Interview: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (w/ Kip, Peggy, Alex)


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MP3: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Young Adult Friction

If you haven’t heard, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have released one of the hottest debut albums of the new year, propelled by waves of reverb, ecstatic drumming and harmonized boy-girl vocals.  It’s even been named one of our own Recommended Albums.

They play the Talking Head Club on May 5, and Kip, Peggy and Alex from the band were nice enough to do a quick interview with us in anticipation of the show.  Thanks to the band for taking the time to talk to us and provide some insightful commentary on their music and the music scene in general.  Tickets are $8, $10 day of show.  Hope to see you there.

Aural States: How did the band start? How did you guys meet and decide to start playing together?

Kip Berman: We were all super good friends long before the band started. Alex and I had basically the same growing up experience of being into punk and hardcore, but, not being like the real punks who didn’t tip at the diner, we’d hang out at ’til 3 am drinking coffee and sometimes milkshakes while discussing anarchy.

Peggy I met through an internet friend at Cake Shop (venue, bar, spiritual pop center), and was pretty sure she was too cool to hang out with me. But then it turns out she must have not realized she was too cool to hang out with me and we became bff.

We originally started playing together because we wanted to throw Peggy an awesome birthday party at this huge warehouse space in Brooklyn, and these bands we were really into were gonna play it (Manhattan Love Suicides, Titus Andronicus, etc…) We thought if we learned some songs, we could sneak onto the bill, as we were throwing the party. We played 5 songs in about 10 minutes– three of which we still play today (“Contender,” “This Love is Fucking Right” and “Doing all the Things That Wouldn’t Make Your Parents Proud”). I think the titles were longer than the songs…

We originally had drums on an iPod, but when Kurt (my roommate) joined, we went with the real drums. It’s definitely made a huge difference, as I was really bad at programming drum beats…

Peggy Wang: When I met Kip, I was like, I might be too cool for him, but he likes the Manhattan Love Suicides so maybe I’ll give him a chance? No, I’m kidding. But yeah, I am so lucky to have three bandmates that like so much of the same music I do. I would have been lucky in high school just to know three people to trade mixtapes with. That’s enough of a jumping-off point to be friends, but then they are awesome people as well.

Alex Naidus: Kip and I met after working in an adjoining cubicle and bonded after blasting music for each other over the walls (The Exploding Hearts, Titus Andronicus, Melody Club, Oasis b-sides, the list goes on). The band started as a total fun project with friends, so it’s been especially rewarding and weird and cool to be able to keep doing it with some degree of success.

AS: The record was recorded in Broooklyn and mixed in Baltimore, which seem to be two places a lot of cool music happens these days. I don’t know if you’ve spent any considerable amount of time here, but what do you guys think of our town? Would you ever consider moving here?

KB:  We were really excited to mix the record in Baltimore with Archie Moore (Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine) who basically helped us out of the goodness of his heart. He really understood the sorts of bands we loved because he was in most of them. We didn’t really get to hang out all that much there outside of the studio (we were there only for the weekend), but I know there are some absolutely phenomenal bands from Baltimore and the art scene there is really incredible. It’s definitely a place I’d love to hang out in more.

AN: I actually lived in DC, pretty close to Maryland for about a year after college. It was a fun time and I look back on it fondly (I think I saw Ted Leo at the Black Cat three times), but ultimately I can’t imagine living anywhere but New York right now. It’s a cliché at this point, but there’s such an energy here – just an incredible amount to see and do and learn.

PW: Yeah, we didn’t get to spend much time in Baltimore. Honestly, I don’t know if I would ever consider moving out of NYC, unless it was to move to New Jersey and live in a big house with all my friends and have a yard and dogs and stuff. I really love that band the Videohippoes from Baltimore. And there was a sushi restaurant we ate at that was so good and cheap!

tpobpah-2AS: Do you guys have day jobs? What would you be doing if making music didn’t pay?

KB: I lost my day job in November, but it’s ok. Playing music is way more fun and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to do it– otherwise I don’t know what else I’d do. Maybe I could be an old ponytailed A&R guy at a record label some day and tell hot young bands “you’re gonna be staahhhhs.”

