Album cover artwork for PUP with black and red vinyl record popping outSaying ‘yes’ to whatever (literal) batsh-t idea bubbled to the surface of their minds was PUP’s ticket to triumph, says frontman Stefan Babcock; he spoke to STACK about the lunacy of the Canadian band’s fourth album, The Unraveling of PUPTheBand.

Stefan Babcock is chatting to us alongside his beloved pooch Moose from his Toronto home – the same spot from which he recorded the video for Waiting For Something to Happen, the April 2020 anthem which sent the couplet “You barely feel like you’re alive/ You think about it all the time” into the lockdown ether.

The already alarmingly self-aware Toronto punk four-piece underwent a further, more acute crystallisation of self-analysis over that period, resulting in the candidly titled The Unraveling of PUPTheBand.

Its tracklist is interspersed with three vignettes featuring frontman Babcock accompanying himself on piano, spinning the tale of PUP’s increasingly impatient “board of directors”, his own vote to“end democracy in this f-cking band”, and how their whole budget went on the piano itself, which Babcock only started learning how to play “last Thursday.” One of these ditties is just nine seconds long, with Babcock declaring the album nearly completed and then crunching a bum chord.

“Honestly, every album we’ve ever made, half the time I’m thinking ‘We’re not going to finish this,’” Babcock says. “For me, it’s such an intense, emotional experience. Because the four of us have such strong personalities, and we care so much about the product, that it feels like we might end each other before we finish the record.”

And yet it’s the ever increasing collaborative nature between the band’s four members that Babcock cherishes. Yes, despite voting to end democracy – which was, of course, voted down. “It was only one out of four votes, so,” he laughs. “But every record that we’ve made, I enjoy each one more than the last. More than ever, I can hear all four of us on each track.”

Babcock, along with his bandmates (and friends since high school) Nestor Chumack, Steve Sladkowski, and Zack Mykula, decamped to producer Pete Katis’ Connecticut “bat-filled mansion” to record TUOP, a location that sounds more Palace of Wonders than pedestrian studio. “It’s a crazy place, with so many rooms,” Babcock says. “There’s a zone in the basement called the Black Hole; it was like a cave with no end.”

And what was inside?

“Just junk – garbage,” he grins. “Pete has so much old recording gear, and half of it’s broken, but it’s amazing. The house is filled with weird stuff. We had all these toys at our disposal. I’m the go-to-bed-early guy, but I’d wake up at 2am and I’d hear horror music coming down the hall – ‘What the f-ck is this?’ – and get up and go look. It’s just Zack sitting in the hallway with some crazy keyboard he found, just whaling on it. It was a weird time, but we loved it.”

Immersion in the living-and-recording process (“We didn’t do anything except work on the record: every hour, every waking moment”) meant the guys’ choices began to splinter off into bizarre avenues, but Babcock attests this was ideal. “By week three or four, we’d all gone off the deep end,” he explains. “We were making decisions fort he record because we thought they were too stupid to not do, or too funny to not do.”

Decisions like, for example, the sax hysteria on album closer PUPTHEBAND Inc. is Filing For Bankruptcy. “I hate the saxophone; it sounds like a duck quacking, to me,” says Babcock. “But Zack suggested a saxophone freak-out and I was like, ‘Yeah, sounds cool.’ I used to play in a ska band, and at some point I made a ‘no saxophone’ rule – only trumpets and trombones allowed. This is the first time I’ve had saxophone on anything I’ve done in a very long time.”

Finding themselves on the flipside of a “rational mindset”, Babcock says, was just the ticket. “I look back on this record and I just don’t know how we did it. Not saying, ‘Oh, it’s so good’ – I’ve been very vocal about the fact I think this band sucks,” he says with a smirk,”but I look back and I don’t understand how we came out with the songs the way they are. But it’s always [my] goal when recording – [for] the song to be different to what it started as. If you don’t know how it got from point A to point B, it probably means that something good happened along the way.”

It may have been, we suggest, the guano.

“Bat sh-t’s poisonous, isn’t it?!” Babcock yelps. “We were probably high the whole time.”

The album gives us slowly unfurling tragedy (“I’m circling the drain… you’re begging me to let you out” – Cutting Off the Corners), sarcastic mania (“Thanks for having us, it’s been such an honour/ And I just wanna thank all the sponsors” – PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing For Bankruptcy), existential exhaustion (“And if I’m being real, I don’t even mind… whether I’m at my worst or I’m totally fine” – Totally Fine), and always poignant, heartfelt sentiment.

It comes most keenly in an ode to Babcock’s guitar, Matilda. “I don’t have that kind of relationship with most inanimate objects,” he laughs. “But guitars, for me, kid of have a life of their own. Without sounding cheesy, I have such powerful memories tied to each one because I either wrote specific songs on them that meant a lot to me, or I was playing them at shows that were really important, memorable shows that I’ll treasure forever. When I got Matilda she was a very pristine guitar. She’s so beat-up and f-cked-up now and I think they’re like battle scars – a little visual history of six or seven years of touring.”

The tour machine is, of course, about to rattle into life once again. Babcock is feeling a potent mix of excitement and nerves. “I’m so tripped out about playing shows again,” he says. “When we started off we were playing to five people a night, then 10, then 40; it was really incremental, so I never really had stage fright. But now we’ve taken a few years off and I have to walk out in front of 10,000 people or whatever, and I’m kind of sh-tting myself. The first three or four shows, we’re going to be f-cking terrible – I’m looking forward to that though!” he laughs. “I’m looking forward to being bad, and laughing about it, and hopefully getting better after a week.”

The Unraveling of PUPTheBand by PUP is out April 1, including on JB-exclusive neon coral / black smush vinyl (pictured above-right), via Cooking Vinyl.

PUP are touring Australia this July; read all the details right here.

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