Under The Influence

Under The Influence: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart Belong

| July 14, 2011 - 11:48 am

So far we’ve received Under The Influence playlists from Wild Beasts and three very different metal bands. This time we asked Pains Of Being Pure At Heart to discuss sounds that influenced their most recent collection, the Flood-produced/Alan Moulder-mixed Belong. “Smashing Pumpkins” is a name that pops-up when folks describe the album’s bigger guitars: It turns out the ’90s alt stars were on the Pains’ production-room boombox, not just their producer’s resume. Frontman Kip Berman had this to say about James Iha’s axe as well as some other things that found their way onto his band’s sophomore record.

01 Adorable – “Homeboy”
While most of their British contemporaries were busy layering guitars with innumerable effects, perfecting gentle falsettos and otherwise causing the word “ethereal” to be one of the great cliche adjectives in music journalism, this English band seemed to draw (some) inspiration from the rugged dynamics and vulnerable howls of The Pixies. I can see merit in both schools of thought, but this song is pretty undeniable. Bonus points for the least appropriate appropriation of the term “homeboy.” Also, this track was mixed by Alan Moulder – nice!

02 My Teenage Stride – “Theme from Teenage Suicide”
To be fair, My Teenage Stride had a more direct influence/copyright claim on our earlier song “Higher than the Stars” (which was originally titled “Shitfaced” and generally referred to among ourselves as “The My Teenage Stridy Song”) because we liked the idea of using 16th notes on the high hat like they used on this track, among others. We also liked the idea of the first lyric being “Shitfaced.”

Oh, how did it influence Belong? Well, I played Jed an early demo of “The Body” when we were trying to record our “Kurt Cobain’s Cardigan” 7″ with him (actually, mostly just getting Shitfaced) and he really liked it. So yeah, In Jed We Trust. Check out “Ears Like Golden Bats” too, it’s a great record from start to finish.

03 The House of Love – “Destroy The Heart”
This is another dubious Creation Records band, but at least early on,they were incredible. “Christine” and “Shine On” are hits, sure, but “Destroy the Heart” is probably an accidental influence on any good song we ever wrote (if there are any). It’s weird to cite them as an influence, as they were super hyped and tore up the indie charts, then tried to be the next U2 and made a series of disastrous decisions that found themselves critically and commercially obsolete faster than you can say, “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.”

Oh well, we don’t reside on a mountain made of Class A narcotics and take limos on the label’s dime to the recording studio/corner store/everywhere. We should be ok, right?

04 The Associates – “Party Fears Two”
This is a weird one because Billy Mackenzie is probably one of the greatest singers of his generation, and I am one of the worst (but as another Berman [David, of The Silver Jews] once said, “All My Favorite Singers Couldn’t Sing”).

We are all really big fans of this Glaswegian pop band and when we found out Flood produced their records, we were floored. Flood somehow suggested that this song should inspire our recording process for “My Terrible Friend,” but again, that’s just batshit crazy, because “My Terrible Friend,” though graced with some hedonistic come-ons and a hook that gets Robert Smith’s lawyer on the phone, could never equal the genius of Billy Mackenzie’s (f)operatic vocal performance and genuinely decadent recording process. Supposedly he’d disappear from the studio for an hour or two, cruise, and then come back and do the vocal take – at least according to Simon Reynolds’ must read post punk bible, Rip it Up and Start Again.

05 Ash – “Angel interceptor”
To me, Ash’s 1977 was nearly as good as Weezer’s Blue Album and Supergrass’ I Should Coco in terms of early 90s big guitar pop debuts. I always say “Girl From Mars” is possibly my favorite song, but I’m tired of saying that because it discredits just how good “Angel Interceptor” is. So, here it is – rocking + feelings – what more could you want?

06 Manhattan Love Suicides – “Skulls”
We played our very first show with these guys (and Titus Andronicus) and we’ve gone on to be wonderful friends. Peggy and I originally bonded over a shared love of their debut (and only) LP (there’s also an awesome 27 track singles/rarities collection). It reminded both of us, who had sort of fallen away from indiepop orthodoxy, that there’s a whole world where you can make indiepop that’s noisy and perverse. The Jesus and Mary Chain and Meat Whiplash were on the c86 tape and Orange Juice formed over a shared love of The Velvet Underground and Soul. Admittedly, I also like a lot of wussy stuff too (it’s subversive in its own way). But yeah, songs about SKULLS are cool.

07 O.M.D. – “Enola Gay”
I can’t think of a song that has such a huge extreme of utter, unabashed pop with some of the darkest, most horrifying reference points imaginable. If Taylor Swift collaborates with Tough Alliance and has a global megahit about Sept. 11, don’t get offended.

08 The Smashing Pumpkins – “Mayonnaise”
I think James Iha actually wrote this song. It’s probably my favorite track on my favorite album of theirs. We actually recorded Belong in the studio James Iha owns (he’s nice, has a sweet dog and let me borrow his Smashing Pumpkins guitar with heart stickers on it  to record some of our tracks).

09 The Prids – “Love Zero”
This song is so lyrically direct and musically simple, and that’s what makes it so affecting. There are countless “underrated” bands out there and I know everyone has a desire for justice to be done – i.e. famous bands should be less famous and the bands that were overlooked should be more famous. But I don’t want to tear anyone down to celebrate The Prids – they’ve simply made 3 unrelentingly beautiful LPs (Love Zero, …Until The World is Beautiful, Chronosynclastic) and people really out to check ‘em out.

Most Honorable Omission from the Playlist: Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus’ entire approach to their second album was deeply inspiring to me. No, we didn’t write a concept record filled with 8 minute “singles” using the American Civil War as an extended metaphor for the social and political divides we face in contemporary life. But they looked deeper into themselves and found the thing that made them Titus Andronicus and focused on that — all the ramshackle mess of hyper expressionism, uncommonly vivid poetry and a righteous aesthetic that is tempered by a willingness to look inward before casting any first stones.

So what’s The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s equivalent? Perhaps someone might suggest, “you sucked and now you suck even more.” And that’s a valid point of view, at least not one I’d ever argue against.

To me, Belong is equal parts ridiculous, ambitious (bad word, right?), cringe inducingly sincere and defiantly outside of time. It exists in that weird wasteland where impossible pop songs that aren’t actually popular play on an imaginary radio or a mythical mix in a desperate friend’s car that’s driving wherever. It’s delusional,  sure – maybe “pretentious” is a word that you could throw at us too. It’s ok. I’ve always loved bands that were near unattainable ideals first – The Exploding Hearts, The Ramones, My Favorite, New York Dolls, Belle and Sebastian, The (Fabulous) Stains, The Make Up, Wyld Stallyns, Sonic Youth, Orange Juice, Comet Gain, Huggy Bear and Felt.

I don’t know if this record will mean anything to anyone in 10 years, I don’t know if means anything to anyone now. Luckily, the beauty of pop is that it doesn’t matter what I think anymore – the truth of the songs is what you think of them. Again, “now you suck even more” is a wholly valid response.

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And here’s POBPAH’s own video for “The Body“: