Pure Bathing Culture: Riding The Moon Tides

The Portland band talk about tarot cards, constellations and its debut album.
Pure Bathing Culture
Pure Bathing Culture © Nate Watters / Red Bull Content Pool
By Elliott Sharp
  • Daniel Hindman and Sarah Versprille are the main songwriters behind Pure Bathing Culture
  • Both Hindman and Versprille are also in the folk-rock band Vetiver
  • Pure Bathing Culture's debut album, 'Moon Tides,' is out August 20 via Partisan Records
  • The album was inspired by tarot cards, astrology, and New Age philosophy, among other things

Pure Bathing Culture, the Portland-based pop project co-helmed by Daniel Hindman and Sarah Versprille, recently played a Red Bull Sound Select showcase in Seattle with Dirty ProjectorsEighteen Individual Eyes, and The Grizzled Mighty. The band played several songs from its upcoming debut album, 'Moon Tides,' out August 20 through Partisan Records, including the gorgeous singles 'Dare The Dream' and 'Pendulum.'

A few days after the show, we caught up with Hindman and Versprille - who are also members of the folk-rock band Vetiver - to talk about the images and ideas that motivate 'Moon Tides' (now streaming on Pitchfork Advance).

Pure Bathing Culture
Pure Bathing Culture © Nate Watters/Red Bull Content Pool
Pure Bathing Culture
Pure Bathing Culture © Nate Watters/Red Bull Content Pool

I read in your interview with Interview that, when you were considering naming the group Pure Bathing Culture, you did an image search for “pure bathing culture” to see what would come up. I did that same search this morning, and now it is just images of you two. What were the initial images?

Daniel Hindman: I know. We fucked that up. There were a lot of images of women bathing in the Ganges wearing beautifully colored scarves and dresses. There were a lot of bathhouses from various cultures in the world – Japanese, Turkish – and some very church-like images. For whatever reasons, it was the perfect combination to arrive at beautiful imagery.

Sarah Versprille: A lot of the pictures showed people being very ecstatic, like jumping around while washing. It was crazy. It's too bad we messed that up. Now you probably have to scroll through a few pages of images of us before those start to come up.

You have shattered the original narrative of “pure bathing culture” and its associated images.

DH: Yeah, I feel like we mined some natural resource, or we decimated some population. There's something funny about that; there's something very pop culture about it. We mined this phrase and turned it into our own expression. What's really "original," though, especially now?

So much originality comes just from making sense of what already exists, and mining concepts that are already there. Everything now is like a fusion of things. So there used to be these beautiful images of people bathing, and now there are just images of two people trying to be a band. We picked that from the tree, and now we have to turn that fruit into something new.

I'm not into using tarot cards to predict the future. But I think it's a really amazing way to gain perspective on folk wisdoms people have been collecting for thousands of years.

That's the hardest part: getting people to eat the new fruit.

DH: I think we're fortunate enough now to have reached the point where people at least notice the band. There's a huge amount of static: a major part of being a band is dealing with the static. Whatever your band is, whatever the identity of your band is, there are thousands of other bands and dozens of them are doing the exact same thing your band is doing.

How pure is your concept? Is your band going to break through the static? It's challenging. Then there are the things you don't even consider. Like, as a man and a woman in a band, now we are labeled a boy-girl duo. We have to be perceived as that now. If you get pegged as dream-pop, you have to be a dream-pop band. It's so hard to distinguish yourself. It takes time, and that's what we've been working on. It's the only way to actually become successful.

I'm sure that people often compare you to Beach House, another boy-girl band that makes what people sometimes call “dream pop” music.

DH: That's the easiest comparison to make. I'm not angry about it. I don't think people are dumb and just do the easiest thing they can; I think it's natural for people to do what's easy. But that comparison is a sign they might not have heard our music. Hopefully, in time they will. We totally respect and admire Beach House's music, but we're not modeling ourselves after them in any way. We didn't start a band to be Beach House.

Pure Bathing Culture
Pure Bathing Culture © Nate Watters/Red Bull Content Pool
Pure Bathing Culture
Pure Bathing Culture © Nate Watters/Red Bull Content Pool

The album title is 'Moon Tides.' It seems like you have a fascination with water.

SV: We do have a fascination with water. When the album title came about, we were thinking a lot about the moon, and the moon's relationship with the Earth, and how the mood effects the tide, and how perhaps the moon effects humans. We were riffing on that idea. The moon must, in some way, effect us. It's an interesting thing to think about it, and we talk about it a lot. Water is in motion, and it represents human emotion. We thought this title was an apt description of how we were feeling about our music at the time.

How do you think the moon might influence your behavior?

DH: The last song on the record is this song 'Temples Of The Moon.' In a deck of tarot cards, the card of the moon isn't necessarily a happy card. It represents challenges. At night, when the moon is out, you can't see things very well. Things can be scary. Night comes every day, and you have to deal with it. But the title doesn't represent an emotional manifesto that we adhere to. It's more of an open thing.

One of the new songs is called 'Twins.' I'm curious about who these twins are.

DH: That was a fun song to write. We pulled the concept from a few different ideas. The central idea is about someone being willing to transform, to any degree, in order to infinitely remain in the space of the one thing they love the most, whether they have to transform their body or their mind. We started thinking about that when we were writing, and also about the constellation, Gemini, and the Gemini twins, and the mythology behind it.

There are two borthers, Castor and Polydeuces, who are the sons of Zeus, but with different mothers. One of them dies in a battle, and the other goes to Zeus and says he can't go on without his brother. Zeus says that the only way for them to be together is if he stops being a human and becomes a constellation in the sky; he says they can be together forever, but only as constellations.

Do a lot of the songs on 'Moon Tides' have similarly meticulous backstories?

DH: Yeah, but the main thing about 'Twins' is that it's about transformation. That's probably the underlying message of a lot of the songs on this record. I think we found a lot of stuff, whether symbolism in tarot cards or mythology or the Zodiac, which we used as muses to express those ideas. But the message isn't “astrology is cool” or “tarot is cool.” We were just able to find fodder within those sources that inspired the songs we wrote.

Maybe that theme of transformation will remain with our music in the future, but we will probably look for new fuel to progress those ideas in new ways. We've been talking about science fiction a lot recently. We're just interested in how humans use these things to understand themselves and explain their world. What's turning us on in a deeper level are these underlying ideas, not necessarily New Age religion or any of that stuff.

So you're not personally invested in the reality of tarot cards?

DH: No, not really. For me, it's the symbolism that's interesting. I'm not into using tarot cards to predict the future. But I think it's a really amazing way to gain perspective on folk wisdoms people have been collecting for thousands of years. The archetypes are absolutely real archetypes of the human condition. That's why it's interesting, much more so than a faith based religion that doesn't let you be upset that you're gonna die some day. For us, it's a muse, and it's an interesting one.

SV: I totally agree. I don't prescribe to the idea that tarot cards are a tool for divination, or seeing the future, but I think it's fascinating to learn about the cards and what they each symbolize. Also, the imagery is really beautiful.

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