The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

New York, Halloween 2008. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have been roped into playing a friend’s Halloween party as a Smashing Pumpkins tribute act. They arrive at the door in cowboy hats and silver trousers: the intention is to pay respect to the Pumpkins’ ‘Siamese Dream’ era by performing that album from start to finish.

As the group set up in the corner of the room, a gathering of drunkards hover expectantly, some dressed as skeletons. A howl of feedback rattles the amps. The tables begin to vibrate, sending a beer bottle crashing onto the floor. Then, the first few bars of ‘Cherub Rock’ explode into the atmosphere: ‘This,’ the band thinks, ‘is going to be awesome!’

Then the music stops. Keyboardist Peggy shuffles over to singer Kip and whispers, “Eh… what the hell was that chord change again?” Kip raises an eyebrow. “I’m not entirely sure… but do you know the lyrics by any chance?” They look back at the audience. The teenager in the skeleton outfit is tapping his feet. “Hey!Anyone wanna hear the first eight bars again?” offers Kip.

Readers, the clear moral here is never invite TPOBPAH to be a Smashing Pumpkins tribute act at your party. “It was a sad day,” admits Kip, “but the saddest thing is, if someone asked us to do it again, we’d probably say yes.” You have been warned.

It’s a year later, and Kip is bobbing about in a tour-van with his bandmates. The van is speeding down the highway towards their hometown of New York, where they’re to play the final dates on their US tour. Meanwhile, I’m in the Clash broom-cupboard, with a tape machine hooked up to my head like a 1950s FBI wire-tapper.

One thing about The Pains Of Being Pure is they know NYC like the backs of their hands. “Lou Reed comes over and watches football every other Sunday,” jests Kip, “though me and Patti Smith don’t talk so much these days…” The van bounces over a bump. “Listen,” I say, “I’ve got an idea. Everyone knows you’ve got this EP coming out, so let’s do something different. Tell me a bit about New York. Its people, its scenes. I want it all, Kip.”

“Well, musically it’s pretty diverse at the moment,” he starts. “You couldn’t say, ‘that’s the New York sound!’ because there’s so many different groups. On the fringes there’s a burgeoning noise/experimental scene out in Brooklyn, which is the opposite of that Strokes/Interpol dynamic that you might assume is going on for the most part. Then in the same area you’ve got an underground network of DIY venues run by a promoter called Todd P, who does both pop shows and punk shows – he’s always got an open mind.”

Now, I’ve seen Taxi Driver – I can handle the truth. What are my chances of getting mugged in New York? He laughs and mutters something about having his cardigan stolen every day on the way to school. I think he’s kidding. “The personification of New York where the trains are covered in graffiti and you can’t take your eye off your handbag… it’s not like that. If you came to NY you’d be treated courteously.”

But what if, y’know, I wanted to be mugged? For the experience? “If you did need to be mugged to get that New York experience I guess we could do it,” he laughs, “but only to be polite. It would be kind of awkward because it would be a bunch of dudes with rainbow tennis shoes and nice fitting pants asking you for your wallet rather politely. We’d probably even try and trade some merch with you. It’d be like, ‘Hey man, give me $15 dollars! Now here’s a T-shirt and a signed 7”.” Then you’d realise it was just a normal transaction.”

Our journey into the New York of Kip’s imagination continues. I ask him about dating trends. He tells me about a drink called Four Loko. Apparently this is the romantic drink of choice for teenage couples in the city. It’s a malt-alcohol beverage of 12% volume that comes in four “very romantic” flavours including… uh, grape. “It’s a bit like White Lightening in the UK – a very refined beverage,” he laughs. Jesus. This man is screwing with my brain. And yet he’s so cheerful – he’s screwing with my brain and I’m enjoying it. Keep talking, Kip, keep talking.

“So, the closest way to my heart would be a nice cold can of Cold Loko, and maybe we could sit about listening to Comet Gain. Then I’d start talking about how much I’m looking forwards to the Julian Casablancas solo album.” Kip’s voice suddenly gets very serious. “It’s the most important thing in my life at the moment. I’d be talking about how pretty he is, how he’s the greatest and how I love him and you’d be like, ‘Okay OKAY! You’re on a date with ME, remember?!’”

The van pulls off the highway towards New York and it looks like our date is over. Just time for me to ask him one more question then. “Listen,” I say. “I’m putting on this Halloween party and we kinda need a Pumpkins tribute act. Any chance?” Suddenly Kip picks up with excitement: I have asked him the question he can’t say no to. “I think we’d have to say… yes,” he laughs. “Just give us a bit of time to practice.”

Words by Ric Rawlins

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