There are a few New York bands that I feel lived parallel lives to our own, musically growing in fits and starts as we did in that same city at that same time. It’s adding cliché to cliché, but they wrote a kind of interactive soundtrack to our mid-twenties to thirties that gave us great music to listen to as we figured all our shit out and quit terrible jobs for slightly less terrible jobs and stayed out far too late and tried desperately in vain to figure out that magical, unattainable ratio of food-to-alcohol. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is definitely one of those bands.
The band grew into their own distinct sound from solid roots in the 80s + 90s and, with their most recent full-length, Days of Abandon, are sounding more polished, confident, and—most importantly—beautifully and unabashedly poppy than ever. We got a chance to catch up with band frontman, Kip Berman (second from the left, above), just before embarking on a European tour to talk over their days on the road, how he went into writing the songs for Abandon, and his thoughts on the chaining New York scene.
raven + crow: So, first off, Kip, thanks for taking some time to talk. I know you all are in the midst of an almost three-month tour. How’s it going so far?
Kip Berman: Fantastic, thanks! We’ve had a wonderful tour with Fear of Men and Ablebody, who are both awesome groups and a lot of fun to be around. All three bands are sharing a van and gear, so it’s been a pretty great way to tour. Fear of Men are from the UK, so it’s been a particular thrill to show off America to them. We’ve done a lot of tourist kind of stuff together. You can see lots of pics on our band instagrams: thepainsofbeingpureatheart + fearofmen + able body.
My snap assessment after a quick perusal of your respective Instagram feeds—Jess likes giant bottles of Champagne and Katy Perry picture disks. You all are clearly having too much fun. So, after so much playing together at this point, are you all trying anything new with the live show…besides the new material, obviously?
We play a mix of old songs and new songs, but we’re really excited to be sharing a lot of Days of Abandon. Tracks like “Kelly,” “Simple and Sure,” “Eurydice” and “Life After Life” seem to be going over really well.
All stellar stand-alone songs. We really do love the new album. I’ve seen quotes from you talking about it as a stepping back of sorts in terms of returning to what was important you initially in song-writing. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Maybe that was the wrong choice of words. It’s more “song” focussed than “sound” focussed, if that makes sense. We just wanted to stay focussed on making 10 great songs, rather than getting pre-occupied on the studio side of things.
Did you go into writing it with anything in mind or any particular goals?
Not really. I’m sort of an accidental person. The best songs happen on their own, intellectual posturing or “struggling” over a song rarely makes for great pop music. I know bands like to say how tortured they are, or flaunt their self-destructive tendencies, but everyone has problems, you know? It’s conceited to think that “artists” somehow are any different than people that don’t get to ride around in a van and play music every night. I can play the G chord and then the D chord without killing myself…hopefully.
Extremely awesomely put. Where does the album title—Days of Abandon—come from? …from where does the…eh, never mind. You get the drift.
The title of the album is partially inspired by Elena Ferrante’s novel, The Days of Abandonment. But “Abandon” seemed to capture a fuller range of semantic possibility—both being left behind, as well as freedom and exhilaration. Besides, Days of Thunder was already taken.
Okay, I have to push back a bit there—if you guys put out an album called Days of Thunder, I think it may well implode the universe. Please do this. The non-Tom-Cruise-y album artwork, though—we love it. We’d never heard of Lee Jinju before but the work seems oddly familiar. Are you all long-time fans?
I’ve been familiar with her work since about 2011 or so. I was deeply grateful that she allowed us to use one of her paintings as the art for our record as I think it compliments the music in the right way. I don’t know if we would have even released the record had we been unable to use her work as the cover.
Wow. Strong, artistically appreciative words. No, it is weirdly, fittingly beautiful though, I totally agree. Back to names—I’ve long admired you all for choosing an undisputedly unwieldy and hard-to-remember name but sticking with it. Were you all ever encouraged to change or shorten the name early on?
No. But we usually just say “Pains.” I don’t like it when it’s spelled POBPAH.
No, yeah, that’s awful. Where does it come from though, the name? Seems like a line from Dead Poets Society or some such thing.
It’s the title of an unpublished short story written by someone I knew in Portland, OR.
