Summer in the City: Rooftop Party with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
In New York City, as the sun goes down and the sweltering city heat subsides, the best gatherings are on the rooftops, where you can party all night and take in the view from above. We spent a summer evening on a Brooklyn rooftop, where we watched a live set by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart against a glowing Manhattan backdrop. Here, the band’s leading man, Kip Berman, chats with us about NYC and what’s on his current rotation.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name’s Kip, I play guitar and I sing in The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. We’re from here in Brooklyn, I live up the street actually. I could’ve biked over if I didn’t have to carry my guitar!
Your new album just came out, that’s exciting!
That’s right, yeah, our album just came out in May, it’s called Days of Abandon. We were on tour in America with this band called Fear of Men, and we’re leaving tomorrow to go to Europe to play another month of shows with them, so it’s super exciting. We’re really excited about the new record.
How does it feel now that you’ve put it out into the world, is it like having a new baby?
It’s really different, actually. If you did have a new baby out in the world, you’d be really responsible for it and attend to it all the time. It’s kind of the opposite; it’s almost like you’ve put it up for adoption. It’s out in the world, and there’s almost nothing more you can do to help it grow and achieve its full potential. It’s really a relief, the release of the album. We recorded it last summer and we mixed and it’s been sitting around waiting to be released for so long. Now that it’s out there, it’s really exciting. People know the songs when we play them and seem to be excited about it.
When you set out to make Days of Abandon, did you know what you wanted it to sound like or do you feel it out as you go?
I think with our last album—it’s called Belong, it came out in 2011 and we recorded it back in 2010—we were really trying to make this big, heavy guitar rock album that was inspired a lot by the bands we loved when we were growing up: Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, Ride. It was all about making big and overwhelming guitar rock. That was so awesome and we were so happy with how it turned out, but we didn’t want to do the same thing again and try to be bigger just for the sake of it. I think it’s a real trap when bands try to make each album sound more massive than before. I think a record should be about songs and songwriting. So there was a conscious effort in trying to refocus and trying to write really good songs that we could play on a guitar for people and not worry so much about how it would sound in an arena. If we do end up in an arena at some point, I hope it sounds alright! [Laughs]
Can you tell us about the experience of recording last summer?
It was a really wonderful experience, making this record. It was a lot of fun. We did it up the street in Greenpoint, at my friend’s recording studio. He’s a guy I’ve known forever and I’ve recorded songs in his basement before. His name’s Danny Taylor. It was wonderful to work with someone who I’ve known for so long and we have such a good rapport. The thing that comes out of working with people you know and love is always… maybe 3% better. Maybe even four! [Laughs]
Do you have a favorite song on the new record?
I wrote a lot of songs after Belong came out, probably like 40, maybe 50. There’s only ten on the record, and that’s because I really believe that almost everything I do is terrible and you really have to look at yourself that way and be merciless and not think everything you do is special. We did a lot of throwing songs away after they were done, because it wasn’t up to what I thought the record should be. So if they made it to the record, they are all songs that made the cut!
One of the first songs I wrote on the record was called "Massokissed" and I really felt that it captured the spirit of the record in a lot of ways. It sort of captured the sound I wanted in a surreal, natural way. It wrote itself; I was working on another song that didn’t make the record, and I was working really hard on it, a really traditional Pains Of Being Pure At Heart-sounding song. I wanted to make it really good and it just wasn’t working, so I just put the guitar down for an hour and picked it back up and I wrote "Massokissed." It was really fast and easy. I know a lot of people like to talk about artistic struggle, but I tend to think the best things that you do are the things that come naturally and almost out of a sense of accident. That song, and I love "Art Smock" as well. It opens the record and it’s a very simple and subdued song.
You live here in New York. Do you have more fun playing shows here or elsewhere?
I think it’s a different kind of fun! I love getting to play music for people and I never take that for granted. I played in a lot of bands for a long time and I never really played outside of the zip code we lived in. To get a chance to travel and to play music is like a dream come true—but like a dream I didn’t even know I had. It’s awesome, but of course coming home and playing in New York… all your friends are there, they get to see you do what you’ve dedicated your life to, and it’s so fun to hang out. Usually when we play in New York it’s at the end of a tour, so there’s a real sense of excitement and relief, and just happiness having gone out into the world and made it home again. It’s a real thrill and I love it.
Is there a recent show that stands out as exceptionally fun?
There were so many great shows on this last tour! Chicago, at The Empty Bottle, The Troubadour in Los Angeles. It was really special for me to play in Philadelphia, because that’s where I grew up. My mom was there, my friends were there, it was at Johnny Brenda’s and was really packed and there was really good energy there. Getting to play and have your mom see you and realize you’re doing something with your life is an awesome feeling. Plus, then I got to go home and do some laundry! [Laughs]
What are some of your go-to spots around New York?
There are so many great places to go have a beer or a coffee. Maybe I’m just really stereotypical, but I really like bagels a lot. There’s this place called Baker’s Dozen on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint that I always go to for bagels. There’s a great place on Franklin called Spina, and the Pencil Factory is right there, which is a great place to have a drink. Bagels, booze and coffee!
What are you listening to right now?
There are a few new bands that I think are awesome. One is from Gothenburg, Sweden, and they sound like they should be a really abrasive, hardcore band or a metal band but they’re not. They’re called Makthaverskan, it’s really emphatic, righteous, almost like punk pop. I love then a lot, and their record just came out this spring. There’s also Fear of Men, who we just toured with, and they just released their new record this spring. It’s called Loom. It’s really gorgeous. It’s really melodic guitar-centered pop. I think they’re great. There’s another band that I like right now, this band from the UK. They’re going to put out their record this summer, and we’ve toured with them a bit. They’re called Flowers, which is a very hard name to Google! There’s a lot of really good stuff happeneing right now, and the internet makes it easy to find your new favorite band, even if they’re from Gothenburg.
Special thanks to Brooklyn Brewery, The End., Pies 'n' Thighs, Sips and Bites and Luke's Lobster!