Q&A: Kip Berman goes solo for new EP

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Q&A: Kip Berman goes solo for new EP

Ebru Yildiz

Ebru Yildiz

Ebru Yildiz

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By Pierre Karam, news correspondent

Kip Berman, aka The Natvral, founded the New York rock band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, or TPOBPAH, in 2007. He has recently been touring around the Northeast to perform his new solo project “Know Me More.” Now married and with a 2-year-old child, Berman’s new way of living inspired him to write this new piece of music, which he describes as more personal than his previous works.

You’re the founding member and songwriter of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Is there a particular reason why you decided to work on this new project on your own?

Yeah, I moved from New York to Princeton, New Jersey, I lived in New York for about 10 years. I moved to Princeton with my wife and my daughter – I had a little baby girl. Since my wife works, I was home with my daughter during the day. It was really nice, and the music I was playing was very different from the time of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I was into different kind of sounds and ideas. Recording on my own was a chance to have a clean break from the music I’ve made in the past and an occasion to begin something new.

How would you describe your new EP’s style compared to your previous music?

I think it’s pretty different. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart was a rock band, very heavy in terms of instrumentation and arrangement. However, this music is just me playing guitar and songs — it’s rooted in ideas of folk music and has a DIY kind of aesthetic. I show up with my guitar, plug it in and just start playing. It’s very simple and direct, I like that a lot… I don’t have to complicate things in order to express myself through songs.

Who are your main inspirations?

The music of Richard Thompson, Lynda Thompson, Leonard Cohen but also others like Dear Nora, who I knew when I lived in Portland [Maine]. Her music, like mine, transformed over time: when she started, she was playing in a full band that was very “poppy” sounding and upbeat. Then, she turned in a folk direction – I always found her music great, no matter what. The fact that she started this course on her own was inspiring to me as well. I also like John Bias, Neil Young and lots of singer-songwriters.

Do you you have a particular way of working? Where and when do you write music?

At first, when I was staying home with my daughter, I didn’t really have time to pick up the guitar during the first year, except to play some little songs for her. Even when my wife came home at the end of the day, I was really tired and just wanted to go to bed. But now that she’s a bit older, I can find some time to play on my own to make music and create. I really love when she comes to see me play when the concert isn’t at night. She’s at an age where she is starting to get a real kick out of that.

How old is she?

She’s two and a half years [old]. She’s a person now, you know [laughs]. She dances around, she talks and she’s easy to spend time with. I’m glad that she likes music too. She really likes ABBA and The Supreme and is really into the 1960s too. It’s cool to see her learning about music and building her own tastes and interests that way.

How did you learn to sing?

It was always part of my music but I wasn’t really confident about it at first. Now I feel better about my voice. I feel like it’s an important part of the music. It’s an unusual voice, it’s atypical for rock music and the kind of music I am doing, but as I have gotten older I felt more confident that the fact that it is different and weird can be a good thing. I shouldn’t be worried about that.

I never really took intensive lessons, but I did go to a voice teacher a couple of times – she was really nice and helpful – and she explained to me that the songs I was writing for myself weren’t in the right key for my voice. That was really helpful, but I’m not a trained singer. Same thing for the guitar– I just taught myself guitar growing up. I did take violin lessons, so I had a musical background for that.

Do you think the city of New York particularly influenced your work?

You know, I think about that a lot because the group I was in was often compared to other New York bands, like Vivian Girls or Real Estate. I’m not sure that the city itself influenced the sound of the music, but it definitely inspired me to take music more seriously and put more of myself into it. Seeing other bands releasing albums and going on tour really inspired us. We feel united by the musical lineage of the city, with The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed and Patti Smith.

Where have you been performing during your most recent tour?

I put out the EP last week and this is my first tour with it! I played in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Ithaca and Syracuse in New York, Providence and tomorrow I’ll be heading to Northampton and Boston. So it’s pretty much the Northeast area. After that, I’ll be going home.

You have been playing in places like record stores recently. Are you used to playing in such locations?

I’ve done it before, but I think that it’s much easier now that I’m playing on my own. I can now perform almost anywhere, whereas when I was playing with the band it limited the space we could play in – because we were five. With this new music, I can play in houses or record stores and I’m not forced to say no to anything anymore. I can even show up at some parties if people ask me, and eventually I can also go to bigger stuff.

I appreciate the intimacy and the connection you have when playing in small places, in opposed to playing in a band, standing on a stage. Also, for this kind of music, there is an intimacy in the music itself and I want that to translate to the performance of the music as well. It’s just me and the guitar singing songs and I think that the best way to hear that is not standing above people, on a stage, but standing on the same level.

Can you explain the title of your new EP “Know Me More”?

It’s the first song on the EP. Also, it’s a new music to me: a new aesthetic and a new style. I think that idea of re-introducing myself to people is also an interesting thing. Sometimes when you just can’t figure out a name for an album you just call it the name of the first song. Maybe I’m not so good with titles, but I thought this was a nice way to introduce myself to old fans and maybe to new people that might be curious about the music I’m making.

Any projects for the near future?

Yeah! I’m gonna be recording in New York for a little bit and when I get home to New Jersey, I’m gonna be staying with our new baby — my wife is expecting in November. Hopefully when he is a bit older I might get the opportunity to travel and play music again. At this phase of my life, what’s most important to me is being there with my daughter, my new baby and my wife, being there as much as possible. I love touring but when you have a family, you don’t want to be away from them for too long.

I saw on your Twitter that you are rather politically engaged. Ever thought of using music as a political voice?

I feel like the community of artists that I’m a part of is inherently politically active. I know it’s important to communicate political ideas but I don’t know if any of my fans are very different than I am. I don’t play any shows with Neo-Nazis or stuff like that, you know? [laughs]. I used to be skeptical of artists who used political ideas to enhance their own reputation, when they tried to make public think that they were “good people”. However now, given the state of the world, I don’t feel bad about that at all — I feel everyone should do what they feel is right and communicate their values. It’s a tough time for a lot of people in the US and it’s a tough time to have children and raising them in this world. I don’t feel any qualms about sharing those feelings, but forcing them into my music doesn’t feel natural. I think I’d write a bad song if I was explicitly talking about broad political issues in my music. I’d rather talk about human relationships. I think there are political ideas in hand to that. I don’t feel comfortable writing political anthems as a songwriter. I’m not Billy Brandt.

Instead, I like using social media and discussions to share my ideas, but in a song it’ll never be as explicit as that. It’s not a lack of willingness to do it; it’s more a lack of faith in my ability as a songwriter to do it well.

Any projects outside music?

I love playing guitar, writing songs, sharing them with people, traveling and meeting new people. But frankly, I don’t know what else I could do. I’m not a strong visual artist. Every time I have to make a music video I never have any ideas and I’m just like ‘I guess just film me playing the song’ [laughs]. I think there are some artists that work so well visually and have very strong ideas in terms of how films and other mediums convey their ideas. M.I.A. is really strong. A friend of mine, in the band Fear of Men, is really good. They blend music with the visual arts very well. On my part, I have a hard time visualizing my music, the music itself is important to me and the only part that I can focus on.

The Natvral’s latest EP is available on Spotify or Apple Music. You can also stay up to date with Kip’s tours on his personal Twitter or The Natvral’s Twitter.