PUP find inspiration from bats and absurdity

Interview with Pup by Robert Boissonneault for Northern Transmissions
PUP interview with Northern Transmissions by Robert Boissonneault

For their fourth album, THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND, Canadian pop punks, PUP, pushed their sound into a fringe sonic territory. It’s still classic anthemic pop punk, but there are interludes, joke songs, piano, synths, and drum machines. It was the first time PUP had a long period of time to really tinker with the album. 

They shacked up in Peter Katis’ studio/mansion in Connecticut for five weeks and worked on the album during the summer of 2021. They were surrounded by themselves, Peter, and a family of bats that made the mansion their abode during the late nights. The title plays off the degrading mental health of the band members, but also the experimental nature of their recording process. 

We spoke with drummer Zack Mykula as he was in the tour van about the recording process, his acceptance of the bats, and the very essence of what makes PUP.

NT: How were the first couple shows on the tour?

Zack Mykula: Pretty wild. The rooms are are huge and it’s disorienting to come two years off of no shows and to come back and jump into these giant rooms.

NT: And is it generally masks off right now and everything is kind of back to where it was?

ZM: In some cases yes. Sometimes people are wearing masks and sometimes they’re not. It really varies from city to city. Like guys and I are trying to wear masks, but it’s hard when they’re like moving around and rocking out.

NT: I can only imagine. The new album THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND definitely offers some new sounds that I haven’t really heard from PUP before. There’s even a drum machine on “Habits.”

ZM: Yeah there’s actually a drum machine on a couple songs.

NT: Right. So I’m just wondering, what made you explore those new sounds; the drum machine, synths, and piano? 

ZM: We kind of have all always loved those sort of elements and other artists of course incorporating that kind of stuff but in a way that it wasn’t too jarring and we just wanted to experiment beyond our current toolbox. We had the time. 

NT: And the recording was during one of the peaks of the pandemic so I guess when you were recording the album it was just you, the band, and Peter kind of like all together for four weeks?

ZM: Yeah. It was us, Greg—who was the engineer—Erik Paulson who plays in Remo Drive, and we had a very sort of closed sort of system where we were working for about eight hours a day and then the rest of the time just tinkering. The last song that came together was “PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing For Bankruptcy” and I think “Four Chords.” “Four Chords” was in progress for most of the record but it was meant to sort of be a joke to make us laugh. I remember the email title was “Song for my friends.” So it wasn’t really supposed to be on the record, but we all decided it should be the first song. So yeah, lots of tinkering in the studio/mansion.

NT: Yeah and there’s the whole board of directors thread on the album, which is hilarious. It’s like these big wigs watching you make the album.

ZM: Yeah it kind of came from our lives really. We don’t love romanticizing being in a band because then it just becomes a business. We’re lucky because it’s a business we can be passionate about, but ultimately we are four owners of the business. And it’s kind of funny that these screwups are four owners of this sort of machine. It is a kind of cartoon version of us, but it is based in reality. 

NT: Is that kind of where like the title of THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND came from?

ZM: Yes and no. It really just felt true to the process of being hold up in this studio for weeks just fraying at the edges and losing yourself in good and bad ways. Obviously from a mental health perspective. The title just made sense.

NT: And there were bats in this studio mansion?

ZM: Yeah it’s actually probably a pretty common thing for the area but it was alarming at first. Nestor went to go and turn off the computers and recording equipment late one night and he told us ‘There are bats upstairs.’ We were all drinking and watching the Olympics I think. So I went upstairs and saw one and tried to corral him out of this window and then there were two bats and then more. So we texted Peter and he came in the next day and was like ‘Yeah. There are bats,’ like it wasn’t a big deal. So his angle was like if the bats have come out, you’ve probably stayed up too late. 

NT: So it was just you guys and all these bats just kind of like hanging out late into the night. 

ZM: Yeah I guess you could call them inspirational bats.

NT: The gang vocals in PUP songs are definitely one of the biggest emotional draws in the music. I always just wanted to know, how do you decide like okay, ‘We’re all gonna sing or like scream at this part?’

ZM: Yeah so Stefan is just really great at arranging vocals. So he usually knows when it will work. So we will just stand together in the room and scream. Part of the secret sauce of our records is the tracker. They open a door and we get a lot of feedback from the amp itself. So we use that approach for the party gang vocals and really let loose and it can get a little crazy. You can hear that in the second verse of “Totally Fine.”

NT: The music video for “Totally Fine” kind of plays on the commercial aspects of art and maybe living with fame, but also mental health. Where did the concept come from?

ZM: Yeah Nestor and I wrote it together and we both kind of came up with it by watching lots of sports and True Crime documentaries. There are so many to the point of absurdity. And some of them are just so ridiculous. So I was talking with the guys about how our video should be mocking the true crime documentary style about a business and said we should be this like court drama thing. And it did become a commentary of our commerce of art and how horrible billionaires are trying to leave the planet. So the video is about laughing at the absurdity.

NT: Kind of Classic PUP energy?

NM: Yeah laughing through the pain. 

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