Over the phone from Austin, Texas, on a break in his busy schedule at the South By Southwest festival, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart’s lead vocalist/guitarist Kip Berman (he, and they, of the late-March-arriving full-length Belong ) talked learning from past festival experiences, differences in European-versus-American concert-goers’ customs, and why it’s good not to be in a band with junkies. The group appears tonight on Late Show With David Letterman.
You guys have been at SXSW for a few days—how’s it been going?
It’s been really good. The festival is so crazy, so hectic, but it’s really fun to get to play music a lot. There’s a condensed amount of shows, a couple of shows a day, and like running around, and kind of jumping up on stage and playing; it’s very off-the-cuff and spontaneous, but really fun. It’s a good time.
I’m guessing this isn’t your first time at SXSW?
No, we came down and played a lot in 2009, when our first record came out—we played like twelve shows in three days. And then last year, we played a couple shows, but we didn’t have a new record or anything. But now that we have a new record coming out, we played like six shows and it’s been really fun.
Has the experience changed from those first two times and now?
I mean, the experience changes, because I guess you learn what to expect a little bit more. That first year we literally had no clue what we were doing; we were running around and we missed a show. There’s a lot of chaos and confusion. Having that experience and having played it before, you have more of a sense of what to expect and how to manage it and how to deal to with it; how to show up for stuff on time. We’ve tried to be at least a bit more responsible, as best we can.
And how has the tour been going so far—you guys were in Europe, if I’m not mistaken?
We toured a little bit in Europe, leading up to the release of the record. It wasn’t super-extensive, we just played a few shows, but it was fun because it was our first chance to play these new songs for people. And it was exciting to see people’s reaction and to see people be so positive about the new record. Now that the record’s gonna come out in a couple of weeks—and it’s already streaming online for free— people are more familiar with the songs and getting to play them for people is exciting. There’s something about hearing a song that you know that is exciting. It’s so fun that people now actually have recorded versions of our songs. Even though our record isn’t going to be out for a couple of weeks, it’s really cool that our label was nice enough to let us post it up before the release date. A lot of bands on bigger labels don’t have the freedom to share their music so openly, and we’re pretty lucky that our situation allows us to be transparent, like: “Hey we made a record, we want you to hear it. We want you to buy it too,” but we’re not trying to trick anyone into buying something that they haven’t heard or buying something and then being like “Aww, this sucks, I don’t want this.” It’s more important to us that people just get to experience the music. And then they’ll make decisions about whether they want to come see us play or buy our record or whatever, based on that. But, the most important thing for us is focusing on the music we recorded.
Do you feel there’s anything different about the fans in Europe, and how you’re received there as opposed to the U.S.?
You know, it’s weird—I don’t want to sound too much like a hippie, but there is sort of a universal interaction with music. There are subtle cultural traditions that are slightly different in Europe versus America. In Europe, it’s far more common to ask for a person’s autograph even if they’re not in a famous band; in America, you’d only think that if you met Bon Jovi you’d want to ask him for an autograph. In Europe there’s more of a sense of like, if you see a concert you like, you’d want to get the band to sign the record. It’s not a sense of inflated, rock-star egotism. It’s a very normal interaction with small indie bands, to get signatures at the show. So, I guess, initially, when we were touring that kind of struck as strange, but it’s the way people interact with music. My mentality towards music is that I celebrate stuff that isn’t that famous, but it’s famous to me. I’d want it to be O.K. to ask…I met Puro Instinct [and] John Maus in the lobby of the hotel this morning, and I would have liked to ask for their autograph just because I like their music and it would’ve been cool…but you can’t do that. They would’ve been like “What the fuck’s your problem?” or something like that. I would’ve seemed weird.