By Nolan Siegler
Now a flagship Slumberland Records band, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart have progressed from a humble New York-based quartet to one of the most celebrated indie pop acts in recent history. This is in no small part due to accolades they’ve received from prominent music blogs, praising their songwriting and their reintroduction of jangly guitar music to a younger generation.
Although frontman Kip Berman is grateful for the praise his band has received, he remains grounded in reality and continues to idolize his musical influences. In fact, Berman has made a point to be an open source of musical knowledge, hoping a younger generation will discover the bands that eventually led to the formation of the Pains. As to how these influences will be incorporated into upcoming material remains to be seen, but as a musician with a strong artistic identity, Berman predicted that he won’t stray too far from his musical passions in our recent conversation.
Spartan Chronicle: What have the Pains of Being Pure at Heart been up to recently?
Kip Berman: We’re on tour right now in Asia and we’re pretty psyched. We’re traveling to so many new places: China, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines and Thailand. It’s amazing that the internet has allowed people to hear our music in such remote parts of the world. On a personal level, I feel so grateful that I’m able to go to these places that I’d otherwise never get to see.
Spartan Chronicle: Have you been writing any new material?
KB: I’ve recorded a lot of demos on my own. I write all the songs, but I think they always benefit from others contributing their ideas and perspectives. I think our new record will be a bit more collaborative with Peggy and Connor in terms of hanging out and developing different ideas. It’s still early, so it’s impossible for me to say if that’s the way our next record will be developed.
Spartan Chronicle: Do you think your songwriting has changed since your last record?
KB: The last term I ever want to hear about an artist is that they’re “maturing,” or any other words that try to validate their desire to write songs that are more complex. I think the best songs are immediate and vivid. Artists can write a great song on their first album or fourth, with two chords or seven, but trying to tell people how they’ve “grown as a songwriter” is simply obscuring an easy question of whether a song is good or not. I prefer to stay focused on what’s really important to me – writing pop songs. I just hope people think they’re good.
Spartan Chronicle: You worked with Alan Moulder and Flood for Belong. What was it like working with such big names in the industry?
KB: At first it was intimidating. We could have easily gone into a Wayne’s World “We’re Not Worthy” mode for four weeks, but we realized that every band they worked with was some obscure band at some point. We also had to recognize that Alan and Flood weren’t always “famous producers,” but worked their way up from being studio interns to the positions they’re at today. Rather than simply moan about not being good enough, we thought it was important to try to make something that IS good enough.
Spartan Chronicle: Will you work with Alan or Flood again for your next record?
KB: We were exceptionally grateful and lucky to work with Alan and Flood and learned so much from our time together. Both those guys are genuinely brilliant and have made some of the best records ever. It was such an honor to have them work on ours. That being said, everything we do should feel fresh, and there’s no need to make the same album twice. We didn’t want to make our first album twice, and I don’t want to make our second album again. I’d like to make something that expresses who we are as a band in a new way, just as our second album departed from what people were expecting.
Spartan Chronicle: There’s been recent trend of artists releasing self-produced albums, claiming that producers and traditional recording methods are becoming irrelevant. What do you think of these claims?
KB: Yeah, it’s pretty easy to make a mediocre sounding record these days. There are very few people who make awesome sounding records entirely on their own. I think Jorge from Violens and Lansing Dreiden is an example of someone who self-produces and makes it sound like anything recorded in a traditional way. But truthfully, all the gear and technology in the world can’t replicate good taste and an external perspective. I think the most important thing about a producer is that they aren’t in our band and can see our music with fresh eyes, ears, whatever. They can transcend the politics of a band, reduce egos and can help make a record that becomes entirely ours.
Spartan Chronicle: Would you ever self-produce again?
KB: To be fair, the reason our first record sounds listenable is because it wasn’t really self-produced. Actually, my friends Derek Mabra and Eric Shepherd recorded us in their home studio called Honeyland and certainly gave us some good advice along the way (as well as “smoking” a few tracks). Plus, the album would have sounded pretty mediocre had it not been for the mixing and final production touches by Archie Moore from Black Tambourine and Velocity Girl. So no matter what has been said about our first two records, they actually have more in common than some would think. Obviously people are going to be more familiar with Alan Moulder and Flood. They are both incredibly talented and have beautiful artistic visions of music. I just want to be fair to the talented people who aren’t as recognized, but were essential to us when we were starting out.
