On February 12th, 2016, PUP revealed the name of its new album – The Dream Is Over. They’re the exact words a doctor spoke to singer/guitarist Stefan Babcock upon discovering one of his vocal cords had a small cyst and was beginning to hemorrhage. Given that the band – completed by drummer Zack Mykula, bassist Nestor Chumak and guitarist Steve Sladkowski – played over 450 shows in the last two years in support of its self-titled debut, it’s perhaps not surprising that it happened. But while PUP had to end 2015 by cancelling its last couple of shows, by announcing The Dream Is Over the way they did – onstage at a sold-out show in Brooklyn – the Toronto four-piece proved that the exact opposite is true. The Dream Is Over is visible, visceral proof that the dream is still alive. It’s just that, after two exhausting years on the road, it turns out that the dream is just very different to what the four of them thought or imagined it would be like.
“I think,” says Babcock, “that a lot of people in their mid-20’s start to feel this sense of disillusionment - realizing that maybe life isn’t going to turn out exactly as you’d pictured it. I love touring and playing music more than anything in the world. But, there’s also this realization that maybe the romanticized version of this lifestyle I’d imagined 10 years ago has little or no relation to the actual experience. I used to dream about this shit when I was a kid. But I never dreamt about the bad days - waking up in a Walmart parking lot in a van full of dudes, and thinking ‘Fuck, I’m 27, broke, and lonely. What am I doing?’. That’s where a lot of these songs come from. And while that experience is very specific to me, I don’t think the emotions are. I think most people eventually experience that resignation, that acceptance of real life, with all its imperfections. It’s called 'growing up'. “
Yet if these ten songs bear the marks, bruises and scars of the realities of their experiences, it also captures the sheer joy of their journey. Yes, it starts out with the marked venom of “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and its gentle distaste for life in a van, but as the song accelerates towards the end, there’s a thrill and a happiness and a playful exuberance to the music that defies and overpowers the sentiment of the lyrics. Which, as it turns out, is very similar to what happens on the road, too.
“I always find there’s two types of days on tour,” says Babcock. “Eight or nine out of 10 are the best days of my life, and then one or two are literally the worst fucking thing I can imagine. So it’s just like a rollercoaster ride. There’s no middle ground. And that’s where a lot of the record is coming from – Accepting the bad with the good, because on good days, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”
As such, The Dream Is Over is the sound of a band not just surviving the storm, but thriving in it. It’s a raw and honest account of real life – which is precisely what their dream turned out to be. Yet if these songs cater to specific experiences, they’re also wholly relatable to a whole lot more. “Sleep In The Heat,” for example, is a jilting, angular anthem that’s also a poignant tribute to Babcock’s late pet chameleon Norman – they’d met onset during the band’s “Mabu” video and he took her as his own, but after an infection led to her tongue needing to be surgically removed, she refused to eat and sadly died. Elsewhere, “The Coast” is a dark, doom-laden track that shudders and shivers with anxiety and neurosis but which rallies against those very emotions and grows stronger by confronting the emotions which inspired it, while “Old Wounds” is a blistering, straightforward hardcore punk song which bursts with energy of the kind you only get when you’re really, truly experiencing everything life can throw at you.
“In the end,” contemplates Babcock, “I’m happy to have shitty experiences like that. I didn’t expect this to be an easy road. The past couple years have really given us a whole new perspective."
That new perspective is – ironically – in full force on The Dream Is Over. The bulk of the music was written last spring in a brief period of downtime between tours, and recorded in the fall at home in Toronto with David Schiffman, who also produced the first album. And as if to prove the age old cliché that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, The Dream Is Over, for all the trials and tribulations that inspired it, finds PUP as confident, as tight as a musical unit and as in tune with each other as they have ever been. It’s a very conscious act of rebellious defiance that turns this crazy dream of theirs back on its head.
‘We had a clear idea of what we wanted to do this time around,” says Babcock. “We knew that we wanted it to be heavier than the first record, we knew that we wanted to keep all the weird, quirky time signatures and we knew that we wanted to have banging choruses. We went into it with one mindset and everybody knew what their own individual goals were on the record.”
As for that self-aware, tongue-in-cheek title? Everybody at the show in Brooklyn could tell it was ironic, that it’s as far from the truth as anything. One listen to these songs will confirm the same.
“What can I say? It’s a brazen title,” chuckles Babcock. “It’s a fuck you to that doctor who told me I may never sing again. It’s a fuck you directed at ourselves for every single moment we ever took for granted. And it’s a snotty reminder that shit happens, expectations change, but we’re still doing what we wanna do. This is life. This is the fucking dream."