Changing a band name is a hard decision. From the Quarrymen to On A Friday, when a band decides to present itself as something new, even if the members stay the same, it takes guts. It’s more than a cosmetic “rebranding,” it’s a change in identity. Young Toronto punks PUP originally got some attention in the last few years as Topanga, but decided to change after the Disney reboot of Boy Meets World came about. Makes sense — if you’re a big enough BMW fan to name your band Topanga, you’re probably a big enough fan to abandon the name with a resilient, “FUCK TOPANGA,” once the upcoming spin-off got announced. The name change is a little risky, but it won’t be much of a problem for PUP if they keep dropping great, grin-inducing punk songs.
PUP lead singer Stefan Babcock met Nestor Chumak (bass), Zack Mykula (drums), and Steve Sladkowski (guitar) through the fertile Toronto punk scene. Chumak, Mykula, and Sladkowski had been friends since they were kids and were always playing in each other’s bands, while Babcock (then in a different band) had gotten to know them through playing shows and eventually asked if they wanted to record together.
“It was definitely the best thing I had ever done musically,” Babcock says. Most importantly though, they just liked hanging out with each other, from drinking and playing music to arguing about whether Mighty Ducks is better than Angels In The Outfield. That chemistry paid off on the early single “Lionheart,” a track that balances Babcock’s shouts and screams with an overload of infectious guitar hooks and an all-band vocal chorus. It’s a tricky balance between aggression and pop sweetness, and they get it just right.
“Lionheart” is a great track, but their best song so far shows them taking that dichotomy to a dark and brutal place: “Reservoir” covers a lot of standard subjects — getting drunk, hanging out with girls, partying — but it’s written from the perspective of someone slowly suffocating on that lifestyle. Babcock explained how the inspiration came from a time when he seemed to be getting wasted every night with the same people and wasn’t moving forward in life. Nearly every line is tinged with bile and anger, and eventually all the emotional atrophy gets summed up perfectly with the line “My lungs are killing me, I didn’t even get high.”
The band has just finished recording its (as of now untitled) debut album with producer Dave Schiffman, who was worked with Mars Volta, Biffy Clyro, Cass McCombs, and Weezer. It’s the perfect match for a band who can juggle such contrasting sounds themselves. “We wanted to make a record that sounded like us live, and Dave’s philosophy was that the record should sound like the best show we’ve ever played,” Babcock explains. “We recorded mostly live off the floor and there are a lot of mistakes on the record, but they’re real and awesome, and it sounds like us, playing our songs. That’s all I’ve ever wanted out of a punk rock record.”