This column turned 15 last December. The first installment was published Dec. 2, 2004, and featured an interview with musician Willy Mason, who had just been discovered by Conor Oberst and signed to a record deal with Oberst’s then just-launched label, Team Love Records. Hundreds of columns followed, covering music, culture, society and politics.
Throughout my years writing for The Reader and other publications, I’ve interviewed thousands of people, but within the last few years I’ve swayed away from conducting interviews for stories and columns. The reason had everything to do with time. This is not my day job (as some have mistakenly believed). That day job doesn’t involve much writing. So this column and my blog at lazy-i.com (an indie music-focused website, which has been around for 22 years, not that anyone is counting), are my opportunities to continue honing my writing chops, because if you don’t use ‘em, you lose ‘em.
Anyway, I miss doing interviews. I miss hearing other people’s stories and then, in turn, telling them to you. So I’m shifting this column’s focus to become more or less interview-based, with opinion thrown in for good measure. Consider it a literal literary experiment. And I’m looking for your suggestions for interview victims subjects, which you can send to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, when I decided a few years ago to get out of the interviewing biz, I continued to get requests to interview bands touring through our fair city. Lots of them. I needed a vehicle to field those requests without having to spend time coordinating the interviews, transcribing and then writing the features. And that’s where the Ten Questions email interview format came from.
The online-only platform was launched in March 2016 with a 10-Q with Seattle rockers Wild Powwers. Since then, countless others have taken on the Ten Questions treatment, including Brother Ali, Diane Coffee, Cloud Nothings, Soccer Mommy, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Titus Andronicus, Palehound, Destroyer, Mogwai, Cults, Deer Tick, The Church, Kevin Morby, Fleet Foxes, New Pornographers, Speedy Ortiz, Dinosaur Jr., Cracker, Of Montreal, Twin Peaks, Melvins, Frankie Cosmo, Wolf Alice and a host of others.
You can find them at thereader.com by simply searching “Ten Questions.” The interviews aren’t published in the printed paper, until now.
Ten Questions with PUP
Toronto-based punk band PUP — the name an acronym created by frontman Stefan Babcock’s mother, who said playing in a rock band was a “Pathetic Use of Potential” — has been around since 2010, when they were called Topanga. They changed their name to PUP in 2013 with the release of their self-titled debut on Royal Mountain Records. They switched up to respected punk insignia Side One Dummy for their 2016 follow-up, The Dream Is Over. Much touring followed.
The four-piece quickly created a following for their explosive live performances and melodic (dare I say pop) punk equal parts scratchy confessional and fist-pump anthem that’s a call to arms for your typical suburban Canadian (and/or American) underdog. They’ve never been more powerful than on their latest, 2019’s Morbid Stuff (Rise Records), a collection of shout-along emo-punk nuggets.
With a gig slated for The Waiting Room March 4, I caught up with PUP guitarist Steve Sladkowski and gave him the Ten Questions treatment:
1. What is your favorite album?
Steve Sladkowski: It’s hard to pick one, but currently I’m enjoying just about anything that’s being released on the Sahel Sounds label based in Portland, Oregon, especially the album No. 1 by Etran de L’Aïr.
2. What is your least favorite song?
“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band?
I’ve been able to see the world and make friends in a way that seemed completely impossible prior to my life in PUP. To be able to do that with three of my closest and best friends on the planet still feels a bit like a surreal dream.
4. What do you hate about being in a band?
As someone who is in their early 30s, it can get a bit tiresome to answer people’s (sometimes unintentionally) condescending questions about what I have devoted my life to; but otherwise, it’s tough to be away from our partners, loved ones and friends while we’re on the road. Like any job, there are tough days, but it’s something that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)?
Coffee first with bourbon a very, very close second.
6. In what city or town do you love to perform?
It’s always fun to play at home in Toronto, but I love to explore new places, so really anywhere they’ll have us is a nice place to play.
7. In what city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)?
Probably when I was in a jazz band in my early 20s, playing stuff like “Someday My Prince Will Come” to utterly disinterested audiences at weird suburban Southern Ontario wedding halls.
8. Are you able to support yourself through your music? If so, how long did it take to get there; if not, how do you pay your bills?
We are! It took… a long time, probably the entire course of two albums’ worth of writing, recording, rehearsing and touring ad nauseam. This is basically the case for every person I know who is able to eke out a living while playing music in a streaming world.
9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do?
I’ve been very singularly minded toward music for basically the past 20 years, However, I’ve always found urban planning and public transportation fascinating. We’ve been lucky to see a lot of cities and ride a lot of public transit, and it’s something I find myself reading more and more about both online and in books. I would absolutely hate to be a banker or any other profession that revels in bald-faced capitalism.
10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska?
I heard the guitar player in PUP was suffering from the worst food poisoning of his life while onstage in Omaha in 2015. He’s probably looking forward to having a nicer time exploring the city in 2020 when they visit!
PUP plays with Screaming Females and The Drew Thomson Foundation March 4 at The Waiting Room. Tickets are $20 Adv./$23 DOS. Showtime is 8 p.m. For more information, go to onepercentproductions.com.
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at email@example.com.