"Wow! That was a long time ago" exclaims Kip Berman, the 35-year old frontman of shoegaze-influenced indie rockers the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, when reminded of his bands ascent to underground popularity during the MySpace era.
A lot has happened since then: Several releases from the Brooklyn-based band, including the 2011 noise-pop triumph of 'Belong' (Slumberland). Further acclaim and a groundswell of popularity followed on the subsequent tours for the record. But the unintended casualty for The Pains was the eventual, amicable departure of founding members Peggy Wang (keyboards) and Alex Naidus (bass).
In the interim, Berman regrouped by making music that was reflective of his station, and would eventually find its way onto the more subdued and introspective "Days of Abandon" (Yebo Music), issued earlier this year.
"After 'Belong' and the tour, some people in the band didn't want to do it anymore and they left," Berman says. "And it was difficult to understand what the next expression of the band was; the people who were there when the band started weren't there anymore and I was on my own. There was a sense of longing and being alone, but there was also a sense of possibility—I could just make music with complete freedom. There was a feeling of being doubtful and unsure and obviously that's a bad thing but now there was also this feeling of that now anything is possible. It was conflicting and confusing feeling. That was where the title 'Days of Abandon' came from—I was trying to get at a feeling of loss and freedom. I don't think I'll ever be in that same mood again and I'm glad. But I think the album really captured that mood and I'm glad it was honest and I didn't try to mask over the anxiety and doubt.
"I had a lot of time on my own before bringing these songs to the band. I lived with them a lot longer. I worked on them a lot more by myself before bringing them to the band, which maybe led to more emphasis on the lyricism and the singing then if I just showed up to practice and screamed into a microphone."
Simultaneously, Berman was restructuring The Pains' lineup, with the most crucial addition being Jen Goma (from A Sunny Day in Glasgow), whose lead vocals on two songs from "Days of Abandon" mark the first time Berman has handed his lyrics to another singer.
"I had gotten to know Jen through her band," Berman explains. "I had these songs and demoed them with my voice. I wanted to see what they would sound like with a voice other than my own. It opened up a lot of possibilities. I was trying to write pop songs and I wanted someone's voice who could communicate that idea, and her voice has such a bright, brilliant-sounding sensibility. It doesn't sound too mopey—it sounds really positive and I wanted to get that feeling on some of these songs.
"I thought there was some aspects of 'Belong' where my voice didn't really carry the songs. We spent a lot of time recording the guitars but when we were done with that, it was, like, 'Oh shit! Now we gotta record the vocals!' We spent a lot more time making sure we got that right this time. A lot of that had to do with bringing in Jen, who's a great singer, and a lot of that was just making sure we concentrated on that side of the music, which had always been kind of an afterthought."
As he was writing the new record, Berman says, "It sounds apocryphal but my distortion pedal wasn't working and I was just writing songs without it. They sounded good and what made them sound good didn't have to do with sheer force of playing but a more intricate, more nuanced style of playing guitar. ... It just sounded lighter and a lot cleaner in my head and I wanted the recording to reflect that.
"I have this thing where, if you write a song sitting down it's gonna sound a lot different than if you're standing up—there's a different energy you get than if you're sitting on the corner of your bed playing the guitar. It's the same thing if you're recording on a laptop or have a tape deck recording band practice. You sort of capture different aspects depending on the environment. And this record was very direct and came about in a different way. I wanted to make powerful music without relying on power."
So were the songs on this album written sitting down?
"No, they were written lying down."