Pals Kip Berman (guitars/vocals), Peggy Wang (keyboard/vocals), Alex Naidus (bass) and Kurt Feldman (drums) are The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: a lighthearted indie-pop band from New York City with a deceptively heavy name. Their solid and sincere 2009 eponymous debut album caught the ears of production and mixing team Alan Moulder (Smashing Pumpkins, Jesus and Mary Chain) and Flood (Depeche Mode, U2) who came aboard for the band’s sophomore album, Belong. Shortly after its release, Kip Berman describes how – contrary to their unusual name – ‘The Pains’ have only good things coming their way.
How did the band come together?
We’re all friends. We hang out together, go to shows, listen to music and bond over certain bands. Our first show together was Peggy’s birthday party in March 2007. Even though we weren’t super proficient in music at the time, we were just so into music…and we got better as time went on.
And your name comes from an unpublished children’s story?
Yeah, I lived out in Portland for a while and a friend of mine there had written a book called The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I think it’s such a beautiful and evocative name.
What’s the story about?
It’s a story with the moral that the important things in life aren’t power, or professional or social status. It’s not important how society views you; it’s most important who your friends are and having fun and experiencing things. It seemed like a fitting name for us.
In that it represents your approach to your career?
Yeah. We’re not in this to have a corporate ‘Pains’ jet; we just like to be together and travel and make music – and we wouldn’t change it for anything. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you’re making music rooted in the right ideas.
Tell me about Belong.
We took our time and recorded the songs in the best way we knew how. A lot of bands have pressure going into the second album. Labels tell them, ‘Alright, you need to make a record in this amount of time and we need exactly three radio singles.’ We don’t have that external pressure and it allows us to make our records on our own terms. We’re grateful for that. It’s nice to exist outside of that meat grinder.
I read a quote where you said, “[Belong is] about feeling, not feelings.”
Well, our first record was sentimental and narrative-based. This record feels much more immediate and about the vibrancy of the moment. Lyrically, the songs are less literal and imagistic. Sonically, we wanted it to be very visceral and forthright; almost… naked.
How does a band on a small independent label come to work with Flood and Alan Moulder?
When our first record came out, Alan Moulder really liked it, and wanted to work on something with us. But people like that are always so busy, so saying that they want to do something and actually having it happen are very different things. Anyhow, when we were getting ready for Belong, he was like, ‘I’m not free on the dates you want to record but Flood would be into doing it – would you be up for that?’ We were like, ‘Uh, yeah…of course!’ (laughs). And then Alan mixed the record for us. We were so psyched. It’s not something that normally happens to bands in our position. We wanted to make the most of it.
Were you intimidated going into the studio?
There’s always a little trepidation: ‘Are we going to have to learn to play better?’ (laughs) ‘Will they try to take away the things that make us who we are?’ But it was evident that [Flood] was excited about all the things about us that aren’t quite right… He didn’t want to make us into a polished, standard rock band.
And did you learn a lot?
Oh sure. Even with the first record, we came out of the studio feeling like we learned a lot. But seeing his approach to things – you just can’t help but benefit from that experience.
You have a full summer of touring – is that key?
There’s a lot of different ways to get exposure and have people hear about what you do, but to really connect and have a meaningful experience with a band, is when you get a chance to see them play in front of you. This summer is going to be fun.
North American tour dates begin July 31 in Montreal, with shows listed up to August 9 in Pittsburgh. For updates, visit www.thepainsofbeingpureatheart.com.