On the heels of the release of PUP’s third album, Morbid Stuff, the Canadian punk stalwarts are aggressively touring the globe. On the surface, Morbid Stuff is just as the title suggests. The second track starts, “Just like the kids, I've been navigating my way through the mind-numbing reality of a godless existence.” But lead singer Stefan Babcock, along with guitarist Steve Sladkowski, drummer Zack Mykula, and bassist Nestor Chumak balance these deep lyrics with optimistic punk rock choruses.
On the last night of the first leg of PUP’s longest tour to date, we were supposed to grab beers a Gman Tavern next door to Metro in Chicago. However, swarms of red-faced baseball fans on their way to nearby Wrigley Field changed our plans, meaning Zack, Nestor, and I retreated to the sanctuary of the green room to crack open a couple cans of Revolution Brewery’s Fist City.
How does beer culture in Canada compare to the U.S.?
Zack: It’s becoming very similar. Since Prohibition, the United States has really ramped up the number of beers in every city. Canada never had [Prohibition], so there was never an urgency to reopen breweries. I feel the U.S. had a jumpstart on that, but once the craft beer revolution of the ‘80s happened in the States, Canada started catching on, but not in as much of an innovative way. It’s cool to come to the States and have your pick of unlimited styles of breweries with fairly wide distribution. You can just sample stuff from across the country whereas it’s all super regional in Canada.
Generally speaking, is it easier to find standard craft brews like IPAs and stouts or more experimental options?
Zack: We are starting to get more experimental, definitely. In Toronto, we’re leaning into the sour beers.
Nestor: Last summer it was all the milkshake beers.
Zack: There’s this great brewpub called Barhop in Toronto that specializes in spontaneous fermentation and farmhouse style beers. They are all just so well made.
I started off homebrewing. I found craft beer and then wondered how to make it. It was just such a pain in the ass”
When you get off tour and make it back to Toronto, what’s the first bar you are going to?
Zack: There’s a place called Thirsty and Miserable in Kensington Market. It’s named after the Black Flag song.
Nestor: Barhop would be one of them.
Zack: At Barhop, the head brewer is so good at his job.
Nestor: Their selection is fucking amazing.
Zack: He’s a friend of ours and we’ve done beers with him before.
That’s who you collaborated with to make your own beer, The Dream Is Hungover, right?
Zack: Yeah! That was us and Matt, the head brewer there.
How did that happen?
Zack: We made it two years in a row. It was a farmhouse made with New Zealand hops. Matt and I had worked in a brewery years ago, and he just became a star in the brewing community. One day, he goes, ‘Do you want to make a beer?’ And of course we did.
How much of a hand did you have in brewing that particular beer?
Nestor: Me personally, I was only there for the photo-op.
Zack: We went to the Great Lakes Brewery in Toronto. There are pictures of us dumping select ingredients in. Matt and I talked about the recipe, because we both come from a homebrewing background. We were fairly involved.
You were into homebrewing?
Zack: I started off homebrewing. I found craft beer and then wondered how to make it. It was just such a pain in the ass. It’s like 95 percent cleaning. We had some success. We definitely made a liquid. Nestor can attest to it.
Nestor: We made liquid… with alcohol.
Zack: Since then, I’ve worked at breweries. Except now I don’t, of course, because of this band thing.
What did you do at the brewery?
Zack: I was a brewer at Thornbury in Toronto. I was also at Great Lakes, but I was mostly a packaging and bottling line operator.
Nestor: I worked a couple of shifts there too, keg-washing.
Have you thought about making any more of your beer?
Zack: I’d love to go back and make more The Dream Is Hungover or maybe a new iteration for Morbid Stuff.
Nestor: We need a new pun for the new name.
If you could pair one beer with Morbid Stuff, what would that be?
Nestor: If we were in Toronto, I’d say Octopus maybe.
Zack: Octopus Wants to Fight. It’s an IPA. I’m pretty sure they got it from those coathangers on the back of doors that look like octopuses. I’d say something dark though, maybe a bourbon barrel-aged Yeti.
We always need something to distract ourselves, whether it’s beer, playing a show, or both.”
After touring the globe, where is the most remarkable place you’ve enjoyed a beer?
Zack: Going to Belgium was a big moment. The culture there is just so deeply ingrained. In Brussels, there’s a bar called Moeder Lambic, where you can get a Cantillon and all the best sour, farmhouse beers. That was a cool experience, being able to fully immerse in their beer culture. Germany is also cool for beer. I gained an appreciation for the simplicity of lagers and also how difficult it is to make them.
Making a good lager is such an artful process.
Zack: Yeah, you get an Augustiner and it’s one of the best things you can have.
Do you think you would still be touring as much as you are now if touring wasn’t the only viable financial option in the music industry?
Nestor: I think a lot of the charm that comes from this band is the shows. Since day one, it was about putting on a good show and writing songs that would be fun to play at shows.
Zack: We always need something to distract ourselves, whether it’s beer, playing a show, or both.
How long did it take for you to miss home?
Zack: A week. We’re definitely at that point now, but we’re going home tomorrow.
Nestor: We did two and a half weeks in Europe, had maybe 30 hours home, and now it’s been five weeks. It’s been crazy.
You all have been pretty open about mental health in the past. How important is it for artists to be open about this kind of stuff?
Zack: I think in general that it’s getting better all the time. I think there’s been a stigma for such a long time that people weren’t very comfortable with it. Anything we can do to combat that and kind of normalize the conversation is very important. By itself, without the shame of the stigma, having a mood disorder is bad, so we try to remove that kind of weight.
What are some practices you have employed on the road to deal with some of these issues?
Zack: As a band, we definitely just get better at being around each other. I mean we’re not perfect, we are still learning—knowing when to take a step back or check in on somebody or that kind of thing. Being on a bus is in itself a remedy to one of the most necessary things for mental health and emotional resilience—getting enough sleep. When we’re in the van, it’s just hard to find time to sleep enough. I personally do some mindfulness and meditation, probably not enough, but it's hard to find time sometimes but that’s not really an excuse. There's trying when you can to get exercise. Trying to not eat crappy.
There can be negative commonalities at punk shows, like invading people’s space or people being pushed around when they don't want it. How do you combat those issues?
Zack: It’s pretty hard because you can’t police an entire room. Sometimes, it feels like the audience is reduced to kindergarteners that just forget how to act around each other. A lot of the time though, they’re respectful of each other and looking out for each other so a lot of the credit can go to the audience. We try to cultivate that by being very open about what we expect of them, so they can ensure that everybody has a good time instead of just two or three people who want to crowd surf or jump on the stage or whatever.
You shouted out OurMusicMyBody at the first show, which kind of put an instant awareness on the crowd.
Zack: You’d hope so, but we definitely still heard about some incidents where people were being pushed around and not wanting to be, which is always unpleasant. It’s hard to police all those things though, so we try our best to make sure the audience knows that this is an environment where we respect each other and have this community, instead of just a bunch of individuals.