PUP’s guitarist Steve Sladkowski is in a hotel room in Medford, OR trying to plan his honeymoon. His wedding is in three weeks and he has limited time to make arrangements. He’s at the tail end of a months-long tour and has just enough time off to get hitched and enjoy a small honeymoon before heading back out on the road for PUP’s next European tour. Despite the logistical nightmare of it all—and the fact that he’s “tired, it’s raining, and it’s the end of the tour”—Sladkowski is feeling very, very lucky, and not just because of his impending nuptials.
“This week is the three-year anniversary of basically touring shutting down for us,” he says, recounting being in Eugene, OR in 2020 when the pandemic went from a blip to A Thing. “We're aware of the fact that we could want this to go on forever, and something outside of our power could take that away—for years. It’s strange. I think we're just not taking anything for granted.”
Luckily that sense of gratitude appears to extend to tolerating pesky journalists interrupting honeymoon planning.
As the band wraps up their US tour with two nights at the Wonder Ballroom—March 17 and 18—Sladkowski will be forgiven for feeling a little reflective. After all, since founding PUP in 2010, he and his bandmates Stefan Babcock (vocals, rhythm guitar), Nestor Chumak (bass, keyboard), and Zack Mykula (percussion) have been on the road for a long, long time. They played 400 shows to support their 2014 self-titled release. Touring that long and that hard for 13 years (minus a pandemic) is quite the feat for any band, but particularly for the band who wrote the song, “If This Tour doesn't Kill You, I Will,” way back in 2016.
Over their many years together and on albums like 2022’s The Unraveling of PUPTheBand, PUP have established themselves as the thinking man’s punk (sorry, Bad Religion). Their energetic, hooky, speedball singalong songs offer a refreshing transparency about topics ranging from mental health to band drama, breakups, youthful ennui-turned-adult ennui, and the tension of being a punk band in a corporate world (see, for example, “PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing For Bankruptcy”). They just put it all out there, both in their songs and their combustible live shows. Although, according to Sladkowski, the live shows aren’t as combustible as he wishes they could be. “I wish pyro[technics] were cheaper, we'd be all about it,” he says, laughing. “I wish that was a joke, but no, like, I think pyro is ridiculous. And any time you find something ridiculous, in this band, we try to take that and run with it.”
Thinking about a show's production value is new ground for Sladkowski, who put in his dues as a working musician playing in a wedding band and providing the background jazz in coffee shops before PUP took off. “One of the great joys is that this is my full-time job now, and that was something I never expected to happen. Now our shows and our audience have grown in such a way that we had to think more about production and lighting and how to actually stage the show.”
While pyrotechnics may not be on hand this tour, the band does have some surprises in store [spoiler alert?]. “We kind of consciously took it upon ourselves to dust off some old songs and some sort of deeper cuts we haven't played in a few years for this tour,” says Sladkowski. “We've been playing some deeper cuts off of like The Dream Is Over and Morbid Stuff. We've been playing “Closure” and “Old Wounds” a lot ... Last night during one of the kind of slow moments of the song “Scorpion Hill”—we're in Santa Cruz—and there was like a circle pit during like a slow ballad part so I think people are just starting to kind of revel in doing absurd things.”
In true self-effacing PUP style, Sladkowski wants people to know that they don’t have to come to the show to see PUP. “For people who maybe might be on the fence or have seen us before, it’s such a strong bill,” he says. “Joyce Manor, every night we look at each other and we're like, how have we not done this before? How have we never played shows together before? And I think Pool Kids you're going to hear more and more about.”
While a packed touring schedule is a great way to connect with fans, particularly after the forced hiatus of the pandemic, it does make it hard to write new music. Luckily, PUP may have found some time in their busy touring schedule to write some new tunes. “The end of this year is a little less busy than it has kind of tended to be in years past. Rather than trying to fill those dates, like a bunch of lunatics, we are going to try to start writing,” says Sladkowski. “But you know, I don't think it's something that we try and rush. We just want to get together and write music and start working. It is a bit of a self-fulfilling thing. Once we start working it becomes easier to work. And as it gets easier to work. More work kind of happens and we're workaholics so you know we'll be working on music and stuff this year, and then who knows when a new record will come out. We would like to take our time.”
We’ll see if PUP fans can wait that long.
PUP & Joyce Manor, with Pool Kids, Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell, March 17 & 18, 8 pm, $35