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The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Kip Berman on the Complexities of Life

Not So Simple

Aug 04, 2014 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Issue #50 - June/July 2014 - Future Islands
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“Life is complexit’s complex for everyone,” The Pains of Being Pure at Heart frontman Kip Berman observes over a plate of breakfast tacos. “It isn’t just dark for people who are in bands. That’s something that bugs me, when bands say, ‘We just feel more because we’re artists!’ No, everyone feels the same amount of feelings. Just because you can pick up a guitar and write a song about it doesn’t make it any more valid than anyone else.”

While he’s friendly, it quickly becomes clear that Berman isn’t a fan of talking about himself for long periods of time. Despite the fact he’s being interviewed, he often nudges the conversation toward topics that he finds more interesting. He’s a fan of pop from Sweden and Scotland, for example, and can rattle off details of each scene’s history with impressive ease. Slowly, a piecemeal picture begins to emerge: Berman isn’t being difficulthe simply finds his relationship with music too all-consuming to sum up over a single meal.

The impetus for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s third album Days of Abandon came while the band was touring behind its previous effort, the shoegaze-indebted sophomore album, Belong. After a large show in Tokyo, Berman was asked to DJ at an afterparty. He came early to discover a band performing an acoustic set. As he recalls, both the emotional content and logistics of the performance were inspiring.

“We needed so many amplifiers to make our songs make sense,” Berman reflects. “But if we were playing here tonight, would the songs in this context make sense? Maybe they wouldn’t. The best songs are the songs that sound good to eight people on an acoustic guitar.”

Chasing that feeling of simplicity (”Belong was really blurry in terms of purpose,” he admits), Berman returned to the roots of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart as a solo project, opting to write Days of Abandon alone. (Previous Pains of Being Pure at Heart members Kurt Feldman and Alex Naidus appear on the album. Christoph Hochheim, Anton Hochheim, Drew Citron, Jacob Sloan, and A Sunny Day In Glasgow’s Jen Goma, who guests on the album, were recently added as touring members.)

Although the creative process was streamlined, Berman balks at the idea that the result was a stripped-down albumdespite what early reports promised. (He confirms that he misspoke when initially attempting to describe Days of Abandon‘s polished sound to the press.) “The record is actually just as produced and huge-sounding as the last one,” he clarifies. “There’s just no electric guitars. It’s about not reducing ourselves to simply one dynamic, where we step on a distortion pedal and sound like 1996…. This album, for us, may seem like our most pretty-sounding record,” says Berman. “It’s easy to think that, ‘Oh, they must be watering it down.’ Or, ‘Oh, this must be a pretty song about feelings.’ But for me, as you examine the songs, they aren’t that.”

Days of Abandon is a sophisticated reimagination of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s breezy pop sound, heavily favoring keys and light horn flourishes (written by Beirut’s Kelly Pratt) while softening the band’s previously scrappy sound. However, Berman dismisses the idea of “artist maturation,” particularly the notion that a listener should expect an expansion on the themes he’s been chasing since his 2009 self-titled debut. A showcase for the musician’s playfully maudlin sense of humor, Days of Abandon is stuffed with outsiders: a girl with a cold sore reflecting on her “complicated” boyfriend, music snobs mocking art rock, and, in a linguistic high-water mark, a character with “a constant aversion to forgo perversion.”

“I think on some level, Pains songs are always about the same things,” he muses. “I write them and they’re about my life. I don’t draw lines in the sand and say that I’m going to only write about these few months of my life. There’s a sense of being in the present and not reflecting on the past. There’s a sense of immediacy in the moment.”

Heady, yes. But hardy ephemeral. Named after the 2002 Italian novel about the dissolution of marriage called The Days of Abandonment, the album’s title suggests lingering consequences to Berman’s narratives. Coupled with the album art, an elegant image by artist Lee Jinju featuring two semi-nude women slumped over a desk, and a dark undercurrent to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s pleasing pop begins to emerge.

At that observation the Berman shifts uncomfortably.

“Well, I lie,” he admits softly. “Music expresses a part of myself that I’m very uncomfortable talking about. So I make jokes about it. But art exists because of the things that people can’t just say. Or say well in conversation. I think the music and the album art are more telling than I’m capable of telling. But I’m also from the Midwest. I don’t want my grandparents to read that I’m sad or something. I’m glad I’m alive.”

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s June/July print issue (Issue 50).]


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August 9th 2014

Oh wow, the Dream Diary guy is in the band now? :0 I still wish there would’ve been a second Dream Diary album…