Published Mar 27, 2011"There's nothing I like more than stepping on the fuzz pedal and playing loud," says Kip Berman, frontman for the Pains of Being Pure At Heart. "Not to be all Marty McFly about it, like that opening scene in Back To The Future, but there's something fundamentally satisfying about playing guitar loud, like Swervedriver or Kevin Shields."
Exactly 12 seconds into his band's new album, Belong, you can hear what he means. At that very mark in the title track, Berman's foot detonates a blast of crunchy overdrive ― the kind last heard on Smashing Pumpkins' "Cherub Rock." Sure, the Pains' debut album had fleeting moments where distortion took over, but it was nothing like this. Twee as fuck? Not anymore.
Belong has more of these instances, like the affectionate bubble-grunge of "Even in Dreams" and the buzz-saw squall that propels "Girl of 1000 Dreams." Berman says that augmenting the guitars was all part of their plan to hit the listener with all they got. "By bringing the guitars to the fore we wanted to create something that was immediate and visceral and powerful in the moment, so that you don't need to know 17 other bands to appreciate our music," he explains.
True, when the Pains of Being Pure At Heart first dropped their debut back in February 2009, they were an indie pop-obsessed geek's dream, combining the sensitivity of the Field Mice with the swirling noise of pre-Creation era My Bloody Valentine. But thanks to constant touring and shows like 90210 using their song "Young Adult Friction" for a key prom scene, Belong arrives with a much more widespread rush of anticipation.
Berman says that despite keeping his foot on the fuzz pedal longer, the band's goal hasn't changed too much. "The impulse of our band has always been about noisy pop music, so we've never valued anything above songwriting," he says. "So, for us we just write the best songs we can and play them competently, which is always hard for us to begin with."
For Belong, the Pains got help from two of the most respected names in the business: producer Flood and mixer Alan Moulder, regular collaborators and business partners who together have worked on modern classics like the Smashing Pumpkins' Melon Collie & the Infinite Sadness and Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral. Berman still sounds like he's in disbelief when he talks about working with them.
"It was not a normal experience for an indie pop band making their second release on Slumberland Records to get a chance to go into the studio with them," he says. "Flood really brings the best out of the bands he works with. We really found a way to become even more ourselves and write songs that were even more related to who we are as people and our backgrounds on this album than the first one. And there's something about Alan's intuitive touch for making this great big and beautiful rock music. There was this total sense of trust going into the mixing room with him and just knowing that Alan Moulder was mixing our album. He doesn't fuck up. If it sucks, it's our fault."
Luckily for Berman and his bandmates, Belong doesn't suck. And despite his self-deprecating tone, the second Pains album one day will, ahem, belong up there with the rest of the albums on Flood and Moulder's résumé. "I don't know if they feel good about us being on their résumés," he says. "For us it's a coup. For them it's, 'Man, the times they're a changin'. The world really is ending.' They're probably gonna go into Wikipedia and erase us."