Pains of Being Pure at Heart Talk 'Emotionally Complete' New Album (Q&A)
Frontman Kip Berman discusses the lineup and label changes surrounding Pains' glistening pop opus
Indie pop fans, rejoice -- a new Pains of Being Pure at Heart album is here. Almost three years exactly since the release of 2011's "Belong" the Brooklyn-based indie pop troupe will release its third full length album, "Days of Abandon," May 13 via Yebo Music.
Aside from finding a new label (after releasing two albums for Slumberland Records) frontman Kip Berman shuffled the band's lineup, enlisting a new live keyboardist (Drew Citron, to replace Peggy Wang) and a new vocalist (A Sunny Day in Glasgow's Jen Goma) who absolutely slays lead vocals on "Kelly" and "Life After Life."
The supporting cast has changed, though Berman's swoon-worthy songwriting remains. The ten tracks on "Days of Abandon" showcase a mastery of decades worth of pop music, from 60s girl groups to late-80s indie pop, tied together with magnificently hi-fi production that lends the gloss on every note a little extra shimmer. Berman once tried his hand at music journalism, so his expert musings go well beyond the studio -- he answers questions (always via e-mail) with the aplomb of a pop historian.
Billboard: I'm interested in the transition from Slumberland to Yebo Music for this album. How did you wind up at Yebo and what was the trip like along the way?
Kip Berman: We love Slumberland and (Slumberland owner) Mike Schulman is still putting out the 7” single for “Simple and Sure” and maybe the next single, “Eurydice” as well. It just came down to an opportunity to help us get into the studio, record and mix the record, and Yebo believed in us enough to help make that possible.
What's it like recording and performing with what seems like a rotating cast of musicians? How do so many other voices affect your creative process?
For me it’s mostly the same, as the other Pains are my friends and I sit in my bedroom and write a lot of songs and bring them to practice and work out the parts. This record was great because Kurt Feldman, who normally plays drums, also contributed to the synth programming - something he’s particularly good at thanks to his experience with his own amazing band The Ice Choir. Plus, having Jen Goma (A Sunny Day in Glasgow) take over lead vocals on two songs (“Kelly” and “Life After Life”) and Kelly Pratt (Beirut, David Byrne & St. Vincent, Bright Moments) help with the horn parts really opened up our sound in a way that was exciting and different than anything we were able to do before. I still think the most important thing is the song itself - but that doesn’t mean trying to develop the song and record it the best you can is a bad thing.
Who wrote the lyrics for the songs sung by Jen on the album? What is it like writing vocals that someone else sings lead on?
I wrote the lyrics, and I didn’t actually write them thinking someone else would sing them. But I think it works, since “Life After Life” is a bit in drag -- given that the lyrics draw on Genet’s "Our Lady of The Flowers" as partial inspiration. But the idea of drag and the performance of gender is so open-ended that it really doesn’t matter if the voice is (biologically) female or male. And given that Jen’s voice is a bit more brassy and biting than mine, I thought that it conveyed a more complex relationship between confidence and frailty, strength and despair. Plus, it gets boring to listen to me for 10 songs in a row, right?
With the more expansive sound on "Belong" it seemed like Pains wanted to grow into a bigger band… What are your goals for "Days of Abandon"?
To me, the most important thing is always just writing the best songs we can. But I think in many ways “Days of Abandon” is a more expansive sounding record than even "Belong." There is more range, more layers and nuance to these songs. "Belong" was very much “one idea x 10.” This record feels more emotionally complete, to me at least. And I think our musicianship really improved a lot and allowed us to push the sound to places we hadn’t been able to go before. Songs like “Kelly,” “Eurydice” and “Masokissed” really stood out for me as moments where I felt a sense of “wow, is that really us?”
Can you speak about keyboardist Peggy Wang moving on from the band?
Music is my life, but it’s not how everyone wants to live. Peggy has a lot of talents, and she’ll do other good stuff for sure.
I think it's really neat how one might say Pains and your indie-pop influences make pop music…and then a massive crowd of others love artists like Beyoncé and Katy Perry for their pop music. What do you think makes something "pop"?
I love that “pop” can mean a lot of things, but on some level there is something that unites our music with Katy Perry and Beyonce, or Aztec Camera and Orange Juice. To us, we always aspire to be pop without having to explain it in terms of micro-genre. When we started people would always say we were “lo-fi” pop or “dream pop” or “indiepop.” And I get why people say that, but to us what’s most important in our music is pop, not whatever becomes before the hyphen.
The thing that makes music timeless are the qualities that Beyonce, The Ronettes, The Ramones, Blondie or The Pastels share -- not the things that differentiate them. Maybe someday we’ll get there and our songs will just exist in the supermarket or The Gap in a matter of fact way -- like they just belong there, because that’s where pop songs live.
In a recent Stereogum interview, you were discussing how 10 songs is the perfect length for a vinyl record. What are some of your favorite 10-song albums?
I’m actually even more impressed with the albums that have even less songs, but still feel complete. Rocketship’s “A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness” has only 8, and Ride’s "Nowhere" has 9. No one feels like they’re too short, do they? Perfect Pussy’s debut has 8 songs, and that feels like plenty by the time you’re done with it -- anything more and it would lose a lot of the power.