New York four-piece The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart may have a name some would find synonymous with the latest Pete Wentz clones on the emo circuit, but dig a little deeper and you'll find a band at home with infectious pop melodies awash with just a tinge of distorted noise here and there that recalls the likes of early My Bloody Valentine, The Pastels, The Field Mice and more recently Camera Obscura and The Manhattan Love Suicides.
Recent singles 'Come Saturday' and 'Everything With You' have received rave reviews across the board (including here on this very site) and more recently, they came to the attention of a certain David Gedge who invited them on tour with The Wedding Present earlier this month.
It's a cold Sunday evening in the middle of December and Contact is sat in Nottingham's Bodega Social post-soundcheck with guitarist/singer Kip Berman, fellow vocalist and keyboard player Peggy Wang and bass player Alex Naidus. Regular drummer Kurt Feldman is absent from this tour due to him not being able to secure any annual leave from his day job, while stand-in Danny Taylor is on internet duty, manning the band's many fan sites.
You're coming towards the end of your biggest UK tour to date. How's it gone so far?
Kip: Nothing short of amazing! It sounds cheesy to say that but its kinda true. We've played a mix of big venues with The Wedding Present to small clubs on our own, and the reception on both counts has been a lot better than we ever expected it to be.
I remember seeing The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart last time you were over in February, where people perhaps weren't as familiar with your songs, but a buzz started building pretty much soon after.
Kip: It's pretty hard to predict whether people are going to get it or not. Last time we were over we had a lot of fun, and it was great to meet so many people for the first time that hadn't heard of us our music beforehand. At the time we didn't think it could get any better, but I can honestly say this time has been more fun than that.
Peggy: Wedding Present fans seem to be generally good people. I mean, they've a really loyal and long-term fan base who are there because they're genuine fans of the band rather than any scene.
Kip: Its not a fashion show. It's really gratifying to see that they've cultivated such a devoted group of fans over 22 years. These people all seem genuinely committed to the music they make; its like when they turn up to their shows its like a genuine sign of appreciation.
How did the tour with The Wedding Present come about?
Kip: We share a booking agent with them, and when The Wedding Present announced their UK tour he passed our music onto David Gedge, and I guess he must have liked what he heard because he asked us on it almost straight away.
Alex: It's almost too good to be true! I mean, if someone had said to us back in February that we'd be returning to the UK supporting The Wedding Present within the same 12 months...we'd have thought it completely unrealistic.
Peggy: It's been nice to have someone else planning the tour for us as well. I mean, Kip did all the work last time and it took literally months and months in advance to organise, whereas for this most of the dates were already arranged. I guess it made us appreciate more just how much work goes into having a band tour a foreign country.
Kip: Everything good that could possibly happen to us has happened on this tour; I mean, we played in Glasgow two days ago and Stephen Pastel came to the show and we met him afterwards.
Almost like an early Christmas present for you then...?
Kip: Basically, having a conversation with Stephen Pastel was like having Christmas presents for the last 15 years!
Your sound has been compared to the likes of The Pastels, Lazy-era My Bloody Valentine and many bands from the C86 underground scene. They're very obscure reference points for a young band from New York; what turned you onto that whole movement?
Alex: I think it just comes from us being general music nerds. It's like a revolving wheel where you hear a song and then you move onto another and another until eventually you arrive back at the beginning. I think me and Kip bonded over 'Paint A Rainbow' by My Bloody Valentine; I wouldn't say that's our blueprint but it's definitely something we shared. We don't just like British bands from 1986 though. We like lots of nerdy bands!
Kip: We listen to all different kinds of stuff from heavy guitar music that's really loud to pop music that's really pretty and gentle to listen to. I guess our aim is to try and combine the two and I think The Pastels are a perfect example of a band who at their peak managed to that quite successfully. Early Teenage Fanclub, Yo La Tengo...they're the sort of bands who I'd say inspire us to write the songs we do but I think there are seeds of this band almost everywhere.
Peggy: I think that last bit is so true. I mean, I was listening to people like Velocity Girl and the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana for a long time before I'd even heard of My Bloody Valentine.
With bands like yourselves and Vivian Girls currently breaking through it seems like New York has become a bit of a breeding ground for underground pop music with a noisy twist...
Kip: I think there are so many good bands in the city at the moment that it keeps us on our toes to be better, keeps us inspired to the point where no one wants to be recognised as 'that bad band from New York'. It makes it very easy to push yourself into working harder.
Your current single 'Everything With You' has been well received by the music press over here not to mention playlisted by XFM radio and MTV Europe. A bit of a welcome surprise by all accounts I gather...?
Kip: I certainly wouldn't say we expected it that's for sure!
Peggy: Radio over here is really different from what it is back in America. We seem to hear a lot more indie-type stuff on the radio whenever we're in the UK than we do back home for example. I don't think we're the kind of band that would ever have our music played on American radio.
Alex: It's nice that things are happening but it is totally unexpected. Its not like we have low self-esteem or anything but we've gone from playing birthday parties a year-and-a-half ago where we perhaps didn't take ourselves that seriously as a band to where we are today. Any good things that come our way are greatly appreciated; I don't think you should take anything for granted at all.
Although your album's not due out until the early part of 2009, you've already made several of the tracks available on your website to download for free. How do your record label, Fortuna Pop!, feel about that?
Kip: I think as long as we don't go on our MySpace page and put a zip file on them where you can just download the entire thing then they're OK with it.
Alex: There are so many bands I've gotten into where someone has sent me a link to one of their tracks which has been freely available to download and then after I've gone out and searched out their entire catalogue. You just have to be open and respectful in what you're doing. I mean, we gave the MP3 of 'Come Saturday' away for free but people still went out and bought the seven-inch anyway. I don't think it makes that much of a difference; it just gives people more access to our music.
What are your plans for 2009?
Kip: The album is due to come out in February. We're due to tour the East Coast of America around the same time to coincide with that, and then in March we're doing South By Southwest. Our regular drummer Kurt plays with The Depreciation Guild too, so he's gonna be touring with them too. In fact, they're playing with us on the East Coast dates I believe...
Finally, where does the name, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, originate?
Kip: First of all, I really couldn't ever imagine playing this music under a different name. I remember someone once asking us to shorten it to 'Pains' and we were like, 'No way!'
Alex: Its not like we're the cool dudes in the white skin-tight pants or anything!
Kip: I just think it fits our music in that both capture so many different kinds of emotions. We started off listening to a lot of punk and hardcore bands when we were kids so I guess that's where the 'emo' influence - if you can call it that - comes from. Also, a friend of mine wrote a book; a short story called 'The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart' many years ago and although it was never published, its sentiment and message that being young and having your friends around you are the most important things in your life is a concept we see with this band.
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