Music

This Love Is Fucking Right

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's Indie-Pop Perfection

This Love Is Fucking Right

Pavla Kopecna

THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART Alex Naidus, Kurt Feldman, Peggy Wang, and Kip Berman.

You either love indie pop—that C86-enshrined sound typified by brightly fuzzed-out guitar jangle, bashfully hopping backbeats, and fey boy/girl vocals—or you're just flat out wrong. (You jerk.) For fans of the genre, though, the past year has been a veritable dirty dream of twee, spearheaded stateside by the venerable and beloved Slumberland Records, and with no more perfect poster boys and girls than Brooklyn foursome the Pains of Being Pure at Heart (twee as fuck, they took their name from a friend's children's story). The band's self-titled debut full-length for Slumberland is one of the year's best records, indie pop or otherwise. Its melodies are familiar and effortlessly catchy, its sound is dreamy and sweet, its songs concise and clean pillars of pop songcraft, its lyrics clever and coy and sometimes just a tiny bit crass. Heaven(ly) help you if you haven't totally fallen for this band. Singer/guitarist Kip Berman spoke to The Stranger by phone from his apartment in Brooklyn.

I notice you have a Portland area code; were you living out here before New York?

Yeah, I lived in Portland from 1998 to 2005. I went to school at Reed College. I actually interned at [Stranger sister publication] The Mercury.

Based on a couple of songs on the album, "Young Adult Friction" and "The Tenure Itch," I was going to ask where it was you went to school that everybody was being seduced by their professors and fucking in the libraries, but maybe Reed makes some sense.

For better or for worse, that's where I went to school. I grew up on the East Coast, but getting to go out to Portland was really eye-opening. There was a strong indie-pop community out there and just great bands, and I got exposed to a lot of stuff I don't think I would have at that age had I not been in that part of the country—the Aislers Set down in San Francisco, the Gossip, and the Need would play in Portland all the time; Dear Nora was one of my favorite bands there; the Exploding Hearts were a big band in Portland at the time; the Hunches, the Thermals emerged sort of right before I left.

Portland seems like kind of a sister city to Glasgow in terms of indie pop. Like, Belle & Sebastian had a song named after the city.

Oh, Hefner actually had one, too. I saw Belle & Sebastian on 9/11 in Portland. That's my Belle & Sebastian story. But yeah, Hefner, the British indie-pop band, had a song called "The Heart of Portland, Oregon." I think Magic Marker Records was based in Portland, and that was a pretty good indie-pop label. There were definitely a lot of cool house shows—bands like the Lucksmiths from ­Australia, everything from Mates of State to the Aislers Set and early Thermals shows.

Speaking of the Aislers Set, how did you guys wind up on Slumberland?

Oh, geez. I don't know—very good luck? I was ordering records from Slumberland mail order at the time, and I must have mentioned, not in a "check out my band" kind of way, but I had some demos. And I guess I passed them along to Mike [Schulman, Slumberland owner] when I was placing an order at one point. It wasn't like cold-calling. We were writing back and forth about this Black Tambourine reissue 10-inch that I was ordering, because my bandmate Peggy [Wang, keyboardist] was a big Black Tambourine fan, and I got into them through her. So, Mike found out we had a band, and he wanted us to open for a Slumberland band called the Lodger when they were coming over to New York, and he was going to be at the show. I don't know if he was just intoxicated at the show or what, but he was really psyched on our performance. And this was a really big deal to us, because we grew up admiring Slumberland, which is just one of the great American indie labels.

Is there anything specific that you do gearwise to get that sort of classic indie-pop sound that you do, any pedals or what have you that are absolutely essential?

My friend did make me a special pedal. It's called "the painbow"; it's rainbow-colored and see-through, and it's pretty cool. It's basically just a Big Muff pedal that he modified a little bit to sound more like Smashing Pumpkins. I don't know, like, if someone else played with this pedal they would discover the secret to life and the universe. But it makes my guitar sound really fuzzy. I would say focusing on gear misses the point of what we're really interested in. We're just trying to write really good pop songs.

A couple of your songs have lyrics about being a teenager, teenage years, what have you. Were these songs that you wrote a long time ago, or is it just good songwriting sense to appeal to the youth?

I don't know, I'm pretty immature. I feel like the songs from the album are kind of about stuff that happens to you when you're growing up, but I also feel like that process doesn't really stop at 18 or something like that. The experiences that shape you aren't limited to a specific adolescent age range; it's a constant process of becoming the person that you are.

With "Everything with You," it's not written from the perspective of being 19, it's written from the perspective of being older and giving some kind of insight or advice to someone younger. You think the world's going to end, and you think you're going to die immediately, but life goes on, there's hope, there's some reason to keep on going.

There was this Deerhunter interview where he said you write songs for your 17-year-old self, which I thought was interesting. We wanted to be the band that we would have loved when we were 17, when music does mean everything to you, and it's a really idealistic time in your life. We were all kind of nerdy kids who hung out at diners and talked about bands that we liked all night; the music and who you were were almost one and the same thing. I think it's important to hold on to the reason you loved the music so much that it meant everything to you.

You have a couple lyrics that seem like intentional nods to other indie-pop bands. There's a line about "crashing through," which was the title of a Beat Happening song, and one about "another sunny day," which was the name of a British band.

I feel bad about the "another sunny day" one, because I realized after the fact that Belle & Sebastian did that, too. And not everyone has to name-drop Another Sunny Day to get anorak cred. "Stay Alive" originally was going to have a Velocity Girl reference in it, but I couldn't say "crazy town" in a song without cracking up, so that one didn't actually make it. "This Love Is Fucking Right" is kind of a reference to a Field Mice song, "This Love Is Not Wrong"; it's kind of the flip side to the coin. The B-side to the 7-inch for "Young Adult Friction" is called "Ramona," and the first lyrics are like, "nothing to do, nothing to be done," and that's kind of a reference to that Pastels song that's like, [singing] "simply nothing to be done."

To me it's fond and loving. Everyone tries to act like they've made the most original music ever created, and I'm like, I love other bands, and I'm not afraid to say it. I've always loved other bands, and I'd like to be in a band like the kind of bands that I love. Sometimes it's fun to leave little love notes to the bands that have allowed you to make the music that you do. recommended

 

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no love is wrong
Posted by viviennewestwood on August 4, 2009 at 7:31 AM · Report this

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