Sing Like A Pro Interview Series
Want to really know what it takes and what its like to sing at a professional level? Why not listen to the people who are already there? This interview features PUP vocalist Stefan Babcock. Thanks so much to those who made this possible… especially Stef! https://www.puptheband.com/ Photos – http://www.amandafotes.com/ http://mitchseekinsvocalstudio.com
hi I’m Mitch Seekins The Vocal Coach I’m doing a series of interviews with the people I’m working with and have worked with in the past who are at the top of their game and I’m finding out what it takes for them to stay there and passing it on to you. This interview features Stefan Babcock from the Canadian punk band PUP
PUP is a particular favorite of mine because of the intensity of their live show and their tongue-in-cheek humor in the tunes. As a performer I gigged for 38 years and many of them were on the road on tour and any band who writes a song called “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You I Will” has my vote! With their incredible work ethic they have become one of the biggest punk bands in the world, touring globally for many years now. Stef and I sat down to talk about all the things he’s been through as a punk vocalist and how he has survived through it all.
So good morning stef hi thanks for doing this again uh for those that you don’t know this is the third time stef and i have done that he’s been very patient and very um good-natured about my ineptitude when it comes to this stuff. the first time i showed up at a gig and then couldn’t work the cameras awesome … so yes thanks again for doing this and um you know the whole purpose of this is just to you know give people an idea of what it takes to do what you do um and you know the stuff that that you have to deal with uh in order to you know perform uh at the level that you’re performing at . some of the questions that i’ve got for you pertain to you know the performance side of things and care but and also you know the stuff that we worked on vocal technique and that and that kind of thing.
so how were uh how old were you when you started singing
um i’ve been in band since i was 15 but i wasn’t i i didn’t i wasn’t a lead singer in a band until i was 23 24. yeah and is that when uh you turned pro kind of thing or were you pro before that with some of your other projects like being paid for a gig is my definition of pro yeah yes it depends on your definition um yes pro like i was i started i did my first tour tour at 16. um it wasn’t tours like five five six days in a row kind of thing um but i didn’t start doing it full time until i was around 24 25.
so once you got on the road what were some of the common vocal problems that you experienced while touring uh and i mean this is a big one because of what you experienced and what you brought you to to study with me ….so just kind of tell a little bit about what you uh what you went through on that.
playing a show or playing two shows or playing three shows is a very different experience than going out for a month yeah i never had trouble singing two three shows um and i started to notice that i was having major problems as soon as we started going out for a week two weeks three weeks at a time ….it’s just hard on your voice and hard on your body when you’re um out there night after night trying to like give it your all whether you’re playing to three people or three thousand it’s like i’ve always had that kind of mentality that you should go as hard as possible every show and uh just kind of if you’re not doing it right it just starts to take its toll so i just started losing my voice i couldn’t hit higher notes, notes that i could normally hit my voice started getting weird and raspy um i started having a lot of vocal cracks on stage which was pretty funny yeah and embarrassing at the same time like it’s people probably wondered why this 28 year old was hitting puberty again um it just got to the point where i felt like i really was not delivering uh even close to my best every night right and then it starts to affect you mentally and it’s a it’s a whole kind of spiral of self-doubt from there ….
