"I don't know east Texas from Louisiana./And I don't know Alabama or where Atlanta lies/Or where Atlanta is tonight./And Indianapolis summers in park and recreation pools,/and carsick vacations in size 11 and 'I'm going to heaven' shoes./I don't know god;/I don't know anyone/And I don't know god/And I don't know if anything at all will be all right./I don't know Billy Ocean and I don't know the ocean floor./I don't own any albums, I don't know anything./I don't go to college/Anymore./And I don't know God/And I don't anyone/And I don't know God."
The Promise Ring spells out their miseducation in the title track of their cult-inducing 1997 release, Nothing Feels Good, fully admitting a certain apathetic ignorance that many fist-pumping 20-somethings identified with, but we wonder if the song was brought to modern times, if one of the albums they didn't own would be Pup's self-titled debut, released this year on Side One Dummy. As anyone who attended Pup's April show at the Social can attest, Pup was not a fan of Orlando Weekly's one-star review of their record, which compared them unfavorably to the Promise Ring: "People keep describing Canada’s Pup as 'bratty, beer-fueled punk,' but these guys sound more like Promise Ring disciples than devotees of the Germs or D.O.A." At Pup's sold-out show, they had choice words for OW, which our live reviewer Bao Le-Huu snickered to share in This Little Underground that week: "It impelled the band to dedicate their finale to us, postscripted by an invitation to fuck off or suck something or other. So much for Canadian bonhomie."
Pup has been on the road literally all year. They've done three full North American tours, and next week, they stop through Orlando to play the divided Pre-Fest show at St. Matthew's Tavern and Will's Pub at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 28, with bands they love, including Mikey Erg!, You Blew It!, Dikembe, Teen Agers and tons more that will make us all feel a lot closer to Gainesville's impending mayhem for the night. (RSVP!) So, we thought it might be wise to address the elephant in the room before they turn this week's Halloween issue into a confetti finale to rage against the Weekly again. We talked to Pup lead singer Stefan Babcock to squash the beef.
"We thought that review was funny," Babcock says. "We got a good laugh. You said we were ripping off Promise Ring – I’ve never heard of Promise Ring in my whole life."
Although Pup heads to the Fest next week - the mecca for punks of all kinds - they're reluctant to identify their varied sound with the increasingly vague descriptor that punk has become (going the way of indie rock, alt rock, etc.).
"Most of our influences actually come from probably more contemporary stuff, more in line with Dillinger or Mastodon or someone like that," Babcock says. "There’s a lot of different influences there. I’m really into Built to Spill. They’re like my favorite band in the world. And even: Steve listens to hip-hop and Nestor listens to way too much Van Halen. So yeah, we’re not coming from that kind of old school punk perspective. But the other thing is, we never really set out to be any sort of band. We never set out to be a punk band or whatever. I think we never called ourselves a punk band until the press started calling us a punk band, and then we were like, OK, well this is an easy way to describe our music."
On the phone, we picked apart what it means to be a punk band, but also what it means to describe production as "slick," which we also did in the review (and stand by). Since this was Pup's debut, the band had never worked seriously on cutting an official record before, and the washed-out effect many producers achieved through multi-tracking their songs just didn't sit well with Pup.
"We had tried a million other ways of recording," Babcock says. "We tried a lot of multi-tracking: Just go in record the drums, add bass, add guitar. And if you wanna hear slick, that was what that was. It didn’t sound anything like our live show. It was just so perfect and polished and not what we were looking for at all."
Enter Dave Schiffman, who was the first to suggest the band record the album live on the floor. Babcock can hear the flaws when he listens through - an inevitability of live takes, but credits Schiffman for elevating the production level without losing the strong connection the band (and their fans) have to their chaotic live shows.
"He is so good at finding great guitar tones or great drum tones," Babcock says. "Maybe that’s why it sounds pretty slick, but when I listen back to it, I can tell there’s a lot of production value. We use great mics and stuff like that. But we make a lot of mistakes in every song because it is live."
If you listen to the record, it's like dipping a toe in the water compared to the bursting cannonball you'll experience in the deep end of next week's show at Peacock Room. Once this tour winds down, the band will return to Toronto to rest a bit before beginning work on their second album, which will also bring back Schiffman. Babcock says their favorite songs on the new record are the ones written collaboratively, so while it takes much longer and can be a much more frustrating process, the upcoming sophomore release will continue blending the seemingly disjointed influences that merge to form their emotional, melodic outbursts. But first, they have to survive their Fest debut.
“Everywhere we go, even in Europe, people are just like, ‘I will see you at Fest,’" Babcock says. "A year ago, we had no clue that this was like a thing that we should be aware of. Everyone’s just been telling us to prepare our livers.”