Wistful pop shoegazer, NYC sweethearts and the undeniable surprise success story of the year

Photography by Pavla Kopecna


Hot Dogs. Instantly synonymous with NYC, for sure. But if one was to imagine The Pastels, back in the late 1980’s, had stopped Geordie pop visionary Paddy McAloon – the brains, brawn, and more recently, the beard behind Prefab Sprout – in the street, and said, “Seriously Patrick, stop going on about said sausage snacks, jumping frogs, and towns in New Mexico, and eat this!”, and promptly rammed a Boss Hyper-Fuzz pedal, wrapped in Kurt Cobain’s Cardigan into his agape oral cavity, we’d be on the way to the conception of another of New York’s gifts to the world.

“Sure, I love hot dogs, but I really like lamb doner’s. I try to get one whenever we’re in Europe. They’re just as good as anything back home”, proclaims a masticating Alex, TPOBPAH’s erudite bass player, as the flames of the age old debate of ‘Highest echelons of ‘British/European cuisine Vs American acts of culinary brilliance’ are ignited.

Indeed, one would surmise that lately Alex would have had his pick of European fodder of which to extol the virtues. Already 5 dates into a European tour which so far has seen them conquer the Paredes De Coura festival in Portugal, as well as Scandinavia, the band, who are fast making a mark which may require medical attention on the twee/indie-pop universe, with their slightly shoegazey, melancholic, muddy-but-muchly-melodic brand are in fine fettle. Explains singer/guitarist Kip: “The reaction of people on this tour has been, so far, overwhelmingly positive. I don’t want to jinx us, but every time we come over, we’re having more fun, and playing bigger venues- I don’t know if that trend will reverse again, but tonight is the biggest show we’ve played in England yet. It was great going back to Sweden again – it was the first place we played outside of the US, long before the album came out. It was a magical experience”

Support of their imminent 4-song EP, ‘Higher than the stars’, is what brings them across the Atlantic. With the first two tracks, (the title track and ‘Falling Over’) particularly reaching new highs of wistful, tune-gushing symphony, we hear voices that seem to copulate, inter-twining like lovers’ legs, uniting in a moment of celestial harmony, and then lying together in a state of total blissful synergy and eternal mutual understanding. Just try getting them out of your head! As well as The Pastels, there are subtle tributes paid up to My Bloody Valentine, Belle and Sebastian, The Vaselines and Teenage Fanclub.

It was a solid and binding case of Scotophilia that drew the NY four-piece together in the first place, in the distant past of 2006. “Music was definitely a big part of why and how we became friends,” Peggy musters. “We’d go see shows. I guess we just sort of bonded”.

Continues Kip: “There are definitely overlaps in what we like, but there’s also a healthy level of polarity and disparity there.”

Bond they did. Not long after Kip, Peggy, Alex and drummer Kurt had formed the band, there were the early releases of ‘This love is Fucking Right!’ and a self-titled EP, released on Painbow in 2007. Next came the split single with The Parallelograms (‘Kurt Cobain’s Cardigan’) before their debut album earlier this year on the persistent Fortuna Pop label. One cannot refute the presence of the spirit of Mr Cobain, echoing with hook-laden resonance, throughout TPOBPAH’s songwriting – “I first heard of The Vaselines through Kurt Cobain championing them,” recalls Kip. “I feel that I would never have started along this road if it wasn’t for Kurt Cobain – you know when you’re 14 and you still think Lenny Kravitz is cool? No, no, no! – if you were really into music, you would be listening to The Vaselines. Kurt Cobain was great at writing pop melodies, and melding them against a noisy and abrasive sound. It made us want to push a little further, and while I wouldn’t say we do it that way, we like the idea of pushing pop outside of the traditional ‘pretty song’ format. When a song is a bit off, it makes it sound more emotionally intense.”

Kip continues: “In terms of our lyrics, I guess we draw on personal experience. ‘Young Adult Fiction’ (from the album) is about, err, physical expressions of love in a library – I can’t say too much more – I was really tired in an interview once, and I said the f-word, talking about ‘This Love is Fucking Right’, my grandma saw it, she called up, and I had some explaining to do.” Kip smiles. “‘Kurt Cobain’s Cardigan’ is also about doing it in a library, actually!

“The reason the songs sound the way they do is because everyone contributes to them. There might be a slightly tragic-comic aspect to them, almost overly idealised versions of reality. We were never one of those bands that wanted to ride a wave to the top. It doesn’t matter if only a few people like it, but if they like it a lot, then that’s very powerful. We’d rather err on the side of being ridiculous and falling on our face than not stand for something. There was a band from NY called My Favourite who were kind of out of place and out of time, but they had very strong views on songwriting, and we’re like that.”

The bands curious name comes from a suitably intriguing source – as Kip unfurls: “When I was living in Portland, Oregon, a friend wrote an unpublished children’s story called ‘The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.’ I guess the moral of the story was that the time you spend with your friends, having fun and travelling is more important than things like worldly ambition or rank… I know that makes us sound like The Monkees, but I think it’s a really fitting representation of who we are. I couldn’t imagine being in a band that wasn’t like that. If you heard our music and the band name, it would kind of make sense. Plus it’s a really beautiful sentiment, and is open to interpretation as well. Our other name is Stabby Time!”

Frankly terrifying band alter egos aside, do TPOBPAH suffer from, well, cardiac piety, and if so, does it carry some level of discomfort with it, vented through their chosen profession?

Peggy laments. “I had to give up my dog,” she says “because I was touring so much -That was painful. I think he was sick of being in my cramped apartment. It’s actually a happy story though, because Lammy is now with my parents in New Orleans, and it’s cool because now they have a dog.”

After taking a brief respite to ponder the horrors of C.S.A (Canine Separation Anxiety. Honestly!), and with the word on TPOBPAH now spreading throughout Europe like swine flu on anabolics, how are things back home?

Kip: “We played on the Carson Daly show recently – It really was one of those moments where you have to stop and say, ‘Is this actually happening?’ – We were in LA, on a sound stage, with Jay Leno in the next studio‚”it was amazing. And we have a huge US tour in the fall. All that’s left now is to meet the Queen!”

After discussions are had on the viability of being able to arrange a chill-out with Her Maj, TPOBPAH depart with gusto, to play to a packed Islington Garage – a set which is so shudderingly exquisite, it makes the hairs on the back of my back stand up. Leaving the pondering of just one point – are there any libraries open late round here?

By Simon Gray

Originally published in issue 10 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. September 2009

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