The Natvral on “Tethers” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Natvral on “Tethers”

Kip Berman Charts a New Course

Mar 31, 2021 Web Exclusive
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When Kip Berman states that everything is different these days, he’s not exaggerating. Since you likely last saw him fronting the indie pop band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Berman is now a family man in a new home in a new city with a new set of priorities. As it turns out, the songs have changed, too.

Despite the shifting focus from logging global tour miles to staying home to watch his daughter, Berman hasn’t stopped making music. But the reconstructed lifestyle has given way to a newfound freedom in his creativity. There are no other voices weighing in. There are no more expectations on the table. There’s no scene in which he’s pressured to take part.

Under a new moniker The Natvral, Berman is set to release Tethers on Friday via Kanine. We recently sat down to talk about the musical shifts and how a loose day in the studio changed it all.

Matt Conner (Under the Radar): I read something from a couple years ago where you said the songs were coming out differently for The Natvral. I know that’s a while back, but I’d love to start at that juncture. What does that tangibly look like to sit down and write and have the results change on you after years in Pains?

Kip Berman: I’d guess I’d take a step back behind the song and talk about my life at that time. I finished writing the songs for the last Pains album around 2015 and recorded it in January in 2016 in Brooklyn. Three months after that, my daughter was born in April.

Soon after that, we moved to Princeton, New Jersey, which is where my wife works. It afforded us the ability to not carry a stroller up six flights of stairs. [Laughs] New York is cool but it’s really challenging to go across six lanes of traffic to find one area that has a tree on it to hang out and have a little peace. Because of having a child, we moved to Princeton, which is a university town—and it’s still only 45 miles south, so it’s not like I can’t get to the city—but my whole lifestyle changed pretty dramatically.

I was staying home with my daughter for the first year and a half of her life before she could go to preschool. I would just walk with her around New Jersey all day in a stroller going to the park—just spending my days with her. When I did play guitar, it was usually around her, which meant silly songs for her and making up funny songs. That’s one thing I could do that she seemed to like.

When I played guitar for myself, it wasn’t with a sense or expectation that I’d go to New York and “this is what the drums are going to go” and “this is what the keyboard’s gonna do.” It just seemed like whatever agitated my life to write songs for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, it was a very finite moment of my life. I’d moved to New York and started a band with my friends. When I left, I didn’t feel any urge to write songs that way anymore.

Did the urge to write go away completely?

I don’t want to make it sound like writer’s block. It wasn’t like that. It was a relief. I didn’t feel any compulsion to create that way. My life had changed so much that my feelings had changed, too. The way I was expressing myself, playing guitar, and writing music—I felt liberated from that in a way.

So I was writing songs by myself in the basement but I still hadn’t really come to terms with how I would record those songs or make them or whether they should even be a new thing. I think I owe a great deal of gratitude to my friend Andy Savours. He recorded the last two Pains records, but after our last tour in England back in 2017, I had a day off before my flight back to the States. He invited me by his studio to record some new songs.

I was a little confused because I thought we’d need someone to play drums or figure out what tempo to record at. It’s all that stuff you have to figure out when you go into a studio with a rock band. You have to think about how it’s going to come together before you start playing the song. Andy said, “No, just come by.”

When I got there, there was a microphone stand and a guitar amp and the guitar amp had a mic on it. Andy said, “Now play your song and sing it.” That’s what we did. I just played guitar and sang at the same time and that’s how we recorded it. We did four songs together that way, and then we went down to the pub.

It was easy. That’s not to say I’m so great at music or anything. It was a simple approach to recording music that didn’t require a lot of production or trickery or having to do things so perfectly to meet someone’s expectations. It was just playing and singing your song and that’s good enough. I was grateful to have a friend like Andy to tell me that, to let me know all I had to do was play my music and it was enough. That counts as music, too.

I’m fascinated by a couple things here but nothing more so than the way you described songwriting as agitation. You used that word to describe the songs coming out.

I always get a little upset when people who write songs overly complicate it or act like they have this great gift or affliction or pretend they can see beauty no one else can see. It always feels a little stuck-up.

As far as agitation goes, the things you say in music are the things that are hard to say in life. I couldn’t write a song that said “fuck Trump” because it’s easy to say that. It’s easy to express certain ideas. They’re obvious or direct, so you don’t need to put them into a song to express. The things you put into your songs are the things that are harder to say. If you could say them, then you would.

These are things you don’t necessarily feed good about feeling or you might feel comfortable expressing them other ways. Whatever that energy was that got me to write songs for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, when my life changed, when my situation changed, the things I was experiencing and feeling and worrying about also changed. It doesn’t mean that I was without feeling or worry or experience. They just became different.

I think it’s easy to think narratively like, “Guy in indie band chills out. He now plays an acoustic guitar and is a parent.” I think that’s a false narrative in some respects because, at least as I’ve experienced it, the anxieties and worries and energies don’t end or subside. I’m not sitting around on the top of the mountain in a robe with some great wisdom. [Laughs] I don’t even feel different in a lot of respects. My focus is just different.

You said you don’t feel different, but do the expectations around a new album feel different?

Even the ability to release a record is a huge deal. I don’t mean to devolve the question a bit, but most of the bands who inspired Pains put out maybe one record. The fact that we got to out two and three and four is a pretty incredible thing. It wasn’t because we signed some five-record deal and we knew we’d get to make that many. Each record had to justify the reason to continue on as a group. If you made a bad one, it was going to be over pretty fast.

That’s not to say our music was good, but there was a pressure that you had to make your best work even to have a chance to continue to write songs and play them for people. It wasn’t handed to us. So to put out a record now is such a different situation. I’m not in the Best New Artist rat race or anything like that. [Laughs]

For this record coming out, I don’t have any expectations because I’m surprised I even have the opportunity to release music and have anyone care. I know the last record came out in 2017, but I wrote it in 2015. It’s been a really long time since I’ve gotten to make music and put it out in the world. I’m just grateful if anyone will give it a listen and consider it worth their time.

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