This interview was published on The University of Amsterdam’s New Media blog in 2009. It is part of a collection of interviews on how the Internet is affecting the business of being a full-time musician.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were at the Paradiso on Monday night. I met up with lead singer and guitar player Kip Berman before the show to chat about the tour and renting his apartment in New York City out to crazy POBPAH fans.
I had read an article where you said you were cool with people downloading your music: what has stopped you guys from releasing your music for free on the site?
It’s downloadable anywhere else, you can’t physically put it on the site because we have record labels that still actually need to sell stuff. Recently I was looking at something and noticed a torrent for Pains of Being Pure at Heart with 5 million hits.
Honestly, people can find it if they want to find it, so I’m not going to try to stop anyone. But I think that people are conscious of the fact that you have to do something for the band in return. We find that people come to our shows and we’d rather play for people than not play for people. And people are usually honest, they’re like, “Hey, I downloaded your shit. That was cool, I’ll buy the vinyl now or a t-shirt”. So you kind of have to roll with it, and we’re just psyched that people are listening to it.
When you guys are working on new songs how do you come together and share ideas?
I think that democracy is overrated in terms of songwriting. If everyone writes 25% of a song then it sounds like a bit, well you know.
There are certain types of music where complete and total collaborative ideas might be worth while, but for us I kind of write the structure and lyrics and the ideas for the song. It’s up to the band to play out those ideas and bring them to life, and offer themselves once the blueprint has kind of been drawn. The songs wouldn’t be good if they stopped with me because everyone contributes there ideas to them.
Kurt is a fantastic drummer and I can’t even program more than one drum beat. So, just from him the song has such a better feel, because I can only do so much. Like on my keyboard drum set! Our first EP sounds like that, it doesn’t have real drums they are all electronic drums.
What do you use to record with when you are playing around at home?
I use Logic. My favorite thing is a snare setting called ‘Big Ballad Snare’ and I LOVE IT, I LOVE IT! It is hard to get a good snare sound. I’m not sure if it maybe sounds like The Jesus and Mary Chain, but it is just so synthetic and huge.
Did you play it for Kurt and were you like, “Hey can you do this?”
Yeah, it’s funny because a lot of the drum sounds aren’t how you play drums, it is just how it is mixed in the record process: reverb, mics, or how it’s tuned. You can record with a really shitty drum set and still make it sound cool by tweaking it a little bit, which is cool because we don’t have fancy stuff.
Like when kids from Indonesia write and they’re like, “What kind of snare sounds do you use on your album?” And Kurt’s like, “Just tell them it’s a shitty snare. They should just turn the EQ a little bit!”
How has the Internet helped you guys?
We didn’t have time off to tour, and the reality of having to work full-time in New York to stay alive is… Well, so the Internet has helped us get out our music without having to establish ourselves everywhere. At the time we couldn’t say, “Let’s just take off two months and play shows”. I know it sounds romantic, but it is really difficult and you still have to work to make it happen.
The Internet is just a sort of introductory thing, but you still have to connect with people and make a lasting impression. I think the old-fashioned ethics of hard work, touring and paying your dues are just as relevant today as they were in the past, if not more so. It’s almost like a political campaign, you can’t just run a campaign based on a few good op-ed pieces, everyone has to go out and shake hands.
How many shows did Pains of Being Pure at Heart play before getting signed to Slumberland?
Quite a lot, but they were all in New York. The signing to Slumberland thing was a vague notion of whenever we had a record they’d put it out. It wasn’t like, “ALRIGHT, we’re going to get signed guys!”. Actually, we never even signed anything.
Do you still have jobs back in New York?
Peggy and Alex do, but I lost my job back in November. But we have to do something to pay our rent. It’s not like our eight day whirlwind tour of the southeast playing to six people a night in 2007 was going to cover our rent in New York City.
So do you have apartments waiting for you in New York?
We all do actually. Peggy was able to sublet her place, which was smart. I should have done that, but that would have required me cleaning out my bedroom and it’s pretty messy.
Maybe you’d get some crazy Pains of Being Pure at Heart fan that would take it and be like, “Oh Kip sleeps right here!! This is Kip’s toilet!!”
[laughs] …yeah, “And Kip passes out in his clothes right here…EVERY NIGHT”. I’d be funny when they get into all the unreleased demos on my computer and tell me, “so I guess your next new single is going to be called ‘shit-faced’?” And I’ll be like, “No! that was a working title!” And they’re like, “Too bad we’re releasing it on the Internet anyway!”.
That’s another thing, we’re more concerned about unreleased things being put online, and people coming to weird conclusions on what things are going to sound like based on my inability to program a drum machine correctly. In that case they’d be like, “It seems like they are working on a concept album where every song has the same drum beat”. Again, the one I love is the “Big Ballad Snare” in Logic. If you get a chance just go in there and hit the lowest C# you can.
We’re going to steal that sound and pretty soon you’ll hear of a band coming out of Amsterdam that they say sounds just like Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
Yeah it’s cool. Actually, it would be really cool if bands got accused of ripping us off for once, that’d be ironic.
We could probably work that out for you.
Haha, yeah people would be like (mockingly), “Man…this sound is totally derivative of Pains of Being Pure at Heart.”