PUP and Charly Bliss are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Eva Hendricks and Stefan Babcock talk their new albums, the bands' “embarrassing” early iterations, and an idea for a PUP/Charly Bliss crossover.

Stefan Babcock is the frontman of the Toronto-based punk band PUP, who just released their latest album Morbid Stuff this month; Eva Hendricks fronts the New York-based pop rock quartet Charly Bliss, who will be releasing their latest album Young Enough May 10. Here, they discuss their new albums, the anxiety of revealing too much in their music, and the merits of a good dirty martini.
—Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse

Stefan Babcock: This might be really funny because, I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely never interviewed anyone.

Eva Hendricks: I’ve never interviewed anybody either. But I do love you, and at least we have an actual friendship that we can go off of.

Stefan: Yeah, totally. I’ve been listening to [“Capacity” and “Chatroom”] nonstop; they’re so, so good. When I first heard Guppy, it was my favorite record for a long time, and then when “Capacity” came out, I was like, This is my favorite Charly song. And then when “Chatroom” came out, I was like, No, this is my favorite Charly song. It must be really exciting for you guys. It seems like there’s a lot of great things happening.

Eva: Oh, my god, I could say the exact same thing to you. I’m so glad to hear that you like those songs, because we’re definitely doing something a little bit different on this record. When we all heard that you guys like the new songs, we were like, “OK, if PUP likes it, we’re still good.”

Stefan: I’ve never really had this, because PUP hasn’t changed our sound in such a radical way. When you guys finished, I’m assuming you were stoked on it, but are you nervous about the fact that it’s a different thing? Are you nervous about what people are going to think?

Eva: We kind of set out to write a record that sounded different than Guppy. It wasn’t so much like, Fuck that, we’re starting at square one,” because Guppy is still very pop-oriented album — it didn’t feel like it was such a massive change, it just felt like we were highlighting different aspects of what we are already doing and adding some new instrumentation to it. In [that] moment, I was super obsessed with pop music and the Lorde album [Melodrama], and I felt so gung-ho that this was the way to go. But as you know, there’s always a part when you’re trying to work on something new — whether it’s just a new song or a part of your sound — where it doesn’t sound cool at all.

Stefan: That’s, like, my whole life. Nothing sounds cool.

Eva: You’re like, “Wait a second… are we a good band?” I did want to ask you, because you said that PUP has [always had] a similar sound, but we’re both in bands with people we’ve been friends with since childhood. So I wanted to ask you: did PUP always sound like PUP, or did you have any initial iterations where it was something really embarrassing or different?

Stefan: Well, it’s definitely changed for sure, but I think it’s just been a gradual thing. I don’t know if you knew this, but the four of us all played in different ska bands when we were in high school.

Eva: [Laughs] No way! I love ska.

Stefan: I love it too, man! The first tour I ever did was with Mustard Plug. But, yeah, we all played ska, but not together. When we formed, we were called Topanga [and] were pretty much playing PUP stuff, but just way chiller.

Eva: Oh, no way.

Stefan: Yeah. There were there was a couple songs on the first record that we played as Topanga, but when we played them live I was playing acoustic guitar, and Zack [Mykula, PUP’s drummer] was playing brushes and stuff. We had two women in our band: One was my friend Rachel who played in my ska band with me; she sang back-up and played trumpet. There was another woman named Steph who played keyboard. It was weird, because it was all the same PUP songs, even the punk stuff — we have this song from the first record “Back Against the Wall,” which is just a straight-ahead punk song, and we were playing it with acoustic guitar and brushes and horns and keyboards.

Eva: So we’re both revealing things to each other: When Charly Bliss first started, we were an acoustic Starbucks band. [Laughs.] Very embarrassing; we’ve done our best to scrub the internet of any evidence of that. Looking back, it’s kind of funny to think — none of us listened to that music. Why were we making that? What took us so long to be like, “Oh, yeah, we’re all listening to Weezer. Got it: let’s unite on the loud guitar.”

Stefan: I think for me, it was because that other type of music seemed simpler and easier to execute, because it was just acoustic guitar — you don’t have to worry about the sound, you just strum the chords and away you go. That’s so funny that you guy did that too. Did you guys ever play any restaurant gigs?

Eva: Oh, yeah, we played some restaurant gigs. We really had a bizarre start to our band. We recorded at this studio near our hometown in Connecticut and it was supposed to be a one-off thing, but the guy who worked at the studio convinced us that we should actually be a band. It’s so bizarre, but in a way, I have to give this strange man credit, because we wouldn’t be a band without this person. He had this whole thing like, “You can’t play a show in New York until you have roadies show up to the show with you and load your gear.” He said we had to play around Connecticut first, so we played a bunch of shows at restaurants in Connecticut for the first six months of being a band, until we were like, “I don’t think what he’s saying is real.”

Stefan: That’s probably good, because those first six months, you guys probably sucked, right?

Eva: Oh, yeah.

Stefan: So you spent your time sucking doing stuff that didn’t really matter. I mean, obviously the roadies thing is so funny and ridiculous —

Eva: I’m still waiting on a roadie to help us.

Stefan: It’s coming any day now.

Eva: OK, so first of all: I’m sorry for drunk texting you last night about the new song, but I love [it] so much. I really feel like “Sibling Rivalry” might be my new favorite PUP song.

Stefan: [Laughs] Thanks, that’s nice of you to say.

Eva: And I feel like it is kind of stylistically different for you guys. It felt like the chorus was catchy in a way that… I don’t know, I couldn’t figure out what it reminded me of, but I thought it was the best song ever.

Stefan: With this band and with all three of these records, we’ve always kind of done our own thing and done pretty much exactly what we’re into, and found some degree of success doing it. So every record we just kind of look at the last one we did and say where we felt like we kind of fucked things up and we just try to do it better without repeating ourselves. That’s always kind of been the M.O., because stylistically, this band is what all four of us want to be doing, and we always feel like we could do it better and better. So that’s kind of the goal of every record, and especially this one.

I’m really proud of The Dream is Over, but we kind of rushed it because we’re on tour so much. We felt like we didn’t really hit our mark totally. Dave Schiffman, our producer, always says: “I keep making records because I always have regrets when they’re done.” That’s kind of what it feels like to me a lot of the time — we’re just trying to get the things that we fucked up right. Which is a super un-romantic answer [Laughs].

Eva: No, I actually think just the opposite: I think it’s really romantic. I always say with Charly Bliss — whenever we get asked questions like, “What’s your all-time dream of where this band could take you?” — that my dream is that, by the time we’ve achieved whatever the last dream was, we have a new one that we’re working toward. Obviously that’s kind of manic and insane, but I think what you’re saying is kind of similar about your album.

Hearing you say that about The Dream is Over when we were making our album, we thought, Man, that is an album that is just so succinct and perfect and they say everything and they say it exactly right. But I can say that a thousand times, and you’ll [still] know, because you were there, that, There was that [problem], and that [problem], or whatever. I think that’s probably why everyone is always putting themselves through this brutal process over and over again.

Stefan: I obviously couldn’t point them out on your record, but there’s got to be things where you look at one or two lines in the bridge of some song, and you’re like, Damn, that was stupid, why did I wait ‘til the last day to write these lyrics and do something completely garbage?

Eva: I have so many questions to ask you about that, because I am lyric-obsessed — that’s the number one that I think has the potential to make my brain explode if I feel like I don’t get it right. The songs I write start with lyrics first and then I build a melody around the lyrics. Is it the same for you? Because I love your lyrics so much.

Stefan: I am lyric-obsessed, but for the opposite reason, the reason being I’m so not confident in my ability to write lyrics.

Eva: What?!

Stefan: I work so much harder on them than anything else. It sounds to me that, for you, it’s because you really love writing lyrics; for me, I’m afraid that I’m going to fuck up this whole song by saying something meaningless. I feel pretty confident in my ability to write good melodies and song structures. On the record that we just made, every song — probably except for “Morbid Stuff” and “Scorpion Hill” — I sent the guys demos of pretty much the exact melodies as they are, but with me singing me singing absolute gibberish. I kind of knew what I wanted to say on every song but I’m just not a very articulate person, so it takes me a really, really long time to figure out how to stay what I’m trying to say.

Eva: I mean, you really knocked it out of the park. So many of your songs make me cry. I’ll never forget the first time that I heard “Sleep in the Heat” — it really messed me up. The lyrics are so passionate and there’s so much desperation and sadness, and I thought for a long time that it was a song about losing a friend to an overdose or something. Then finally — and not that it’s any less serious in any way — finding out that it’s about your chameleon almost made it more painful to listen to. I can’t get through that song without crying.

I was wondering if there are any songs on Morbid Stuff that you feel like people might mistake for being about one thing and they’re actually about something totally different?

Stefan: There are a lot of weird stories through the songs, which is the case with “Sleep in the Heat.” Sometimes I’m just taking quirky events from my life and, I don’t know if I succeed or not, but I’m doing my best to make it something where everyone can at least relate to the emotion that I’m feeling.

In “Sleep in the Heat,” if I were to say, “This is a song about my chameleon being dead,” people would either be like, “Oh, it’s a joke song, that’s funny,” or they would be like, “I can’t relate to that, how can you love a chameleon so much?” I’ve done my best to focus on the emotion rather than details; whether [someone] lost a pet, or they just broke up with somebody, or somebody close to them has died, hopefully it’s an emotion that they can connect with and and the specifics don’t matter as much.