Spartan Chronicle: Any chances of a tour or collaboration with the recently reunited Black Tambourine?
KB: Obviously if they asked us, we’d be into it, but we had the privilege of making and releasing a record with Archie Moore and Mike Schulman of the band. That experience was awesome enough, and I don’t think playing a show together could really top it. I’d rather just go and have a few beers at their upcoming Chickfactor shows. I’m also super excited that the Aislers Set is reforming and performing at those shows as well. They were probably the best band signed to Slumberland Records.
Spartan Chronicle: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have never been shy to reveal their influences. Why do you think it’s important to share your favorite music?
KB: It seems pretty obvious to me that we should give respect to those that came before us. There are lots of bands, both famous and unheralded, that inspired me to make music. Who are these bands that don’t have influences? Who are these trailblazing original inventors of sound that aren’t inspired by the world around them, or the musicians that they looked up to when they were young? If I said we had no influences, I’d be wrong and a jerk. I hope people discover that there’s great music out there – better music than ours that’s been wrongly overlooked for decades. I’d like to know that people can learn about bands like the Close Lobsters, Felt, the Pastels, My Favorite and so much many others through us.
Spartan Chronicle: I recently heard that the Close Lobsters just reunited.
KB: Yeah, I’m psyched for the reunion. I saw a review of our first EP in The Big Takeover by Neil Agenta and he compared us to the Close Lobsters. I thought their name was funny and was curious about the band. Then I was talking to Kurt before he became our drummer, and he said we reminded him of the Close Lobsters. By then I was like, “I HAVE to listen to this Close Lobsters band!” So I eventually checked them out and was really blown away by how great they sounded. I then took those previous comparisons as huge compliments. Anyways, I’d love to see one of their reunion shows if they ever come to America.
Spartan Chronicle: How much of an impact do you think your band has made for the renewed interest in artists like Black Tambourine and the Close Lobsters?
KB: I think people were going to rediscover Black Tambourine and Slumberland Records even if we never made music. They were a great band and the label put out some of the most essential American indie pop records. It was just a matter of time before people to realized that Rocketship, the Aislers Set and Black Tambourine are pretty essential to any music lover’s record shelves (in my opinion). I hope we’ve inspired younger people to delve into Slumberland’s history, but the label was already going pretty strong with releases from Crystal Stilts and Cause Co-Motion! before our records were released.
Spartan Chronicle: Since you’ve been a pretty outspoken advocate for loud guitar music, are there any other types of music that you enjoy listening to?
KB: I really love glam rock. If I had a choice, I’d like to be a glam rock star, but I don’t have a choice. For whatever reason, I’m not as cool as Marc Bolan, so I’m sort of stuck being me. Other than that, I just like pop songs. There’s something about playing them loud that just makes them better. I like the balance between emotional music that’s also sonically aggressive. Not like emocore boys screaming about their feelings, but more like soft vocals over loud music.
Spartan Chronicle: Have your shows gotten louder?
KB: I think we suck less live now than we did in 2009. I actually think we were pretty embarrassing, but at least we were honest. We’re not a machine; we’re a rock band that’s made up of human beings. If you want to see sonic perfection or huge production numbers and stage props, go see a Broadway musical. There’s always something flawed about us and I can’t change that. I would love to be Prince, but I’ll never be Prince. I’ll always be Kip, for better or for worse.
Spartan Chronicle: What’s your overall opinion of the music press?
KB: I know it’s not cool to act like you care, but it’s nice when someone says that what we do is worthwhile. I typically discover my favorite music through friends and the Internet, but I certainly read reviews and blogs that articulate an opinion about the music they post. One of my favorite websites is called Skatterbrain. Matt, the guy who runs it, seems to have great taste in indie pop. He posts a monthly playlist of old stuff new song. It’s usually really good.
Spartan Chronicle: As you’re wrapping up your current tour, do you find yourself exhausted after playing so many shows?
KB: I love every inch of the life of being in a band. There’s no aspect that I would change no matter how difficult it can be sometimes. Maybe not everyone on earth wants to do be in a band, but this is all I can do and I feel incredibly grateful that for the chance to play shows and make records. Waiting in a cold airport at 4:30 a.m. to go from Manila to Jakarta is way cooler than when I was working at a call center at 4:30 a.m.
Spartan Chronicle: What’s next for the Pains of Being Pure at Heart?
KB: Well, we’re going to go home, take a deep breath, do some laundry and finally start working on the new songs I’ve been writing.