by Chris Toenes
The pockmarked path of devoting your new band to a vintage sound rides bumpy at best. It’s often a process of osmosis, though, that leads one band to sound like a whole bunch of older bands—less looking directly in the rearview mirror for something to recreate and more just playing some variation on what’s funneled into your mind.
New York band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart has received an unusual amount of comparisons to its predecessors. Some have been fair, like early My Bloody Valentine or the Jesus and Mary Chain. Others, like Blink 182, have just been plain weird. It’s an interesting question: Does a band need to have an original sound to matter? And should the band be discounted if the sensors of past musical obscurity and good ol’ age are working to that band’s advantage? Maybe it shouldn’t be that simple, and usually, it’s not that simple.
“It’s natural to want to be in a band that sounds like the one that you want to hear,” says keyboardist and singer Peggy, who—like the rest of the band—goes by her first name only. “I’m perfectly aware that we didn’t invent reverb on vocals, or distorted guitars, or verse-chorus-verse pop structures.”
Indeed, for most pop or avant rock bands out there now, someone probably did what they’re doing long ago in some form. “You either relate to the songs or you don’t,” resolves Peggy.
In the case of Pains, the quintet provides a glimpse of a particular sound—gauzy, guitar-heavy pop with deeply buried hooks—that listeners found previously in a very finite number of bands and records. If the comeback of My Bloody Valentine themselves in the last year or two was unlikely, less so was this new phenomenon of bands—usually in their 20s, as the Pains are—presenting very strong translations of that music for a younger audience, too young to ever have heard the originators the first time around. And the older folks at the band’s shows are generally those who wore out their copies of Psychocandy (or Loveless, since that was the end of My Bloody Valentine’s stunted career) during that first trip. They, too, can dig into the Pains’ substantial songwriting.
But, mostly, we’re talking youth here: “We try to play all-ages shows as much as humanly possible, as those are the shows that were so important to us when we were teenagers,” says guitarist Kip. “We just want to be the band that we would have loved when we were 17—to stand for something good and genuine to the kids that maybe don't always fit in with what's in.” This is, as music goes, a timeless image. “Most of our adolescence was spent in diners drinking bottomless cups of coffee and wishing we were more punk and wondering if something cool would ever happen.”
Kip says, though, that the comparisons to British bands falls a little flat with the band, personally. Its members were more interested in American music. “We grew up listening to Nirvana and Sonic Youth, as well as DIY punk and post-hardcore bands, and indie rock on labels like Slumberland, K Records, Elephant 6 and Matador,” he says. “We didn’t really learn about the British DIY pop bands until we were older, though that stuff is really cool too. Our DIY outlook is influenced more by the punk shows we went to in high school, but it’s cool that those values transcend time or genre, and have been something that’s kept music vital.”
Kip’s right about those eternal values. They have stuck around in the way bands make music, how they form and operate, tour, and present themselves. If you happen to sound like a defunct band some people liked, it can be a bad rap or a saving grace, but only from the outside, not in the band’s core itself. They know they have forebears. After all, the band’s self-titled debut was released on Slumberland, the same label that influences it, earlier this year. But that’s not what it’s about for the members.
“Genuine creativity is in songwriting and emotional honesty,” offers Kip. “and the songs we write are very much about us, our lives and the things we've experienced.”
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart plays Local 506 Monday, May 4, with Zaza and DJ Cake Mix. The show costs $8 and starts at 9:30 p.m.