Q&A: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s Kip Berman On Days Of Abandon, The Band’s New Lineup, And The Folly Of Double Vinyl
Judging from what little we’ve heard so far — lead single “Simple And Sure,” a snippet of intro “Art Smock” — the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s upcoming third album Days Of Abandon marks a significant scaling back from the arena shoegaze grandeur of 2011’s Belong. But it’s also not just a return to the C86-inspired echo-jangle of the band’s debut. This is a fresh third iteration of the band, complete with a new lineup bringing frontman Kip Berman’s indie-pop visions to life. I sent Berman some questions over email this week, and his responses were generous and thoughtful. Read on for insights into an album that’s shaping up to be one of spring’s most exciting LPs.
STEROGUM: You’re the only band member listed on Facebook right now. What’s the status with the lineup? Who made the record with you? Who is touring with you?
KIP BERMAN: From the start Pains has been about me writing songs and playing them with my friends — and it always turns out better than it sounds in my bedroom. So recording this album was especially exciting, because in addition to Alex Naidus and Kurt Feldman, who brought a lot of his synth skill in addition to drumming to the record, I was able to work with Jen Goma from A Sunny Day in Glasgow, and Kelly Pratt (Beirut, David Byrne & St. Vincent, Bright Moments).
The first time Jen stood next to me and sung “Kelly” I got chills. I’d known her from A Sunny Day in Glasgow (who we played our 3rd show ever with in my living room and are a fantastic band with a new record coming out soon — check it out!). The next week I gave her “Life After Life,” and it just felt revelatory — almost entirely other than the demo I made with Kurt, but so much more than what I could have done on my own. Sitting with Kelly and working out the horn parts, I was equally taken aback. He had this intuitive understanding of how to bring these subtle, new textures and counter melodies to the music that wasn’t just, “ok, you guys are 3rd Wave Ska now, right?” He’s also a close friend, so it just felt natural to hang out for a week in Portland, work on music all day and then go have a drink and discuss basketball/how awesome that David Byrne & St. Vincent tour was.
As for live, I’m really excited that Christoph Hochheim, who played on Belong and was with us since our first record in 2009, is back with us on guitar. His brother Anton Hochheim, who has played with him in Kurt’s old band The Depreciation Guid and now Ablebody is playing drums. Jacob Sloan, the songwriter for one of my favorite indiepop bands Dream Diary and bassist for the equally excellent The Hairs is going to be playing with us too. Drew Citron from Frankie Rose/Beverly, as well as Jen Goma and Jessica Weiss from Fear of Men are also going to be touring with us at various points in the year.
Music is my life, but it’s not everyone’s life. So I try to be respectful and grateful of my friends who have taken the time to help me make this happen and if they need time to pursue other things, that’s ok too.
STEROGUM: The first music we got to hear is from “Art Smock.” It’s quieter and smaller in scope than we’re used to from Pains. Is that indicative of the rest of the album? If so, what inspired you to reel it in?
BERMAN: We were lucky enough to play a show in Tokyo on the Belong tour and then afterwords got to DJ an indiepop party where a two person band (Sloppy Joe) was playing these big-hearted “Neo Acoustic” inspired songs (it’s a Japanese genre name for stuff like Alison Statton’s Weekend, Aztec Camera, Flipper’s Guitar, Everything But the Girl, etc.) in a bar that could maybe hold 40 people. I just thought, we needed so many big amps and stuff to make the songs on the last record make sense live — but those songs wouldn’t make sense here. And if pop songs can’t sound just as great for 20 or 40 people as 200 or 400, then there’s something wrong with them.
It’s a trap to try to do each thing BIGGER than the last. I really loved the huge “mall rock” guitars of Belong — but I wanted this record to be powerful in a different way. There are plenty of big guitar songs on Days Of Abandon — “Eurydice,” is perhaps as anthemic as anything we’ve ever done, and “Coral and Gold” and “Beautiful You” feel really towering and fragile at the same time — which is something I really like in music, sonic and emotional JENGA. But throughout the record, regardless of sound, it’s lyrically more particular to my life. If Belong was a heavy light album, Abandon is a light heavy album – and at least to me, truer to the ideals that made me want to start a band in the first place.
STEROGUM: You’ve mentioned that the songs deal with darker subjects. What was on your mind when you were writing?
BERMAN: There’s nothing worse than the band that says, “this is a dark/darker/unrelentingly dark album,” as if reveling in morbidity confers greater artistic worth. Serious people wanting to be taken very seriously? Please no. These songs are just real to my life, and life is varied. People in bands aren’t sadder or happier than other people – and it’s pompous and false to pretend that somehow “artists just feel more.”
STEROGUM: Could you explain the new album title?
