"Man, everything's conspired against us today. We're on the west coast, we're driving, and I'm hungover from karaoke."

The effusively polite Kip Berman is offering some scrambled apologies for having delayed our call by a couple of hours. It actually worked out quite nicely - allowing me to take in Liverpool's capitulation at Crystal Palace while I waited - but he's frightfully nice about it all the same. The truth is, having waited three years for a follow-up to 2011's excellent - and, in some circles, polarising - Belong, holding out a little longer on a dreary Monday night for the opportunity to chat to the brains behind The Pains of Being Pure at Heart was no exertion on my part.

Days of Abandon sees the Brooklynites land somewhere between the sound of their first two full-lengths; like their self-titled debut, it's a collection of frustratingly catchy, quick-fire pop songs, but with plenty of the decidedly higher fidelity they lent to its more polished successor. When I reviewed the record recently, I encountered a dearth of online information about its origins, with detail on apparent lineup shuffles particularly scarce. It was the obvious starting point for my conversation with Berman, who's happy to oblige once he's delivered a frantic paean to current tour mates Fear of Men; his level of enthusiasm for pretty much every topic we touch upon rarely threatens to drop below extreme.

"In recording terms, it wasn't really that different," he tells me from the tour van, somewhere between Portland and San Francisco. "Kurt Feldman and Alex Naidus, the drummer and bassist from the last two records, played on this one too. The only real difference was that Peggy (Wang) left about a year and a half ago - she has kind of a high-level day job at BuzzFeed - so we brought in Jen Goma from A Sunny Day in Glasgow to sing and play keyboards, and my friend Kelly Pratt (Beirut, Arcade Fire) did some horn stuff, too. On the road, we've got Christoph Hochheim on guitar, his brother Anton playing drums, and Jacob Sloan from Dream Diary on bass. The whole thing's been pretty much the same as it ever was, to be honest; there's always been that fluidity."

"I always think of our music as pop music; people have talked about us being lo-fi - or shoegazey, on the last record - but those catchy, three-minute pop songs are really at the core of what our band is about."

Still, the lineup seems loose enough - and Berman's creative control sufficiently total - that you have to wonder whether The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are actually a band in the truest sense of the word. "We definitely are," he insists. "I really believe in that idea, of presenting yourself that way. I mean, there's very few people that have had enough individuality over the years that I would ever really want to hear their music based on their name alone; just Leonard Cohen, Elliott Smith, and probably a handful of others. Pains has always been about more than me, and I think the music is really improved by everybody else's contributions. I'm not a genius, or anything like that, so when I bring songs to band practice, I always go home with something that sounds so much better than the demo I came in with."

Thesound of Days of Abandon is really its defining characteristic; that the band have managed to harness the unbridled poppiness of their first album without regressing into the same lo-fi sonic textures is remarkable. The production is absolutely impeccable - the guitars clean, the vocals crisp - and it represents the realisation of Berman's vision for the record. "I wanted to make something that was fresh, and completely immediate; something light, not in terms of being soft, but just in not being overwrought with lots of grungy guitars or anything like that. I always think of our music as pop music; people have talked about us being lo-fi - or shoegazey, on the last record - but those catchy, three-minute pop songs are really at the core of what our band is about. We had the chance, this time around, to move beyond just constantly throwing more overdubs or distortion at the songs to make them sound cooler; we did that on Belong, and I think the law of diminishing returns meant we had to try something different. We were messing around with subtler things; playing with harmonies, or learning how to change the presets on the keyboard."

The three-year wait for another full-length hints at a perfectionist attitude on Berman's part; he claims to have written "forty or fifty" songs for Days of Abandon, with fifteen recorded, fourteen mixed and only ten ever intended for the album itself. "I think even the best songwriters probably feel that three out of every four songs they write are terrible," he says. "It's really about sticking with the stuff you feel most strongly about. We only spent a month in the studio, but we put so much work in beforehand; figuring out parts, making demos, revising stuff, discarding stuff, writing some more, and I think that's a good way to work. If you're in the studio for too long, you start overthinking things. The financial reality of our situation, that we can't afford too much studio time, is kind of nice, because it forces you to get your best ideas out first and not put your head too far up your own ass. It's probably not especially romantic, but using the time to our advantage, producing these super fleshed-out demos in Kurt's home studio, felt really crucial."

