The Way We Get By: PUP’s Steve Sladkowski Is Trying to be Patient With Himself

The guitarist talks not putting too much creative pressure on himself right now.

I had a really great FaceTime the other night with Jeff Rosenstock where we were talking about what we were doing to stay sane — a big thing for me has been trying not to put too much creative pressure on myself. It’s a State of Emergency in Toronto right now, and when you’re working on something or trying to make recordings, you can get a little stir crazy. Usually going outside is a way to clear your head, and since I can’t do that, I’ve been trying to just pick up my guitar and have very few rules or guidelines for myself. 

I grew up really loving bluegrass, and I have a bunch of old bluegrass method books, so I’ve been sitting the last couple of days and allowing myself to play for an hour here or there and not really be too concerned with writing. It’s just a matter of keeping my relationship with the instrument up and active. I spent a lot of my late teens and early 20s playing jazz, so improvisation too has been a big one — just picking up the instrument and seeing what happens, not trying necessarily to hold onto anything. 

I think something that the four of us in PUP have always been pretty adamant about is maintaining a steady work ethic. Our process is extremely collaborative, so the four of us in a room is how we tend to do our best work; there’s a certain level of patience that is demanded in that process. We’ve been doing video conference calls with each other, and we were just talking about how it might be an interesting creative challenge to try to write in the collaborative way that we do while everyone is socially distancing and self-isolating. I’m not sure if that’s going to be us writing on a group video conference together or sending demos around. 

I think the thing to do, as much as possible, is see what creative opportunities are afforded by just the necessity of it. It’s the responsible thing to do right now, to limit the amount of contact you’re having, and music is such a social thing so it’s interesting to take this as a challenge. You could put out something that sucks, it could be a complete failure, and I don’t think that’s that big of an issue. Exploring the opportunities, or what is available in the reality of this situation, is what I think is interesting. 

Playing bluegrass guitar doesn’t inform the, for all intents and purposes, high energy punk music we make in any linear way, but I’m just trying to keep the spark of creativity and inspiration alive in a time that I think it can be easy to feel overwhelmed or helpless. Sometimes that means sitting down and recording, and other times it’s allowing yourself to just sit on the couch and drink coffee and read or watch TV. Especially in a situation like this, where you can’t control what’s going on, it’s not helpful from a creative perspective to put a lot of boundaries and rules on what you do — as long as you’re being safe.

I’m just trying to be patient and aware of what the reality of situation is. I’m trying to give myself some time to try to not overthink. This is unprecedented, and there are a lot of people who are struggling; I’m grateful that we’re in a place as a band and as people where things are a bit more stable. I feel for a lot of bands who just put out records, or were on tour or had to cancel tours. All things considered, I’m trying to reflect on that too and be grateful for what we’ve had and what we’ve been able to do as a band.

The coronavirus has hit many people financially, and it’s been especially tough on musicians who rely on touring to support themselves. If you’re able and inclined, check out PUP’s website and order a T-shirt, some vinyl, or whatever they’ve got on offer. Every little bit helps.

(Photo Credit: Vanessa Heins)

Steve Sladkowski is the guitarist from the Toronto punk band PUP. When he isn’t on the road or rehearsing, you can usually find him crate-digging in record stores, yelling at basketball games on TV, reading about current events, or trying out new slow-cooker recipes. He once considered becoming an ethnomusicologist, but decided to play in bands instead because he knew he’d be broke either way.