"We don't sleep on as many floors, we don't try to drink as much liquor in half an hour as we can," is what PUP guitarist Steve Sladkowski says of his Toronto pop-punk band's change in touring regimen.
He's calling from his alma mater, the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, where he is "looking at things I haven't looked at in almost a decade" before the band was to rip apart the university's Peter Clark Hall that evening. It's the first day of this tour's second leg, even though "we only had four days off," after doing the U.K., Europe, and Australia, he says.
"I've been a zombie, basically, until yesterday," he says cheerfully. PUP stops at Union Transfer on Saturday.
The rigors of a band on the road are the subject of "If This Tour Doesn't Kill You, I Will," the breakneck opening salvo of PUP's second album, The Dream Is Over, which has proved an unprecedented breakthrough for the quartet, earning plaudits from Pitchfork and the Hold Steady's Craig Finn, and stoking a fan base that started freaking out about the album's first single, "DVP," before it even had an official release.
"Like, whoa, people are really excited for this new song that only exists in our live set and a handful of . . . iPhone YouTube clips," Sladkowski, 28, recalls thinking. "Tour" paints as comically dire a portrait as the title hints, as singer Stefan Babcock, also 28, shrieks couplets like, "Everything you do makes me wanna vomit / And if this tour doesn't kill you, buddy I'm on it."
"Obviously, that song is mostly a joke . . . that's not to say that every day on tour is sunshine and roses," Sladkowski says, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing everyone's mental and physical health. "We appreciate days off more than we did when we were doing 15 shows in 14 days."
After their 2013 self-titled debut, PUP, which stands for Pathetic Use of Potential, played 400 shows in two years, which "affected some personal relationships," and the band says the new album's intensity matches what's going on in their lives, driving for hours between cities and being away from girlfriends just for that "one hour of sheer catharsis and mania that weekend." And then coming home to Toronto, where "your city is different and life has gone on without you," says the guitarist. "A lot of [The Dream Is Over] was born out of circumstances that arose while we were on the road that we have to confront."
Confrontational these songs are, like "Familiar Patterns," which shrugs ruefully, "Used to say, 'Don't quit your day job' / Guess what? Never had one." Despite their running theme of facing down defeat, Sladkowski emphasizes that the band members are quite well-adjusted: "That's the beauty of catharsis: It allows me to work through my [stuff] with three of my best friends."
The album title comes from the biggest challenge hurled their way yet: It's a quote from Babcock's doctor, who told him his vocal chords would rupture if he didn't quit singing, especially the shouting that fronting an aggressive band requires.
"Choosing to quit whatever you have going on in your life in order to tour is subjecting yourself to a series of roadblocks and dilemmas," Sladkowski says. "There's no backup plan . . . that's either going to happen or it won't."