The sheer sunniness of the album's sonic approach is vital, too, because Berman's lyrics are unusually bleak in places; playing with light and shade in that way really represents unchartered territory for the band. "I mean, personal is the wrong word, because all these songs are personal - I wrote them, and they're my life - but there's definitely a tendency to confront the more melancholy aspects of my own existence on this record, and I didn't want it to sound sad. I wanted it, musically, to be really upbeat and uplifting, even if the songs dealt with some pretty raw, painful subjects. It's like how it was with Nirvana, where a lot of their songs are super bleak, but they were also really great, catchy pop songs. I find that if you don't strive for that balance, you descend into dirge really fast. I don't think we're going to be getting booked for many goth parties any time soon."

As criticisms go, though, their lack of compatibility with fans of the occult is probably a less prominent censure than the accusations of derivativeness that have been levelled at Berman from day one. He's certainly never sought to play down the importance of some of the usual suspects - indeed, he wears most of his influences so stridently on his sleeve that he might as well have them tattooed - but on Days of Abandon, he conceded that reinventing the way in which he took his cues from those bands would be key to the record's success. "The first album was obviously pretty indebted to Felt, and then a lot of those Glaswegian bands like The Pastels, The Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub, Orange Juice, The Wake - all that stuff. When we were making Belong, we were a little bit annoyed that people thought we only listened to Scottish music made in 1987, and I think there was an element of perverse pleasure in putting out a record that was more rooted in big American guitar sounds. They were just as strong a part of our identity, those bands we listened to growing up; Weezer, The Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth - those real titans of American alternate."

"I think whoever you're looking up to, you have to make sure the songs work; I remember walking into this club in Tokyo after a show one time, and these two guys were on stage playing an Aztec Camera cover. It kind of made me realise that the best songs sound just as good in front of twelve people as twelve thousand. It sounds cliched - "it's all about the songs, man! - but it's true. We were probably too tied up thinking about the sonic presentation of Belong, and on Days, we've tried to approach the influences on it - Aztec Camera, early Cure stuff - from a different angle; we were really trying to get to the pop sensibilities beneath the superficiality."

"Abandonment is a word with completely negative connotations - behind left behind, lost, desolate - and abandon has that meaning, too, but obviously can also mean freedom, and a lack of inhibition."

Key to their ability to tap into their American influences on Belong was the major coup of bringing in seasoned veterans Flood and Alan Moulder on production and mixing duties, respectively; the pressure of working with the holders of two of the most legendary CVs in the business, however, took its toll. "It was a chicken and egg thing, really," Berman recalls. "We wrote the songs for that record knowing that we wanted it to be this big, heavy, guitar-centric thing, and then we were incredibly fortunate to be able to bring in Flood and Alan, because they're the best at that. I'd say, "Hey, can we make the guitar sound more epic, like onSiamese Dream? And Alan would be like, "yeah, I mixed that record, I can do that." This time around, we had Andy Savours producing; he's younger, and doesn't have the same kind of name recognition, but he's super talented. The last thing he did was the new My Bloody Valentine album - he engineered and mixed it - and I don't think there's any greater feather in anyone's cap than being the guy who was in the room when m b v was finally finished."

"The thing was, when we first went in to work with Flood, we were super intimidated; not because he isn't a nice guy - he really is - but his reputation for making iconic records kind of went before him, and I think he ended up being weirded out by how weirded out we were. On this record, with Andy, there was a real element of comfort, especially because my friend, Danny Taylor, let us use his studio to record, somewhere we were familiar with. You know, it was "great, we can use Danny's space, and it'll be laid-back and easy," not "alright guys, we're in the studio with Flood now, and you've gotta tune your guitar perfectly or else he's gonna be really mad and kick your ass." He's not like that at all, of course, but that was how we perceived it was going to be, and I'm not sure we expressed ourselves properly as a result."

