The pure drop
Kip Berman of NYC dream-pop maestros The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart tells Eamon Sweeney about their new album Belong, why he’ll never sell out, and raves about the Irish bands who influenced him
Published 18/03/2011 | 05:00
It was love at first sight. I was enjoying a few ice-cold beers in the sun with friends on a glorious Saturday evening at Barcelona's Primavera Sound Festival in 2009, when I fell completely head over heels for a band rather than a senorita.
The band in question were The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, creating a gigantic wall of noise-pop bliss in the blistering Catalan sun. Named after a friend's unpublished short story, the New Yorkers released their eponymous debut album in 2009 to universal acclaim and numerous album-of-the-year accolades, including my very own in these pages. They've remained something of an indie kid's secret, up until now.
Their new album Belong is a big and beautiful-sounding monster, whereas their debut was somewhat shy, sweet and understated. A startling, newly found confidence is astonishingly evident on the swoon-some romantic power-pop of the opening title track.
"You can listen to the whole record, but if you listen to Belong and maybe Strange (last track which contains the lyric, "When everyone was doing drugs, we were just doing love") you can get a definite sense of what the record is about," explains singer Kip Berman.
The big-sound immediacy of Belong comes as little surprise upon learning that big guns Flood and Alan Moulder where involved in production and mixing duties respectively.
"We're American kids who grew up listening to The Jesus and Mary Chain, Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine," Kip explains. "If you have a chance to work with Flood and Alan Moulder, who were responsible for making some of those records you grew up listening to and love, it's an incredible opportunity.
"For us, the most important thing is always the songs and not how you record them. We were able to work in a bigger setting and have more access to different sound possibilities, but at the end of the day I think it keeps true to us and what we think pop music should be.
"People ask me what the band sounds like, and I always say pop, even though it's not Top-40 radio, it's noisy pop. Then again, to some people it's not that aggressive-sounding, so I guess it's noisy pop about feelings.
"All our songs, from Come Saturday and Young Adult Friction [early singles] up to Heaven's Gonna Happen Now or Belong and Girl of 1,000 Dreams, still have a sense of finding something abrasive and loud, fused with something poetic and melodic about feelings."
Speaking of the dreamily titled Girl of 1,000 Dreams, if you don't mind me so saying, Kip, it sounds a bit like Ash?
"Oh my God, I love Ash!" Kip exclaims. "That 1977 record? I love the shit out of that! I always thought Girl of 1,000 Dreams was more Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine, although Ash is always a good comparison and journalists never seem to get that. Girl from Mars and Angel Interceptor are two of the best pop songs ever."
For the record, in addition to Ash and My Bloody Valentine, another Irish band Kip adores is the criminally overlooked Rollerskate Skinny. Interestingly, the Pains' pop sound has become an unexpected hit with six-year-olds. "I don't know what it is, but it's awesome!" Kip beams. "Little kids don't know what's cool or not, so there's no filter of, 'I should be listening to the Pains because the internet says they're cool'. We're up there with Barney, so maybe we should tour together."
Crossover success could well only be a mere week away after the Pains unleash the romantic majesty of Belong on the world. However, just before Christmas, Kip tweeted on the Pains official Twitter: "We just turned down a lot of $$,$$$ because we don't want to be in TV ads. Not self-righteous, just rather be unknown than known for that."
Any regrets, Kip? "I regret saying it loud because it made me look like a self-righteous douche bag, and rightfully so," he answers. "It wasn't motivated by thinking that we were above it. I was really psyched about our new record and I didn't want people's first hearing of it to be in a commercial.
"I'd prefer it if they heard it on the radio, get given or recommended it by a friend or download it illegally -- whatever, as long as they enjoy it.
"I'm not against doing ads per se, I think it's cool to see the Flaming Lips or Iggy Pop in a commercial and it won't take anything away from either of them.
"I didn't think we were well known enough to do one, and I've also learnt my lesson to keep my mouth shut. I feel bad if people thought we are anti-capitalists. We sell our music, so we're a commodity already. I won't be mouthing off on Twitter again. Well, unless I'm drunk or something!"
The Pains cell phone offer reminds me of when Mogwai turned down a contract with Gap. Stuart Braithwaite wouldn't tell me how much the offer was, except for saying that they dangled a carrot worth more than what Mogwai normally would make in a year.
"I appreciate that honesty," Kip remarks. "I think they're an awesome band. Here's a funny story. I remember the first time I saw The Strokes in a tiny bar back in 2000. I had no idea who these people heckling the Strokes behind me all night were. They were screaming, 'New York pretty boy prima donnas!' in loud Scottish accents. They turned out to be Mogwai, which was hilarious."
Finally, it must be said that in addition to having made a great album, Kip is still on cloud nine after the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl victory, as his family hail from Wisconsin. His grandma calls him with the result of every game in case Kip can't see it on TV or on an internet stream when touring. "I don't expect Europeans to appreciate how 300- pound men jumping on each other can be considered athletes in our crazy culture," Kip laughs. "I've tried to get into European football, but I can't, so I'm not trying to convert anyone ... but go Packers!"
As the haunting closing lyric on one of what will be one of the albums of the year goes, "Dreams are coming true".
Belong is out next Friday. You can hear the album in full on www.thepainsofbeingpureatheart now
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