An Interview With Kip Berman (The Natvral)
As The Natvral, Kip Berman has, for the time being anyway, traded in sugary sweet fuzz gaze (as singer/songwriter for the excellent The Pains of Being Pure at Heart) for more stripped-down, troubadourian pursuits.
As a man with guitar-in-hand and heart-on-sleeve, Berman's earnest, heartfelt songs feel especially poignant and intimate, even more so when played live. It just so happens that The Natvral is in DC tonight, at Songbyrd, on tour with friend Linda Carbone. Why not spend your Friday night getting better acquainted with songs from The Natvral's debut EP, Know Me More, along with perhaps even newer nuggets? But first, read on to see what's new in the word of The Natvral, in Berman's own words.
What has been your most exciting moment in the last year?
It’s the birth of my son last October. I had just finished recording in Brooklyn and got home super late from the studio. But he arrived two weeks early, so I basically got home, and then took my wife to the hospital the next day and had a baby.
Who are your favorite recording artists?
Well, a lot of them are already iconic - Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Fairport Convention/Sandy Denny, Billy Bragg, Margo Guryan, and Leonard Cohen, Karen Dalton, etc. Though with some of that stuff, it bears rediscovering. My mind was so blown listening to Fairport Convention and the solo work of Richard and Linda Thompson recently, because they felt way more vital and raw than their hippy, folky reputation.
The Kinks are maybe my favorite band of the 60s. I’ve been getting deep into Arthur. And maybe it’s just being a parent, or maybe it’s just that as I get older I can’t control my emotions - but “Some Mother’s Son” just makes me sob. That entire record leaves me amazed that human beings made that.
It’s like in The Little Mermaid, where Ariel says, “How can a world that makes such beautiful things be so bad?” I guess for me it’s not things, but songs. The best music gives me faith in the possibility of what we can be, even when most evidence is more grim.
So instead I’ll just say what I’ve been really enjoying from contemporary artists: Big Thief, Dear Nora, Modern Nature (a new band on Bella Union), and Destroyer.
Do you feel safe riding in airplanes?
I dare not tempt the airplane gods by saying “yes.”
Does every city look the same?
No, but it seems like every venue’s dressing room has a lewd drawing somewhere. I don’t know what it is about musicians who are like, “I have a bit of down time, should I read a book, put on some music, write to a friend? Nah, I’ll draw a dick.”
What message are you trying to get across, if any?
The things I say in songs are the things I can't really say.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
Where would you like to go that you haven't gone yet?
I’d like to share some of the places I’ve seen with my family - My daughter is 3 and a half, but she always asks, “Can I come too?” when I’m off to play a show, and I hope to be able to say, “Yes, of course!” soon.
Do you feel that you're setting a new trend in music?
For myself, yeah. I’m doing everything differently than ways I’ve worked before. Recording (basically) live, playing with no guitar pedals, performing solo or with a band - and not having that matter much to the music itself. I’m trying to capture music at its most human and spontaneous. I just play songs and sing them, and it has so little to do with anything other than that. Who cares what amp, or if there’s a microphone, or if it’s someone’s basement or a big venue? Forget all that - I just want to play my songs for people, the rest will sort itself out.
What kinds of guitars do you use?
The same Fender Telecaster I've had for a while. It’s a guitar that sounds like a guitar.
Does anybody ever ask you for advice?
I usually would tell them, "Do something you care about, because even if no one else cares - it means at least someone cares."
How do you prefer for your fans to act at your concerts?
Rapt. Unless they have to pee, then go pee and come back to rapt.
How do you go about writing your songs?
I play my guitar and sing along, and hope no one strummed those chords or sang those words first. And even if they did, do I mind?
What is one question you would like to be asked that probably nobody has ever asked?
This one. Whoah.
What do you call your sound?
How about “too-lazy-to-carry-a-bunch-of-heavy-stuff,” so maybe “folk?” But I’m sort of half asleep even typing the word “folk” so maybe, “Rock?” And then I think of how everyone is so down on “Rock” these days, maybe deservedly. But even if it isn’t “Rock,” I do like lost causes, so… ROCK!
Have you ever had a mental block-out on stage?
What are your unfulfilled ambitions?
Melanie had this song that said, “She never had dreams, so they never came true.” So I always thought I should have dreams - even if my dreams are a bit particular. When I was a teenager I wanted to play a show with my indiepop band The Sporting Life at The Magic Marker House in Portland, OR (it’s where Dear Nora, Kissing Book, Hutch from The Thermals, Jona from Y.A.C.H.T. lived at one time or another). And we did! Then we broke up.
Then with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, it was to be, “the most important band in the world to 18 people.” And that kinda happened.
With The Natvral it’s different. I always felt with Pains that we got more recognition than we deserved - so many of the bands we admired never got to do half the things we did, and that felt unfair.
So I want to do something true - by my own standards - which are almost impossible unless you’re Roy Orbison or someone like that. If you see me in some mid 21st century version of Traveling Wilburys someday, you'll know...
What advice do you have for teenagers?
One of the few joys of being a teenager is that you don’t have to take advice.
What is the closest you have come to losing life and limb?
I am whole, and I don’t want to worry any relatives that have Google alerts.
Do you think of yourself more as an entertainer or a musician, or do you think it's more of a combination of the two?
I think I’m really just a gussied up merch guy.