The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart Live + Interview

Posted June 10, 2011 in Music Features

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

We were fortunate enough to both interview and play host to a live video session from NYC indie-pop stars-in-the-ascendance The Pains of Being Pure At Heart last month. Watch the sweet action over here, and read Karl McDonald’s interview, eh, right there. There. Below here. Yeah, you’ve got it now.

Named after an unpublished short story and recalling simultaneously basically every band that’s ever worn a jumper on stage, Brooklyn’s The Pains of Being Pure At Heart are more than simply revivalists. For a certain type of music fan, they are a talisman, singing naïve pop songs soaked in reverb for the lonely teenager, to crowds bigger than anything the average K or Sarah Records band ever saw. On their second album, Belong, they gave their sound a shot of steroids in the service of making an “immediate pop record”. Leader Kip Berman talks to Totally Dublin ahead of their Dublin show.

I’m interested in the idea of Pains as curators of older music, sharing things you like that others might not have heard. How do you feel about that?

Yeah, I get excited when people look into the things that inspired us. There are bands that are maybe less appreciated but deserving. It happens with everything. If you were listening to The Ramones, you have to go back and check out The Stooges. If you really like Nirvana, you have to listen to the Pixies. No band is an island, it’s all part of a continuity, so it’s fun to be part of the cycle and to get people interested in the history, the music we love. The new album has an element of that, but they’re not museum pieces. We tried to make immediate pop music that people could relate to now. They don’t need to know the bands we listened to. We tried to strike a balance.

You’ve been called a music nerd before.

I think if you’re gonna play music for a living, you should love it. I think anyone in a band is going to be a huge fan of music, it should be the most important thing in life for them. So yeah, I guess I don’t mind being called a nerd. I can’t help the way I am. It’s how I identify with life, and I suppose the bands you like can be used as a badge to meet other people who like the kind of things you like.

Have you ever got a comparison you disagree with?

Sometimes I don’t see similarities. Like, sometimes people compare to these great iconic classic bands and I don’t really think we sound like that, but it’s not a bad thing. If I’m walking down the street and someone says I look like Brad Pitt, I might not agree with that. I might think they’re crazy, but I’d probably feel pretty good about myself.

How do you become a popkid in America?

I think about that too. How did I get into it? It kinda came in two tiers. When I was 14 in the suburbs me and my friends would take anything Kurt Cobain said as gospel, so any time he mentioned a band like Beat Happening, Teenage Fanclub or the Vaselines, or covered one of those bands, we’d go check it out. It was the only way we had to hear that kind of stuff. A lot of that suburban punk or even K Records or whatever, I came to that through Kurt Cobain. And then I guess it’s self-referencing as well, especially Glaswegian indiepop. If you like Belle & Sebastian, they almost tell you to go back and check out The Pastels and Orange Juice and those bands.
The second tier was just living in Portland before I was 21. I was listening to some indiepop but I was mostly into general indie rock, bands like Yo La Tengo, but the only venues I could get into were these places that had all-ages shows with twee and indiepop. Mates of State and Elephant Six bands and things like that would play. You learn to like what can get in to see I suppose. I like lots of stuff, I like glam and the Stones, Scott Walker, New Order. But I guess indiepop resounded. It’s kind of like punk for kids who aren’t very punk.

How did you end up deciding on going with a bigger sound for the second record?

It wasn’t a conscious thing to be ‘small’ on the first record. We tried to make it as good as we could under the circumstances we recorded. And we did think it sounded good. We had Archie Moore from Black Tambourine mixing it. We wanted to make it like Sunny Sundae Smile by My Bloody Valentine, the last record they had with the old singer. When people thought it sounded lo-fi, that was surprising. We wanted to make an immediate, pop record, not something gritty or muffled, but I guess I can see that, looking back. On the new record we had more of a pro studio. It was mixed by Alan Moulder who has extensive knowledge in making that type of record [with Smashing Pumpkins, PJ Harvey, Depeche Mode, U2, etc], but it’s not like we were going for bombast. We just wanted to make the songs immediate and fun.

Do you regret not having the circumstances you have now for the first record?

No, I still like the first record, I still think it’s a good record. It’s different sounding, but it’s still us, and I don’t regret it or the experience we had making it. It’s kind of surprising looking back, it was like being on a plane and looking out the window to see the wing attached with duct tape. It’s better now though.

There’s a sincerity to your lyrics that you might not expect from a Brooklyn-based band so steeped in references. Is that intentional?

There’s definitely an element of affectation to that. We tried to get immediate emotional ideas across in the most concise possible way, without cleverness or sophistry. There’s nothing wrong with sincerity. 95% of our lives are spent joking around, but when I’m writing lyrics I try to express meaningful stuff that people can relate to in an immediate way. It’s ironic because I’m quite long-winded in interviews. But anyone can use a lot of words and have that confused with intelligence. There’s value in expressing big ideas in few words.
But lots of the bands you’ve talked about – Beat Happening or Belle & Sebastian say – seem like their lyrics are bound up in a lot of “cleverness and sophistry” as you say.
There’s still funny stuff on our record. Like My Terrible Friend, that works on a lot of levels. There’s nothing wrong with humour, and there’s definitely some falsehood or levity in the songs. Like in that song there’s reference to laying on your bed, your hands feeling heavy, which is basically being heavy. And ‘laying’ obviously is a double meaning. It’s pretty overt, I’m not shy. The first record maybe has more sex jokes and double entendres. Underneath it all I’m still that 15 year old South Park. I need to get my cum jokes in any way I can.

How famous would you be comfortable getting?

Wow. That’s a good question I think. I think I would be happy for everyone to hear the songs. But that’s the songs, not me. I’m not the vehicle, like Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, you don’t experience the songs through me. There are no arena gestures, but I believe in them. I don’t mind if they’re blasted at major sporting events.

Are you aware of any Irish indiepop at all? Girls Names from Belfast just signed to your label Slumberland.

Yeah, they’re labelmates! I’ve been trying to get that record off Mike at the label. It’s just run by one guy but it has some amazing bands like Crystal Stilts and Weekend. I’m excited to hear that. Other than I like the Frank & Walters and I know it’s not indiepop but I love Ash, Girl From Mars is great. Our drummer is very into Microdisney. And that band, the Sultans… “dancing at the disco, bumper to bumper”

Sultans of Ping. Sultans of Ping FC, I think.

Yeah, they’re awesome. And the band with Kevin Shields’ brother. The only time we’ve been to Ireland we were on tour with The Wedding Present before our first record and the woman doing sound was playing that record over the PA and I went up and asked her what it was.

Rollerskate Skinny?

Yeah, Rollerskate Skinny. I have a friend in Brooklyn who’s mostly into real lo-fi pop, but weirdly that Rollerskate Skinny album is his favourite band. That was the last time we were in Ireland. We didn’t get to come with our first record, but our first show of this tour will be in Dublin and we’ve been practising so hopefully it will be good.


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