We saw Toronto band, PUP, play a week ago and we were given the opportunity to interview guitarist, Steve Sladkowski. We also took some photos which you can find here.
Under The Rockies spoke with him about their upcoming tour, their insane music videos (have you guys seen “Reservoir”?) and if they’ve been watching Girl Meets World.
UTR: I just saw the music video for “Mabu” and it’s insane. Pretty much all of your videos are insane. Where do you get the ideas for the videos?
Steve Sladkowski: We’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of people who are both friends and very creative and talented video people. The concept for “Reservoir” was mostly brought up by our friend Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux. It was the same with “Guilt Trip”. “Lionheart” was a collaboration between those two folks and us. The “Mabu” video was actually Stefan’s, our lead singer, it was initially his idea. And then we got some help from Jeremy on the editing side as well and Menno Versteeg from Hollerado who helped direct the film and was there. Yeah, so it’s really cool just to kind of have friends who can help you realize ideas or who can give you ideas that you can get excited about.
Then I saw that Rolling Stone mentioned you guys as one of their Breakout Rock Acts of 2014. How did that feel?
It was really bizarre but really cool and awesome. It’s one of those weird things. Rolling Stone is still totally an important magazine but I think blogs are also pretty important these days. When I woke up and saw that, that morning, I think we were in Austin, Texas, and I was just, “oh, maybe I’m dreaming”, and, no, I wasn’t but it kind of felt like that a little bit. That’s legit, you know? Something like that that’s been around for so long and has figured out a way to stay relevant, which is pretty awesome.
A lot of times it’s harder for Canadian bands to break into that American scene. But PUP has kind of managed to do that. People know who you guys are, right?
Yeah, we were lucky that SideOneDummy was interested in putting out our record in the States. It wasn’t the first band that all of us had been in. We just needed to figure out a way to do that, because touring Canada is amazing but it’s exhausting and crazy sometimes. It’s not like touring the United States where you don’t have to drive for very long distances in order to play shows in similar sized cities. Whereas a drive from Manitoba to Saskatchewan, often you do that in a day.
Yeah, Calgary to Saskatchewan is eight hours.
When we do Saskatoon, our gig the next day is in Calgary. So, we play in Saskatoon, we drive eight hours and play the show. Then you get a lot of drives in the States that are a little bit longer than it would take you to drive from Calgary to Edmonton, in the sort of three to four hour range. We were just able to get the label, get a little bit of press and that brought us the U.S. tours. It was our goal. We never expected to fulfill it. We knew that we wanted to be working in the States and touring there while also staying and touring in Canada. I think more and more bands are starting to realize that that’s how you create a little bit more sustainability and longevity.
I know there’s a bunch of huge Canadian bands such as Hedley and the Tragically Hip. No one in America knows who they are.
Or you get a band like Billy Talent who are amazing, and amazing people. They took us out for a show, about a year ago. They do incredibly well in a place like Germany and places in Europe and do very well in Canada but do not have the U.S. audience. For whatever reason, it’s a totally different thing.
You’ll probably never see bands like Billy Talent or Marianas Trench, who are slowly starting to make their way into the U.S. scene, but you’ll probably never see them as Rolling Stone’sBreakout Rock Act of 2014.
I guess for us, what I’ve learned is that, if you get in early, you can have a fighting chance. We were able to get some sort of traction into America and we were able to do some amazing things with the help of SideOneDummy. Punk music, the music that we’re making, is still very much alive in a lot of American cities. We touched down in the scene going on in Philadelphia that we connected with on a deeper level with friends of ours in other bands. That’s part of the reason as to why we’re still going to the States, because we were able to make friends who respected what we were doing and we were able to tour with them and that’s really what it’s about. We were just lucky to have one of the places that that happened was in the United States.
So, you guys are touring Calgary with Tough Age. Right?
Yeah, that’s right.
How do you choose your openers? I know you have a bunch of different openers on this upcoming tour.
You don’t have the luxury of having one band for every tour. What we decided was we would just shine the bands that we respected and that were friends of ours. Tough Age was one of those bands we had heard a lot about from friends. We listened to them and checked them out and we emailed back and forth. They seemed like pretty good people so we invited them to do the dates and they were happy to do it. I’m looking forward to that. I have friends in bands that have toured with them and all said nothing but positive things so I’m excited to finally see them live. And the same goes for the bands opening the American part of that tour: Hard Girls, Typefighter and Chumped. They’re all bands we have either played together with before or have gotten to know just through being on the road. That’s a good thing, to take your friends and create a positive touring experience. That’s what we tried to do with this tour because that’s the best way to keep everyone happy. Touring can get a little bit crazy and you fall into a rut where you just do the same thing every day. You need to find a way to break that up and one of the ways to do that is having friends around. It’s as much about the non-musical factors to have bands that we respect and like as it is musical factors.
So your debut album, it came out in late 2013, right?
Yeah, in Canada it came out last October.
And then it came out this year worldwide, or was it just the LP?
It got a worldwide release through SideOneDummy in April of this year.
The recording process, what was that like?
It was great, it was really great. We packed up the van in Toronto and went to Montreal to make the whole thing with an amazing producer who flew from Los Angeles, Dave Schiffman. Dave had worked with everyone from The Bronx and Weezer to The Mars Volta and Rage Against the Machine, all of these bands who’s records we’ve loved and idolized growing up. So when he agreed to work with us, we were really ecstatic. So we hunkered down in Montreal in December. It’s a really good time to make a record in Montreal in December because it’s almost impossible to go outside.
