Monday, September 28, 2009

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's self titled debut full length kind of snuck up on me when it was released at the beginning of this year. For a good few years before it, I had been re-discovering bands like Orange Juice, The Pastels, The Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub and Shop Assistants (along with a lot of other C86 stuff), and it was quite thrilling to me on a personal level to hear an indie pop record like Pains' debut-- one that certainly looked backwards while somehow managing to sound fresh and exciting, almost like rebellion against a lot of the sounds coming out of the world of "indie rock" over the past few years. It was difficult to tell whether I derived my enjoyment of this record from fetishizing the past or because it seemed like a very bold break from the present, but it has become one of my favorite straight-up rock records of the year either way.

Our own Frank Phosphate was lucky enough to speak with Pains lead singer and primary songwriter Kip Berman after their performance in Fort Worth last week about his band, the history of indie pop, and the inspiration behind their music. Here are the results (SR):

So this is your first major tour, right? How is it going so far?

This is our first full US tour. This is our 17th show, I counted them before the tape started rolling so I didn't just know them off the top of my head. It's been great because this is the first time we have gotten to go to alot of places that we have never been before, especially in the south and south west. It' really been an experience, driving through New Meixco and seeing the Lights of (couldn't understand). Getting an idea of the hugeness of Texas when we have entered Texas and we still had nine hours to get into the middle of it. You don't see that in other states.

What has the response been in these other places?

its been great and it's really heartening to know that there are people out there who have been hearing our record in places really far away from where we are from. Coming from New York it's really easy to get trapped in a bubble, but to get to go to places like Salt Lake City and have kids that are really psyched about the music, it's great to see that response in people who aren't our friends back home. It's a really cool feeling, and definitely one that we don't take for granted.

How did you hook up with Slumberland records? What was the transition like from doing the CD-R with Cloudberry to the full length with Slumberland?

It was really natural but almost kind of accidental, but also an ideal fit for the kind of music we play. Slumberland was a label we grew up listening to. It was one of the big independent pop labels, it was important to us. There were other ones like K, March records for awhile, Merge and Magic Marker. There are alot of great American independent record labels but Slumberland was one that really combined sense of straight up pop music with the noiser elements. Bands like The Ailsers Set, Rocketship, Stereloab, The Lilly's and obviously Black Tamborine. The guy that runs it was in Black Tamborine. It was a label that historically meant alot to us as nerdy kids who liked records more than we should have for our social lives. It was a dream come true. The other cool thing about the label was it wasn't just for nostalgia sake, they were releasing albums from a lot of bands that we admire now like Crystal Stilts and Cause Commotion, and they are continuing their seven inch series searching for the now, like they did one recently with Sunny Day in Glasgow. We played with them a couple times in NY and Philly and they are really nice people. Long story short i was ordering a BT vinyl reissue from them and sort of struck up a conversation, I dont know if he got a lot of requests for that at the time. Peggy had recommended them and I had never heard them before. I must have let on in a very subtle way that I play music in a band, so I just sent him some demos and he was really supportive. When another band he was putting out called the Lodger was playing in NY he asked us to open. He ended up coming out all the way from Oakland for that show which was amazing. I dont if he was overly intoxicated or what but he was really enthused about the show. I guess the really important thing about that show is it was the first show we played with Kirk as our drummer, before then we had been using a drum machine. Beside his role in indie pop history he just knows alot music. We went over to his house after the last tour and he has everything! I think I am pretty nedry about music, but he is knowledgeable in ways far beyond me. He said if we ever got our record together that he would love to put it out. We didnt immediately put it out, we took some time to record it. it was definitely a dream come true to have a record on Slumberland.

And what a great way to get there, very organic.

I want to make clear that at the time, and up until last february, we had been a band for a couple of years but no one outside of this sort of fetish indie pop community were interested in what we are doing, which was fine because that is the way of things with indie pop music. 12 people will care about your band and those people will care alot. but it is not somehting that has been historically appreciated. It has a small but very devoted group. Of all the great indie pop bands that were influential for us, none of them really reached beyond that core. I mean Belle and Sebastian obviously got bigger but even they are not that big.

There is no Radiohead of indie pop.

Yeah exactly. you would think like Rocket Ship would have been big. I guess Velocity Girl had a song on the Clueless soundtrack and they were on Sub Pop which is sorta the biggest indie pop got in the 90s. Aisler Set were pretty well accepted. Hefner were big in England. There isnt alot of precendent for indie pop getting any bigger than basement shows.

What is it about indie pop that inspires such a rabid fan base? Looking at feedback fans have for you, its always a "this band is my life" mentality. Like you were saying, there is this inclination for a certain sub set of music fans.

Indie pop generally appeals to people like myself who maybe don't have alot of social skills or a lot of friends. Not like total losers, but people who are a little disconnected from whats going on with the cool kids in school.

Spend alot of time reading books.

