as though we’ve done more experimental creative expression for ourselves.

Of course, and I wouldn’t go as far as calling the record “mainstream”, but it has a more over-arching feel to it. I can show it to fans of hip-hop, fans of electronic music, and they’ve all been able to sort of wrap their heads around it and get into it. That’s what I found so appealing about Morbid Stuff.How much material would you say was recorded until you ended at this final product?

Steve Sadlowski: I think this is the first time we had more material than we knew what to do with. We had about 14 songs that we recorded in total and we really liked all of them, so it was a bit of a struggle to figure out which songs we wanted to cut. This was never a problem we had in the past. With our previous albums it always felt like we just made it to the finish line.

We are kind of like control freaks? A little neurotic with what goes into our whole creative process. There are like hundreds and hundreds of track lists and combinations of the songs that we all scribbled into notebooks and made now-deleted SoundCloud playlists for. Because in the end, we all love records. We love how they work and how they flow, so the track listing is really important to us. Especially in the age we live in now when a lot of people are listening to music on shuffle. I still think there is value in considering a track list and that careful approach to how you want to present your work.

I think that’s the big thing that punk and rock have continued onto streaming services. This idea of the “infinity loop” album in which one song plays into the next until the last song revisits the first. Giving this new and exciting approach to how artists want their listeners to experience their sound.“Sibling Rivalry” is perhaps the brightest I have ever heard you guys. While still being a pure punk record at heart, there is this sort of pop-centric flexibility in the catchiness of the hook.

Steve Sadlowski: Part of it has to do with the fact that the lyrics are very personal and hard to sing. So, one of the things we like to do is sort of offset those lyrics, so that’s why you’ll have us harmonizing. We like writing songs that feel as though they are catchy. We love pop music. I think it’s a fun juxtaposition to have dark and real lyricism and then balancing it with the music we hear from some of our favorite artists. So, I guess in a sense one could say it is upbeat and optimistic, but certainly the lyrical material juxtaposes that.

Watch: Morbid Stuff (Live) – PUP

Would you say its cathartic to just go up to the mic and let that emotion just pour out?

Steve Sadlowski: Yeah, I think that’s a very sort of central part of it. Finding catharsis in performance. It’s not just us though, fans are able to do that as well. The world is really tough right now and there is a lot of negativity surrounding everyday life. Whether it be from the news, or mental health struggles. One of the things I think we pride ourselves on is being able to provide an environment where people feel safe to sweat, shout and even crowd surf if they want to. Being able to view all of that in a safe way. Finding that catharsis has always been part of what punk rock is and what we’re trying to be. You can have safe fun while also taking a serious note on real life issues, so we try to do that as much as we can.

Speaking of live shows. You guys played Seth Meyers not too long ago. How was the experience? I’m sure it was a slightly different crowd then what you are used to.

Steve Sadlowski: Yeah, it was different all right. It was really nerve-wracking. I think there is a truth in life, regardless of what your job is. The first time that you do something that is different, that you find to be significant to you. You can find your body then doing whatever it wants, and it’s harder to settle your nerves or anxiety. The first time we played in New York City, or at a really nice theatre, or performed with a band that we all loved growing up. There is this nervous energy that follows it. The only way to really maintain that is just to ride out that nervousness and go through with it. That’s really what the Seth Meyers performance was to us. None of us had any fucking idea what to do (laughs). Like Amy Schumer was across the hall, we were down the street from Saturday Night Live. These are all things that we build up in society, so to be on the other side of it is a super surreal experience. It’s just not normal. Even though you played the song hundreds of times and its only like two minutes in length, your brain and body just go absolutely haywire.

Time sort of feels like it slows down in that moment.

Steve Sadlowski: Yeah and that was the hardest part in dealing with it. We were just there playing “Kids” in front of these people who had never really heard it.

Was there much decision in performing that song specifically?

Steve Sadlowski: That was the song they wanted us to play actually. Seth Meyers is like an old punk. He was rocking out at his desk while we played. He was totally stoked. I think he heard the song in advance and when he reached out he asked us to play it.

Watch: “Kids” – PUP

I checked your selling out tour and I see you guys have Tolmin, Slovenia on the list. Is there ever a point where you ask yourself “How in the world did our music end up here?” Or has it become normal at this point in your career?

Steve Sadlowski: It’s crazy man. Every day feels crazy still. We’re so grateful for everything we get to do. We never in our lives expected to have the opportunity – like I am in Glasgow Scotland right now – about to have a show here even. Connecting with all these people, singing along to a record that has been out now for a week. It’s crazy and all it does is make me want to work harder and be better. To be able to keep giving back to these people.

Is there any place specifically in Toronto that you garner inspiration from? A spot you look back on from your childhood even.

Steve Sadlowski: Oh my god, there are so many places. Our favorite local bar growing up is still the place that we go for a drink as a band altogether. When we go, we all realize that we are still just friends, and we always have to keep that in mind. Having a space like that where we can go after we rehearse to unwind is necessary.

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