By Ida V. Eskamani
Embrace the calamity and put on your cargo shorts, Orlando. PUP the band have returned, and they're unraveling right alongside us.
"I just remember the last time we were in Florida ... everybody in this venue is wearing cargo shorts," marvels vocalist-guitarist Stefan Babcock. "Kind of insane."
Babcock and PUP are on the road once again, somewhere between their hometown of Toronto and the Great Lakes state of Michigan, kicking off another tour and taking questions from a journalist eager to know the meaning behind the lyrics, and exactly what world domination feels like.
The lyrics in question are from "Robot Writes a Love Song," a single off the band's latest album, rightly named The Unraveling of PUP the Band and released back in April through Rise Records and the band's own Little Dipper imprint. As the song goes, "I'm wearing cargo shorts down in Florida! Please tell me, is there any room in your aorta for a beta test?"
And world domination, well, that's PUP's reality.
PUP is Babcock, Nestor Chumak, Zack Mykula and Steve Sladkowski, childhood friends who have been making urgently bitter poppy punk music for over a decade. Their band name finds its roots in loving feedback from Babcock's grandmother, who suggested that quitting your job and playing in a band was a "Pathetic Use of your Potential."
Minus global catastrophes, PUP have been creating music and touring nonstop since their founding, currently selling out shows in multiple hemispheres.
Born out of a flourishing and crowded Toronto punk scene, PUP's rise (and unraveling) didn't happen overnight. "It did not happen suddenly for us," says Babcock. "It's been pretty slow and steady, but we're just so grateful to be where we are and to get to do this."
Offhandedly he marvels, "It's fucking crazy that people pay us to do this shit."
PUP have in so many ways created a sound and style that can only be described as quintessential PUP. Their spirit is scrappy, while their live shows are otherworldly experiences. The pit takes on a life of its own as fans shout choruses in unison and Babcock climbs the rafters. They write songs so intensely personal they become universal. Death, despair, devastating breakups and wanting to murder your bandmates ("If This Tour Doesn't Kill You, I Will," promises one song) ... PUP provides fans the best bad-day songs that are simultaneously seething and silly.
"We've always been a not-self-serious band," explains Babcock. "We've always taken the music seriously; at the same time, we don't take ourselves very seriously at all ... and I think it's important for all four of us that we recognize that and remember that and we laugh at ourselves and make sure we're having a good time ... while this thing lasts."
"The four of us have built essentially a really fun career on being miserable ... there's something just so absurd about that."
Absurdity abounds, yet the band takes their situational power seriously. PUP often use their platform to support human rights causes, most recently fundraising for abortion funds following the fall of Roe v. Wade.
"Our politics are no secret," affirms Babcock. "A woman has a right to choose what to do with her body."
In a state that just passed a 15-week abortion ban, it's a sentiment we wish a few more of our elected leaders adopted.
Speaking of Florida, Babcock shared his affection for our sweet, strange state: "I kind of love Florida. I'm pretty excited ... It's such a good community. There's punks, progressive people and kids who are part of the counterculture. It's always been a really special place."
And as for Orlando, Babcock has very specific feedback. "Wonderful group of people and the best mini-golf I've ever played," he says. "I think I'm gonna have to buy a pair of cargo shorts for Florida just so I can wear them at all the shows."
Ida is an Iranian-American from Florida who grew up with the Beatles, and came of age in the pit. She will talk to you about music for as long as you will pretend to listen. She is founder of Bandifesto, a little blog with a big heart.