Interview: Stefan Babcock (PUP)

Interview: Stefan Babcock (PUP)
Toronto punks PUP have just announced an Australian tour, and judging by their show in Melbourne having already sold out, this run is not one to sleep on. Following the release of their sophomore full-length The Dream Is Over, Peyton Bernhardt had a chat to frontman Stefan Babcock about what that dream actually is.

Hey Stefan, thanks for doing the interview.

No problem, thanks for calling. How’s it going?

Good thank you! How are you doing?

Pretty good, I got to spend all day outside, so I’m a happy guy right now.

What were you doing outside?

It’s a long weekend in Canada, so I was just camping all weekend and hiking and stuff. Just unwinding before we go on tour again, so it was nice.

Speaking of touring, your new album just dropped. Prior to releasing, have you been playing the new stuff live?

Yeah, we’ve played like three or four songs for a few months. We played a show where we just kind of played most of the songs to see how it would go, and it was a really fun experience.

Do you get worried about fan reactions to the new material?

Yeah, a little bit, but I mean you just kind of have to just … if people don’t know the songs, they’re probably not gonna react quite the same was as if they knew them. I’m not too worried. I mean, we’ve been playing the first record for so many years. It’s just exciting for us to be playing some new songs. So as much as we were nervous, I think it was more fun for us.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the album was that it sounded super honest and authentic – what you sing is very candid. Do you fear putting that much of yourself in the record, in terms of the implications it has for you and the people that it’s about?

You know, I never really thought about it until the record streamed and a really good friend of mine was like: “This is a pretty personal record, are you ready for everybody to know this stuff about you?” And I hadn’t really thought about it until then. And now I’m a little bit freaked out, to be honest. But songwriting, this kind of music, is supposed to be honest, supposed to be artistic. That’s really important. I think there’s a lack of authenticity and people being genuine in their music now and I think it’s important that you put everything into your music and you don’t just write words that sound like they would be lyrics in a song. If you want people to have a connection with the music you’re making, you gotta be straight up and honest with them, that’s kind of what I’ve tried to do. And I do kind of feel bad for some of the people that I write about. In particular, I feel bad for my girlfriend. Not that I really wrote anything mean about her on this record. But just because there are songs like ‘Old Wounds’, which is a pretty aggressive song, which is not about her, but people might think is about her. So that’s not fun. But that’s the kind of price we pay for making this kind of music, you know?

Absolutely. Do you feel inclined to share those meanings, what the songs are about, or do you trust the listeners to figure it out?

Well I mean, I’m happy to talk people through them if they want but at the same time, the lyrics that I write are pretty straightforward. They’re not very veiled, there are not a lot of metaphors, there’s not a lot of dancing around the subject matter. A lot of it is really straightforward, so I think most people know what I’m saying in the songs because I’m pretty straight up about it. But I’m also happy to explain and talk about it because I wrote those songs because they were things that were important to me. So I’m always happy to talk about them.

A lot of your music focuses on the flux of the 20’s experience. Have you learnt any lessons from your songs about that time period?

I don’t think I’ve learned anything by it, I think that for me, it’s therapeutic to write songs about that. It’s almost like keeping a journal, except it’s in musical form and people hear it, and that’s kind of weird. But I treat writing music as a catharsis. It’s more of a way to deal with issues than for me to solve them. I’m as confused and self-doubting and anxious as the next twenty something year old, and writing music doesn’t make that any better. The only thing it does is give me a way to kind of vent those pressures and talk about those feelings so that I can feel better about them.

I completely understand. The record is called The Dream Is Over. What’s the dream?

I think the dream is anything. It could be anything that you thought you wanted when you were younger. I mean for me, my dream was always to do what I’m doing right now. And the interesting thing about that is that I love it, and there is nothing else that I would want to do. But at the same time, it’s not really what I expected of it. And that sort of idealisation of this life is gone now. To me, that’s what the dream is and that’s why it’s over. I always thought that if I could play music full time in a touring band I would be a happy dude, but the hard realisation was that just because I’ve accomplished those goals in a certain way it hasn’t changed the person I am. I’m still often unhappy and anxious and weird. It didn’t fix me like I was looking to get fixed. So that’s a hard realisation to have. But it’s good because music for me is still cathartic. It’s still a great distraction from real life and from all the bad things that you can feel. So it’s a great distraction to have and I’m lucky to do it and I’m grateful because it’s what I wanted to do, even though it’s not what I expected it to be, you know?

I can resonate with that and I think that’s something a lot of people do go through – when you achieve something and expect the change to be transformative, but it doesn’t fix everything. Is there anything that does?

There’s nothing. There are other distractions. I really like camping. There’s a million other distractions and everybody has their own way of coping, but I don’t think anything fixes this. I think a big part of growing up which I’m still struggling with is kind of accepting yourself for who you are. Realising that this is the way you are. Maybe you’re not anxious and angry for a reason, maybe that’s just kind of how you are. If that’s the case then that’s okay. You just have to try to stop fixing it and learn instead to cope with it and make the best of your situation.

The Dream Is Over is out now via Cooking Vinyl Australia. You can catch PUP on their headlining run this October. For more details, head here.

pup tour poster

Interview: Stefan Babcock (PUP)
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