TAS Interview: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
Brooklyn's melodic, crafty shoegazers, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, kick off a short summer tour with Surfer Blood and Hooray for Earth tomorrow, June 3 in Milford, Connecticut. The quartet - guitarist/vocalist Kip Berman, keyboardist/vocalist Peggy Wang, bassis Alex Naidus and drummer Kurt Feldman (who moonlights as frontman of his own band, The Depreciation Guild) - will head into a studio at tour's end to record their sophomore album, the followup to their 2009 eponymous debut. That record not only earned them critical accolades, swoons and sighs, but a devoted, global army of fans.
Back in April, they released an effervescent new single, "Say No To Love," on Slumberland Records, the adventurous 21-year old indie label that Berman and his POBPAH compadres deeply admired long before they were signed by owner Mike Schulman. Berman calls Slumberland bands - like Stereolab, Velocity Girl and Black Tambourine - "more intense emotionally and visceral."
The Alternate Side caught up with Kip, Peggy and Alex in Austin during SXSW (Kurt was off with The Depreciation Guild). Over Bloody Marys and omelets on the front porch of The Driskill Hotel, the three friends discussed their plans for the new album, the wonders of Japanese bagels, the invaluable support of Schulman in their lives and why the quartet's close, affectionate bond has made their rock 'n' roll adventure a true labor of love:
TAS: I imagine that everyone has been asking you about the status of your second album - any details to offer?
Kip Berman: It's actually really exciting for us because it's almost like starting the whole process over in a strange sense. Now that we've toured behind our first record and the EP pretty extensively it's a lot of fun to have people ask what's next. And have the opportunity to play new songs for people It's something we've been looking forward to doing and have had to kind of hold back on. If you're going somewhere for the first time, people want to hear the songs on the [first] album.
Alex Naidus: They don't know that we've played them hundreds of times.
Kip: We've been writing pretty consistently this winter and learning new material. We recorded a single [that came out] on Slumberland Records, our beloved label. It's called "Say No To Love." We've been playing that song live. This summer, after a little more touring with Surfer Blood we're going to be going into the studio to work on our next record. Something I've been looking forward to for a really long time. We're excited about the songs and I feel it's our job to focus on making the songs as good as we can make them.
TAS: What are some of the new songs you're excited about?
Kip: Well, the ones that we're playing is a song called "The Heart in Your Heartbreak" and "Heaven's Gonna Happen Now." We have more, but we don't want to annoy people by playing a lot of songs they haven't heard. In a strange way, it's not fun to see a band if you're hearing songs that you're not familiar with. So we're just trying to parse it out in a good way.
TAS: Slumberland Records was a label you've long loved. The fact that you landed on it was a wonderful coincidence.
Alex: A dream come true.
TAS: What is it about that label's aesthetic that attracts you?
Peggy Wang: A lot of the bands had great pop songs with great hooks and they could be lighthearted, but also dark. I feel that bands like 14 Iced Bears or Black Tambourine have songs that aren't just catchy, but resonate with me emotionally.
Kip: I think there's a misunderstanding with a lot of indie pop that it's somehow light and all about picnics and bicycle rides. There is a lot of that, but Slumberland bands are more intense emotionally and visceral. [The bands] would sing about sex, not just holding hands. There's also a sonic element of a lot of dissonance as well. It's not just clean, perfectionist pop. There's lot of noise and experimentation. Stereolab put out singles, a lot of that Rocketship album [A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness] isn't jangly guitars; it's washes of noise. Black Tambourine was a noisy band. Aesthetically there was a lot to love about the label. The contemporary bands on it, bands like Crystal Stilts or Cause Commotion, were bands that we admired in Brooklyn. Even beyond the tradition of the music - when you meet Mike Schulman, who runs the label, you wish he were your Dad. Not to disrespect your own Dad! He's extremely passionate about the music, but so responsible and supportive. He's someone you can turn to and ask questions.
Peggy: [Mike] doesn't just put out pop bands either; he has interesting tastes. It's cool to talk to him about music. We were big admirers of the label before we even met him and the fact that he was so nice was heartening.
TAS: Well, it's always a little daunting as a band starting out to find the right label. I'm sure you've observed the carcasses of other bands that fell apart after bad label experiences. When you were first searching for a label, what were your concerns?
Alex: We got to meet Mike before anything really happened. We put out a single on Slumberland before he even asked us to put out the album. It was such a no-brainer.
Peggy: We started out small and it was a really gradual thing for us. After the album came out, things got exponentially crazier. But until then, it wasn't like we had to choose between million dollar deals!
Alex: No, we weren't thinking about our legacy. We were a band that wanted to put out an album.
Kip: It wasn't just Mike [who helped us], but everyone. We've worked with good people who've recommended us to other good people. Everyone who we've been involved with has been a genuine music fan who is kind, friendly and wants to help us. It's not like we needed to get Coldplay's booking agent so we could be Coldplay. That's not the motivating factor for us. I think it's really clichéd when small bands try to be like big bands. Our aspirations have never been driven in that way; we've never tried to get more recognition. Like our label in London, Fortuna Pop. It's run by a guy named Sean Price who we stay with when we're on tour in London. He puts us up, makes us breakfast in the morning and treats us wonderfully. We've been so lucky to work with people who care about the right things and let's us be whatever it is who we are.
TAS: You toured in Japan earlier this year. What was that experience like? Surprising? Challenging?
