PUP, the punk pride of Toronto, Ontario, is unveiling its newest album this week. Critics who’ve heard Morbid Stuff in advance of its April 5 release are hailing it as the band’s best work. Houston fans will get to hear songs from it live when PUP returns to the city for a May 10 show at Rockefeller’s.
It’s an important and exciting week for the group, so naturally when we spoke with PUP guitarist Steve Sladkowski the main thing on his mind was,…basketball?
“The last time (PUP played Houston) was probably over two-and-a-half years ago. Chris Paul was not even a member of the Houston Rockets at that point,” Sladkowski said. “We’re excited to be back and hopefully maybe there’s a universe where there’s a Raptors-Rockets finals.”
You’ve got to love a guy who marks time by NBA trades and acquisitions and, moreover, one who isn’t taking the notion of success too seriously. If there’s a theme to the new album it’s the idea that life might burden us with heaviness but there’s freedom in shouldering and even ridiculing its weight. Or, summarized more succinctly in “Scorpion Hill”, track five on the record, “I’ve been having some pretty dark thoughts. I like them a lot.”
“We’ve been sitting on the record. We recorded it throughout May of last year, so we’ve been sitting on it for what almost is damn near a calendar year. We’re chomping, we’re ready to kind of get it out there,” Sladkowski said. “We’re all really, really proud of what we accomplished. Even from a tune like ‘Scorpion Hill,’ where there’s a very dramatic slow down in the chorus, like a 10 BPM slow down. From a technical perspective I feel like our songwriting has never been better. As we’ve kind of matured as musicians and people, I think we’ve been able to express that in the songwriting and I think it’s a record that goes in a lot of spaces and pushes and was experimental without feeling like it got away from who we are as a band.”
Sladkowski said he and his bandmates - Stefan Babcock, Nestor Chumak and Zack Mykula – have learned a lot about themselves since forming the band in 2010. We joked that we know how PUP feels at the end of any tour. With the band looking at a long run of North American, UK and European shows to support Morbid Stuff, how are they preparing to not kill each other this time, we asked?
“We took a long time off to make the new record and I think that kind of gave everyone the bug a little bit,” he said. “Not that we were not enjoying touring before, but playing a lot of the same songs, not having as much new material..,. now that we have this new material we’re kind of thinking about the show a little bit more from a production standpoint.”
He said the band is looking forward to returning to Houston, too.
“We’re really excited. The last tour we would have been out there, we might have played Walters. But playing Texas is great. We always have a good time. People don’t ever want to buy us enormous shots of alcohol ever – it’s never happened,” he says with no subtlety on the sarcasm at all.
“You know, we’re all kind of in our early 30s now too, so we can’t party like we used to. As much as I love Whataburger, we can’t have it every day that we’re in Texas. We’re kind of looking to take care of ourselves and be in a little bit more control of that sort of thing. That’s kind of allowed us to really put that energy into the show.”
“I think we’re going to be on a bus when we come through Houston, which is going to be really, really cool. We’ve never done that before, so we have no idea what to expect,” he said, and added that PUP’s M.O. is to keep “doing the couple things that we know we’re able to do to really continue delivering to a standard that we’ve set for ourselves for the live show and that I think people have rightly come to expect from us.
“We’re just really kind of taking the steps to do that and everyone’s in a pretty upbeat mood for ironing out the kinks,” he said.
The band’s good vibes were amplified recently by fan response to “Free at Last,” an album track that was advanced so PUP’s faithful could be involved in the process of Morbid Stuff. The band shared the song’s lyrics and chords with fans in its zine and asked them to attempt their best cover, having never heard the song. They wound up with more than 250 audio and video submissions from fans.
“It first started, as most of our ideas do, kind of from riffing and kicking around ideas and trying to make each other laugh, usually over a beer,” Sladkowski said. “From there, once we started seeing that people were covering it we thought, ‘Hey, why don’t we ask if people want to record video?’ and as we were doing that we realized we needed a video because we knew ‘Free At Last’ was going to be the second single.
“We were kind of brainstorming like, well, should there be a lyric video? Should there be more like an instructional video? Since we’re getting all these video submissions, should we feature these? Should we make it like a goofy YouTube video, you know, when you see someone covering a song in their bedroom and they put it on YouTube, that sort of thing? And it became all of those things and none of those things.”
Mostly what it became, he said, was a love letter between PUP and its fans.In that way, the video mirrors the mission of the album, too.
“That was really shocking and really a testament to how devoted and creative and amazing our fan base is. It was really overwhelming,” he said. “It all just kind of coalesced. There wasn’t some kind of grand master plan, as there rarely is with us. It’s always kind of flying by the seat of our fucking pants.”
PUP returns to Houston Friday, May 10 and plays Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington. All ages, $15. The band’s new and critically-acclaimed album Morbid Stuff releases this Friday.
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