Exclusive Q and A: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart Talk Influences, Indie Rock, And Humiliation

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Kip Berman, the frontman of New York indie pop band The Pains of Being Pure At Heart isn’t one to hide his influences. When the band emerged as indie darlings after releasing their debut self-titled album in 2009, they proudly wore their debt to ’80s shoegaze and noise pop on their collective sleeves. Though the band has continued to develop their own style, they have remained devoted fans of the bands who inspired them in the first place. Their recent 7″ release, which features covers of songs by The Magnetic Fields and East River Pipe, showcases their loving appreciation for some of their biggest influences. We caught up with Berman to chat about the band’s early days, the progression of their live show, and why new bands shouldn’t be afraid to sound terrible live.

OS: How did you choose those particular cover songs for the 7? Was there any contention within the band about which songs you should do?

KB: I wanted to do a Tori Amos song. But it’s really hard to perform a Tori Amos song”she has such a distinctive voice and style of singing. Though I’m pretty sure an early B-side of ours, “Ramona,” ripped of “China” pretty hard. Going back and learning the latter made me realize I already knew the chords. So Tori, if you read this, don’t sue us. It’s out of love.

We were big fans of The Magnetic Fields growing up. They were at odds with a lot of what was going on in “indie rock” at the time. They used (gasp!) synthesizers, antiquated drum machines, and focused on songwriting and clever, literate lyrics. As much as I enjoy the visceral side of pop music, what they stood for was really special. They were an anomaly. If they had contemporaries, it was people like Momus and The Divine Comedy”maybe Pulp too. Getting a chance to record one of their songs was such fun, and “Jeremy” was always one of my favorites. It references Isabella Duncan, Galapagos turtles, and ends in this strange moment of aquatic psychedelia and romantic despair.

OS: Do you feel like younger fans of yours are still listening to those big influences from earlier years like East River Pipe or The Magnetic Fields? Do you feel any kind of duty to turn them onto those influential bands?

KB: I’m pretty sure people that like us already know who Magnetic Fields are, but if they don’t they ought to. East River Pipe is less well-known, but every bit as wonderful. We’re not really in your face about telling people what to do. My life has been made better by listening to those bands.

We’re pretty eager to tell people about bands that have been inspiring to us. Sometimes people turn around and say how unoriginal we are because we admit we’ve heard music before. Of course, accusing us of a lack of originality isn’t all that original a critique. To me it feels right to give credit and attention to the stuff that allows us to do what we do. Kurt Cobain always did that”no one said Nirvana was just a Vaselines cover band or a Pixies rip off. Obviously they weren’t”but they were confident enough to point out stuff they loved without fear of being diminished by it. The greater good is always pointing people towards good music, not trying to build your own statue.

OS: If Magnetic Fields or East River Pipe were to return the favor and cover any of your songs, which would you want them to cover? Why?

KB: Ha, I don’t know. They can do whatever they want. Titus Andronicus covered one of our songs once, “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart,” and did it way better than our version. It was really cool to experience that, as they are definitely one of my favorite bands. We were meant to cover one of their songs, but have yet to do it; this was like three years ago, even before The Monitor was released”we are kind of behind. So yeah, look for us to do that someday.

OS: East River Pipe was initially a bedroom recording operation, kind of similar to you guys at your inception. How do you look back on the time you spent working full time while still trying to establish the band? Fondly? Nostalgically? Or are you glad those days are over?

KB: Most anyone who wants to do anything in the arts”whether that’s make music, or do visual stuff or theater”has very little chance of that ever becoming something they can do all the time. I don’t think we’re particularly deserving, or at least I think there are a lot of people that are just as deserving and more so. We’re just lucky, which is of course a good thing, but not without a lot of “why us?” questions attached. I try to make the most of it, work hard, write a lot, tour a lot, and do all I can to justify the moment of freedom we’ve been given to be a band. So many of our favorite bands never got to do what we do.

That’s why I’m also really eager to tell people to go listen to Rocketship, My Favorite, The Pastels, Wymond Miles, The Auteurs or Strawberry Switchblade. There’s a lot of great music out there, waiting to be appreciated.

OS: What kind of advice would you give to bands or artists who are mainly doing that kind of bedroom recording, but are looking to get out into the world of actually playing shows?

KB: We’ve been a terrible live band for just about the entirety of being a band. No joke, maybe the last couple months we’ve been ok”but for a while, we’d just go out and be terrible night after night”and that was just me. And that’s humiliating, but important. It’s liberating. We didn’t emerge fully formed, perfect, or undeniable. I believe we had a true idea of what we wanted to be, but didn’t know how to do it. People have seen us fail. But I feel people can see us and realize that being in a band isn’t a birthright”it takes time and love and the willingness to suck and make a fool of yourself. Hopefully can become the thing you dream of being. I guess whatever advice I can offer is, don’t be afraid to fail or be bad. Just keep at it. Bands that are too good too soon just aren’t that fun anyway.

OS: The band has supposedly been showcasing some new material on your current tour. How has the response been to those new songs?

KB: I keep an eye on the exits”no stampedes so far.

OS: Looking into the future, can you tell what kind of direction is your next album going to take, or is it hard to know that at this point?

KB: One Direction!

Pick up the band’s 7″ here and check out a live session featuring a new original song entitled Until the Sun Explodes” below!