Brooklyn-based indie pop outfit the Pains of Being Pure at Heart owes a lot to the late ’80s. Fronting Pains for the past decade-plus, Kip Berman has used the jangly guitars and sublime melodies of college rock bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain, R.E.M. and the Field Mice as jumping off points for his own blissful record store rock. But he’s out to prove that late stadium juggernaut Tom Petty could sound right at home in a bed of shoegaze guitars.
Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s latest project is covering Petty’s mighty 1989 LP Full Moon Fever front-to-back. The whole thing is available through Turntable Kitchen’s Sounds Delicious series, which features artists putting their own spin on entire classic albums. Full Moon Fever is expected to ship between the end of October and early November (pre-orders available here), but we’ve got a taste to whet your appetite.
Pains’ take on “Free Fallin'” sounds absolutely huge. Berman and company lean so far in to the this cavernous song that they sound as though they might never return. The acoustic guitar strums ring out from coast-to-coast, and Pains’ proclivity for echo and sparkle let Petty’s misty-eyed ballad tap into new levels of beauty. This also may be the first ever twee pop song about a girl who loves horses.
Find the song below, followed by a little Q&A with Berman. (They previously shared their take on “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” which you can hear over at Stereogum).
Do you feel a special connection to Tom and his music?
My step dad (who also taught me my first three chords on guitar) was a huge Petty fan and would play his music constantly. This was around that time Nirvana was happening, and there was a clear generational divide between liking Tom Petty and “alternative” rock (which I also liked). My friends at school gave me a pretty hard time for writing “Tom Petty” on my backpack — it wasn’t exactly the Misfits. But in retrospect, I think Tom Petty was the rare classic rock guy that was respected by both the canon (older artists, Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, etc.) as well as the new generation of bands. I remember seeing Dave Grohl (I guess he’s a classic rock guy deep down) play drums with him on Saturday Night Live and being really amazed that one of the guys from Nirvana thought Tom Petty was cool.
What made you think “Free Fallin’” would translate so well to a dream pop or shoegaze-type recording?
The original was made at the same time as some of the greatest dream pop and shoegaze records. And it works on similar premises of layering, subdued vocals, repetition, and texture. Lyrics aside, this song wouldn’t sound out of place on a Ride album. Obviously, the way Tom Petty did the song was a lot more Americanized, and the production of ELO’s Jeff Lynne was rooted more in a sort of minimal, hyper-nuanced, bright production style. But it’s really just three chords for about four and a half minutes; the genius of the song is that so much builds and delivers without really anything structurally going on. You could play this song if you played guitar for three weeks, but you couldn’t write this song even if you played guitar for 30 years. Some people just have the light and Tom Petty was one of those people.
Where on this cover do you feel you most made “Free Fallin’” your own?
In fairness, I think most of the credit for this song has to be given to former Pains drummer Kurt Feldman, who recorded this song with me. His production ideas really transformed this song into something a touch more unmoored, and brought out the more melancholic feelings and strange undercurrents of the song — ideas I’ve always heard in the lyrics, but couldn’t quite convey in sound without his collaboration.
Does Pains have anything else coming up you want to mention?
No. This was actually supposed to be done in 2016, so apologies to people waiting on this for a bit. Also, a huge thanks to Kurt Feldman and [vocalist] Jen Goma for totally slaying on this track, as well as “Face in the Crowd,” which is also on the album. I think I mostly just did a crossword puzzle while those songs were being recorded.