The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Interview with Kip Berman

Credit: Annie Powers

Credit: Annie Powers

In the corner of The Casbah’s billiards room, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s guitarist and vocalist Kip Berman sat down to talk about the Pains’ beginnings, Nirvana, colored vinyl and living the dream. The Pains stopped in San Diego Monday September 21st with openers Cymbals Eat Guitars and the Depreciation Guild.
The Pains humble beginnings started in New York City in 2007. “ We were all were living in New York, we were just good friends. We were really into these two bands, Titus Andronicus and Manhattan Love Suicides from England. They were coming to America. We formed the band thinking, ‘We could get them to play at [keyboardist and vocalist] Peggy’s birthday party and we could open for them,’ but we didn’t really have a band yet. We just really wanted to play. We learned like 5 songs. We didn’t have a drum kit we just had a drum machine on an iPod. That was March 24th, 2007,” said Kip.
Later in 2007, the band recorded and released its self-titled EP on Painbow Records. While the album did not initially catch much attention, the Pains’ live performances began to draw audiences once they settled into the New York scene. “There are different kinds of scenes in New York. The kind of bands we played with and the kind of band we are was much more rooted in our supportive, community oriented [scene]. There is a really good network of venues in Brooklyn. It was a really great experience  There was a long period of time where, in a good way, there was no pressure, no sense of expectations. We were able to get better without anyone expecting us to play for a ton of people or be overly hyped up. That was really fortunate. We were pretty bad when we started, not that we are good now, but even to get where we are now took a lot of practice.”
The Pains’ sound draws from indie pop traditions of the 90’s and early 2000’s. Their energetic, warm, and tight tunes weave the best parts of yesterday’s traditions together to create a sounds that is comfortably nostalgic but surprisingly unique. ” We definitely never had a band meeting where we said, ‘Ok, we are going to try to encapsulate the feelings we had when we were this age and sound like a band of this time’. You grow up liking a certain kind of music and when you start playing your own music you constantly try not to emulate the bands you loved growing up. It happens in every era. Every band that you like grew up liking some other band and wanted to be them. And failing at that, they became their own thing  The Ramones wanted to be some Phil Spektor, classic pop band. But they weren’t. They had elements of that, but they were something else  It feels natural when you start a band to sound like bands that you love, because that’s your idea of what good music is.  It’s not an issue of lacking originality, but its trying to emulate something you believe in. And then naturally, because all human beings are different, you eventually do things a little bit differently yourself.   We liked loud guitar pop music, I don’t know how to play guitar any other way.”

While Kip denied any directly intentional attempts to capture specific bands or sounds of the past, he noted how the Pains’ sound is rooted in musical influences from post-punk bands to Kurt Cobain to the Smashing Pumpkins. “My generation of people, the first cool band we knew about was Nirvana.  That opened up a lot of new things, bands like Sonic Youth. or even a band like the Vaselines, which I don’t think anyone in America would’ve known about them were it not for Kurt Cobain. Some of the stuff on K Records   pop punk, 80’s 90’s, the Promise Ring, post-hardcore bands, a lot of the Matador stuff, Yo La Tengo, Helium, Pavement, Smashing Pumpkins–like Siamese Dream era.  A lot of stuff [Billy Corgan] did later made that it seem like that wasn’t cool anymore. But you listen to Siamese Dream, and its still, so cool,”.

This February the Pains released their self-titled full-length debut on Slumberland Records. Michael Schulman started Slumberband in the late eighties, and the label has released records for bands such as Stereolab, Black Tambourine, the Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts since then. “Slumberland started in 1989, it was started on the East Coast. Its been going on for a ton of years, its modeled more on British Indie Labels like Subway Records. The influence was more 80’s UK, indie Scottish-British models.  [Michael]’s literally the biggest record nerd ever. We went to his house this summer to pickup vinyl for this tour. He has a library all sorted by genres, everything from Dub and Reggae to amazing Indie Pop to electronic. He’s the sweetest guy ever that just loves music.  Its wonderful to work with a label that cares about records. The stuff he does for us, he doesn’t make a lot of money, he just wants to do it for us. Like, ‘what color vinyl do you want?’. That costs him more money, but because he cares about vinyl and records he’s always down to do stuff like that. He’s not just trying to put out a record with the lowest cost.

Though the band had time to refine their musicianship and performances with relatively little attention at first, Kip credited The Pains’ recent rise to national attention and critical acclaim to the exposure the bands got through the internet. “Right now is an awesome time to play music for a lot of reasons. So much music exists now that couldn’t have existed in the past. I know the down side is that some bands get exposure before they’re ready to handle it. But the upside is so much more, there are so many more artists being heard  You can start a band in Wichita, Kansas, and if its good, people will hear it. You don’t have to send your demo tape to a big label or try to play audition shows for Industry people. There’s a way to make music independent of all those gatekeepers of the past through new technologies and the internet. I think its really cool how its made things more democratic and fair. There is still a lot of unfairness about music where great bands never get the recognition they deserve. But I think its less now. So many people can hear it, know about it and appreciate it.

Interestingly enough, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s name stems from a children’s novel. “I knew this friend in Portland who wrote this children’s story. It was called The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.  The moral of the story was that the most important things in life are travelling with your friends while you’re young and having adventures, rather than having a fancy job or title.  Beside from the phrase being beautiful, and it being open to any kind of interpretation, that message resonated with us. We didn’t form because we wanted ads in the back of a music magazine, we were friends that hung out and played music a lot.”
The Pains are concluding their American tour with Cymbals Eat Guitars and the Depreciation Guild with final dates in New York, Philly and Boston. They head across the Atlantic for European dates beginning November 17th in Barcelona. True to the bands namesake, Kip reiterated what an amazing experience the bands tour has been. “Its like being on a road trip with your best friends and getting to play shows every night on top of it. It’s almost too good to be true.  In my opinion, its the most wonderful way to spend life. I get to go to places I’ve never been to before.  Its like all my dreams come true.”
PainsEP_01_Higher_Than_the_Stars_(Clean_Version) “High Than the Stars”
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart released their Higher Than the Stars EP
You can purchase it at