In a mosh pit everyone’s fighting but that doesn’t give you a licence to be a bad person

PUP are a Canadian band from Toronto. Having formed in 2013, initially under the name ‘Topanga’ (changed shortly before the release of their debut album), the group plays a very interesting and extremely listenable variation on punk rock. Preserving the energy and the untidy spirit, they play around with rhythms, melodies and harmonies, providing a one-of-a-kind mix of everything one may look for in a great indie rock band – including excellent performances with plenty of humour and good vibe. The band started gaining a lot of attention and acclaim as soon as their self-released EP appeared, which only grew after their full-length debut. Ever since releasing their first album in 2013 the band has been almost constantly on tour, yet it was only last week that they finally appeared in Poland, where they played two shows – in Warsaw and Krakow – as part of their tournée with Frank Turner. We used the opportunity and talked to their lead guitar player, Steve Sladkowski, after the concert in the City of Kings.

Antoni Kuźmiński: How was Warsaw?

Steve Sladkowski: It was great. A lot of people showed up.

More than here?

Well, I don’t know but it was great to see people singing our songs and being interested…

Yeah, I was surprised too, actually. I didn’t know anybody who knew you here. I told my friends about you but that would be it. And now I heard people singing – that was amazing!

Yeah, it’s like the most amazing thing to be so far away from home and still have people singing your songs.

When I first saw you in London in 2016, Stefan [Babcock, the band’s frontman – ed.] said from the stage that three months earlier you had come there as a supporting band and when I saw you, you were playing a sold-out headline show!

Yeah, we just toured a lot so I think we kinda connected with some people.

Is there actually anything else that you do aside from touring?

No… When we’re home we just write music and play more music… I don’t know, read books and watch TV…

No girlfriends or anything?

Yeah, partners – of course, like, Nestor [Chumak – ed.], our bass player, is married and stuff…

Does it even work out in this constant touring mode?

Yeah, of course.

There’s this paradox about you that you’re a punk band and your music is loud and aggressive, and you come on stage and you’re like “Yeah, do whatever you want, mosh and stagedive and whatever” but then you always add “Stay safe” or something like that. It’s cool in a way so that people are not assholes to each other but it seems a bit weird for a punk band image. You just seem like the nicest guys in the world.

We are – I hope people think that. I think that there’s space to have a good time and let out all those feelings and emotions that punk music allows for. But also, that doesn’t give you a license to be a bad person.

What about the roots, what about what Johnny Rotten was doing? I know that goes way back but…

Yeah but I don’t think that necessary is reflective of the spirit or life or political idea which is to really try and make space for people of all different kinds of lives. I think you can have a good time and be sweaty and have a mosh pit where everyone’s kinda fighting but also make space where women feel safe and people who are queer feel safe and people who don’t necessarily get treated in life the same way that you and I do still feel safe. And that’s to me what punk still allows for. For outsiders and the people who don’t feel like they’re accepted elsewhere to come here and feel like they’re part of something bigger.

Your music is punk but you took it to some kind of another level. It is more complicated than what we’re used to in punk in terms of rhythm and melodies. Also, it has this weird quality to it that everything seems to be apart but somehow together. How did you get there?

I think it’s that the four of us just love a lot of different music. We love metal and punk and rock and roll and folk music and jazz and electronic – all kinds of music. And we’re not afraid of saying “Oh, let’s try this metal thing” or “Let’s try this weird…”, you know… You should make music that reflects what you like as a person and what maybe your listeners like. Now with Spotify or Apple Music or any kind of streaming platform you listen to all kinds of music. Even people who like punk music don’t just listen to punk music. We know what we like and how we want our songs to sound and at the end of the day it’s just the four of us combining our tastes and ideas.

Does what you play usually reflect what you listen to quite directly or does it happen in a less obvious way?

I don’t know, I think it really depends… I think we will take ideas from bands or songs that we like but maybe it’s applied in a way that you wouldn’t hear the inspiration or influence directly. But I think that’s the case with all music. I was talking to Frank [Turner – ed.] today about a song where it sounded like the guitar he was playing was Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles but the song he was singing was Frank Turner, it was his own song. You know, it’s cool when music can be like that, when it can kinda make you think about other music that you love but still be something totally different.

What’s your greatest new musical discovery?

I really like the band called The Beths. It’s like surfy indie rock, punk kind of… it’s cool.

Let’s touch on the matter of your upcoming release. As far as I know the material for the new album has been recorded for a couple of months now, hasn’t it?

It is recorded and we’re working on it.

When can we expect the release?

Honestly, I don’t know yet.