Oh. Man. That’s kind of the most succinct, best answer to that question I’ve ever gotten. So, I feel like you all hit the scene pretty hard straight out of the gate so many years back, at least from the persecutive of someone who lived in New York at the time. As soon as we heard of you, you were ‘the next big thing’ and there was just tons of buzz about the Pains. That seems like the best and worst of possible starts for a band. Has it been difficult to keep up the momentum and not constantly second guess yourselves in terms of direction?
We were around for a couple years before our first record came out in 2009. We self-released an EP and did two or three 7″ singles for Atomic Beat and Slumberland Records. Maybe someday we actually will become “the big thing”, but until then, I’m just going to keep trying to write the best songs I can.
I like it. Where do you look for inspiration in your song-writing, either musically or…otherwise?
It’s so dull to say, but it’s really just my life—the people I’ve known and the things that I’ve experienced. There seems never to be a shortage of life to write about. I change names where I can, though who knows if that really works. I don’t want to hurt anyone or traffic on someone else’s tragedy in such an explicit way.
I always felt frightened at the prospect of dating Elizabeth Elmore from Sarge, as she wrote the BEST kiss-off songs. You were undoubtedly signing up for having an awesome song written about how not awesome you were. I guess that was a pretty unnatural fear to have when I was a teenager, as she was an adult. I think there’s been one song written about me—it makes me sad to hear it, so it must be a good song.
I’d ask the song, but I somehow feel like that’d be prying. So, we moved from Brooklyn to LA just last December and were slightly remiss to leave such a great music scene. Don’t get me wrong—LA’s is great. But what have we been missing in NYC? What do you see changing for the better overall or what bands are getting you (re-)excited about music?
I love living in New York. There are some great bands like So So Glos (who are subletting our practice space while we’re on tour—hey guys, pick up your empties, ok?), Beverly, The Hairs, Kurt’s new band The Ice Choir, Weekend, Autre Ne Veut, Wild Nothing, Beach Fossils, Hooray for Earth and a bunch more that I’d go see play anytime they had a show.
But a lot of the bands I really love I only found out about because of the internet or getting to play shows together. Bands like Makthaverskan, Fear of Men, Literature, Flowers, Joanna Gruesome, and Evans the Death. There’s great things happening in music everywhere.
Okay, so, first off, that’s a ton of awesome bands you just mentioned. Second, LOVE Joanna Gruesome—just wrote them up last week. Third, we’re friends with Kevin from The Hairs from way back in early aughts DC—love that guy. Though I’ve had a personal gripe with that band name from day one. Back to NYC though, have you been tracking all this kind of hating on the new rich New York lately? David Byrne’s piece on how the 1%’s killing creativity and the like? Any take on it all?
I admire David Byrne a lot, and I’m sure his arguments are valid and very well thought out. He’s an amazing guy and one of the few artists that has continued to push himself creatively and intellectually as they moved beyond the age of being a pop star. He seems so comfortable being himself—it’s very heartening. I got to see him play on the recent David Byrne + St. Vincent tour, and on top of being an incredible performer, he came out and hung out with fans after the show and seemed just really secure, happy and the kind of person most kids in bands would be lucky to get to be someday, not in terms of success, but in terms of seeming happy with his place in the world.
I can only say that I played music for a long time in a city much more “conducive to artists” (low rent, basements where you could rehearse, etc)—Portland(ia), OR. And yet it wasn’t until I moved to New York where everything seemed a lot harder (the “local bands” were internationally known, you had to rent a rehearsal space, rent was high, you had to work all the time just to get by) that things really started to happen.
So while my personal experience is much the opposite, I can only chalk it up to luck. Obviously, I wish my rent was half of what it was, there were cheap rehearsal rooms, and lots of DIY venues for less commercially minded bands to play.
Again, well-said. Favorite thing about New York?
My friends live there. Also Bagels.
Literally the two things we miss most. And LA? Favorite thing?
I think LA is perfectly great too. I don’t understand the need for a rivalry. The Hochheims (Anton + Christoph) live there now, as well as a bunch of our friends. We always have a great time when we’re there—we have no beef.
We’ll take it—rivalry, OVER. Thanks for talking with us, Kip.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart play a sold out show tonight at the Bowery Ballroom in New York before heading over for a three-month European tour. You can purchase their new album, Days of Abandon, on vinyl or CD via Amazon + digitally through iTunes. Watch the video for “Simple and Sure” below. It features the most rhythmically awesome dinner party of all time.