Peggy: Amazing! People brought us gifts! The first night we played Tower Records, this girl had done this really beautiful watercolor painting of just me and Kurt (laughs). It looks like someone commissioned a wedding portrait of us. That was really funny.
Kip: In Fukuoka there was actually a bagel shop and someone brought us a bag of bagels and cream cheese! All of these delicious and weird flavors! Like hazelnut bagels.
Peggy: And bacon walnut.
Kip: The bakery was called Sally Cinnamon (all laugh). The idea of having bagels in Japan is so rare and the fact that someone brought them to our shows was so sweet, generous and unreal. And we ate them.
Peggy: There was a girl who came to all of our shows and she'd seen us in Wales of all places. It was so endearing. She brought us these beautiful Swiss chocolates that were shaped like snails. Everything was amazing. It was also vacation because we did so much sightseeing. We never have time to do anything when we're on tour, but it felt like a weird band field trip. A cultural experience. We got to to temples and islands. It was really cool.
Kip: Also, the act of going to Japan itself is affirmation when you tell your mom or your friends, 'we're going to Japan.' There's a lot of jealousy-inducing things that we get to do, but going to Japan was probably the pinnacle of that. When we were playing Peggy's birthday party three years ago [we never imagined] that we'd be going to Japan and playing our songs.
Peggy: If we were one of those bands that was only big in Japan, I'd be content.
TAS: Kip, you and Kurt [Feldman] live together. Who is the cleaner roommate?
Kip: Kurt. It's not even close. In fact we have another roommate who is really clean too. I'm such a slob and Kurt is exceptionally neat and organized. He wins the award. I'm the slovenly sportswriter; in fact, I like sports too. He's not into sports. I'm like, "oh, I'm going to watch the Packers game at Alex's house." I like beer too. I think "The Odd Couple" would be a parallel to our life.
TAS: So if we opened your refrigerator, what would we find in there?
Peggy: Their refrigerator is really sparse. Like a bottle of vodka and mustard. I always have a lot of stuff in my fridge. Right now I'm really into eating eggs.
Alex: My refrigerator is stocked full because I have roommates who like to cook. But if I lived by myself, my refrigerator would be leftovers and condiments.
Kip: I always feel that when I'm old, I'm gonna look like Walter Matthau, who played "Oscar" in the "The Odd Couple." Really jowly and slovenly.
TAS: Kurt, who also fronts his own band, The Depreciation Guild, is a big Scritti Politti fan, isn't he?
Kip: He opens me up to a lot of music I wouldn't normally listen to. The more I hear him playing Scritti Politti around the apartment, the more I get into it. At first, you wonder about the glossy, 80s production, but then you realize it's awesome. He's helped me navigate that bridge into fully welcoming Scritti Politti into my life (laughs).
Peggy: I love how Kurt either really hates or really loves something. I really admire that strong aesthetic sense. Kurt has it.
TAS: Kurt has Scritti Politti; what are other bands that you love and actively try to convince others to discover?
Kip: I like Suede, but I know Alex will never agree. I don't even bother forcing them on other people. This band called Close Lobsters, we're all into them.
Peggy: They're so underrated and amazing.
Kip: They're from Scotland. Everything good is from Scotland.
Peggy: We also love Teenage Fanclub.
TAS: As a band and as friends, you've spend so much time together. How do you maintain balance and not drive each other crazy, especially while touring?
Alex: It comes naturally. We hang out in in New York, we're around each other on the road. You might put your headphones on and go into your own world for a while, but no one is like, "okay, I'm taking some me time now! Give me a half an hour hour, do not look at me." (all laugh).
Kip: We formed a band because we enjoy spending time together. In a strange way, I think we're all compatible. We're different people, but I think that us, being together, is not an unnatural grouping. I think a lot of bands [look for] someone who is a good guitarist or drummer, but we just found people who are good at hanging out! It might be arguable whether we've gotten good at guitar since then, but I think the band helped us. We genuinely enjoy the gigs we do together.
TAS: Do you feel the next album reflects a shift in any way, reflecting music you've been listening to or your greater confidence as musicians?
Alex: A lot of bass solos this time around! I've been practicing. Shift to a six-string bass. I don't think you're ready for it, honestly! (all laugh). We've never really recorded in a studio before. We did a single in a studio, but we've always just recorded with friends in basements. So hopefully we'll get a chance to see what that can do.
Kip: It's such a long time between now and when the album will be done that it seems premature to talk about how it will sound when we don't genuinely know. At the end of the day it's hard to predict what comes out of the process of recording an album together. We've always been served by not having notions that are too formulaic, like "this is going to be late '70s" or a jazz-fusion record. We don't try to force an unnatural storyline onto our music. So I think being natural, open to new experiences and just coming together to write songs is what defined us in the past and will hopefully continue to define our music moving forward.
POBPAH, Surfer Blood and Hooray For Earth Tour
June 3 Milford, CT – Daniel Street
June 4 Rochester, NY – The German House
June 5 Buffalo, NY – The Tralf
June 6 Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom
June 8 Memphis, TN – Hi Tone Café
June 9 Birmingham, AL – Bottletree Café
June 10 Tallahassee, FL – The Engine Room
June 11 Orlando, FL – Club at Firestone
June 12 Miami, FL – Grand Central – Poplife 11th
June 13 Jacksonville, FL – Jack Rabbits
June 15 Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
June 16 Washington D.C. – Black Cat