- Posted on Mar 7th 2011 12:15PM by Emily Tan
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart kicked off 2011 touring Europe and will take their new material to the US in March, playing Denton, TX, before heading to Austin for SXSW. Spinner recently caught up with guitarist Kip Berman to talk about their upcoming record, why the band owes Flood a drink and the reason they don't fit into the New York indie-music mold.
Your new album, 'Belong, comes out soon. How is this record different from your last album?
It's not actually that different. We like noisy pop songs about feelings, and this time we just tried to make them noisier, poppier and, were it a word, "feelingser." We wanted things to feel really immediate, really visceral and have that sensation of "yes" when you hear it, even if you don't know why. My earliest favorite "alternative" records growing up had this huge sense of feeling so alive and so "now" to them -- Nirvana's 'Nevermind,' Weezer's 'Blue Album' and 'Pinkerton,' Smashing Pumpkins' 'Siamese Dream' and Sonic Youth's 'Goo' and 'Dirty.'
Later on, we discovered more underground bands, both indie pop and indie rock from the US and Scotland, England and elsewhere, but we wanted to be as honest with our identity as possible. We're suburban American kids who spent a lot of time in the basement trying to figure out 'Say It Ain't So' and still never nailing the guitar solo.
Who were some of the major influences for 'Belong?'
We wanted it to sound American, because we're American. We didn't use much reverb or gauzy effects in order to get a heavier, more visceral, immediate sound -- something absolute. We really had this sense of wanting to make the record intuitive, instinctual and in the spirit of the music we heard growing up that made us want to play music in the first place.
What's the story behind the song, 'Belong?'
It's about trying to find your place. We moved away from that very narrative-based, written-from-memory, moral-of-the-story reflective indie-pop songwriting and tried to capture something that is immediate, emotional and can be understood without clear explanation. Sometimes that means different things each time I hear it or think about it -- and certainly different things to different people. The true meaning of things is when people hear it, the meaning they see in it -- not really what the intention of the person writing it was. I'd hate to have Thom Yorke show up at my house and explain to me what each track on 'The Bends' was really about.
How was working with Alan Moulder and Flood? Did they give you an key advice about music or the industry?
Amazing and really life-affirming. What was heartening is that they were into us just being Pains. We're not stadium rockers or next year's Super Bowl halftime show -- that's pretty obvious -- but they were excited about all the ways in which we were imperfect and not this "arena-ready" sort of generic rock band. Also there was no pressure -- it's not like we had some big A&R guy at a major label calling them up to make the single "pop" or something. I think it was fun for them to get to work with a smaller band that just wanted to make the best record they could, not conquer the charts.
Even though we take our music super seriously, the recording was goofy and fun. It was playful in ways that you don't expect Flood, the guy that sat in the room when 'Downward Spiral' or 'Joshua Tree' or 'Violator,' to be. He let us play his Grammy as the intro to 'Too Tough' and mess around with Bono's megaphone. He brought Alex cupcakes on his birthday. We watched the "NIN Shreds" video for 'March of the Pigs.' He wanted to come to Dallas BBQ with us, but sadly it kept closing before we got finished. Still, I think next time in New York we owe him a Texas-size Firecracker -- extra shot!
When did you realize that music was your life?
It's always been my life. I never thought it could be my life, but I always wanted it to be, however unrealistic that seemed and still seems.
What's your first music-related memory?
My mom took me to see 'Purple Rain' in the theater. I still tear up at the end, but I think I actually slept through it the first time. My mom also sang me a lot of medieval ballads about women dying of broken hearts. I was pretty sure you could actually die from a broken heart. I'm still rather convinced of it, as a matter of fact.
How did your childhood shape you musically?
I'm pretty normal. I'm like my mom. She likes Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and Keith Richards. I like them, too. Sometimes I read about bands who are child prodigies or had bizarre upbringings, and that's pretty far removed from my life. Some stuff like that, like Tori Amos, John Cale, PJ Harvey and Girls, are some of my favorite bands, real geniuses. But other times, this emphasis on alienating childhood experiences that propel a person to the life of "an artist" read as a bit, um, to each their own. I played a bunch of video games, watched 'Beavis and Butthead' and listened to Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Weezer. I had three good friends, we'd hang out a lot and talk about bands and anarchy.
Oh, and my stepdad really liked Tom Petty, and to this day, so do I. Flood even thought 'Too Tough,' his personal favorite, had a touch of Tom Petty. It doesn't really sound that way to me, but I'm not going to argue about it with Flood. Tom Petty is always a flattering comparison.
New York is always a hotbed for music. How has the place helped you become the musicians you are today?
It's funny, because we're mostly just average suburban kids, not cool New York types. We definitely don't represent some hip sound of New York/Brooklyn or anything. That being said, I love living here so much, as I can see so many great bands all the time. There are lots of good venues in New York and Brooklyn that are easy to get to and always have good shows. There are tons of local bands starting and playing all the time that are doing stuff that I really like. I can't imagine myself living anywhere else. I love it.
What is your definition of success?
Existence. Simply getting to play the music we love is all that really matters.
If you weren't in Pains of Being Pure at Heart or in music, what do you think you'd be doing?
I'd be sad, really sad. Even if I wasn't in Pains, I'd want to do something with music, it's always been the thing I've cared most about.
Catch Pains of Being Pure at Heart's SXSW Set on Friday, March 18 at Billboard Bungalow @ Buffalo Billiards (201 E 6th St.) 12:05AM.
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