yeah the psychological effect of something you know along that line gets pretty hefty in it and like you said it builds and um the emotional stress that is accumulated from that psychological stress , essentially it’s the same thing it just compounds and makes things worse and then you had uh the issue where you end up ended up hemorrhaging um just say a little bit about that
yeah we um we were i mean we had pretty much been on tour for maybe two years straight almost uh at that time i had gotten into a warm-up routine i was doing i was working hard on making singing easier for me uh but at a certain point things started to feel really off… um i went to see a doctor a mid-tour and they kind of told me like bad things are starting to happen you should go home um and it’s just not that easy to drop off before so i don’t want to say i ignored the advice but i just kind of thought i’m going to push through and just do everything in my power to take care of myself but keep going and at a certain point uh one show it would just it went away like i couldn’t make sounds at all while talking about not being able to hit the high notes or whatever it was like i there was no sound um and it turned out that i had to hemorrhage my vocal cords uh and uh that just sort of means that the cords filled with blood and i wasn’t able to really sing i couldn’t speak actually for about three weeks after that and sing i couldn’t sing for about four months or and i couldn’t really sing the way that i like to sing for almost i don’t know seven eight months it took a few months at least with with you to kind of get yeah
i think you were with me for at least um i think it was two two or three months before you had some shows to do down in the states or was it for ..i have to look back i’m not sure what uh what it was so um how did you hear about what it is i do i can’t i can’t even remember
i have i have a speech language pathologist mm-hmm they look at the vocal cords to see if there’s any damage and they’re more on the kind of medical side of coaching and vocal performance so i was working with somebody named aaron lowe who was just kind of like taking care of my busted up cords and helping the hemorrhage and stuff like that and uh he he recommended a few names and you were one of them um and you were not my first vocal teacher but you will be my last! i went through a lot of well not a lot i should say i went through maybe three four teachers who all just kept telling me you shouldn’t sing like this and when i say you shouldn’t sing like this it’s not like you should do what you do differently it’s like you shouldn’t do what you do and that’s just not an answer that i cared to hear …whether it was right or not i just what i do is what i do that’s what i built my career on there’s no real alternative except the alternative that you showed me… there’s a way to do what i do while also minimizing the damage and preparing myself physically and emotionally for kind of what it was gonna be like to cause a small bit of damage every night you know
right and um so you know you came over and i remember there wasn’t really much of a voice there when we started working and cause i mean what i what i do just for everybody here you know what i do does end up repairing voices it takes a while you know because realistically i mean i think it was like four months and then you had uh like five shows down in the states and then you came back for a couple months and then you had a few more shows and then a few more months and then you had australia and another bunch of months then you had europe um and it built from there um and it’s been three and a half years four years now and it’s been occasional you know because i mean the last world tour that you did i didn’t hear from you at all! and you were gone that last tour was ten and a half months long and so you know the voice is fully healed and you’re able to do what you do every night and not kill yourself.
how is the vocal fatigue on tour now?
i mean it’s still there like yeah a reality if you sing aggressive music and also i kind of sing you know higher a higher register yeah that you’re going to get fatigued if you do it every night but it’s so much more manageable now um right
there is a difference between vocal fatigue which is like a good workout as opposed to vocal damage which is you know uh you accumulate um that that can build i don’t think there’s no damage happening anymore and vocal fatigue is okay that’s just like going for a good solid run like yeah you’re gonna be tired but that doesn’t mean you can’t run tomorrow
you know what i mean yeah the goal now is just like to be able to go hard every night and if by the end of the night i’m i’m that’s fine as long as i feel like by the next night at nine p.m or whatever time we’re going on i’m gonna be ready to go again yeah it took a long time took a lot of work to get to the point where i had enough confidence that i knew i could come off stage and be white and know that tomorrow i’ll be good to go yeah you’d be you’d be fine yeah yeah um so some of the things that you do for vocal recovery now um i don’t think you knew a whole lot about how to take care of the voice well uh before we we began work i mean i think you had a little bit of an idea but what are the some of the things that you do now uh to deal with the the stress the strain of doing shows
