Music News

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart exude a spirit of innocence and exuberance

Like the Smiths and Teenage Fanclub before them, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart write songs that appeal to the spirit of innocence, exuberance and emotional fragility of young adulthood. The New York band's sparkling guitar work, headlong pacing and propulsive rhythms recall the music of C86 bands such as the Pastels and the twee pop of Sarah Records act the Field Mice. But instead of miming its heroes, the group writes with a similar wide-eyed, unrestrained spirit that manifests itself in urgent, incredibly catchy pop confections. Championed early on by Seattle's KEXP radio, the outfit's self-titled debut teems with open-hearted sentiments and gorgeous melodies. We recently spoke with vocalist/guitarist Kip Berman about the significance of the band's moniker and its embracing of musical comparisons.

Westword: The name of your band comes from an unpublished story by Charles Augustus Steen III. What was it about?

Kip Berman: It was a children's story called "The Pains of Being Pure at Heart." It was Dr. Seuss-esque. The moral of the story is, it's important to spend time with your friends — that traveling and having adventures together is more important than worldly power, fame or any of that kind of thing. The things that really matter in life aren't material or about status, but more about the shared experiences you have with your friends. All of us agreed on the band name before we even had any songs. It was an idea we could really rally behind.

You get compared to C86 bands and, erroneously, to shoegaze all the time. But instead of denying the comparisons, you seem to accept them, which is a novel approach for a band. What led to that sort of openness?

That stuff is cool, because we genuinely like a lot of those bands. Even if we don't sound as much like the band we get compared to, it's still cool to get compared to bands we love.

There's nothing more annoying than bands pretending like they invented music. Some bands get offended that anyone could possibly compare them to anything done by anyone else. I don't know; I feel more the opposite way. I'm flattered when people make comparisons between us and artists we admire. I feel like some bands are way too uptight about that in general.

Every band grows up liking certain bands and sort of trying to sound like the bands they like, and maybe they get it wrong or it sounds different. It's hard to write about music. It's hard to describe what things sound like. You have to use comparisons to stuff people already know. If you don't describe things that way, people won't even have an understanding what it's about. If you play a song for someone for three minutes, they'll understand it more than anything you could write in a 2,000-word article.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.