A few hours before I spoke to Berman, I noticed that he'd become the latest musician to take part in a Spin photo series that involves virtual tours of artists' homes. It surely wasn't a coincidence, I suggest, that on his coffee table, peeking out from behind a stack of old copies of Chickfactor zine and the Xbox World Cup game, is a book bearing the title The Days of Abandonment.

"Oh, shit, yeah! That conspicuously-placed book!" he laughs. "I was thinking, "maybe we should just so happen to leave this book out on the table for when they come over..." It's an Italian novel by Elena Ferrante, which is a pseudonym - nobody knows who she really is. It came out in early 2002, I think, and I just really loved that title. We tweaked it, because abandonment is a word with completely negative connotations - behind left behind, lost, desolate - and abandon has that meaning, too, but obviously can also mean freedom, and a lack of inhibition. It seemed like both of those ideas were present in the themes on this record."

"The artwork, too, was a big deal to me; I never really subscribed to that idea of, "the music's the most important thing, fuck it, you can just put a squirrel on the cover or something." I remember holding Belle & Sebastian records when I was younger, and just trying to figure out what they were all about; those kinds of bands wanted you to disappear into the worlds they created. The image on the cover, I've had it saved on my computer for like two years; I'd wanted to use it for so long. The Korean artist behind it, Lee Jinju, eventually gave us permission, and I honestly think it's such a neat fit for this bunch of songs."

"I can't even describe it. I just wanted to pour a beer on her head, I was so mad and elated at the same time."

Even aside from the music itself, Berman's adaptability, and appetite for reinvention, bodes promisingly for the band's future; even when Wang's departure threatened to throw them off course, given the importance of the male-female vocal balance to their music, Berman saw only opportunity. "That male-female dichotomy in the vocals is one of the things I love the most about this particular sub-genre - indie pop, I guess - that we emerged from. Some people are more comfortable performing than others, and Peggy was just shy; she didn't want to sing live on her own - which is totally understandable - so it was never something we could really explore too much. It wasn't too big a deal - I mean, I really love The Wake, but Carolyn (Allen) never sang live, even though some of their best work - like 'Crush the Flowers' - had her on lead vocals. But, making Days, getting to work with Jen felt like a real step forward."

"She has such an amazing voice; I probably shouldn't even talk about this, but last night, when we were doing karaoke, she sang 'Wuthering Heights', for fuck's sake. Who the fuck does 'Wuthering Heights' as karaoke? And it was the most spot-on version, too; it was insane, I can't even describe it. I just wanted to pour a beer on her head, I was so mad and elated at the same time. The song 'Kelly', on the new record - there's early live videos on YouTube of me singing on it, and it sounds OK, I guess, but she just totally carried it, and 'Life After Life', too. She's sitting right behind me in the van, but I'd say nice things about her even if she wasn't; I'm totally grateful that she helped something we'd always wanted to try become reality."

Goma is touring with The Pains until July, when she'll revert back to her day job with A Sunny Day in Glasgow; Berman, though, is comfortable with the idea that a revolving door policy might be in place for the foreseeable future. "We've got Jess from Fear of Men singing with us currently, too, and obviously that won't always be the case, either. I've really not had a dissimilar experience with this record than I have in the past; when you boil everything down, all you're doing is writing a bunch of songs, and then trying to get your friends to play them with you."

Days of Abandon is available via Fierce Panda on June 2nd. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart tour the UK in June and July:

  • 29 June - The Fleece, Bristol
  • 30 - The Cluny, Newcastle
  • 1 July - Mono, Glasgow
  • 2 - Ruby Lounge, Manchester
  • 3 - Scala, London