Today Kip Berman, former singer / songwriter of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart shares the video for his recently released single “Sun Blisters,” the third single from his debut solo album as The Natvral. The album, Tethers, is due on April 2 on Kanine Records. You can pre-order it and stream it here.
Berman says of “Sun Blisters”:
“It’s a song about how you don’t always want what’s for the best– and neither do I.”
Directors Remy Holwick and David Usui on “Sun Blisters”:
The artists and audience of Americana have always been as diverse as America itself, a truth we wanted to reflect in the “Sun Blisters” video. We sought to tell parallel narratives, set in a sumptuous 1960s aesthetic, but careful to acknowledge the era’s complexities and contradictions. On one hand, it was a time of great musical opportunity – one in which TV allowed artists to take their music to millions of living rooms beyond the confines of Greenwich Village and college campuses. But by focusing on the struggle for personal freedoms inside those homes, we ask the viewer to consider how the art that often “defines” an era in cultural memory is only part of the story – and in many cases, is mere background music to the work of marginalized groups to write their own narratives.
We first encountered the work of real-life couple Gabrielle Sprauve and Chris Bloom, both with the esteemed NYC dance company Ballet Hispánico, when we saw their self-produced production of “Tunnels.” This routine, which the couple choreographed and filmed in a hallway in their NYC apartment building, took place when their dance company was forced to postpone production during the pandemic and they sought innovative ways of continuing to create during lockdown.
Fashioning a version of a familiar mid-century American television show on which The Natvral was the guest proved to be a real joy. Employing heavy stage makeup, over the top costumes, period evoking interiors, and sweeping camera work, we sought to capture a transitional moment in time where a singer/songwriter would take their music to a seemingly bigger stage, but also a more intimate presence in viewers homes.
And in those homes the story is no longer the singer’s, but those who inhabit that space. As such, it was important to us that Sprauve and Bloom be the storytellers for their portion of the narrative, shaping the dance and the story arc, and that we as directors supported them in that storytelling. We wanted to use this platform to bring a more diverse world into focus and to enable a collaborative perspective with the overall story. With visceral melancholy and estrangement lurking not far beneath a stunning, emotive, physical performance, we hope that Sprauve and Bloom take your breath away as much as they took ours.
As the frontman of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Kip Berman wrote songs about the thrills and ills of young adult life with the care and concern of a cool older sibling. The long-standing New York City indiepop group disbanded soon after releasing their final record, The Echo of Pleasure (2017), and Berman found himself at a creative crossroads. He wanted to keep making music, but the themes and sounds he was interested in had shifted; it felt time for a course correction.
Enter Tethers, Berman’s first solo record as The Natvral, which finds him coming to terms with the changes in his own life by observing those transformations in the people he’s known – a self-portrait in relief. In the time between making his last record with his former band, Berman’s life and location have shifted dramatically, as he welcomed a daughter, then a son, and moved from Brooklyn to Princeton. With his new identity as a parent came a crucial shift in how he approached music. Gone were the months in a cramped tour van and late nights rehearsing with his band in a windowless warehouse space. In its place were amorphous, suburban afternoons playing whimsical songs to two young children, while writing music for himself after their bedtime.
But in this time away from the life of a touring artist, Berman discovered an unvarnished, broken folk rock sound– a marked departure from his previous work. Recorded over 7 days with producer Andy Savours (My Bloody Valentine, Black Country New Road, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart), Tethers is as raw in sound as it is nuanced and empathetic in its lyricism. “It wasn’t so much a decision about how to work. It was the only way to do it. I had these songs, but not much time, so we just tracked everything as quickly and in the moment as we could and hoped for the best,” says Berman of his process. Without effect pedals, overdubs or even a metronome, the resulting album feels free and unpretentious, recalling the strident obliqueness of Bob Dylan and Neil Young’s sonic primitivism – but drawn from a set of vividly detailed experiences all Berman’s own. Throughout, he is supported by former TPOBPAH collaborators Jacob Sloan (bass), Brian Alvarez (drums), Sarah Chihaya (backing vocals) and Crystal Stilts/Woods Kyle Forester (organ).
Opener and lead single, “Why Don’t You Come Out Anymore?” tells of reconnecting with an
old friend and noticing they now wear a wedding band and their hair is graying – a reminder of all the reasons people lost touch long before Covid. The elegiac “Sun Blisters” examines the tensions between knowing there’s a certain freedom in being a fuckup, while also reckoning with the emotional consequences of forever living on the margins. But far from settling on a tidy moral, the song instead favors an ambivalence about what “doing the right thing” in the straight world means. “In the end maybe I was wrong/laughing where only tears belong/but love to you’s just a pretty song/and I’m a sour note.”
Meanwhile on the gilded ballad, “Sylvia, the Cup of Youth,” he recalls a past love who was
constantly restarting her life as Berman sought permanence for his own. “I’m older than I was and I was older then/you seem the same when I catch sight of you,” he sings in a moment of reflection as an organ blooms out of the song’s latticework. “Sometimes you’d kid and say I was your Galahad/I never was as good as that but you – did you find the cup of youth?” inverting the grail myth and resisting inhabiting the treacly virtue of the painfully pure at heart white knight.
Tethers, in spirit and sound, is a taut rope, charged with the tension between wanting to go out and know the world, and the love that compels Berman to stay home and find peace with his young family. In Berman’s eyes, the two are not mutually exclusive. “Before my daughter was born, I was afraid she would take me away from music. When she was born, I was afraid music would take me away from her. But now I know I need both to continue to grow as a parent and an artist.”
To dream of being homeward bound and also to walk the earth makes life more electric. As
Berman puts it, “I always wanted to know the fullness of life – and I didn’t want to be a tour
guide at my own museum.” On Tethers, Berman has re-emerged with a bracing debut, reveling in the freedom to go his own way, even if that way is home.
Press photo by Remy Holwick
Release Date: April 2, 2021
1. Why Don’t You Come Out Anymore?
2. New Moon
3. Sun Blisters
4. New Year’s Night
5. Tears of Gold
6. Sylvia, the Cup of Youth
7. Stay in the Country
8. Runaway Jane
9. Alone in London