[Piper Kaplan of Puro Instinct at the Hard Rock Café, Hollywood, CA; December, 2010]
By Samantha Cornwell
Last month, just as my interview with James Ferraro at the Hard Rock Café on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was winding to a close, a small blonde entered the restaurant and sat down at our table. This was Piper Kaplan, the front woman of LA’s Puro Instinct, which she founded with her teenage sister Skylar under the name Pearl Harbor in late 2008. Their first EP under the Puro Instinct moniker, out last year on Gloriette, funnels the ethereal essence of '70s soft rock through the darkness and jagged corners of post-punk and goth. While Piper scraped the bacon off a stuffed potato skin, I picked her brain on a wide range of issues, including Russia, their friend and collaborator Ariel Pink, and psychedelic music.
AZ: Can you describe your songwriting process?
Piper: A lot of the time I’ll start noodling on my keyboard with whatever drum presets it has, and if it sounds good we’ll keep working with it. My sister will present me with ideas. We don’t live together, so a lot of times we’ll come up with parts individually, and try to piece everything together from there. Every song is totally different, so there’s really no method behind the madness at all. We’ll get together and jam, and try to flesh something out, but for the most part Skylar’s got a really busy schedule. She’s in school still. I think I just have a lot more time to write than she does.
AZ: What inspired you to cover the song “I’ve Got Some Happiness” by Leland on your recent EP?
Piper: That song carried a lot of emotional weight for me at the time that I found it. I was going through a really insane break up, and I was involved with a new person, and that was going wrong, so that song was the quintessence of how I was feeling. I really just wanted to cover it too, because it’s a fucking awesome song. It's super simple, but satiating in a very deep way.
AZ: It seems like there is a big Russian influence on your work. Where does that come from?
Piper: I went to Amoeba and I was peeping the world music section. There was a weird “Roux Wave” record, as I’d like to call it, by this band-- I think they’re called A. C. C. A., maybe Acca? That record is like whatever, but it had similar aesthetic ingredients to post-punk records that I’ve loved. It was also better, in the sense that it was amateurly and instinctively executed, and just reinforced the whole iron curtain vibe, where there’s a stronghold on information. It's like they’re playing their skewed version of whatever is going on in the Western World. Then I realized that there were probably a million records that were just like this, so why don’t I do some digging? Then I found out about Kino. There’s this whole compilation of Russian New Wave. It's called Red Wave.
AZ: Any particular favorites from that scene?
Piper: There’s this chick Joanna Stingray. She went over there and interviewed this dude, who I think is named Boris Grebenshchikov. He’s from this band called Aquarium. Kino and Aquarium are like the kingpins of Russian Rock. As soon as I found those guys I was like, “This is unbelievable”. I also think that in a lot of ways Russian rock has so much more to prove. There’s this intrinsic toughness that I think comes with it that some Western Rock doesn’t have. Just because they come from this seedy, underprivileged zone. I also think that Russia is really cool, because Russia is on the outside what America is on the inside. It's really seedy, and fucked up, and corrupt. It's like the innards are exposed. I like that. They’re proud of it, and wear it on their sleeve. I think that’s pretty cool. My idea of Russia is kind’ve this weird apocalypse, Troma version of America.
[James Ferraro and Piper Kaplan, Hollywood, CA; December 2010]
AZ: Recently you’ve toured and collaborated with Ariel Pink. How has that been?
Piper: He’s a dream. He’s one of my best friends, and it was totally effortless. I think artistically we are the same. It’s like "skillful non-skill". The greatest advice that he’s given me was, “Whatever it is that you’re doing, don’t figure it out.” We’ve started to figure out how to craft our sound. We know what we want out of the final product, but in terms of just getting to it, it's very blind. I’m super neurotic and detail-oriented, but in a way that’s not conducive to making anything more structured. There’s no structure. I’m like The Fly or something.
Piper: I feel an affinity with James Ferraro, Ariel, and The Samps. I just don’t come from the same place as those people that you mentioned. It doesn’t really do anything for me. I like Dunes. Those chicks are rad, and they’re pretty good friends of mine, but I don’t think musically we’re coming from the same place. If anything it’s totally an anatomical connection. That’s lazy listening. It’s not a fashion show. Listen to the fucking record.
AZ: How do you feel about your music being described as "psychedelic"?
Piper: I think "psychedelic" in the truest sense is something that creates a synesthesia effect on a person. Like a literal acid trip. Something that transcends reality, or that takes you to a place that you weren’t at before you started listening. Whatever your trip is. I would hope that our music is psychedelic. It’s flattering to think that one could be taken from the reality that they’re in, to another place without taking the drug. If our music does that, then that’s rad.
After our talk, Piper and James put on red lipstick, and we roamed through the mall that was behind the Hard Rock Café. We covered sites such as aerobics-oriented night clubs, a Sketchers store, and vibrating movie seats. As I moved away from them and headed toward the bus stop, they faded off into the city lights. It was nothing more than a typical day on Hollywood Boulevard.
Puro Instinct EP is available for download via Bandcamp. Their debut album, Headbangers in Ecstasy, will be out this year on Mexican Summer.