Or just anywhere in Canada.
Yeah. We did the record and then we came back and put the finishing touches on it in Toronto. That record was finished by February, 2013, believe it or not. We waited for a while which is the hardest part. Then the record finally came out and we got to hit the road and we’ve basically been on tour since the record came out last October which is crazy to think about but that’s been the reality of the situation.
Do you prefer being in the studio or on tour?
I think it’s often a case of “grass is always greener”. We enjoy doing both. It’s one of those things where we’re one the road for so long, playing all of these songs. Not that’s we’re sick of playing them but naturally that creative energy just gets stored up and you don’t have an outlet. When you’re on the road it’s really difficult to write, especially rehearse. The flip side is true as well. Being in the studio for so long and hammering away at the same tracks in a different way all the time, you start to long to be able to play shows and have that craziness of touring and being in a new city. So, we love both but primarily we are a live band. The touring thing is always something that we are considering and thinking about. As much as we like writing new material and song writing, we’re constantly tweaking and looking for ways to improve the live shows.
How do your Canadian shows differ from your American ones?
It’s been a while since we’ve played a couple of these cities – we haven’t been back in Calgary in almost a year. The last time we did those shows, it got pretty rowdy. Some of the people now, now that the record’s been out a little bit longer and people know what it’s about, I’m thinking the Canadian shows are going to be pretty rowdy and I’m excited for that. Alberta’s always been a party. There are parts of America that are rowdy too but I think it’s a case of “we haven’t been to this city” or “the album hasn’t been out long enough for us to really fester in people’s minds”. It’s been cool, there have been a lot of crowds that are willing to just enjoy themselves, have fun and get sweaty and that means a lot to us because we’re a Canadian band, at heart, and we want Canadian shows to be reflective of the thing we think we are seeing in Canada right now.
Does playing in Canada feel like being “home”?
Yeah, it does. I mean, we’re lucky enough now, that we’ve got friends almost everywhere in Canada. Good friends in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, obviously Edmonton and Calgary, Vancouver and in different parts of BC too. You start to realize, too, what you really love about Canada and what you don’t like so much, from touring. That’s what I’m really excited for too, is just to be able to see the country after getting a little more perspective internationally.
You get to see the country and you get to see more than just where you’re from.
Yeah, exactly, it looks and feels different. Toronto especially, after touring for a year, it totally looks and feels different. Every city changes so much in a year that I’m really excited to get to be back and on the ground, checking things out, talking to people and hanging out. It’s one of the great parts about touring.
Any fun memories from past Calgary shows?
I feel like every time we’ve played in Calgary, it’s been at Republik, and that’s a fun venue. People have always been really, really down to party. One of the commanding memories of Calgary is people just walking up to the merch table while we’re standing there and bringing us shots. It seems like people in Calgary really like to enjoy themselves. I’m excited to check out a different venue and see what’s up. I think Calgary’s a beautiful city. It’s nestled in the foothills in the beginning of the mountains, there’s a lot of natural scenery and people have always been friendly and it’s been our tightest shows. So I’m looking forward to being back.
Who runs your Twitter account?
It’s me, mostly.
It’s hilarious, I love it. There are so many bands that run their own social media and, reading their tweets, you think maybe they shouldn’t.
Yeah. The function of social media is to allow, in a band situation, it’s to allow fans to actually have a real window into the day-to-day lives of a band. Not in a way that’s creepy or weird, but you just expand that principle of “you would share stuff with your friends on Facebook”. Well, it’s not really any different from a band page other than what we share is stuff going on with the band or stuff that we like and stuff that we find funny. It’s a way to promote what friends are doing too; at least that’s how we see it. We get excited about things that we’re doing, we get excited about things our friends do and cool things that are going on. That’s how social media functions.
I read this on Wikipedia, correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t always get my information there. So, Wikipedia says that you all went to elementary school together.
Zack and Nestor went to elementary school together. Zack, Nestor and I went to high school together. All four of us were aware of each other’s bands during high school. So we were all on the same shitty ska punk scene in Toronto that was all based around a venue on Queen Street called The Reverb, which is now defunct, of course. Our roots go way back. Way, way back.
You guys have known each other for quite a few years. What keeps you friends instead of just getting completely annoyed with each other?
You’re like a group of siblings, you rely on each other and you need each other and you love each other but, with all of that, you develop a deep repository of knowledge as to how to push other people’s buttons. We all love doing this and we still all have fun playing shows and touring, hanging out with one another. It’s really just a matter of knowing when you can take someone’s personal space and when someone needs personal space. Just chilling out and rolling with it. That’s how you have to live on tour. That’s not to say that there aren’t frustrations sometimes but we have gotten much better at coping with things and making decisions and refusing situations that could potentially become an issue. It’s an ongoing thing. It was once relayed to us by a guy, Gus van Go, a producer in New York: Sometimes there are cancers that, if you don’t deal with them, you have horrible chances. That if you don’t deal with them immediately and cut them out of the band, they grow and eventually tears the band apart. Those are things that we’re always on the lookout for. Music is still an intensely personal thing even though it’s so collaborative. You need to be open minded and willing to roll with the punches.
And, one more question. I know you guys used to be called Topanga before the Boy Meets World re-boot. Have you guys seen Girl Meets World?
No, of course not, we refuse to watch it.