They’re called The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but there’s nothing too painful about them (except perhaps turning their name into an acronym). Named after an unpublished children’s book, they sing bright and fuzzy pop songs about good times with good friends, and the importance of cherishing such moments. You can see them tonight at the Great American Music Hall at 9 PM (tickets).
Unfortunately, I didn’t get meet TPOBPAH–but I did become familiar with band leader Kip Berman’s preferred Gmail typeface, and propensity for purple fonts. Sitting 700 miles up the I-5 in a Portland, Oregon coffee shop, Kip was kind enough to permit me a glimpse into his thoughts on life, music, tiny princes and elephant kings.
Let’s start with the basics: When did you guys get together? How did you meet? What style would you call your sound?
Kip: We were all friends in New York long before the band formed. We came together to play at Peggy’s birthday party with a couple bands we really loved, Titus Andronicus and Manhattan Love Suicides. At that point Kurt hadn’t joined, so we had a drum machine and played 5 songs in about 10 minutes. Things got a lot better when he joined, as his drumming really defines the songs so much and adds a lot of feeling to them.
We describe our music as pop. We understand that can mean a lot of things, but we really like that. It allows for a near infinite way to write music, whether you’re Beyonce, Deerhunter, The Kinks or Animal Collective. There’s something that makes it pop that transcends all the differences– you know it when you hear a great pop song, but it’s near impossible to describe what it is.
I have heard people describe your self titled debut as whimsical and youthful, with a hint of shoegaze. Was there any particular theme or feeling you wanted to evoke with the album?
Kip: Our album was going to be called “Romantic Friendship,” until everyone told us that was really stupid. But I guess that sums it up pretty well, it’s just about growing up in the suburbs, having a best friend and just hanging out… a lot. We just wanted it to sound noisy and poppy.
You guys are signed to the relatively small Slumberland Records. What is it like working with a smaller label at a time when the distribution of music is evolving so rapidly? Does piracy affect an up-and-coming band like yourselves?.
Kip: We love Slumberland, partly because they have a pretty incredible history (Rocketship, Aislers Set, Henry’s Dress, Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine), partly because we love the other current bands they’re working with (Crystal Stilts, caUSE co-MOTION, Pants Yell!) and partly because Mike Slumberland is about the nicest, most supportive guy ever.
As for “piracy,” we don’t really mind at all. We’d rather have people get to hear us, and if they like us they’re usually going to support us by coming to a show or buying a shirt or our records on vinyl.
Are you close with any other bands on the label?
Kip: Definitely! Crystal Stilts was one of our favorite bands before we even had a band– and for a while we even shared a practice space. They’re awesome and awesome people. caUSE co-MOTION is another Slumberland band we love, as well as Sexy Kids (now defunct, but playing music as Veronica Falls). They’re based in London, so we don’t get to see them that much, but I really like Veronica Falls, even though they’re not on Slumberland (yet?).
Oh, and while we’ve never met the other Velocity Girl/Black Tambourine people (well, besides Mike of course), we love Archie Moore, who mixed our record and new EP. Pants Yell! is putting out their next record on Slumberland and we are super tight with them– Andrew even made some t-shirts for us once.
Slumberland Records is based in Oakland. Do you guys get out here much? What do you think of the Bay?
We love coming to the Bay Area, as we get to see Mike, as well as these super enthusiastic teenage boys who are in a band called The Bilinda Butchers, who are really good. Girls, also a SF band we love, are really good friends of ours and we’d definitely hang with them, but they are on tour right now so they won’t be around this time.
You take your name from an unpublished children’s story, authored by a friend of the band. What’s the gist of the story? Any reason for that particular eponym?
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart–its moral is that the adventures you have when you’re young with your friends are more important than worldly accomplishments or title. I think it fits our music pretty perfectly. Plus, it filters out people who would sort of hate us. We once played at a festival at the same time as Slipknot, and I’m pretty sure their fans didn’t have a tough decision as to which band to see.
When can we expect a Kip Berman children’s tale?
Kip: I always wanted to write a children’s book about a caveman and his best friend, a thoughtful dinosaur named Franny. They would have adventures and then paint their adventures on the cave wall. Their life would be ideal, except for occasional run ins with Bully Mammoths.
What are your favorite children’s books, since we’re on the subject?
Kip: Babar and The Little Prince.
Switching gears, you guys are a young, up-and-coming band that generates a lot of positive talk on the internet. If you are ever looking for feedback, is there a particular music blog or critic you trust? Or do you take most of your feedback from friends, family, or one another?
Kip: We have this band rule called “Peggy is always right,” so generally she’s pretty good at telling if a song is bad and we shouldn’t play it. I love Skatterbrain for discovering new indiepop bands. He’s really enthusiastic and only writes about things if he’s genuinely into it. His sidebar also links to a lot of really good pop blogs, like Cloudberry Cake Proselytism, Paint the Words Pastel Blue and the venerable, recently resurrected indie-mp3.
When performing, do you feel comfortable on stage? How would you describe your stage presence?
Kip: We have a fun time playing these songs for people. I know it’s cliche to say this, but we sort of let the songs speak for themselves. I really admire dramatic, theatrical performers like The Flaming Lips and Of Montreal and what they do with their live shows, but that’s not really us. Maybe someday we’ll get that awesome…
What are the plans for the next year?
Kip: We’re on tour for the remainder of the year, and then we’ll start working on learning the songs for our next album. I’m really psyched for that.