Let it be known that Brooklyn indie-pop quartet the Pains of Being Pure at Heart did not just appear out of nowhere. “It’s been a lot of work,” says singer/guitarist Kip Berman of his band’s slow ascension. “We drove to North Carolina and played to five people, and then got in the car after the show and drove to Tallahassee to play to two people. But I don’t want to give you a sad sob story, because it was lots of fun: We had Dairy Queen on the way and hallucinated from sleep deprivation. I thought I saw the Hoover Dam while I was driving.”
Thus are the pleasures of being pure at heart. It’s been only two years since Berman, bassist Alex Naidus, and keyboardist/backing vocalist Peggy Wang got together to play Peggy’s birthday party with New Jersey neo-shoegazers, Titus Andronicus, and friends, the Manhattan Love Suicides, who, despite their name, are British. But in that time, the Pains have already released an EP and a few singles, toured the U.K. with the Wedding Present (meeting heroes like Stephen Pastel along the way), and recorded a new, self-titled full-length for renowned label Slumberland. Talking to the band over coffee at the Verb Café (Kurt Feldman, who replaced the band’s drum machine last year and also plays in the Depreciation Guild, couldn’t make our rendezvous), they credit their quick incubation to the Internet, but also take care to recall the initially sparse crowds and subsequent hallucinations. “Everything’s been fun, even though only recently have more people heard our music,” Berman says. “It’s when you put out a record that people realize you exist.”
That existence will become all the more vivid this week when Slumberland releases The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. A mix of feedback-barbed melodies and hazy aesthetics, it could be the missing link between the Jesus and Mary Chain and Sarah Records’ ’90s output. Not that they’re complete anglophiles, though. “I grew up with bands on Slumberland and Teenbeat and K Records,” says Peggy. “I knew that stuff before I ever knew that My Bloody Valentine was a good band. As much as I might romanticize what 1986 in England was like, the kind of music that I grew up with was American bands.” Whatever their influences, the Pains manage to transcend them: “A Teenager in Love” and “Hey Paul,” though they’re heading in contrasting directions—the former to a pristine place of sonic whimsy, the latter straight through a reverent Wall of Sound—both place buoyant pop front and center, their gilded melodies instantly memorable.
Their far-flung influences aside, the band inadvertently joins many like-minded souls in present-day New York; the Vivian Girls and (Slumberland labelmates) the Crystal Stilts favor a style not dissimilar to the Pains’ own. “If you asked me, when I lived in Portland, if there’d be a really vibrant, DIY indie-pop scene in New York, I had a totally different notion of what it meant,” Kip says. “I thought playing in New York was all about leather jackets and coolness, but it’s not at all.” And in this new, devout, record-collecting-crazed environment, Kip already considers the project a success. “We’ve always really liked what we do, but to have Slumberland Records actually consider us worthy of all the other stuff that they’ve put out?” he gushes. “To have that seal of approval from someone who really knows about the stuff we like, that’s cool.”
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart will play the Mercury Lounge on February 7