Despite an often melancholic undertone, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart offers their listeners a sense of lingering possibilities in their new album The Echo of Pleasure
For those who always keep an eye on the underground music scene, you’re probably aware of the indie musicians that have visited in Hong Kong recently, such as Christopher Owens, Beach Fossils and Mount Kimbie. After appearing twice at Hong Kong’s biggest music festival Clockenflap within the past six years, it seems local music fans can’t get enough of the New York favourite – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. So we interviewed frontman Kip Berman about their release: The Echo of Pleasure and the stories that have influenced the band.
An interview with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is one of those names you won’t forget because of its embedded poetic sentiment. Following their last album Days of Abandon – which brilliantly conveys melodic representations of sadness, disappointment and loneliness – the Brooklyn-based indie noise-pop band’s latest release in 2017 The Echo of Pleasure leads their listeners to euphoric ecstasy with a richer and more mature wall of sound.
Ten years ago, you started your own band and named it The Pains of Being Pure at Heart based on a story title you came across in Portland. How did (and do) you reinterpret this sentiment “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart” then and now?
I wonder if along the way there has been some corruption – understandably inevitable – of my intent and dreams. When we started, we were pretty inept musically and this bothered me. I felt like we were constantly disappointing people every time we played a show. I used to say we were “too true to be good” – and in a way, we were. As we got better, I think there was a degree of worldly ambition to be “bigger”, and it poisoned us a bit. When we didn’t get “big” the other members left to do work that was more stable, and I was left with the pieces of something that was now tainted, yet remained the best or only way I had of expressing what I wanted to express.
Your latest album is called The Echo of Pleasure. How did you come up with that title to represent this album ?
When looking back on life, memory is a kind of echo. Each reflection is a bit duller or less vivid than the initial feeling of the thing remembered. But I also think of love as an ongoing conversation – each reply, or echo, is a variation of the thing said before. It’s not simply a mirror – a mirror is static, exacting. A mirror is, both literally and figuratively, vanity. The reason you seek intimacy with another person is not to have another version of yourself, but to know experiences and feelings that return back to you in ways that are different. When a partner is absent, that back and forth ends, and the feelings just sort of fade out into oblivion, into silence.
Do you have a favourite song on The Echo of Pleasure and why is that?
The Garret. It reaches places that I don’t think our music has gone before. If you had played it for me when we started the band, I wouldn’t have thought it possible that I could be part of a song like this.
The Echo of Pleasure seems to have a rather joyous soundscape when compared to the more melancholic Days of Abandon. Can you walk us through the changes that might have fed your creative process during that gap of three years between the albums?
Making Days of Abandon was a challenging time, as three of the musicians who had been with me almost from the start decided not to continue playing in the band in order to pursue more traditional careers. At the time, my relationship to the band – and to music – was the most important thing in my life, and it was being torn from me. It was like going through a romantic breakup, because I had such a romantic ideal about what the band was and should be, and who was part of it. It just felt like an overwhelming sense of failure and loss.
In some ways, I’m not so sure The Echo of Pleasure is that much more upbeat. It was written at a time when I felt the band could end, not from the changes in the priorities of other people, but from changes in my own life. I was expecting my first child, and I didn’t want to be absent in my daughter’s life. Being in a band – the instability and the time on the road – seemed almost irreconcilable with being a good parent. I don’t know how to say this without it seeming either conceited or obvious, but no part of being an “artist” is more important than being good to your family. So there was a sense of (possible) finality to this record.
But whereas Days of Abandon felt passive, The Echo of Pleasure felt like – if it was an ending – this was an ending that would be my decision to make. The joy you hear is the sound of me doing the thing I love, fully aware that it may be the last time I get to do it; and, I suppose, the melancholy is routed in that same reality.
Where do you find inspiration outside of musical influence?
So little of my inspiration for music comes from music. I don’t even think of myself as a musician, really. I play guitar and sing no better than anyone sitting in your local music shop, but what drives me is writing. And that inspiration comes from phrases I read, people I know, or conversations I have that seem to stick in my head. It’s usually from many of those sources that a single song emerges.
On a song like The Garret, there is a touch of Genet’s “Our Lady of The Flowers” – that feeling of being alien in your own body, or having an internal reality that is at odds with what you are seen to be. But then you also think of past love, and a sense that when something ends it doesn’t really end, though you’d prefer it to. There are unwelcome memories that never quite extinguish, how you reconcile that with life at present, how you continue to move “forward” when you are always at risk of being devoured by an ever extending past as you live longer and longer.
With the arrival of your daughter, what influence do you most look forward to be getting from her on your music?
I don’t yet know. I think now my interests musically are more in line with the kind of music I can put on around the house when I’m with her. I never much liked “shoegaze” music – and when I’m with her I never put on anything that really sounds like that. Instead, I listen more to things like Richard and Linda Thompson, Lou Reed, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, Linda Perhacs. Maybe it’s a false sense of authenticity – this idea that older things, or more acoustic based music is somehow real. I don’t know, I just want to listen to music that isn’t about loudness or adolescent anguish, but has a power and a purpose from what it says and a confidence to say it in a direct way.
To me your albums are the fountain of youth, which always remind me of the highs and lows of being an adolescent, is that what you intended for?
I think I write songs about how I feel, and I may be prone to extremes. So maybe that is equivalent to a “youthful” worldview, where there’s this desire for absolutes, a desire for purity. I just find it so worthless to come to a “more mature” understanding of life, if that means settling for things that are less than they ought to be, to willingly negotiate away your own vitality and idealism for something more circumspect. And this is not to say adults should behave like teenagers or “never grow up” either. I just think it’s better to err on the side of being a bit ridiculous and idealistic. We live such short lives, why not?
I’ve a special fondness for Art Smock, the soothing opening track of Days of Abandon; can you tell me more about that song?
To me it encapsulates the entire album in about two minutes. I suppose there are nine songs after it that develop the ideas a bit more, but if you wanted to summarise that album you could just listen to Art Smock. No one else wanted me to include it on the album, and certainly no one wanted it to be the first track on the album. I have such annoyingly long winded interviews (as you can tell), that I’m glad at least I can be “to the point” in my music without wasting too much of anyone’s time (laughs).
What misconceptions do you think people have about The Pains of Being Pure at Heart?
I don’t know what people think of us, but I’m flattered if they think of us. Most of the bands I admired never got to play shows outside of their postal code – so it’s pretty incredible people halfway around the world from where we live even know our music. I’m deeply grateful we’ll have the chance to come and play! Thank you!
Follow what they’re up to here: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart