Pup on how the unraveling of an indie-punk guitar institution began with a Rhodes piano

Steve Sladkowski and Stefan Babcock of Pup perform at The Roundhouse on October 14, 2022 in London, England.
(Image credit: Lorne Thomson/Redferns)

The unraveling of Pup began with a piano. “I bought this Fender Rhodes a year ago,” says Stefan Babcock, the band’s singer and rhythm guitarist. “Four Chords was the first thing I wrote on it because I literally knew how to play just four chords.”

The song, which opens the band’s new record, The Unraveling of PUPTheBand, started as a tossed-off joke about the guitar-based punk band wasting money on a piano. Then, five weeks into their 2021 recording sessions, bassist Nestor Chumak suggested they use the song for real – as the album’s first track.

“My brain kind of melted a little, but the more I thought about it, he was right,” Babcock says. “It made the whole record make sense.”

With its piano motif and frequent surprises (check that trap beat in 11/12 at the top of Habits), The Unraveling might be Pup’s most surprising record yet. But underneath the new textural elements is the same genre-pushing guitar work and punk energy that has won the band their legion of fans. 

Habits may open with a beat that seems to wobble its way off Soundcloud, but the melody bursting out of the first chorus fits right alongside emo-punk singles like 2014’s Mabu.

While recording, the band lived at Peter Katis’ Tarquin Studio in Connecticut, the lengthy session and all-in-one location allowing them to experiment naturally over time.

“We made choices that we would not normally have made and that I should regret, but that I don’t,” Babcock says.

Steve Sladkowski, the band’s lead guitarist, agrees.

“It really does feel like there was no other way to make this record,” he says.

At times, Sladkowski would play through the same pedal chain as the studio’s Moog synth, or make loops in his bedroom, then pipe them into the live room. Other times, he’d double electric parts with a hollowbody, as on the massive Waiting, which includes a ’62 Gibson ES-125 shadowing his normal Jazzmaster, lending the verses additional rhythmic punch, room sound and color as the tension climbs.

“There’s an acoustic-guitar woodiness, but it’s a thrash riff,” Sladkowski says.

During the song’s explosive chorus, the rhythm section bobs in halftime, but Sladkowski and Babcock dig deep into a single octave-chord, driving the tension right back up again. The band might have unraveled, but the songwriting sure hasn’t.

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