When Moshcam speak to PUP singer/guitarist Stefan Babcock, he has recently returned from a relaxing getaway. “It’s a holiday weekend in Canada, so I went camping” Babcock explained. “Did some hiking and stuff, recharging.”
Recharging is something that would be sorely needed for any member of PUP; the band formed in 2013, released their debut self-titled album later that year, and then hit the road on a world tour. Along the way they picked up three Juno Awards, were called one of the ‘Breakout Rock Acts of 2014’ by Rolling Stone, and racked up over 300 shows in the last two years alone.
PUP have now returned with their second album; The Dream Is Over. Named after the first thing doctors told Babcock after inspecting his vocal chords, the album is an intense and engaging listen that takes the PUP formula and kicks it up another notch (if that is even possible). We spoke to frontman Stefan about their new album, playing in a Folk band, and touring Australia.
The Dream Is Over went up for streaming last week on NPR, how has the reception to it been?
It’s been really good! I’m just looking forward to getting the record out, you know, it’s been such a long time coming, we finished recording in later October. So it’s just a big weight off our shoulders that people are hearing it now.
Did you feel there were many expectations set on you for this album? When you released your first record you were a relatively unknown band, were there more external pressures this time around?
It’s different for sure, but it never really affected us. We’ve all got really high expectations of ourselves and each other, so I don’t think outside expectations really factored in. We approached this record the same way we approached our first record, which is “we want to make the best record we can possibly make, and something to be proud of” and if we did that, I don’t want to say it would be irrelevant, because we want people to like it, but doing our best is the only thing we can do. So we don’t let other people’s expectations get into our head.
How different was the writing process this time around?
Honestly, it was so different. The recording process was pretty similar, but the writing was so different. You have your whole life to write your first record, so some of those songs we spent three years writing – in a way that’s good, because you have all this time, and there is no pressure. But in a way it’s not so great because you overthink a lot and also we didn’t have a clear vision of what we wanted this band to be; we were just experimenting and writing songs together for the first time.
This time around there was much less time, and I think that was good thing for us because it kinda minimised our neurosis, cause we’re all extremely neurotic [laughs], and it kind of made us focus a lot harder and get work done. The other thing is that, writing the second record, we had much cooler ideas about the band we wanted to be and the record we wanted to make, so it was almost a lot easier. I know a lot of bands have trouble writing the second record, especially when they are on tour a lot, but for us it just felt a lot easier. We just knew what we wanted to achieve and just kinda went for it.
The Dream Is Dead is a lot heavier than the first record, but it also brings in a lot more influences from other genres; ‘Pine Point’ and ‘The Coast’ seem particularly Folk-influences. Did you look to a lot of different influences outside of Punk this time around?
I think we never really thought of ourselves as a Punk band. When we made that first record that’s just kinda how people labelled it. I find it flattering, I like being known as a punk band, and I think that that’s probably the closest descriptor we can get. But even with this record, I don’t really think of it as a Punk record, or as us ever really being a punk band.
The Folk think is interesting, because originally we were called Topanga and we played Folk music. So that kinda thing has definitely stuck with me. There are a handful of Folk artists that I like, and a lot of lo-fi Indie stuff like Modest Mouse. I think there are also a lot of metal influences on the record as well. It’s interesting because, the thing that I like most about the band is that I can write these songs, and they might sound one way, and my influences are pretty apparent…but by the time all the other guys get through the songs, get through rebuilding them with their own influences, it sounds like a completely different song from what I originally wrote, which is exciting to me. And everybody has gotten really good at bringing in their own influences and flavour to a song, in a way that kinda makes sense, which is really exciting for me.
So before PUP, were you more of a singer/songwriter, coming from the Folk world?
Nah, I played in some punk and ska bands, some really bad bands [laughs]. But I went through a phase just before we started this band, where I had just been writing music for myself and it was a lot of acoustic guitar stuff. When we first started this band we were totally different…we had a female singer, keyboard player, trumpet player, and we were playing these songs that I had written on my own that I never really intended to see the light of day.
When we started getting a little more serious about playing together we had a pretty clear cut switch into something a little closer to what we were doing now. There was a switch when we started doing this as a band instead of a solo project, you know, and I think it’s been a pretty steady progression of this getting heavier and heavier as we go along.
You came to Australia in 2014 as part of a tour with The Smith Street Band, Great Cynics, and Apart From This. How was the tour looking back on it?
It was awesome! You know, we’ve been touring for two years and that tour stands out, it was probably the most fun tour we have ever done. First of all, all those bands are wicked, and for Smith Street Band to take us on their headline tour was amazing. But also, Australia is a really rad country, it’s awesome, we met so many great people. We got to swim in the ocean, which is incredible for us, it was summer in Australia and in Canada it was like -30 in our hometown while we were swimming in the ocean and hanging out on the beach, so we just had an amazing time. It seems like the scene there, I mean, we have toured a lot of places and it seems like Australia is one of the few places where loud guitar rock is still a really big thing [laughs], which is awesome!
You’ve just announced you’re heading back down under! Any places you’re particularly looking forward to coming back to?
For sure, we spent a lot of time in Melbourne with Smith Street Band, so that was like home base for us. I’m looking forward to all the shows to be honest, it’s a pretty short run but I was really enamoured with. The one thing I will say is that I am kinda bummed we’re not going back to Tasmania, cause I had a fucking awesome time there last time. It’s such a cool unique place, hopefully we get to get back there one day.
See the dates for PUP’s tour below, and snap up your tickets here.