The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - Interviews - Soundblab

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

by Steve Rhodes Rating: Release Date:

Buried in the backstage of Manchester's Sound Control venue, I meet Kip Berman, lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter of New York City's The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

How has the tour been going so far, any particular highlights and anywhere you're really looking forward to play?

From a musical history point of view, one of our favourite cities has to be Glasgow, where we're playing tomorrow. I'm really a massive fan of some of the bands from there. Manchester as well. And last night in Bristol, which is the home of Sarah Records, which is cool too, but in terms it was almost a label that happened to be in Bristol accidentally. But over time the music that's come out of Manchester and Glasgow has been really amazing, so it's great to be here for sure.

What's the main connection for why you like Glasgow?

For whatever reason all the bands I like are from there. The Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, Orange Juice, even with Creation Records, Alan McGee is from Glasgow, and The Vaselines, Belle & Sebastian, Jesus & Mary Chain, Close Lobsters. A lot of music from that part of the world is music I like for some reason. I'm grateful we got to go there and go to the record shop and buy used Teenage Fanclub 7ins.

What inspired you to form the band and how did it come together?

Alex, Peggy and I were all really good friends. We hung out and did what friends do and I don't even know what that is, hang out, get drunk and go to shows. I don't know what the basis of our friendship was but we spent a lot of time together and part of that was talking about music, going to shows and being fans of local bands. I'd written some songs and thought who'd else want to play with me so I asked Alex and Peggy and they were into it. We played our first show at Peggy's birthday party with a band from Leeds that we love called Manhattan Love Suicides and some friends of ours from New Jersey, who lived in New York at the time called Titus Andronicus. I just had to mention they were from New Jersey because they always make it known they're from New Jersey. It's a culturally significant point for them.

It's probably similar to Liverpool and Manchester over here, where there's quite a short distance between the two.

Yeah exactly, cultural differences between the two, but I just wanted to point out they were from New Jersey. They're great and I love them to this day.

Your touring guitarist Christian is now a fully fledged member - how does if feel expanding to a five-piece?

It was really good. When we first toured after the first record came out we realised that one guitar playing the E chord just wasn't enough, you need to have two guitarists playing the E chord. It sounds bigger and adds this dimensionality to it. I don't know if dimensionality is a word.

It should be.

It has more dimensions to the sound if you have two guitars and also it forces you to write for two guitars and you can come up with more interesting stuff. That plus the keyboards gives it a lush, big sound that we love. We love big, noisy pop sounds and it's the heart of what we do. It what we're into.

You've recently released album number two, Belong. How did the album come about and how do you think your sound has evolved since your debut?

I think with the new record it's sort of in the spirit of what we set out to do on the first record. Maybe after a couple of years of touring and the experience of recording a record before we learned a few things and understood what we were trying to do a bit better. The songs were written, some of which before the first record came out, we rehearsed it a lot and wanted a bigger, noisier, more immediate kind of sound, really bright and beautiful and visceral. Maybe like Ash's first record or the sense of the second you hear the song you love it. I don't think it's that different from the first one but obviously the production is a bit different.

That neatly fits in with the next one. The record was produced by Flood and mixed by Alan Moulder - how does it feel working with these legendary soundmen?

It was awesome. If you have a chance to do something like that, the correct answer is absolutely yes. It's not something we ever anticipated or thought could be possible. We're on a small indie label and the bands they generally work with are larger, more established, commercial kinds of acts. But we're just grateful they took time out of their busy schedules for our record. It made it sound really cool from our perspective, the influence they had in shaping the sound of the record.

This is the second album you've released on Slumberland, a label renowned for it's link to twee and lo-fi pop artists. How has your relationship with the label been and do you think Belong fits into this aesthetic?

It fits and it doesn't. I love that our record has a lot of contradictory elements to it. If you would have told Mike Shulman, who has run Slumberland for the last 22 years, that in 2011 he'd be putting out a record produced by Flood and Alan Moulder, on Slumberland Records, it doesn't make sense and yet is does aesthetically (in relation to) what they've done with bands like Jesus & Mary Chain and Ride. Slumberland's always been an indie-pop label, but it's always veered on the side of noisier, more aggressive kind of sounds.

Bands like Henry's Dress, Rocketship, Velocity Girl and The Aisler Set were always ambitious. They might have been lo-fi compared to their peers and British pop music in the 90s but they were doing the most with what they had. They weren't a knee-jerk description of twee music, they weren't what Sarah Records were. It's pop music with noise and that's kind of what we like. A powerful simplicity and immediacy but with something behind it. Mike's such a great guy and we were thrilled in signing to the label for the first record. He did a good job with it and he made it possible for us to do the record with Flood and Alan Moulder. We didn't have to get a bigger label. We made a big record for a small label, so it was the best of both worlds

I hear elements of the Cure and perhaps bits of The Icicle Works and The Dream Academy in your recent work. What do you think your influences are?

Kurt's really knowledgeable about some of the gothier or technologically sophisticated elements of 80s pop music and that whole era and he loves the sound, so maybe there's his inadvertent hand. Our experience with The Cure growing up in America was biased more towards the radio singles that we experienced, the Top 40 singles that are instantaneously memorable. I personally admire the pop side of the band and I think that's what comes through more in our music than stuff that's more textural, drawn-out or ambient. It's not to say that one's better than the other, my tastes are more skewed towards immediacy and three and a half minute pop songs.

The Smashing Pumpkins, in a specific era, spoke to some expansive, sonic, weird optimism and exuberance. There was a weird energy about Siamese Dream, it was like pop-shoegaze music in a weird way, but it was also filtered through an American lens. It was a uniquely American expression of bands like Ride and My Bloody Valentine and with an element of 70s rock too. I don't think our record sounds like them. Definitely the sound of the guitars and the frailty of the vocals was something I admired on that record. It doesn't mean we would defend every one of their music outputs to the grave or anything like that.

There was bands like Weezer, which were also kind of more American, with immediate sounds. We were trying to express something which was true to our upbringing as American teenagers in the 90s, big beautiful guitars and a lot of saturation and distortion. We're massive fans of American and British indie-pop and even more mainstream stuff, like The Cure, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Buzzcocks, The Ramones, Exploding Hearts. A lot more stuff than our music sounds like inspires us.

Are there any bands, either in the local scene in New York or elsewhere, that you're listening to right now? Anything new that you think everyone should hear?

We just finished touring with a band called Twin Shadow, based in Brooklyn and they're really good. Their record was produced by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear and they're on 4AD over here. I hope they do more touring. As good as their record is they're even better live and they're wonderful people. We were really happy to share a tour with them. And tonight we're playing with Fanzine. We've recently learned about them and they're great guys and they're really good, good songs, so we decided to share a few more shows with them.

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