I feel like there’s a lot of that in your songs, too. I mean, “Chatroom” — I never would have pinpointed what it was about without reading your description of it, and when you read the description and look at the lyrics you’re like, Oh, fuck, of course. But the first time I heard it, I hadn’t read anything about it and it still was a punch in the gut. It just felt like a celebration of being your own person and cutting loose from the bullshit. It’s kind of nice to discover a whole new layer [to the song] after you already love it.

Eva: Thank you. I totally agree with you. I think as a songwriter, and as someone who has to be interviewed and stand behind these songs, I’m always kind of wrestling with the idea of how much [I] should share about what it’s specifically about. Because I think we can all think of a million songs that you listen to a thousand times thinking they’re about something, and then you read an interview and you’re like, what? and you have to take another look at the lyrics. Wait, that’s what that’s about? I had this whole other narrative in my mind about how it relates specifically to me. I think there’s actually something really nice about people having room to do that with songs, so it’s kind of tough. But also as a listener, I always want to read interviews and listen to people talk about their songs and know what they’re about.

I will move off your lyrics in a second, but I do have a question that I really wanted to ask you: Often your songs have these female characters that are the voice of reason, or this person who knows better and is super fed up with your bullshit. Obviously on “DVP”: “She says that I drink too much/I fucked up and she hates my guts/She says that I need to grow up.” Obviously it’s probably different from song to song, but, I’m wondering, are you writing about an actual person, or is your conscience this person?

Stefan: A lot of it is directly pulled out of my real life conversations. You know my partner

Amanda — she’s incredible, and oftentimes she is the voice of reason. She is such a blunt person in such a good way; she’ll just tell it to me straight. I write a lot when I’m feeling shitty about things, and either that’s because her and I have had an argument that’s fresh in my mind, or because I’m upset about something else and she’s putting things into perspective for me. So a lot of it is just literal quotes out of her mouth.

Eva: I love that.

Stefan: It’s been amazing having her be part of my life, being straightforward and honest with me. The tough side of that is, it’s not her choice to have our lives exposed to the world — that’s a choice that I made, and it at times can be sort of hard on her. I wanted to ask you about that, because it’s something that I struggle with a lot. I read an interview with you after “Chatroom” where you’re saying it was really empowering to write the song and how scary it was to put it out there, just because it’s intensely personal. Does that ever get into your head when you’re writing, or is that a problem for you at a later point?

Eva: That’s a really good question. If I’m being honest, the months leading up to the release of “Chatroom” were horrible — I couldn’t sleep. I’m a huge fan of therapy, but it’s expensive and it’s hard when we’re away all the time to go consistently. I had to go back weekly and really be in touch with my therapist for the first time in a while. I was really, really struggling with having to stand behind what I’d written, and the question of what responsibility I have to discuss it specifically, or whether it would be better for me to just let people guess for themselves what it was about. And then if I do talk about it, how much do I talk about it? Do I out the person specifically, do I get really detailed about the specifics of it?

There’s a lot [to overcome] with survivor’s guilt, where you think about your experience like, Did I exaggerate this? Am I doing justice to it? Did I say it right, did I say it wrong? What I kept coming back to was, when I wrote the song I wasn’t thinking, It would be really good for me to write about [what I went through] and get it out in the world — it’s just something that had been consuming my thoughts while we were writing this album, so it felt totally natural that the song came out.

I remember the first moment of writing “Chatroom.” I was trying to write lyrics to one of [drummer Sam Hendricks’ melodies]; I wasn’t coming up with anything, and then out of thin air, it felt like I immediately had the lyrics for the first verse. I always try to think of songs like that — if it just fell out of my head, then it’s clearly something that I really needed to say and get out of my system. I feel like I benefit from talking through things with other people, and I struggle with anxiety and depression when I try not to talk about [my problems], so I guess now that the experience is behind me, I feel good about it.

Stefan: I think for “Chatroom” specifically — first of all, the most important thing is if [releasing it] was helpful to you, then it’s fucking awesome and the right thing to do — but another element is how helpful it is gonna be to so many that you wrote that song. You were talking about how much you should reveal, and I know you didn’t go super into detail, but you let people know what it was about; I feel like that is going to help so many people. When you guys inevitably explode and take over the world, that song will benefit millions and billions of people.

Eva: Thank you for saying that. I feel so strongly about your music for such a similar reason — I can’t think of many other bands that do what you do. Something that’s really unique about you guys is that your lyrics specifically denounce toxic masculinity. I feel like that has so much power to change culture, when a band that you really love — especially a band made up of four dudes — is being so intentional and specific about that. I’ll never forget touring with you guys, how after every single show you guys would talk about how it went and say, “I saw this happening in the crowd, it was really upsetting. What can we do better to make sure everybody feels safe at our shows?”

I just think the world of you guys. You’re all exceptional people, and I think you really do a lot to change the music scene for the better.

