Earlier this month, Carnegie Mellon’s music magazine The Cut chatted with Toronto-based punk band PUP’s guitarist Steve Sladkowski about their new album Morbid Stuff and their upcoming show in Pittsburgh on April 30 at the Rex Theater.
How’s the start of the tour going?
Uhhh… we’ve been ironing out the kinks. [Laughs] We haven’t been out on tour for a while, and it feels like that. The shows have been awesome and the people have been stoked. We had a real sweaty show last night, crowd surfers flipping offstage and knocking out gear.
It’s been a good start, so far. It’s one of those things, you know it’s gonna be a long year of touring, so it’s kinda taking it easy. Hydrate, take supplements, start some good habits that are probably gonna be broken in a couple months anyways. Just trying to take it easy and put our energy into the show.
You guys performed on Late Night with Seth Meyers recently. How was that experience, making your TV debut?
It was fucking nerve wracking. The most insane thing we’ve ever done. Kinda blacked out when it happened, but it was pretty fun, ya know? I think we held it together and it was imperfect and a little off the rails, which is how we kind of prefer things to be.
In the performance online, it seemed like maybe a guitar wasn’t working.
Oh yeah, things get mixed differently for television than they do in the room. So in the room the whole time you could hear everything, but for broadcast they have to make it more vocal heavy. T.V.’s always gonna have that mass appeal, you know like my parents were stoked, right? It’s a big mom-and-dad moment, not that it’s any less important or significant than it is. You just gotta be a little bit zen and approach it as another gig, and not like Amy Schumer is across the hall from us! Gotta treat it like just another gig, even though it’s obviously not. It’s a really cool thing that I thought would never happen to us.
What was the production of your latest album, Morbid Stuff, like?
From a lyrical, subject matter perspective, I think Stefan [Babcock, PUP’s vocalist] really mined the darkness within himself and came up with a really amazing look at the places you can go when you are feeling emotionally and mentally unwell, but still maintaining that sense of humor and light that we all kind of love in music. And in terms of musical production, we actively forced ourselves to take time off from touring for the first time. We took way longer in the studio than we ever have before, like six weeks. That allowed us to experiment. The songs were all finished and we were able to get a good performance. That’s a fundamental part of our band, you can come to our show and the songs will sound like they did on the record, basically. But the time let us experiment with tone and stuff like gang vocals or the accordion on Scorpion Hill. Just doing things that pushed us out of our comfort zone, in a way that still felt like our band but allowed us to explore the space we had already mapped out for ourselves.
We were able to use the time to write the songs in our jam space and then go into studio and be like “Ok, the parts are all written, now we can focus on getting good performances, and what we can do to flesh it out.” We had time to really focus on the nuances and show what we can do as musicians.
You guys have had some awesome music videos, both in the past (including “Sleep in the Heat” and “Guilt Trip,” featuring a pre-Stranger Things Finn Wolfhard, and the animated “DVP” and “Dark Days” videos) and in the present with the “New Kids” and “Free at Last” videos. Where do the ideas come from, and what should we expect for the new album?
A good part of it is Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, who has been a big part of the band from day one. He’s the director, videographer, and mastermind of the videos. We’ll sit down and he’ll try to explain an idea that he can’t quite explain, he’s just very excited and saying half-sentences, just sputters “I know it sounds stupid, but trust me it’ll be great!” so we trust him and try and go with that. He’s one of our best friends and closest creative collaborators. We just put out a few songs and try to figure out what’s going. There really is no grand fucking plan [laughs]. When something comes up that we can invest the right amount of time in and is worth putting out, that’s what we do.
Alright, now it’s time for the silly question. What bread product do you think you could throw the farthest?
Can I manipulate it?
Let’s say yes.
Alright, I’m taking a loaf of Wonderbread and wadding it up into a ball-like shape. I played competitive baseball until I was 18 years old, so I would hope I still know how to throw. [pause] Yeah, I think I could at least throw out at second-base with a ball of Wonderbread.
How did you guys get involved with the video game Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator and how involved were you?
We basically just allowed our music to be played. Vernon Shaw [a writer for Dream Daddy] is a really cool video game/Twitch personality who really loves punk. He reached out about music to help promote it, and it just sounded like a really fun, kind of silly idea. But at the same time, we really do care about LGBTQ people and ensuring there is that kind of representation in those kind of mainstream things, so the “dads going on dates with dads” was fun, but also still had a very inclusive aspect to it. And they all seemed so nice and passionate, so it was the kind of fun idea that we wanted to run with.
Anything else that you want people in Pittsburgh to know, about the album or your shows?
Focused and mature, the best record we’ve ever done. And we really love touring in Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh’s always been really great to us, whether it’s been Cattivo or Spirit Hall or somewhere. We’ve played in Pittsburgh probably five or six times now and always had a really great time, had Primanti Bros. for the first time.
And how did you feel about your Primanti Bros. experience?
I liked it! I don’t know if I want fries on my sandwich all the time, but it was definitely good. One of the really cool things about touring is that you get a really immediate, insider’s perspective on a city. I’ve really come to appreciate the “local food thing you need to try,” because people take pride of a city in terms of food, and there’s a lot of value to that. You learn a lot from that, just like a sports team or something similar.