Q&A: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Post-punk got a second chance, so did garage rock. Even disco has had a bit of come back lately. But when the indie-pop music of the early '90s–naive but noisy sounding bands that populated labels like Slumberland, K, and Sarah–finally died out, it seemed like somebody pinned a "do not resuscitate" order on it. It was dead. Deader than IDM, even.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have made a pretty good argument for twee resurrection, though. The Brooklyn band's chiming chords, swooning melodies, and blasts of guitar feedback place a defibrillator on indie-pop's chest. Singer/guitarist Kip Berman spoke with Washington City Paper about the band, getting signed to Slumberland, and why it isn't as hard as you might think to play kinda wimpy music in New York City.
The band performs tonight at Black Cat with The Depreciation Guild and The Sugarplums.
Washington City Paper: Did you ever find a new job? (Kip was laid off from his job at Drill Team shortly after this Stereogum interview ran)
Berman: It’s embarrassing, I did that interview and then I lost my job right after that. I don't have an actual job right now. With all these dates coming up I wanted to wait before …you know, it’s hard to tell your new boss that you have to go away on tour the first week you start a job.
WCP: How long have you guys been doing this band, you knew each other before, right?
Berman: It's been about two years now; it’s been really exciting. We were friends before then, though. It’s not like we met through looking at classified ads. We formed up to play at Peggy’s, the keyboard player’s, birthday party. We had book some bands and we thought that if we formed a band, we could play too. It's been really fun every since.
I mean, I worked with Alex; we worked the same place, our desks right next to each other at. We liked so much of the same stuff– Exploding Hearts, Rocket Ship, and all sorts of stuff. Peggy was just somebody I had known in New York. She was a friend of a friend at an indie-pop dance party. She seemed too cool, I was scared to ask her to play in the band, but she said yes. She’s super fun. And Kurt [drummer], we actually started off with a drum machine. We had all of our drums on an iPod and we would play along. He [Kurt] came to our early shows and really enjoyed the music, he's my roommate now. We play a lot of Nintendo.
WCP: New Nintendo, or old-school Nintendo?
Berman: Original. He likes original systems a lot.
WCP: When you were starting out, was it hard to play such, well, twee music in New York City?
WCP: Yeah, you would think that it would be, but people in New York City are really open minded and supportive. There was this very fantastic DIY pop scene: Crystal Stilts Night School, Vivian Girls, Cause Co-Motion. All of these really good DIY pop-bands. We were all supportive of one another, and not hyper-competitive.
It's like how DC has a strong tradition of that. You know, with the Slumberland Records stuff. We actually went down there to mix our album with Archie Moore [Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine]. He was telling us a story about recording Chisel, Ted Leo’s old band, that they were this totally out of place mod pop band. They would play all these hardcore shows and be totally different than everyone else, but people were still supportive.
WCP: Speaking of Slumberland, how did you connect up with that label?
Berman: I don’t know the whole story, one of his [label founder Michael Schulman] other bands was playing a show, I don't know if he was a little wasted, but he was really enthusiastic about our set. We were completely flattered. Slumberland was a huge influence on us.
We took our time and tried to make a good record– we didn't want to let him down. He's been so supportive, he’s a huge vinyl enthusiast. He said we could do colored vinyl if we want to do colored vinyl. He’s like a weekend dad, you go visit him and he just says yes to everything.
WCP: Do you ever feel like you’re maybe a little too much like older Slumberland bands? Do you feel like your bring your own voice to that music?
Berman: I do, because it's my voice on the record. It’s us playing it in 2009. We're not too hero worshipful. We’re respectful of all the tradition, but the lyrics are really personal and really distinct and about our lives and our experiences in our world right now. We’re never in danger of slipping into time capsule mode. We feel very alive at the moment, we don't necessarily want to live in a different time or place at all.