uh a lot of the stuff is preventative i think um i’ve been doing warm-ups for maybe like before shows for maybe a year or so before we started working together yeah but the warm-ups that we do uh are a bit different they’re much more gentle it’s like about kind of really really it’s not a it’s not five minutes like let’s go it’s like really gentle ease back into it spend 20 minutes half an hour to get yourself going um so i would i will not miss a warm-up under any circumstances there’s there’s circumstances that i’ll go on stage without warming up because i know that that could lead to really big issues so yeah that means like it’s a bit different now like now that we you know always have like uh decent green rooms and stuff like that but there was a point four or five years ago where we were playing really small shows like uh that we didn’t have a backstage and it was just like well i guess i’m it’s you know it’s negative 20. i’m still gonna sit in the car or go for a walk and do this because i won’t get on stage without doing the warm-ups um i drink a lot of water um yeah it’s incredibly important the hydration level has to be there yeah like four or four ish leaders a day and then and then there’s the hardest part and it got easier as i got older but the hardest part of uh of taking care of myself was
trying to eat better um party less and more so i’m not gonna say i don’t party on tour i just choose my battles yeah you know in my early mid 20s i would um get wasted a lot and having a beard or two completely fine but when you’re getting hammered the next day you’re going to probably wake up without a voice and i know that about myself yeah so i permit myself to do that maybe once a week when we have a day off um that was hard that was a hard thing to to kind of acknowledge but it is the honest truth like i know that i need eight hours of sleep i know that if there’s a lot of travel i have to get extra sleep and i have to drink extra water and i have to eat healthier and um and yeah i just gotta take care of my body because it’s all it’s all connected it is all connected this is how your voice is going to feel and that’s kind of what it is yeah yeah no exactly um so uh my next question is any thoughts of studying voice well we’ve been kind of talking about that anyway so i mean essentially it um you know learning how to use the voice properly and take care of the voice has basically enabled you to maintain a career because recovering from a hemorrhage that’s pretty serious stuff and for a lot of singers if they don’t get the help that they need it’s done like the career is done like it’s you know it’s over unless you want to go you know sing lounge music or something but that’s not exactly you so
yeah yeah it’s real it’s like learning learning the proper techniques i i hate technique i hate music theory i don’t read music i learn music completely by ear i write songs by ear i hate all that stuff and i was really resistant yeah but um like i said earlier learning the technique doesn’t mean that i have to doesn’t mean that i have to do things differently yeah and you don’t compromise what you do yeah exactly and it took me a long time to kind of understand that and appreciate that you know like not to simplify things but like if you properly use your diaphragm and properly use the you know the blending techniques that mitch has taught me and things like that
they eventually just become muscle memory and then you can go back to singing however it is you like to sing as hard as you like to sing in any register and those muscles just kick in and you get the same sounds except stronger and i’m not like i’m not learning to become a classical singer here i’m hurting myself yeah yeah um and i know you touched on this a little bit before uh just the difference because i mean you know when i met you you were doing 250 shows a year sometimes they were people’s garages or somebody’s basement and now you’re doing shows upwards of uh you know 20 000 some some of the stuff um on an average what are you doing five or ten thousand seeders like what is it you’re doing now no not quite that much um you do big festivals of those sites like a normal headline show will be around 2000 2000 right and there isn’t really much of it because your show is your show there’s not a there’s no difference in preparation between singing somebody’s garage and seeing you know at a hall that you have you know 2 000 people and 500 500 of them are in a mosh pit in front of you there there’s there’s no difference in preparation for each show is that is that fair to say is that correct yeah it’s all about finding that routine that works for you and when you find something that works i mean when i found something that work i just stuck with it you know how many lessons i need before i go on tour i know how to prepare and then i know that every day um uh i have to eat two hours before the show and i have to warm up an hour before the show and i gotta drink you know half a liter of water right before we go on and away you’re good you’re good to go um