It's easy to fetishsixe these things "oh Im so persecuted for my inellect" but I think of myself as a pretty normal person. I only had a couple friends but were really intense friends. I think this music for whatever reason speaks to people who are slightly... the underdogs. Maybe mainstream doesnt encompass their world view. But there is this music that connects people and their worldviews. Peggy has a lot of stories of being pen pals with people and making mixtapes. Now technology has changed and things move alot faster. Indie pop has always appealed to the fringes of society. Not in the "I'm going to shoot this place up" way, not a crazy loner, just kids that maybe dont totally fit, and this music kind of gives them hope and a sense of belonging. I always based my idenity growing up on the type of music I liked. That was always a part of who I was. Not saying that is the only way to define yourself. I love this music so much and I wanted to know other people that did too. That to me was the ideal "what if there was a girl who liked indie pop bands as much I do." That is obviously far fetched and didnt exist, but it was the ulitmate fantasy. Meeting people who liked the same music you do. I know that it is easy to see that as shallow or superficial because there are cool people who like other stuff. And there are a lot of lame people that like the same people you do and you wouldnt be friends otherwise. I don't know what it is that spawns this fandom, but I'm glad it exists. It's nice to have people to geek out with. Talking about shows we saw, it's a wonderful community and I am glad to be a part of it.

Has being a player in that world changed your outlook in any way? The way you perceive it? Do you enjoy it the same as you did before?

To be quite honest I haven't socially progressed since high school. I'm not sure if other people do, but I still feel very much the same now. People ask me what my other hobbies are besides playing in Pains. "I like playing this music and I guess maybe video games?" It's always hard to think of other intrest in life, I know that sounds kinda boring and one dimensional. I just think music is great thing.

No I see where you are coming from.

No it's bad. maybe other people are like "I really like cooking" "I have been taking Tango lessons" not me. I like to listen to loud wussy music and hang out with my friends who are also in my band. If they ever kick me out of the band...

What are you going to do?

I don't know, I don't have any other skills. I'm not even sure if this is a skill yet.

I'd say it's a little more than a skill. How are the song writing duties handled? What is the creation process like for you?

The thing that I want to make clear is the songs are as good as they are because everyone contributes. They would not be good songs if I just wrote them in my bedroom with the one drumbeat on the drum machine I knew how to play and played bass horribly and my one note on the keyboard. Even though that is probablly how most of them sound. The chords and prgoressions are what I write. When the song becomes developed and fully realized as a Pain's song it is because Kurt's drum ideas are there and Alex with his bass and Peggy with the keyboard. I kinda do the Skeleton I guess. The thing I care the most about are the lyrics. I have never been the type of person to say "Hey guys what should I rhyme with fucking right...fucking tight?" Everyone does their part. And the quality of the demos on my computer at home can attest to that.

This new Pains EP just came out. How did that come about so soon after the album was released and how do you see it difer from the album?

Well we finished the album last summer, it was all mixed and done and I had it on my ipod. i could listen to it if I wanted to, I could play it for my mom. then it ended up that it was going to be like 6 months before it would get released. So we had a bit of down time. We couldn't tour because we didnt really have anything to tour behind. We did get to go on a support tour for the Wedding Present. It was areally big deal last december and a really cool experince. I guess in that time we continued writing songs. they were songs that we played live in our sets we just didnt have them recorded. They were either written after the album or during and we just didnt feel like they fit. In fact I was kind of paranoid that the album was going to fail, and that september I started writting the next album. I was like "oh if this album doesnt turn out good, if everyone hates it" then I wanted to have an album to release right after it. Kind of like a make up album. So I started writing songs pretty feverishly. Im really excited about these songs, even though people did end up liking the album, that was pretty cool. What were the chances? People would like indie-pop? It was one of those things where I though my children might see it, and I dont even have children.

The one song that stands out is "Higher than the Stars," its what I thought would be track one of the next album. We started plaing it live and we really like it. It's different from the album, I think people, rightfully so, heard a lot of fuzz pop on the album. Ideally a Pains of Being Pure at Heart song is a pop song, it doesnt have to be alot of fuzz or be a certain length. We just want it to be a good pop song. So its kind of an example of writing a Pains song that probablly didnt sound a lot like what people thought of as a Pains songs up to that point. I think even more so with "Falling Over." It rips off a band...I don't know how to say this. There are bands that we love that we dont sound anything like. I love Orange Juice and The Wake, alot of those Scotish bands of that era, Aztec Camera. Those are bands that are influential to us, but you wouldn't know it from listening to our album. We like a lot of stuff from the same zip code.

I always see the Smiths refrenced to your music, but I have always seen a closer connection with a band like Orange Juice, as far as the pop sensibilities.

Yeah! When people say the Smiths its like...

It's the easiest thing to say , it's what people know.

Oh an indie band that has over the top lyrics, it's very flattering to be compared to them. We arent even 1/8th as cool as the Smiths. I think people that are more aware of the music we like would see more of the Orange Juice than Morrisey. We would happy to be half as good as either of those bands.



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