Clockenflap Extra: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart interview
Indie-pop fans rejoice! New York twee-sters The Pains of Being Pure at Heart grace Clockenflap on Saturday December 10, and ahead of their Hong Kong debut, keymaster Peggy Wang tells Mark Tjhung about talks ponchos, cocks and how turning their back on lo-fi wasn’t really in their, well, hearts.
Hi Peggy, how are you doing?
I’m not doing anything, just watching the Daily Show at the moment, it’s not a big deal at all.
What’s Jon Stewart talking about at the moment?
Just making fun of the Republican Debates.
Sorry to interrupt your watching pleasure, but I heard you guys are coming to Clockenflap? How are you feeling about that?
I’m really excited, I’ve never been to Hong Kong, and I’ve heard really cool things about it. I feel like it will be a surreal experience, I assume.
With the new album released earlier this year, how’s the year been so far?
It’s been an especially busy year, it feels like we’ve been touring non-stop. I’ve been home two weeks and it still feels weird to not be on tour. I feel like ‘what am I doing with my life?’, like I have no purpose or something but what else is there to do? Now I’m just sitting at home, watching the Daily Show, painting my nails…
What have been the most memorable touring experiences you’ve had so far?
Let’s see, we got to go to Helsinki, which was really cool. I don’t know, it was just surprisingly cool. We also got to play Fuji Rock, which was just crazy, because it was raining. It wasn’t actually crazy, that was just my observation, but everybody had the coolest ponchos! They were just really comfortable but like this normal-looking man would be wearing this neon poncho! I’m a fan of people watching.
With [your recent album Belong, I guess it’s a bit of a change from the old debut. How do you explain that change to people?
I feel like we definitely wanted to do something different. A lot of the songs were written before the first album even came out, and we definitely could have done whatever we wanted with them, but we knew that at the very core, they’re Pain songs and they’re not that different in style. Maybe lyrically they’re a little different. We had this direction that we chose to go in, and we had this opportunity to work with Flood and Alan (Moulder), so you know, it was just like ‘go big!’, it was like when are we ever going to have this opportunity to work with this legendary producer and mixer, and you know it’s going to sound really big and really good, and you know, they’re good people, they’ve done respectable things, it’s not like they just churn out pop records.
Was who you were working with, who produced and mixed the album a determining factor in that direction?
I think it did actually, just because it would have just been a lot harder to achieve, like what we were going for – entourage band! – but we just wanted to have that experience of thinking ‘what would it be like to have this nice studio, have this experience, to have this new person in the room having ideas, because that wasn’t how we made our first album. Not to say that what other people do reflect what you do, but the whole lo-fi thing was becoming really tired, I guess. Just another band with washed out vocals, I don’t know. We just didn’t want to do that.
What was your own reaction to what you ended up sounding like on Belong?
I was definitely surprised by how it came out. The other thing was that I personally love the way lo-fi stuff sounds. I love how the demos sounded, I just liked the songs, so I was shocked by how it turned. But at the same time I didn’t think ‘omigosh this doesn’t sound like us!’. I guess we’d been working on it for so long that over the course of three months, I guess to me I don’t care what megapixels my MP3s are. It’s just cool and some parts sound really loud and some parts really quiet, and it all sounds pretty and the guitars sound good and we’re kind of like a guitar band at the base of it. I just love guitar playing and how the guitar sounds and I think the album really brings that out and is good and bringing out that dynamic.
After two albums, do you think you have a good idea of what the sound of the band is? Or do you think you’re still discovering that?
I don’t think you could necessarily veer that far from what we’re already doing. It’s one thing to say ‘let’s record this differently’, but I feel like at the base of it, you write pop songs, they’re pretty simple, the lyrics are relatable, even if you’re not a teenager. To me, the band, the name, the way it sounds like, the lyrics all represent me. It’s pretty girly.
What happens next? Where do you go from here?
We’re probably going to start writing again in the Spring. I feel like we want to work on this next record and take our time with it. I don’t think we’re going to do another record like we did last time because it was expensive, and I don’t know how you can really top that.
So you’re going to do more lo-fi stuff?
I think it’ll just be us hunkering down and doing some more home recording and kind of working on it bit by bit. At least that’s what we can see, but I don’t really know…
There are probably a handful of New York bands really doing indie pop type stuff. Do you have any views on what’s happening over there?
I’ve always been into indie pop and I feel like it’s cool, because there are people in New York who like indie pop. But there’s still not very many. A very small cluster of people. It’s like in London, there are so many good bands , but there’s still not that many people! There’s a really good New York Popfest every year and they bring really good people all over the world, like The Hairs and bands like the Big Troubles. I feel like in New York there’s always a handful of bands that always do shows together and it’s fun to go to them because everybody knows each other, and it’s just a small group of people. Our second show was at the NYC Popfest, we’ve played it three times already. It already feels like there’s not that many of them going on anymore, I don’t feel like there’s that many people that interested anymore.
Indie pop is a very British invention, but do you think there’s a modern American version of it emerging?
I feel like some of the bands would loathe to call themselves indie pop, I feel like when I think of indie pop, I think of twee-ish stuff. There are bands that have gotten surprisingly popular while being pretty, sounding pretty, and witty and being sensitive, I feel like there’s also this side of indie rock that’s a bit more heavy, more like about the beards. It’s surprising, though, you’re right, that pop in itself has made itself much more prevalent, even a band like Animal Collective, when they started gaining a lot more fans. But I feel like none of those bands would call themselves indie pop, you know! They’d feel like they’re not nerdy enough.
Seeing as you’re coming to play Clockenflap, I just want to ask you a few questions to finish off. Favourite festival?
Primavera. That’s probably what a lot of people say, though.
What’s your Pains essential festival song?
I would say Young Adult Friction. That’s the song that people know the best, it gets people going, people actually know the words to it. People uncross their arms for that song!
What are you guys looking forward to at Clockenflap?
I mean, it sounds really shallow, but just going to Hong Kong, I kind of want to check out the department stores and look at makeup. And shop for makeup. Because they have all these Asian brands, and normally I have to go on eBay to buy them.
Band you’re most looking forward to seeing at Clockenflap?
I was going to say the Cribs.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Clockenflap?
I think of a flappy cock? Sorry, I have a dirty mind.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart play Clockenflap on Saturday December 10. 7pm, Harbour Flap Stage, www.clockenflap.com.