Unconventional Party: PUP singer Stefan Babcock undeterred by doctor's decree 'the dream is over'

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive
PUP

In professional football, players are assigned to the PUP list when they're physically unable to perform.

The same acronym nearly applied to PUP singer Stefan Babcock, who was diagnosed with a cyst on his vocal cords just as the Canadian punk rock band wrapped up recording sessions for its sophomore album,The Dream Is Over, which surfaced this May. The album title comes from a phrase uttered by the singer's doctor when she first broke news of the cyst to him.

"There was certainly a point where I wondered if I would be able to continue touring, and that was a pretty messed-up moment because playing in a band is something I've been working at since I was 15 years old playing in a crappy ska band in my parents' basement," said Babcock, 28, who joins his PUP mates for a 2:30 p.m. performance at PromoWest Fest on Sunday, July 17. "[The experience] made me reevaluate my whole life, which was a bummer, but it gave me some good perspective, I think. All four of us are fighters. We've overcome other things, and we just decided we were going to find a way to overcome this."

Rather than undergoing surgery, which would have shelved Babcock for the better part of a year - "That was out of the question," he said - the singer opted for a combination of treatments that included vocal therapy (a plan that includes regular throat massages and instruction on how to more effectively employ those muscles) and vocal training to help minimize the damage incurred from screaming his way through the band's riotous concerts. Additionally, Babcock has been forced to adjust his lifestyle on the road, minimizing his alcohol intake, forgoing smoking weed and making sure the band's tour schedule includes off days for rest and recovery.

Though the titleThe Dream Is Over originated following recording sessions, it proved an ideal thematic fit for the disillusionment, self-deprecation and despondency Babcock expresses throughout. Witness "Sleep in the Heat," a cathartic, caustic examination of the hopelessness that sets in when you pour everything into supporting a struggling loved one only to watch them wither and die despite your best efforts.

"It's not something that I can fix/ If I could do anything you know I would," Babcock howls atop a tangled surge of guitars and Titus Andronicus-worthy "whoa-ohs." That he's actually singing about his deceased chameleon makes no difference.

Elsewhere, the musician struggles with depression ("I haven't felt quite like myself for months on end/ I spend more nights on the floor than in my own bed," he surmises on "Doubts"), curses his "shit luck" ("Can't Win") and picks at the scab of a failed relationship ("Old Wounds").

"When I'm feeling positive emotions it's hard for me to write because when [things are going well] I'm more inclined to go out and enjoy myself. But when I'm feeling negative, I think of songwriting as therapeutic or cathartic," Babcock said. "It's a way for me to take all these internal negative emotions and turn them into something productive."

Indeed, despite a fondness for writing about loss, devastation and decay, Babcock remains generally optimistic, even uncovering the upside in the health scare that briefly had him worried he'd have to sacrifice a music career just as his band finally started to connect with a larger audience.

"After a couple years of doing what we're doing, you start to lose perspective a little bit, I think, and you start to complain about stupid shit and you forget you're getting paid to travel the world with your friends and play music for people who want to hear your music, which is an amazing thing," he said. "Thinking about the fact I might have to give all that up … gave me a new perspective on this band and forced me to appreciate every opportunity and be thankful every day we get to do this. It feels good to get onstage now. It reminds me this was almost all gone."