The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
True Faith
by Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

They started out as part of the entertainment at a birthday celebration for keyboardist Peggy Wang. Since then, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart have consistently produced some of the most catchy and bright pop music of the last few years, topping critics’ lists and blog favorites all over the universe. The Pains are as much My Bloody Valentine as they are Talulah Gosh; adding infectious melodies to singer and songwriter Kip Berman’s sometimes dark and sometimes funny, but always intelligent, lyrics, they’ve created a formula that’s as much calculated and thought-out as it is from the heart and impulsive. They’ve been gaining more and more attention and playing bigger and bigger venues, and their new record, Belong is as exciting and fresh as their first self-titled album, though this time around they decided to try something new. Expanding upon the debut’s palette by utilizing grander sounds and producers Flood and Alan Moulder, the Pains have still managed to not let any purist nerds like myself down. I talked with Peggy via phone in California about their Coachella spot and the new album.

How was Coachella?

Peggy Wang: It was good. It was big.

When you’re playing to that big of a crowd, does it lose the intimacy of playing to a little club?

PW: Yeah, it is definitely a shit show. I don’t even think the crowd was intimidating or anything. I feel like such a big deal is made out of this festival. It’s like a prestige thing, like, “Wow you guys get to play Coachella. That’s amazing,” And they’re live-casting it, and you just know that the impact of the event is greater than the music.

It’s like you don’t even have to play, huh?

PW: You get up there and it all sort of blends together, and then it’s over. So yeah, kind of.

We did an interview with you guys before, and you explained how the band started at a party...

PW: Yeah, we started at my birthday party, which was this amazing thing Kip got together for me. I couldn’t believe it, it was like a movie or something.

Did you foresee this popularity or this success?

PW: No, not at all. I’ve played in bands that tried and success for us was to play some block party to 10 people. I liked the songs when we started, and Kip—I’ve never seen him do anything like this and be so driven. Like maintaining our Myspace and maintaining our blog, and he put so much into this birthday party for me. I knew at the time that the party was going to be... it felt historical, like a monumental episode of a TV show.

Yeah, like when the Cramps played 90210...

PW: Yes! Right, like a legendary thing. I mean, even going on tour, we didn’t foresee that. A year before that time, other bands we knew were getting these opportunities like going to Europe and playing these little tours and festivals. Seeing that happening kind of made it into something real. But it was such a new thing. If you’d have told me two years prior to that that I’d be touring that way, I’d be incredulous.

It’s pretty obvious you guys gravitate toward that Brit-pop, kind of hazy like Blur, but shoegaze like My Bloody Valentine. So when I heard you had a producer for this record, I expected Kevin Shields or Eno or something. How did you go about picking Flood?

PW: I don’t want to make it sound like we set out to work with someone else and he was just an alternate. I didn’t even know any “big name” producers, except maybe from big records I like from the ’90s. I mean, Kip said something about Steve Lillywhite, and I barely knew who Steve LIllywhite even was! We didn’t even think something like that was possible, and honestly, I really had no idea what a producer would do. I mean, it wasn’t like we were going to be told to stand here and play this or that. Alan Moulder had heard our record and he liked it. At that point, it seemed like such a pipe dream. Since he worked on so many records that we liked, it would be insane if he could fit us into his schedule. We thought we’d be waiting like four years. Then he suggested Flood for us. We were super excited to even hear that, but we didn’t think it was a possibility. But then it happened, and we’re real happy with how it turned out.

So were you in the studio like, “Yo Flood, can I get a little more bass in my headphones?”

PW: Yeah, right? I mean, I didn’t really know what to expect. For the first few days, I just hung back and did what I was supposed to do. I think I started feeling more comfortable whenever I felt like I was presenting an idea, though I can’t even think of any examples here. Flood definitely made some astute observations, and I think that pretty much any band can benefit from an objective observer. It definitely helped the process move along. Maybe initially we were like, “Oh is he going to want to make us sound like U2 or something?” But he never even approached the territory of making us do something we didn’t want to do. I think it sounds much more full...

Yeah, it’s like optimized.

PW: I still like the way the first record sounds, but the new record just sort of hits you harder, I guess.

As an artist, you are kind of asking your fans to take a leap with you, but sometimes they won’t follow.

PW: Well, you don’t want to sell the audience short. They can tell if a band is trying to sell their soul by trying to sound a certain way and appeal to the industry and not do it for themselves. Flood is a totally genuine dude. He came out to a New York show to see us and I just felt so endeared to him. He was so kind with the comments he had after the show, that he liked the balance of us on stage and stuff like that. It’s much more intimate having a producer work with you than just an engineer, and we spent a lot of quality time with Flood. I’m just really happy with the way the new album turned out.