what is the most poignant thing that you learned from our work together um that has saved your ass essentially is it the blending is it the focusing forward is it the diaphragmatic work or is it a combination of everything is there something that sticks out to you um i can point to maybe a couple things um one major thing okay so all the technique i learned has been amazing and it’s all saved my butt so yeah i’m not want to diminish any of that that’s all the necessary necessary work if you don’t do that just forget it so that work is necessary um but then the things that really have clicked in my mind uh working with you for a few years uh one is that preparation i’m not talking about local warmers before show i’m talking about preparing to go on tour yeah i’m gonna go to the studio is incredibly important i used to have this mindset i used to think that okay well when i go on tour my my my voice is gonna hurt and it’s gonna suffer so leading up to a tour i just have to rest and not use it and build up as much good will or whatever you want to call it so that i can give it to you and that’s the exact opposite of what needs to happen yeah well at least i need to i shouldn’t say you for me it was i need to spend three weeks before any tour pretending like i’m on tour so that means five nights of the week i have to go
into my jam space or into my car or into my garage and scream for an hour like i’m on stage and accept the fact that i’m gonna lose my voice but it will happen in the three weeks preceding the tour instead of on tour so that preparation and being like committed because it sucks to go and like sing the songs by yourself at top yeah volume show volume yeah i know sucks it’s so boring it’s like but it’s all part of the job right like for me it was like commit to that prep and then i know i won’t have problems um and then another thing that has really stuck with me is just something that you told me i don’t know six seven months into this and it was that
we’re all only human and you’re never going to be a hundred percent or you must 100 sometimes but you’re not going to be a hundred percent every day um and that’s a hard thing when you’re on stage and people are staring at you and you know that you’re trying your hardest but you’re not giving your best it’s a hard thing to reckon with but um being easy on yourself is really important knowing that i’m gonna go out every night and give it a 100 but if i if i give 100 and i only sing 70 well that’s also okay because i’m human and i get to do it again the next night and the next night and yeah
you know you can’t it’s just the voice is a muscle and sometimes it’s firing on all cylinders and sometimes you’re just pushing through to get to
yeah um it is you know my philosophy has always been you know the voice it is an athletic endeavor to sing it’s it’s a coordination between muscles and air pressure and all that sort of thing and it is important to make sure that you work out if you are an olympic level athlete the last thing that you’re gonna do is stop training three or four weeks before a competition that doesn’t make any sense at all you know what i mean so if people understand that it is a coordinated uh effort uh a full body coordination uh effort and you do have to work it out i mean that would help a lot of people out i think that’s so that that’s a that’s a great that’s a a great tip um any last parting thoughts i mean we’re we gotta get to work because you’re you’re prepping for a record um i’m helping you prep for a record you’re leaving in i don’t know a month and a half or so or no three weeks three weeks two weeks some i don’t know something like that um any last thoughts um
i think it’s i think it’s easy to dismiss a lot of vocal training and stuff i certainly did at the beginning but i think if you’re a singer and you want to do it professionally and you want to go on tour and do it night after night and be somewhat consistent it’s like you owe it to yourself to
do your best to make it something that’s sustainable and one of the most important things that you can do to make sure that you have a career and you don’t burn out is to learn the techniques and also to commit yourself to making surgeon sacrifices in order to be the best singer or performer that you can be whether that means cutting down on partying or whether it means just making sure you practice extra whatever those things are it takes sacrifice and and if you want to do it for real i strongly suggest being honest with yourself about those things yeah yeah that that’s great advice as well um because it it does it doing this it takes a ton of commitment a lot of people don’t quite understand that um so and that’s basically what you got to do it’s it it’ll make the difference between a two-year career or a 30-year career you know you just want to be the best that you can be because if you don’t somebody else will come along and do it you know so there’s lots of competition out there and it is in and it’s not really a competition i really shouldn’t say that but um you know you always want to try to do the best job you can you know that’s that’s just the way that it is anyway thanks for doing this again i really appreciate that that’s in the last time this will be the last time there was no bumps uh it was all good it was all good so uh thank you steph and um i look forward to hearing the new record when it comes out thanks mitch all right
thanks for watching i’d like to give a shout out to some of the people who made this possible a heartfelt thanks to stefan for doing this interview again and to the other guys in puck to brilliant corners artist management and to rise records for their permissions and to amanda foltz the amazing photographer who took all those images i’ll provide a link to her page below please check out her work it really is spectacular if you like this and perhaps learn something please hit that subscribe button i’ve got more stuff to come