The Pains of Being Pure At Heart | Truth Be Told

Kip Berman has blossomed into one of the most candid and earnest pop frontmen in the cycle today, which is impressive considering the success his band, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, has achieved over the last several years. ION interviewed him during the inception of the band, and he hasn’t lost any of his wide-eyed candor since then. Our music editor Trevor Risk chats with Berman again, and discovers that instead, he’s gained experience and perspective that usually only comes with two decades worth of record sales and touring.

Berman is one of the best interviews in music, and any chance to read his words is an honest treat in a world dominated by artists holding back for fear of saying the wrong thing, or portraying an image counter to the “unachievable rockstar”. Pains’ new album, Days of Abandon is their third full-length, and like Belong before it, is a departure from the other material without losing the tender yet strong voice that fans expect, and have clutched deep against their chests.

We did an interview around the time of the first full-length Pains album. You laughed about making a living in the music industry, and having far more fans in Sweden than in Brooklyn. What's changed since then? Are you comfortable in considering music your profession now?
Kip: I still think people in Sweden think we are cooler than the people on my block. And I don’t think of what I do as a profession, because it’s far too enjoyable and tenuous—it feels like a gift, or something I’ll have to stop doing soon because the world will find out that I just write songs in my bedroom and play them for people, and that is my life. I am grateful that this is what I do at this moment, but I sense that it is deeply unfair to all the people that would like to do it and don’t get a chance to. I’m lucky. But, there are a lot of people out there who are talented, and who deserve the same sort of attention we get.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart have secured a special place with fans, not unlike the way Belle & Sebastian or The Smiths have. Do you think this comes from the relatable lyrical content, or is there something more to it?
Kip: That’s very generous of you to say, but I think we still have a long way to go before we achieve the kind of iconic status of either of those bands. And it is strange to me how people find the things I write, which are very specific and about my life, relatable to their own. But people are more or less the same, and the things we experience are, to some degree, relatable to other people, because they experience a version of that too. I’m sorry if that sounds like some college sophomore who just took a gigantic bong rip, but it’s true. 
So many bands dilute their experiences to write something they think is “universal,” when in fact listeners can better relate to the bizarrely personal music of Destroyer, Titus Andronicus, or Tori Amos, than whatever it is Bastille sing about. And I know it seems like the above is wrong because Bastille sells many more records than those other bands. But in my heart, I believe the world will remember the brazen, peculiar, and unrepentantly personal artists far more than those who undermine themselves with the expectation of what "the masses" want. 

This is your third album—the three albums have a common thread but certainly do not sound alike. Do you worry about alienating your fan base, or do you have a longer, Bowie-esque vision of your output constantly evolving?
Kip: I think it would alienate the people who see worth in what we do if we repeated ourselves, or tried to pander to the most basic and superficial trappings of how people perceive us. There are plenty of bands that are content to be “lo-fi,” “noise rock,” “indie,” “shoe gaze,” “eighties” or “nineties revival,” or whatever it is people think we are, but—to me at least— aren’t. It makes me sad that there are bands that are content to be a category, a seasonal trend, or in any way limit what they are, and what they can be. 
I’ve always thought of our music as “pop.” Whatever hyphenated version of that people think we are, I just want to be good enough that someday people will see The Pains of Being Pure at Heart like Blondie, Aztec Camera, Katy Perry, or whatever. I like Jonathan Richman and Leonard Cohen, and there’s something in their music that exists outside of time or genre. You go see them, not because you like proto-indie singer songwriters, or poetic folk music, but because they are Jonathan Richman and Leonard Cohen. They are their own worlds, genres unto themselves.

Tell me about your current lineup and how it came about.
Kip: Christoph has played with us since the first album came out in 2009, and recorded with us on Belong. Anton is his twin brother, and both of them played in Kurt’s previous band—The Depreciation Guild—and shared a van with us on several previous tours. Jacob is also someone I’ve known forever, having been the primary songwriter in one of my favorite indiepop bands, Dream Diary, as well as played bass with my friend Kevin in The Hairs (a band, coincidentally, that Alex also played bass in for a while). And Jen Goma, who sings lead vocals on “Kelly” and “Life After Life,” plays in A Sunny Day in Glasgow—a band we played our third show ever with in my living room. Pains has always been people I’m friends with, who help me make music, and I don’t think that spirit has really changed.

Has there been any attempt, or discussion to attempt, to raise your band up a notch to terrestrial radio levels in the hopes it would make you superstars? There's certainly a strong foundation to attempt that jump. 
Kip: I don’t know a lot about that stuff. I try to write the best songs I can, and I hope for the best. Maybe I’ll discover Jem’s magic earrings and be transformed into a rock star? I can only control the worth of what we do—I don’t even have pierced ears. 


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