Stefan: Thank you. That means a lot. This is my favorite interview ever, because you and I are pretty much just telling each other how we’re the best [Laughs].

I want to delve into the “Chatroom” video. I loved it and the “Capacity” video — I thought they were so beautifully shot, and the stories were so beautifully told. At the end of “Chatroom,” you and the other lady are kind of discovered by the rest of your band.

Eva: Yeah, our happy lumberjack friends.

Stefan: So, first I have a really simple question: Is there going to be a sequel for this video?

Eva: There’s not one planned, but I think that there should be.

Stefan: OK, so I have ideas for you. Get ready.

Eva: [Laughs] I’m ready, bring it on.

Stefan: You know how PUP has done a trilogy, which is essentially supposed to be the origin story of PUP, and which we all know is not the actual origin story.

Eva: But it makes me cry, oh, my god!

Stefan: The real origin story is so boring. Like, we met and then we started a band and we sucked for a long time, and then we were OK after that.

Eva: Wait, Stefan, you didn’t actually kill a cop?

Stefan: Well, we don’t talk about that. [Laughs.] But, “Chatroom” feels like the first of the trilogy origin story for Charly Bliss, because at the very end you meet your bandmates for the first time. I think you should make another video, or maybe two, where the next video is — I don’t have the plot exactly, but these guys help you out, and then you form a wicked band with them. Then in the third video, I feel like our video universes should intersect.

Eva: Oh, my god! I love that idea.

Stefan: As you know, these videos take a really long time to make, so this is a two or three year plan.

Eva: I love this plan! I love it for so many reasons, one of them being that you guys were one of our first band BFF friendships that we formed.

Stefan: I think it would be amazing. I think PUP and Charly are two sides of the same coin, to me, anyways. Very basically, both of our music deals with really dark shit but in a kind of fun, positive, cathartic way. I think there is a world in which our universes intersect and all of the PUP fans and all of the Charly fans are stoked.

Eva: Let’s do it. It’s done, it’s happening.

Stefan: To be continued. OK, can I ask you some dumb questions?

Eva: Yes, absolutely.

Stefan: Do you guys have any weird shit on your rider?

Eva: The best thing that we have on our rider is “dealer’s choice.” We have specific things that we want, and then we always put “dealer’s choice” at the bottom so that whoever is filling the rider will get to choose a single snack that we wouldn’t have thought of. Usually it ends up being something regional — like when we’re in Wisconsin, they’ll give us cheese curds or something. I  love the element of surprise. That’s my favorite part of our rider. What about you guys?

Stefan: The first thing we added, after we progressed from the just-beer-and-water stage, was a choice for the promoter: either a jar of green olives or a jar of dill pickles.

Eva: [Laughs.] I love that idea! Do you still have that?

Stefan: Yeah, of course.

Eva: Oh, my god. Well, I like dirty martinis; that’s my favorite drink, so I feel like this would be really helpful for me when we play together.

Stefan: I have a really weird relationship with dirty martinis where I love the idea, because I love olives and salty stuff and savory drinks, and I love alcohol. I always think it’s going to be amazing, and every time I have one I’m like, Hmm.

Eva: Well, let me and Sam make you one. Honestly, I had a similar relationship with dirty martinis; for all of the women on my mom’s side of the family, it’s the drink of choice, and growing up I thought it was vile. I could not understand how my mom and aunts and grandma could drink it. My grandma passed away a couple years ago and, I kid you not, the day after she died I was like, I have to have a dirty martini in her honor — she always had a dirty vodka martini in one hand and a Virginia Slim in the other — and I loved it. Something changed in my palate, and the last gift she gave me was a taste for dirty vodka martinis.

Stefan: That’s amazing. I have a proposal that I know all the PUPs will be into: If and when we tour together next, we start Dirty Martini Monday.

Eva: Yeah! You have no idea how happy that makes me. We have to do that.

Stefan: I just want to say, this went way better than expected.

Eva: I had such a great time. I wish all interviews were like this.

Stefan: You just get to talk to your friend who you haven’t talked to in a while for an hour.

Eva: My final interview question for you: Can we come to your show at Brooklyn Steel?

Stefan: [Laughs] Yes, of course.

Eva: Our next Toronto show is with you guys —I’m so, so psyched. I can’t remember if it’s two days before or two days after my birthday, but we’re going to celebrate.

Stefan: Yeah, it’s gonna be awesome. Make sure you put all the martini stuff on your rider and we’ll sort it out.

(Photo Credit: left, Ebru Yildiz; right, Vanessa Heins)


Eva Hendricks is the frontwoman of the New York City-based pop rock quartet Charly Bliss. Charly Bliss’s new album Young Enough is out May 10 via Barsuk Records.

(Photo Credit: Ebru Yildiz)