Stefan Babcock of PUP on chameleons, soup dumplings and never taking a break, ever

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PUP (Stefan Babcock, second from right) - VANESSA HEINS
  • Vanessa Heins
  • PUP (Stefan Babcock, second from right)

Toronto’s PUP is a scrappy punk band; it creates raw music deeply rooted in honest lyricism and technical riffs. It’s dark, but it’s also fun, and the band’s manic energy is best captured in live performances. Shows are marked by sweaty dancing, stage-diving and passionate singalongs. City Paper called PUP frontman Stefan Babcock on the band's day off in NYC and chatted about touring, maintaining relationships, and who’s the best driver in the band. Sunday, PUP comes to Pittsburgh for a sold-out show with Cayetana and Chastity at Cattivo.

Last time we spoke, a few months ago, you insisted that PUP was going to take it easy. When did you decide you just weren’t going to do that?
We’re on tour for 100 days right now, so three-and-a-half months. This is probably the longest tour we’ve ever done, with only three days off. I swear that next year, next album, we’ll take it way easier.

But it’s hard to say no when good things happen, as much as I’d like to go home at this point and sleep in my own bed. Things are going really good for us right now, and we really appreciate this opportunity.


It feels pretty amazing that we can tour the world and sell out small shows. Are people still going to be excited about us in two years? Two months? I don’t know, so if we got an offer to go to Australia and headline cool shows and play some festivals, we’re not gonna say no. We might as well take advantage of it now.

After your second time in Australia, what are your thoughts on traveling there?
Australia’s the only place with pop-punk commercial radio. We sold out every show, it was all awesome, and it’s such a surreal feeling to be that far away, on the other side of the planet and have people yelling out these weird geographical Canadian locations.

We didn’t get to hold any koalas on this trip, but we did the first time. My girlfriend was angry and jealous because she loves koalas, so I bought her a little koala stuffed animal, but she hates it because it reminds her that I got to hold a real koala [laughs].

Do you ever feel people know too much about you from your personal lyricism?
The first record was pretty personal but less so than The Dream is Over. It didn’t really occur to me as I was writing, I just remember the day that it came out we were playing a show in Montreal and one of my oldest, closest friends who I have a very deep connection with was like, “This is fucked. People are gonna know a lot about you and assume a lot about you.”

I don’t regret writing those lyrics, but it was a weird thing I didn’t think about until it was too late. It’s OK, though, I think that’s just what happens. I think also people get the wrong impression of me. A lot of people coming up to me at shows and are like, “I’ve got a bag of drugs for you in the back,” and I’m like “no!” I guess since I talk about being a piece of shit a lot? [laughs]

I think the sentiment is nice. They want all of us to have a good time. But they really read something between the lines that is not correct [laughs].

The first time I heard “Sleep In the Heat,” I thought it was about a person, but when I saw you perform last you said it was about your pet chameleon who passed, Norman. Somehow that was even more sad to me than the loss of a human being. Is it hard to play such a sorrowful song live?
[Laughs] My girlfriend, Amanda, was in the studio while we recorded this song, and she was like, “There’s one love song on this record, and it’s about a fucking chameleon.”

There’s a certain emotional distance when you are in a show environment and everyone’s going off, so some of the lyrics sort of lose a little meaning to me, but every time we play it I miss Norman. It seems like people are having fun at our shows, so it feels more like a celebration of his life, not a bummer song. I love playing that song live.

Every single one of you has a girlfriend, so how do you manage your relationships while away?
It’s really hard. Dating us is really hard, dating anyone in PUP is hard. Dating anyone who tours is hard. We date really cool understanding girls who are supportive, so you figure out how to make it work. You have to figure out what works best for you, be it texting a lot, or whatever. You figure out how to keep the spark alive when you’re never home. And we get nice days like today, where all our girlfriends flew in for the show last night and we all get to hang out separate for the day. My girlfriend, [photographer] Amanda [Fotes], is coming for three days to shoot and then it’ll be back to boys world [laughs].

You had a vocal-chord injury — since then, how do you treat touring differently?
What happened was my vocal chords hemorrhaged, I couldn’t make a sound for over two weeks. My doctor was like, your two options are surgery or vocal therapy. We’re road dogs, so surgery was not gonna work for us. With vocal therapy, there’s a physical-therapy component, so it’s almost like a throat massage, they realign the muscles around your vocal chords. I was on vocal rest for almost a month. For two weeks I didn’t make a sound at all, for two weeks I whispered, and then I had five months of rest.

Now I warm up for half an hour everyday, I don’t drink as much, and I always do 15 minutes of warm-down. I don’t smoke weed on tour anymore, and there’s a dietary component. Most people don’t really think about the abuse that you put on your vocal chords when you scream. Like any muscle you have to rest it.

Who is the best driver?
The best driver is Nestor, definitely. He’s the band dad. I’m the band mom, I worry about stuff and make all the arrangements and plans (this is based on my own parental experience), and as band dad he fixes all the broken things, he’s calm under heavy pressure, drives us around, takes care of the van, and is pretty much the cool head when we need it.

If your band was a food, what kind of food would it be and why?
Have you ever had soup dumplings? We just had them for the first time in NYC. There is meat and soup inside the dumpling, and they were delicious and spicy, and I feel like PUP’s a little bit like those soup dumplings. We’re like this contained ball of spicy, if anything goes wrong it bursts hot, spicy, stuff all over. [Laughs.] Like a metaphor how we’re always on the verge of a total breakdown. We’re always riding that rail, and that’s what eating soup dumplings is like. Like if you pick it up with chopsticks wrong it bursts and explodes all over the place.

If this tour doesn’t kill you…
We’ll come back to New York and have more soup dumplings.

PUP, CAYETANA, CHASTITY 7 p.m. Fri., Nov. 4. Cattivo, 146 44th St., Lawrenceville. Sold out. 412-687-2157 or www.cattivopgh.com

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