Modest success has not gone to the head of Kip Berman, lead guitarist, songwriter and vocalist for Brooklyn band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. He’s also still amazed that journalists want to ask him questions about the band’s music. He’s certainly easy to get a hold of, compared to a multimillion-dollar artist.
“Kanye’s not sitting at his mom’s house eating chips,” he says. “Lady Gaga has better things to do. But The Pains of Being Pure at Heart don’t have better things to do! That’s our vibe.”
He might answer any and all questions when the four-piece band rolls through SOhO this Wednesday night on their West Coast tour. And they just might answer all questions through their music, which packs punchy pop sensibilities with retro-noise stylings that commonly get the group compared to My Bloody Valentine, Shop Assistants and numerous shoegazer bands of the mid-’80s to early ’90s. (And don’t forget Slumberland labelmates Vivian Girls and Black Tambourine.)
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart — the title comes from an unpublished story by Berman’s friend — consists of Berman, Peggy Wang on keyboard and harmonies, Alex Naidus on bass and Kurt Feldman on drums. Although born in Philadelphia, Berman’s music sensibilities took shape in the Northwest, when he attended college in Portland.
“There was a lot of local bands, it was an incubator,” he says. “And our music has that suburban feel. We’re not the ‘ooh-cool’ rock band.”
He found that community feeling when he moved to Brooklyn, that sense that everybody can be in a band because, first and foremost, it’s fun and you get to hang with your friends.
“Most of the bands are familiar with and respect one another,” he says. “It’s not a cut-throat, competitive mentality.”
At first he was wary of asking Peggy to be in the band, because he thought she was “too cool.” She did, in fact, turn out to be cool, but she joined after they bonded over an obscure band called Dear Nora. And now Wang’s harmonies provide indispensable coloring to TPOBPAH’s sound. She’s also the “yea-sayer” in the group, providing balance that Berman feels he needs, since he writes all the songs.
“Her motto is ‘Peggy is always right,’ and she is,” Berman says.
The self-titled album debut received favorable reviews from Pitchfork and elsewhere, and for 2010, the band has released a summery seven-inch single, “Say No to Love.” As the members set off for their tour, they are just leaving the studio, having recorded an album for 2011.
The new album promises to step up the band’s game and expand its sound. Produced by Flood (Nine Inch Nails, U2, Depeche Mode) and mixed by Alan Mulder (Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins), the upcoming album keeps the intentionally cute and sometimes amateur sound, but gives it just that little shine and polish.
“He (Flood) understood our failings and celebrated them,” Berman says. “He didn’t hide them or sweep them under the rug. He understood and helped us sound the best we could.”
The group will be playing a few of those new songs on Wednesday night, but will mostly stick with its back catalog. For Santa Barbara, who hasn’t seen the group perform live yet, that’s necessary.
“I think people want to hear the records we have put out and the songs that they do know,” Berman says. “Hopefully everybody will go home happy.”