PW:  I’m the editor for a site called BuzzFeed (http://www.buzzfeed.com). It’s an awesome job that I’m really lucky to have. Basically, I read blogs all day and watch funny videos on YouTube and post about things that I genuinely like. It is kind of insane that I get to do two really creative things (write and play music) and get paid for it.

AN: I work in the Editorial department at eMusic, which is hands-down the best job I’ve ever had. It’s a tough balance with increased touring for Pains, but they have been so so amazing about it. Basically I listen to, think about, write about and am surrounded by music all day every day. Kind of ideal!

AS: It seems like every week there’s a hot new band that emerges from the pack largely thanks to the Internet, so congratulations. Was your overnight success a surprise? Is that success something you embrace or is it something to be wary of?

KB:  It wasn’t overnight, to be honest. We’ve been a band for two years. In 2007, we drove to Chapel Hill to play a show to less than 10 people only to get in the car right afterwards and drive to Tallahassee to play at a sandwich shop for about 5 people.

I remember getting to D.C. and there were literally three people there to see us. That stuff was super super fun, and I’m glad we had those times together– we ate a lot of Dairy Queen on that trip, which was awesome, as there are no Dairy Queens in New York.

But I think every band has to pay it’s dues– and it definitely makes us incredibly appreciative and grateful for the opportunities we’ve gotten.

AN:  Yeah the last couple of months have been a bit of a whirlwind, but we’ve had our share of “nobody cares” moments. The success, however it’s defined, is definitely something I embrace. Just on a basic level, it’s exciting to see people respond super positively to what you’re doing. It sounds obvious, but it’s a nice gut feeling. Makes it all even more fun than it already was.

PW: I do think that the point when people started paying attention…that did happen pretty fast, even though we had been doing this band for awhile. A lot changed when our album finally came out. There’s the whole hype-backlash indie band life cycle that seems to be going on, and there might be some point when the kind of music we play falls to a similar fate of nu-rave. But we are playing the exact kind of music that I’ve always loved. There’s something to be said about making music for yourself, and of course it’s gratifying that people actually care! But we made the exact album that I would have listened to over and over again in high school, and that self-satisfaction is the most important thing.

AS: At Aural States we give away a lot of music, most of which has been given to us for free. Where do you guys stand on the fact that you can find a pretty sizable collection of tracks from almost any current band online?

KB:  I think it’s great! We are 100 percent cool with people posting our tracks. So many people at our merch table are like “I totally downloaded your stuff, but now I want to buy the vinyl”. Plus, i download a lot of songs so it’s only fair, right?

AN: It’s a whole new landscape now – it certainly isn’t gonna go backwards. I can’t tell you how much of my absolute favorite music I would not have been exposed to without the Internet. I think it’s just a matter of supporting bands/artists you like in different ways now. Kind of like an LP and a show ticket rather than $18.99 for a CD from Sam Goody – that kinda thing.

PW: I guess bands just have to find other ways to make money. I think the whole notion of “selling out” is over.

There is the elitist music snob in me that likes keeping the music I like obscure, but honestly, that attitude just isn’t fair to the bands. There are still really underrated bands out there, but I think the Internet helps to make those bands more easily discoverable. Also, there are definitely blogs where I get lots of obscure 80s stuff, because I want to hear it, and I would probably never find it anywhere else.

tpobpah3AS: I feel like I’m supposed to ask about influences because everybody keeps talking about them. Is it bothersome that you’re so consistently compared to the same group of bands or do you see that as more of a compliment?

KB:  Honestly, it’s an honor that people mention us in the same breath as so many bands we genuinely love. But we grew up listening to Nirvana and Sonic Youth and a lot of American indie-pop (K Records, Slumberland, Elephant 6, Magic Marker etc.) as well as punk and hardcore. We’re flattered that we get compared to the bands we do, but I hope people realize the stuff we’re into is way more diverse. I mean, no one has compared us to Ladyhawke yet, but it would be cool if someday they did.

AN:  It’s not bothersome, it’s totally inevitable and understandable, honestly. Some comparisons seem more apt than others, but it’s usually just interesting to see. My personal take has always been about focusing on the songs more than what-feedback-sound-they-stole-from-where.

