The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The New Yorkers aren’t just another ‘big, generic indie pop band’

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Indie rockers The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have come a long way since playing their debut gigs in a New York basement in 2007, accompanied by an iPod. After drawing widespread coos of appreciation with an eponymous debut that leant heavily on the sounds of '80s indie acts like Ride, The Wedding Present and The Jesus and Mary Chain, the group resisted the sophomore slump with a follow-up that's bigger, shinier and altogether more confident. Belong was produced by British studio magician Mark 'Flood' Ellis, whose CV includes U2, The Smashing Pumpkins and PJ Harvey, and its glossy sheen suits these Pitchfork favourites surprisingly well. As the band prepare to return to Japan for a small national tour, Time Out spoke to bassist Alex Naidus about life on the road, and being sweet and angry at the same time.

Let’s talk about the band. How did you guys get together?
‘It was the beginning of 2007 when I met Kip [Berman], who’s the singer and guitar player. We were working at an office job here at a marketing company, and we had cubicles right next to each other. We used to goof off and talk about music a lot, just sort of bond about various bands, and I knew that he had been in bands before but he wasn’t in a band then. And one day he just showed up at work and he already had a name for the band and had set up a MySpace page and had demos. He was like, “I’m starting this band, you wanna play bass?” I had never played bass before. My first instinct was like, “I probably can’t do that”, but I ignored that feeling.

‘We had a couple of practices where it was just like me and him and an iPod on a machine, but I think he already had the idea of asking Peggy [Wang] to join. I didn’t know her, but we always went to the same shows and we had a couple of mutual friends. At first it was just the three of us and we played in a house-basement thing. The whole thing was just meant to be a fun project, a side-gig, since we had office jobs. We met Kurt [Feldman] later; he was in a different band called The Depreciation Guild. He’s like a virtuoso with every instrument, and we were getting fed up with just having an iPod, so we asked him to play drums and he said “yes” and it was immediately 50 times better.’

You guys are regarded as descendents of groups like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain. How does that make you feel? Any pressure?
‘If we really expected to be as legendary as those bands, there might be some pressure, but our reaction is that we laugh a little bit – because I just described to you the circumstances in which we started the band. We weren’t not taking it seriously, but we had no grand aspirations of being legendary, so we laughed it off a bit. But at the same time it’s really flattering, because we liked those bands to start out with. It’s really cool.’

You’ve already toured Europe and Australia this year and it’s still only February. Is the tour process as rock’n’roll as people say it is?
‘Not really. We’re not very rock’n’roll people. We have fun, definitely – it’s not a chore or anything – but there’s not a lot of, like, groupies and drugs and adventures and stuff. There’s a lot of doing crosswords in the van and just, you know, watching movies and hanging out. It’s almost like meditative or something, but it is really fun to travel, especially overseas, just because most of the places we’ve been are places that probably none of us would have gotten the chance to go to in a lifetime.’

Your second LP, Belong, has a heavier guitar sound compared to the first. What inspired you to do this?
‘I think that, in general, we were really happy with the first album. The way it was recorded was basically the process of getting down these songs that we’d been playing; it wasn’t like a tremendous amount of energy and thought was put into the recording process. And when we had the opportunity to stop and think about what we’d want to do, and were able to take time and experiment with things, heavier guitars was definitely one thing we wanted to try. We wanted to mess around with tempos and weird synthesizers and stuff like that. We had the opportunity to record it with Flood, who produced some of our favourite records by our favourite bands, like The Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine. Kip has this sort of guitar pedal that’s not homemade; it’s a normal pedal but modified a little bit, and it sounds really over-the-top, cartoonish almost. It’s definitely not something that you would normally use in a studio – it’s very raw. I sort of understood that that’s part of our identity, so [Flood] gave us liberty in letting us use that, instead of making us a big, generic indie pop band.’

Were there any other differences in the second record, in terms of writing and recording it?
‘I think that when we were practising, first of all, when Kip was playing these sounds – I don’t wanna put words in his mouth too much, but I feel comfortable because we’ve talked about it – I think in terms of the lyrics, he wanted to be a little bit more like immediate and direct, and not be as cheeky sometimes. You know, he’s really smart with wordplay and stuff, so he has fun doing that, and there are a few songs on the first record that are fun that way. But he wanted it to be more emotional and direct, so you can sort of see that in the lyrics. On the first album, we just learned the chords and played, but then when we were practising these songs before and just at the beginning of the recording process, we changed the tempo, we changed the key, we changed the arrangement and moved things around.’

Your music can be angry, but also very sweet and emotional at the same time. Is that something you guys do on purpose?
‘It is something that is definitely conscious, especially the guitars. When we started, Kip and Peggy and I were listening to a lot of Iggy Pop, and we thought about the element that’s associated with handholding or riding bikes, and the endless childhood sort of thing. It’s not necessarily us; if you saw us you wouldn’t think we’re overgrown children – I hope not, anyway. So musically, this is something that Kip and I have spoken about: having really sweet melodies and a direct style, but darker or strange lyrics or a feedback guitar part that undercuts that.’

Are there any new bands that you would recommend in the New York indie music scene?
‘Yeah, totally. Well, I guess there’s a band called Crystal Stilts who are not specifically new, but I feel like they’re really underrated. They put out an album last year that’s really good. There’s a band called The Hairs; it’s my friend Kevin [Alvir]’s project, and they have really good, homemade-sounding indie pop records. Our drummer Kurt actually has a new project of his own called The Ice Choir – very ’80s pop and urban romantic. We’re not home as much as we used to be; when we met we used to go to shows all the time, but we rarely get a chance to nowadays, so I feel a little bit out of the loop.’

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart play on February 17 at Club Quattro, Shibuya

Interview by Seda Pekçelen and Gizem Ünsalan
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.



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