From drama class to lead gui­tarist

Ste­fan Bab­cock on be­com­ing PUP’s lead singer and their up­com­ing Euro­pean tour by Darcy Stre­it­en­feld

Bayview Post - - Life -

Ste­fan Bab­cock, lead singer and gui­tarist of punk-rock band PUP, be­gan his high school ca­reer just like ev­ery­one else — try­ing to get out of math class. In fact, he au­di­tioned for Earl Haig Sec­ondary’s drama pro­gram just to cut down his time in math and science by fo­cus­ing on the arts.

Bab­cock hadn’t been par­tic­u­larly ex­cited by theatre. He did find the pas­sion of his co­horts rather catch­ing for a while and was swayed into a sort of the­atrekid Stock­holm Syn­drome by proxy, but in the end, mu­sic was the ticket for this accidental artist.

“I re­al­ized in 12th grade that I hated act­ing,” says Ste­fan. “I spent so much time get­ting into other peo­ple’s heads and not my own.”

Around the age of 15, the re­luc­tant th­es­pian started hang­ing around a group of kids who were into ska mu­sic. Bab­cock picked up a gui­tar for the first time and be­came their lead gui­tarist. Call­ing them­selves Stop Drop ‘N’ Skank, the band started gig­ging pretty much im­me­di­ately.

“I’m sure we were ter­ri­ble at first,” says Bab­cock jok­ingly. But time and prac­tice mor­phed in­ex­pe­ri­ence into skill, and Bab­cock learned that he could ex­press him­self through writ­ing and per­form­ing his own mu­sic.

“I hated most of high school, but I loved play­ing with that band. When I think about it, just hang­ing out with those goofy kids changed the whole course of my life,” he says.

Af­ter Earl Haig, Bab­cock en­rolled in Ry­er­son Univer­sity’s ra­dio and tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ing pro­gram, and Stop Drop ‘N’ Skank nat­u­rally dis­solved in the tran­si­tion.

It was dur­ing this time, that Bab­cock met Nestor Chu­mak, PUP’s bas­sist, and the two recorded one of Bab­cock’s songs to­gether for a school project.

The col­lab­o­ra­tion ig­nited an un­de­ni­able mu­si­cal chem­istry, which com­pelled Chu­mak to team up with Bab­cock, as well as drum­mer, Zack Mykula, and gui­tarist, Steve Slad­kowski.

And thus, PUP was born. They did call them­selves Topanga for a while, a nod to the iconic char­ac­ter from the hit mid-’90s show

How­ever in 2013, the band felt the show had lost its nos­tal­gic ca­chet, and they de­cided on PUP.

Since the band formed, PUP has re­leased two stu­dio al­bums, re­ceived mul­ti­ple Juno nom­i­na­tions, was short­listed for the Po­laris Prize and won the SOCAN Song­writ­ing Prize in 2017.

“It’s been a wacky ride,” says Bab­cock, when de­scrib­ing the band’s rise to fame and their mul­ti­ple tours through North Amer­ica and Aus­tralia.

“Some­times I can’t be­lieve that this is my life. It’s com­pletely sur­real,” he says. “But un­less you love it, more than any­thing in the world, and un­less you’re will­ing to be poor for­ever and screw up your life, don’t go into art,” he warns.

PUP is about to em­bark upon a five-week Euro­pean tour. For the first half, they will be shar­ing the stage with the Men­zingers and Cayetana, two no­table Amer­i­can punk bands. And the se­cond half of the tour has PUP head­lin­ing stages all over France and Spain, con­clud­ing in the Ca­nary Is­lands.

Bab­cock has def­i­nitely come a long way from his ska roots. Fol­low­ing his pas­sion for mu­sic may have brought with it some lows, but he’s also seen some in­cred­i­ble highs.

It just goes to show that some­times hang­ing out with a bunch of “goofy kids” and fol­low­ing your own ex­pres­sion is ac­tu­ally a pretty great life move.

Ste­fan Bab­cock (front) with his PUP band­mates

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