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From the left - Zack Mykula, Stefan Babcock, Steve Sladkowski and Nestor Chumak, of the punk band Pup, are photographed in their old Toronto basement rehearsal space on April 1, 2019.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

It’s a funny thing, being a punk rocker for a living. How does one measure success, when “anti” is a big part of your ethos? Is it releasing your third album (Morbid Stuff, on Friday)? Appearing on Late Night with Seth Meyers (last week)? Starting your own record label (Little Dipper)?

Maybe, but not for power-punk heroes Pup (even though they’ve done all those things). For the scrappy Torontonians, success is measured in how they do in a major city in Ohio that is home to a famous baseball team and a fictional radio station.

“When you’ve gone back to Cincinnati for the fourth time and each time you see 50 more kids coming to watch you play, it’s a pretty awesome feeling,” Pup singer-lyricist Stefan Babcock says. “You feel things are rolling in the right direction.”

The right direction has Pup following the release of Morbid Stuff with extensive tours of Europe and North America that will keep the shouty-song foursome busy through the end of June. (The schedule takes them to the Cincinnati club Bogart’s, capacity 1,500.)

For their interview with The Globe and Mail, Pup gathered at the modest home of Vince Rice, a long-time friend and booster of the band who let the musicians practise in his basement when they were just starting out a few years ago. The group’s collective memories of the house and the North York bungalow neighbourhood are all good. Mostly.

“My old high-school girlfriend lived two blocks from here,” says Babcock, a scruffier Tobey Maguire type. “I would duck past the house as I walked by, hoping her mom didn’t see me. It messed with my head.”

The things that messed with Babcock’s head are central to Morbid Stuff, a gleeful fast-music journey into anxiety, heartbreak and self-loathing. The singer battles depression, as does Zack Mykula, a heavy-set drummer with a monotone manner.

“When you suffer from depression and things are going well, your immediate reaction is the feeling that you don’t deserve it,” Mykula says. “Working on the songs is a way to cut through that fog and finding your way to enjoying it again.”

Befitting an album called Morbid Stuff (the follow-up to 2016′s critically adored The Dream Is Over), Babcock’s lyrics offer wry, blunt takes on black moods and personal apocalypses. For example, a jaunty passage from the record’s second cut, Kids, mentions the mind-numbing reality of a godless existence and the calamity of a hollow and vapid life, and ends with Babcock “wondering how the hell I got myself into this.”

How Babcock and the rest of the band (which includes quiet, long-haired bassist Nestor Chumak and guitarist Steve Sladkowski, who looks like a rowing-team captain) got themselves into this was not much different than most bands. Now in their very early 30s, they’re a mix of childhood friends and university acquaintances. After self-releasing a debut EP in 2010, they were eventually offered a tour – a tour that conflicted with their full-time jobs, which they all quit in order to hit the road.

“We realized we might not get the chance again,” the soft-spoken Babcock says. “So we decided we’d rather do the tour and come back to unemployment than keep our jobs and wonder ‘what if’ forever.”

Hooking up with Rice, a casual drummer and full-time PR director for a Toronto hospital, led them toward a relationship with Hollerado, a fun-loving indie-rock band whose leader, Menno Versteeg, runs the Toronto record label Royal Mountain. Like Pup, Hollerado also had enjoyed the help of Rice, an unassuming older fellow who offers up moral support, chicken wings and his small basement for young bands to use as a practice space.

“Bands starting out have no money whatsoever,” says Rice, who charges no rent save for a case of beer every so often. “I’m in a position to help, and I get free shows in my own house.”

Full-time musicians for more than three years now, the Pup members no longer practise in Rice’s basement, They literally started at the bottom, and now they’re … where, at the top?

“We got a peek at the penthouse, but then they quickly kicked us out,” says a laughing Babcock, referring to the spot on Seth Meyers’s show. “We’re not doing as well as our friends who work at the bank. But the greatest thing in the world is being able to be in a band with these three empathetic guys and finding a way to express whatever unhappiness we have in a way that’s fun and positive.”

Sounds like success, by any measurements that matter. ​

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