The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart: Diamonds In The Rough

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are about to make their way to KL to give us a big portion of medium rare indie-pop. It’s obvious that this band is a glittering gem among the hundreds of indie-pop bands trying to make it big out there. They’re honest, quirky in a genuine way, and do whatever the hell they want, whether it’s “cool” or not. JUICE got chatty with vocalist Kip Berman, and talked about Gothenburg handshakes, secret dreams and whatever else tickled his fancy.

How did you come up with the name of the band?
The name of the band is taken from a short story that a friend of mine named Charles Steen wrote called The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

What was it like back in the days when you didn’t have a drummer and you used your iPod to program drum beats?
Living in New York, space and rehearsal rooms are always at a premium, so I thought not having real drums would solve a lot of those problems. Also, it’s the 21st century and to have essentially the same instrument setup as a band 50 years ago seemed far too retro. Unfortunately, I soon learned I was no good at actually programming the drum machine so all our songs were the same rhythm and it stifled our creativity and made for a boring live show.

Who are your favorite mainstream pop artists?
In the ’90s, I was really a big fan of Weezer, Nirvana, Tori Amos, Hole, and Smashing Pumpkins. As far as contemporary chart pop goes, I really like Robyn and usually the new Beyonce or Rihanna single is worth a few listens. Katy Perry is pretty good too; I always get ‘Last Friday Night’ and ‘Teenage Dream’ stuck in my head.

Tell us about the time one of you received a Gothenburg handshake. How did that even happen?
Our friends in the Swedish band The Faintest Ideas asked me if they could teach me the Gothenburg Handshake and I, not knowing what that meant, agreed. They then proceeded to grab my junk. It was pretty funny and we wrote a song about it – we even filmed a video for it when we were in Sweden! The weird thing is, another indiepop band called The Besties also wrote a song about it, and I know they’re friends with The Faintest Ideas too. So the lesson to learn is that The Faintest Ideas are just rampant crotch grabbers, which is, among consenting adults, perfectly alright.

If you could have dinner with a famous person who’s not around anymore, who would it be and why them?
Gene Wilder is alive and well, but I always thought he was a really cool guy. Interviews I’ve heard with him confirm my instinctual love of him through his movies – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and a bunch more. Maybe among the non-living, I’d say eating Pizza with Joey Ramone would be pretty cool. But sometimes I prefer to just admire people as they are, and not intrude upon them. I’m sort of socially awkward, so I’d hate to have a really bad dinner with someone famous.

On a somewhat related note, I once ate chicken fingers with Momus. He’s a genius and I was a stupid college kid at the time. It was kind of embarrassing, but kind of funny too.

How do you feel about performing onstage?
Well, I love playing live, but I don’t think I’ve got any rockstar moves. I guess I just stand there and play my songs, so I hope that’s enough for people. I don’t own any spandex and I’m not sure about the proper way to apply mascara. That being said, my secret dream is to be a glamrocker, like Marc Bolan, Slade, Gary Glitter or David Bowie – and wear ridiculous clothes and makeup and have songs that feature decadent piano and seductive guitar lines. I sort of started a band when I was bored called Yes Homo and wrote three songs, inspired largely by youtube videos of Gary Glitter (and mostly, just the wardrobes of the glitter band). But we never even had a practice (or other members, really).

What’s your songwriting process like?
I write the songs. If they are good, the other band members agree to play them. If they are terrible, they don’t hesitate to tell me so.

Do you get sick of each other sometimes, while on tour? What do you do when you’re apart from one another?
We’re all friends, but when we’re not on tour it’s good to have some chill time, lest we become a cult. I like to go see bands that I like in Brooklyn and catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while. Sometimes I see Peggy and Connor or Alex at shows too.

If you could tour with anyone at all, who would it be?
We just did this festival in Australia and Singapore called Laneway, and we got to hang out with a bunch of the bands. We’d toured before with Girls and Twin Shadow, and those guys are really cool and bands we really love. But Toro y Moi and Cults, who we’d only met in passing before, were both an awesome group of people, and it’d be fun to play shows with those guys someday.

How did you react to the news about Whitney Houston passing away?
It’s always sad when anyone that’s incredibly talented has issues that prevent them from really attaining their potential or enjoying their success. I obviously didn’t know her or anything, but I wish I was 1/100th as good a singer as she was. She seemed like she meant well.

How do you feel about the whole “hipster” label?Is it too mainstream?
We play what we believe to be pop music, and would prefer people to like our songs instead of think we’re “cool.” Good songs last forever, but “cool” is always changing and rather ephemeral.

If you formed this band in the ’90s, how do you think the response would be to your music?
I don’t think we’d be well liked. We aren’t hard and we don’t scream. My voice is at least an octave above Eddie Vedder’s – actually, probably an octave above Natalie Merchant too. I don’t own any flannel and I don’t think heroin is glamorous. We’d fail, for sure, but maybe we’d be on the Clueless or Empire Records soundtrack – that would be cool.

Do you get mistaken as an emo band a lot? Is there something you do or a band rule to avoid making your songs overly-emo/corny?
No. I’d rather be in an emo band than the myriad generic indie bands that just express the vaguest sub-Pavement sentiments about being a boy and whatever it is boys sing about – dads not understanding them or something. I don’t know. I think 94% of indie lyricism is utter filler, and the other 6% is Destroyer, Titus Andronicus, Shrag, Comet Gain The Hold Steady, and My Favorite/The Secret History. I mean, obviously there are a lot more good bands with good words, but I really love the bands that take weird risks with language and err on the side of possibly embarrassing themselves or expressing something uncomfortable, rather than acting deliberately opaque and distant. I also like the band Personal and The Pizzas a lot – that guy is equal parts clever and hilarious.

You’ve been to pretty much every country on the globe, but which countries haven’t you been to, and do you want to go to those countries soon?
Well, to be honest, we’ve been really looking forward to coming to Asia – especially Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia. We get a lot of fan mails from that part of the world and there seems to be a really thriving indiepop scene happening, with a lot of bands emulating the sound of Sarah, Factory, Postcard, and other classic indiepop labels of the 80s and 90s. So we’re really excited to have this opportunity and hope the show is something special!

Catch The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart at KLPAC this month! Details here. Win tix here.