Published Jan 26, 2009The Pains of Being Pure of Heart live and die by the old saying "if it's not broke, don't fix it," a move that pays off big on their full-length debut. Taking cues from late '80s pop stalwarts such as Black Tambourine, the Field Mice and pre-Creation My Bloody Valentine, this young New York four-piece are simply lost in a haze nostalgia, and yet have come out with one of the strongest slabs of noise pop in recent memory, not to mention one of the most addictive. For 35 sugar-sweet minutes, the Pains cash in on all the tried-and-true tricks of the trade, lathering their album in blissful boy-girl harmonies, punked-up Spector beats and, most importantly, fuzzed-out guitar screams colliding full-on with picture perfect pop. Yes, it's a bit "been there, done that" but the Pains have a way of making that old sound new again, all by simply writing some great, catchy-as-hell songs. In fact, if the Pains of Being Pure at Heart have proven anything it's that great pop music never goes out of style, no matter the vintage.
So you recently did a UK tour opening for the Wedding Present. Did they pass you along any great pieces of rock'n'roll wisdom?
Vocalist/guitarist Kip Berman: I don't know any examples of any specific wisdom we got except that they're a great example of a band that's managed to hold onto the same fan base their entire career, like their fans are the same fans that came to their shows 20 years ago. It was amazing to see how loyal they were and how deeply they connected to the music, especially to [front-man] David Gedge. I think to witness that up close was really touching. ... They're a big band but they never got to the point where they were huge pop stars, and they've kept a genuine connection to the people who appreciate them. But I don't think David ever pulled me aside and gave out some life wisdom or anything.
Do you think you'll ever follow in the Wedding Present's footsteps and record with Steve Albini?
I don't know. I never get too hero-worshipping about that sort of thing. And I mean, we also played with Comet Gain over there and seeing them was just as cool as playing the Wedding Present dates. I was looking forward to that just as much, even though they're not as much of a household name as the Wedding Present.
So with your first album in the bag, how do you feel about the record you've made?
We really enjoy it, and it sounds like us to us. It doesn't sound like we are trying to be anything than the band we are. It doesn't sound affected and doesn't seem like it has a quality other than who we are. I mean, we are just friends who play music and like pop songs a lot, and I hope that comes through on the record - that people get that there's this sense of fun and excitement to our music and it's not overly fraught and thought out. I know it's easy on a debut album to get all like, "This is our grand statement to end of time and the universe." But I like how natural it sounds and that it just really sounds like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I mean, we're all really nerdy about records and we like our album, so we hope other people who are nerdy about records like it too.
Did you get much outside help on this album, in term of production and all that?
Actually, a large part of our record coming out the way it did has to do with the person who mixed it, Archie Moore. He used to play in the band Black Tambourine and Velocity Girl. He's just this old school Slumberland guy, and I think he had a really good ear for the kind of music we like and the kind of sound we we're going for. He just made our record all it could be and he put a lot of himself into it. And the reason our album probably sounds as good as it does is because he was involved.
More than most modern records, yours has this genuinely authentic late '80s/early '90s sound, like you could really think it was recorded during that time period. Was that something you were really going for?
I'm not sure if that's something you can really aim for and encapsulate, but I don't think we were out to find some four-year time in history and recreate it. Let me put it this way: It's really natural for the music you grew up listening to as a teenager to be implanted in your heart forever. So when you go to write music when you're older, many of those ideals and that sound just inherently come out, because that's the music that emotionally resonated with you at a time when music was your whole life. It's not a conscious effort to be retro or nostalgic, it's just something that's natural and I don't think you should fight it.
So are you okay with being pegged as pop revivalists?
Well, I feel like you can hear a lot of the sounds of older bands in what we do, but I feel our songs are really about our lives and what we do now. I feel it's inherently contemporary because we are alive now. Whatever our sounds sounds like, we're a band making music in 2009, so for whatever reason, it has to been current and it has to been contemporary and relevant. ... If people react to music in an emotional, visceral way right now, it does matter and it is relevant.
Do you think that having like-minded bands like the Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls coming out of New York has helped you guys out?
It's weird. I don't think all the bands in New York sat down at some cabal and decided: "Now we're going to form a scene." I think it's just a natural accident. And it's easy for the press to look at all those bands and just dub it all as this new Brooklyn sound. It's just fortunate, I guess, that we live in New York where a lot of good, exciting bands are coming from these days. I don't know if it's helped us, though, but it's fun as a music fan to live in New York now. It's just a really positive music community and it's fun to experience those bands first hand.
With Crystal Stilts and caUSE co-MOTION! and now you guys all coming out on Slumberland, do you think there's some sort of resurgence happening there at the label?
Yeah, I don't know what suddenly motivated the label to get so head over heels about putting out records again, but it's been really cool, especially from our perspective. I mean, on one hand it would have been just cool to be on that label because of all the history, but now they're doing so much current stuff. It makes people realize it's not just about the glory days of '90s indie pop and that the label is actually putting out new bands that people are excited about. It's just great to be a part of that, and see everything go in an upswing.
How do you feel about the twee label? For you, does that come with positive or negative connotations?
Well, I don't spend my whole life having picnics and making cupcakes or writing in my journal, but I don't think that word necessarily denotes something entirely negative. It's easy to malign a stereotype of what twee is, but at the end of the day, what we do is just make pop music. Sure, it can be shrouded in a lot of reverb and angular guitars, but the songs are catchy, the songs have melodies and the songs are memorable. And the label twee is offensive to some people and it bothers them, but I kind of just don't freak out about it because I know at its root it's pop music and the stuff that transcends what people label it.
In what way would you hope people approach your music and this record?
At the end of the day, people don't need to understand all the antecedents of what we do, they don't need to understand all our weird peculiar pop record nerdness. I want people to just appreciate the music as pop music. And for the people who do appreciate the pop-nerd stuff, I think it's cool when they can pick out a song riffing on the Field Mice or referencing the Pastels, but I don't think the basis of how people should understand our music. I think it's for my mom to listen to it and like it. Our music is more for people who actually have lives and not strictly for those obsessed with out-of-print seven-inches from 20 years ago. It's not exclusive and it's not elitist. I think that's really important and I like that about who we are. We aren't snobby. We're total dorks. It's all just for people who like a good melody and a catchy song, and it makes them feel happy. (Slumberland)