PW:  People have the right to their opinion, and there are worse things than getting passed off as just a My Bloody Valentine or Smiths rip-off band. I mean, we could be getting compared to really BAD bands, or being criticized for wearing frumpy sweaters or something. When I was in high school, I was really obsessed with early Magnetic Fields – like, Wayward Bus, Get Lost, Holiday stuff. That thick, lo-fi, sorta gothic synth pop sound. But after I listened to those few albums over and over and over again, I wanted more! So later on discovered newer bands that had a similar sound, and I really love those bands too. I think if the songs are good, and the aesthetic is there, then it’s cool. Can’t get enough.

AS: Outside of that group of late 80s artists, who I assume you are all fond of, what do you enjoy listening to?

KB:  I’m really excited about a lot of new bands right now. There’s a band from San Francisco called Girls, who I think are phenomenal. The songs are so direct and affecting– really beautiful music and sung so sincerely. I really really love them, and even though they only have a 7″ out, I think they’re currently my favorite new band.

I’m also really into the local Brooklyn bands that we’re fortunate enough to see all the time– Crystal Stilts, caUSE co-MOTION and Vivian Girls are all super super good, and put on tremendous live shows.

The other band i think is really special and has the potential for true greatness is Zaza. Kurt from Pains sometimes plays drums with them (full disclosure), but their music has a very engrossing and narcotic feel to it– it’s dark and serious, but not soulless or cold. It’s very cool and I expect more good things from them in the near future.

AN:  I have to echo Kip’s love of Girls. I’m pretty obsessed with their music right now – I hope their record is huge and teenagers start tattooing Girls lyrics to their faces and stuff. It’s that life-affirming. I’m kind of all over the map in terms of listening habits. I spent most of last night listening to rap mixtapes – my obsessions usually change several times even in one day. Recently, besides Girls, it’s been a lot of OMD, the Benoit Pioulard album from last year, the Lemonheads and Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip’s solo album.

PW:  I really like jock jams. I just started a new jock jams cover band, called My So-Called Band. We’re doing a cover of “What is Love” by Haddaway which is seriously one of my favorite songs of all time. I get really nostalgic for stuff I loved in the 90s like Bratmobile, the Sundays, the Lemonheads. I also like listening to this oldies station I found on the Internet. They play girl group stuff, and old bubblegum 60s pop.

tpobpah4AS:  I see this kind of dissonance in your music, like at first glance, there’s a lot of jokiness, from the band name to songs like “Young Adult Friciton”, but the record takes a bit of a serious turn towards the end, so that depending on your perspective, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart could be entirely heartfelt or largely ironic. Do you care to weigh in on that or do you think it’s better to let the listener decide?

KB:  It is entirely heartfelt and entirely sincere.

PW:  Yeah, there’s no irony there, but as a band, we have a lot of inside jokes. I think there is some inspiration in that.

AS:  About gear: obviously your sound involves a lot of effects and I’m always curious as to how bands get associated with specific ones-is that a sound you set out to craft or is it more accidental- like one day the reverb is on and you think “hey i kind of like this.” Any favorite pedals or machines?

KB:  We actually don’t use that many effects. I have a fuzz pedal and a distortion pedal and a reverb pedal. That’s sort of it… oh and a tuner– that’s probably the most important one.

AN:  I don’t even have a tuner, I borrow Kip’s, haha.

PW:  Yeah, everything I do is probably the direct result of an accident. I don’t sit around twiddling keyboard knobs until I find exactly the right sound or anything. But maybe I should? Maybe it’s a logical progression for me as a musician.

AS:  Obviously the first record is only a few weeks old, but have you guys thought in general about what you plan to do next? Any directions you want to explore in the future?

KB:  Well, we’re going to do a 7″ in March with “Young Adult Friction” b/w “Ramona.” And over the summer, we’re going to put out another 7″ for (I think) the song “103″ b/w “Falling Over.”

PW:  Ohhh, I think Kip mentioned something about me playing guitar on a couple of songs (right, Kip???). I’m pretty psyched for that.

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