BERMAN: It’s inspired by the title of an Elena Ferrante novel, The Days Of Abandonment. But “abandon” can mean many things. Unbridled freedom, exhilaration — but also a sense of isolation, loss and despair. The other idea was Welcome To The Jangle. They both have merit.
STEROGUM: Lee Jinju’s cover art seems meaningful. What’s the story behind that?
BERMAN: Her work is tremendous, and struck me when first I saw it. Initially “pretty,” the more you look at the details, the stranger and more unnerving it becomes, though it is all the better for it. I felt it fit this album in particular, and I’m grateful to her for allowing us to use the work.
STEROGUM: How has the Brooklyn scene you came up in changed since your debut six years ago? Have those changes affected your music at all?
BERMAN: I feel like our music exists outside of the place we live. Maybe all Brooklyn bands are really from somewhere else, but I think Pains could have started in Manilla, Glasgow, Gothenburg or Milwaukee. I sometimes feel like we’re the Blondie of Brooklyn – the band that emerged from a DIY scene but everyone is like, “oh, they’re not gritty and heroin punk enough.” But Blondie wrote really great songs, and I’d rather do that with my life if I can.
As for other bands in Brooklyn, there are a lot I admire, and living here is awesome because you see so many good shows. I’m a massive fanboy for Titus Andronicus and Vivian Girls (RIP), plus I love Chairlift, Frankie Rose, The Hairs, The Ice Choir, Autre ne Veut, Wild Nothing, Beach Fossils, Gross Relations, Weekend, Crystal Stilts – I mean, I could name about 20 bands that if they were playing a show I’d go see them in a heartbeat.
Bands lionize vinyl as a format, then release records that are completely incompatible. Just go digital if you want an hour of music.
— Kip Berman (@KipBerman) January 22, 2014
STEROGUM: I saw you were tweeting against double vinyl. Are you especially fond of the vinyl format, and do you make an effort to keep your albums within the confines of one disc?
BERMAN: YES AND YES. I respect the power and democratic possibility of digital, but I love vinyl (though I understand that elitism and cost barriers creep into vinyl love and I’m not into any of that). Double LPs are pretty expensive, plus I am incredibly lazy. For almost all bands, I only want to listen to about 10 songs or 35-40 minutes of music, and I do not want to flip a record more than once. All of our records have 10 songs. Who wants to hear a band’s 11th best song? Not me. Plus, then you can have really good b-sides to reward people that buy 7″ singles, which for whatever reason are WAY expensive now. Imagine you pay $5 (or more) and only get 1 good song? That is a ripoff.
You may bring up some exceptions about double vinyl like Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor, Destroyer’s Kaputt and Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. But I’ll say the latter wrote Siamese Dream in the CD era, so their albums conformed to the medium of their day. As for Titus, well, they can do no wrong in my book and are exempt from my petty feelings on format. Though conceptually, “THE CIVIL WAR HAD ONLY TWO SIDES, WHY CAN’T THE MONITOR?” As for Destroyer, you can never feel any bad feelings towards Daniel Bejar — ever. Any man who wrote “The Sublimation Hour” surely has the right to release an hour of sublime music on wax.
And yeah, you can still write and release longer, conceptual albums, just have the courage to say, “Hey, we think physical limitations suck, so this is just a digital release. Its 2014, it’s cool.”
STEROGUM: You’re taking Fear Of Men on the road, and based on your tweets you seem to really love them. What grabbed you about them?
BERMAN: I do love them. Someone at their label was trying to write to their publicist (also named “Kip”) and accidentally emailed me their music. I really loved it, and we ended up playing a handful of shows in England and France together and really hit it off. We’ve always made an effort to tour with other bands we admire – Girls, Twin Shadow, Weekend, Depreciation Guild, Big Troubles, Flowers, Zaza, Hooray for Earth, and Craft Spells to name just a few.
When I found out their record was coming out the same time as ours, I thought a full on FEAR OF PAINS tour would be amazing. Right now there are a handful of new bands that I feel are doing something really important in music — writing good songs. Fear of Men, Joanna Gruesome, Evans the Death, Flowers, Literature, Nightflowers and a bunch more. Fear of Men is probably the least cacophonous in terms of how their songs are presented — they are subtle and graceful, yet very emotional at their core. But rather than overwhelm you at first, they just get better and better the more you listen to them. I’m incredibly excited about their new album on Kanine Records, Loom. The songs “Waterfall,” “Green Sea” and Vitrine” are especially fine — please give them a listen when their proper debut LP comes out. It’s not a double LP, don’t worry.
We’re also touring with Ablebody, who are comprised of longtime Pains guitarist Christoph Hochheim and his brother Anton Hochheim. They made a really good EP last year and have a 7″ coming out in time for the tour featuring what I think is their best song yet. So I really encourage people to come out early enough to see all three bands if you can.
[Photo by Shervin Lainez]