INTERVIEW: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

written by Chris Familton

Ahead of the release of their new album ‘Belong’ we revisit the interview I did with frontman Kip Berman late 2009…

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are a band that don’t hide from their influences. From the angst ridden moniker to their jangly 80s indie pop songs they appear as a band from another time. This of course is the key to their rising popularity that saw influential tastemaker Pitchfork raising the band’s share price with an 8.4 and Best New Music rating for its debut self-titled album released at the start of 09. In the continuing vein of many of this year’s best albums, they share a glance back to the 80s with other other UK indie acts like Wild Beasts alongside the retro fuzz pop sounds of Vivian Girls and Wavves from the other side of the Atlantic.

Kip Berman is the singer/guitarist/songwriter for the New York based band and though 2009 has been a hectic and life changing year for him he has no complaints. “We get the chance to travel and play music full time, its just the best. Being away from home for so long is tough because you don’t get to see your friends that often but I think its an incredible experience to travel and play music, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he enthuses. “We’ve been touring consistently since February when our record came out and so our upcoming European shows are the last dates for the year. Its been such a fun year and we’re looking forward to getting back over there and then over to Australia and Japan,” Berman announces, letting slip that we will see the band here in February 2010.

The level of attention their album quickly attracted was something that caught the band by surprise as it far outweighed the expectations they initially had. “When we saw how people from similar and diverse backgrounds were responding it was pretty shocking and unbelievable. Even to this day I don’t really believe that we are a band that people want to see but I’m really excited about it – it just feels like an alternate reality and we’re just trying to work hard and make the most of it. It is so mind blowing to open Rolling Stone magazine and see a picture of us. Its so removed from anything we would have expected at all.” says Berman.

One aspect of TPOBPAH’s sound that many people have fixated on is an apparent shoegaze influence but Berman is quick to disagree. “I usually don’t argue with people no matter what they say but from my point of view I think of them as pop songs. There are elements of shoegaze music that we just don’t really use. The are a lot of texturing layering and the songs are more about depth and feel and less about structure. Our music is more like classic pop songs that are three and a half minutes and a verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge and a couple more choruses,” and, he adds, “Our vocals are mixed pretty low so maybe people hear that as a shoegaze influence but they’re not really the bands that have inspired us.”

The main reason the band has attracted so many fans is that pop factor, the heavy use of melody and a heady rush of energy. According to Berman these things weren’t the result of any pre-conceived approach to their sound. “We don’t really think about atmosphere at all. I think its just the accidental outcome of how we play our instruments. Its not like we are trying to get this ‘early 90s guitar sound and mid 80s bass and a Sub Pop/Mudhoney-era overdrive’. We don’t think of those things that way. We just write pop songs that are memorable and sound good to us. I don’t think we are musically professional enough to mimic anything too well,” confesses Berman.

Berman is the main songwriter for the band but he is at pains to point out the importance of the other musicians when it comes to shaping the sound of the songs. “Yeah I write the songs but they would sound pretty shitty if only I played them. I don’t play drums or bass or keyboards, I barely play guitar so everyone contributes their own parts; especially the drums. We started out with a drum machine and that was fun for a little while but I could only program two drum beats on it so after a while I think people would figure out that every song has the same drum beat. It was a big improvement when Kurt joined up on the drums and it made playing live a lot more fun. People don’t like to watch guys playing along to an ipod,” he says.

Prior to a new album in 2010 the band has released the EP Higher Than The Stars which sees them exploring some cleaner and less distorted music on a couple of tracks, something that the EP format lends itself to well according to Berman. “The format of the EP allows the band to explore different sounds and ideas. I feel really strongly about albums that have an internal cohesion and consistency and that create a feel and that stick within their world and don’t have too many wacky left field tracks.”

Higher Than The Stars is a suitably dreamy title for the band but things cold have gone awry if friends had let Berman get away with the track’s original name. “I originally wrote Higher Than The Stars before the album came out but after we recorded it I was pretty scared that the album was going to not be successful so initially I started writing all these new songs. Originally it was going to be called Shit Faced but my friends to me that having a song called Shit Faced probably wasn’t the best idea. ‘Listen to our new single its called Shit Faced’. I don’t think that would have gone over too well,” Berman laughs.

After the band has visited Australia they intend to start work on the new album and after playing their current set for a year Berman is itching to start constructing the already written songs in the studio. “They’ve just been burning a hole in my ipod. I won’t let anyone learn the new songs until we’re done with the touring so we can really focus on them. I want to make sure our live shows are still focused on the album and the EP. Most people are hearing us for the first time and we don’t want to play songs they don’t know and might not like. We need to wait until we have a chance to do it the right way.”

For a band seemingly caught out by the sudden level of interest in them they give the impression of having a firm handle on where their music is heading. Still exploring the art of songwriting they intend to remain true to their name by focusing on the purity of their music and writing from the heart.

The new album Belong is out via Slumberland Records on the 29th March.

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