Electro-pop act Passion Pit has been gaining speed since its beginnings in 2007 as people across the country latch onto their clever beats, juxtaposed with frontman Michael Angelakos’ distinctive falsetto.
This band, however, is more than just a smart orchestration of keyboards, synths, and drums. Upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that Angelakos’ music and lyrics map a cathartic pathway through his personal challenges. In a generation where honesty in music is rare, it’s refreshing to find a musician who can be open with his audience about a battle with mental health, while still filling dance floors.
Though Angelakos is the mastermind behind the Passion Pit moniker, it takes a small army of talented men to flesh out the live band and bring his musical musings to life. We had the opportunity to talk to Ian Hultquist, keyboardist/ guitarist with the band.
How did you meet Michael?
I met Michael in 2006. We had a mutual friend, and we were putting together a band just for fun—it wasn’t Passion Pit. Our mutual friend said I know a guy who could play bass and keyboards, and he called Michael. I met him at the first rehearsal.
What was your first impression?
(Laughs) He seemed very young, but super creative and very musical. I felt like he was someone who was capable of doing some great things in music.
And now you guys are in a band together that is Passion Pit. When you’re writing, do you all collaborate together or does one person usually serve as the catalyst?
The writing works with Michael basically doing everything. Even on records, he played everything. The three of us outside of Michael were not part of Gossamer. The way it works is Michael finished the record and then brought it to us, and we kind of create the live show altogether. It’s a matter of learning songs, rewriting songs, kind of changing things around here and there and that’s where it becomes a collaboration of what we’ll bring to the stage.
How much of an input do you have on what changes on stage versus what is initially recorded?
It’s an equal share. A lot of times the recorded versions won’t translate as well onto a stage. Take a song like “Constant Conversations”; we played it in rehearsal, and it wasn’t hitting right, so we just made a few small changes, and we’d take out a few parts here and there, until we realized we had to make incredible changes if we wanted it to work as well as we wanted to.
Do you feel like the writing process has changed for Michael between Manners and Gossamer?
I think it’s gotten more musical. Back then he was just learning how to use Abelton live. That record is very technical. I think as he’s gone on he’s focused more on songwriting and putting more music into the songs, layering them as much as possible, creating the most lush sound he can come up with.
Would you say there’s any significance between the play on light and darkness between the song lyrics and the music’s sound?
That’s how it’s just always been for us. Going all the way back to Chunk of Change, those songs are pretty depressing. It was written as a much belated Valentine’s Day present, kind of like, I’m so sorry that I’m not the person I should be, basically. That already had set the tone for us, to play kind of sad lyrics put against really happy music.
But when we’ve talked about it, that’s what we really love so much about pop music. A lot of the great pop songs all have that kind of thing going, where if you take a step back and really look at it, it’s a really sad song, but when you hear it, it’s so beautiful and happy that you don’t even realize it.
Let’s talk for a second about depression. Last summer you had to cancel some tour dates due to the fragility of Michael’s mental state. How do you as a band try to create a stable place for him?
That’s with a lot of patience, really. I’ve known him for five or six years now and I’ve gone through all the ups and downs with him that he’s gone through in those past few years. So, it kind of really just takes understanding one another, knowing when you have to take a step back or when you have to step in and speak up.
It takes caring about each other and wanting everyone to be in good health and wanting to make sure that everyone is happy. We all make good efforts to actually hang out together.
I think it was really brave that he told the public why the dates were cancelled. What prompted that decision?
I think he was tired of dancing around it. It’s something he’s been dealing with for years and years—I think he just got tired of all secrecy. Almost any interview he does now, of course, it has to come up. Which would be something rough to talk about for him. I think the only way to really feel comfortable is to be honest with what’s going on and if you’re strong enough to share something like that, I support that fully.
Is it ever difficult to continue to make the music you want to make with the criticism that’s out there?
Not really. There will always be criticism in the world, it doesn’t really matter. As long we’re happy with the music, that’s all that really matters for us. We all love playing the songs right now.
What prompted the decision to press vinyl?
I think that’s something that we’ve always wanted to do. Each one of us has a growing record collection, and we all are fascinated by the concept of vinyl—we love owning records and listening to them. It was something that wasn’t even a question for us. We were like, if we ever have a chance to do this, it’s going to happen.
What’s the best find in your record collection?
I’m not sure. I actually inherited a lot of records from my dad that I’m still going through. It’s a lot of weird Gordon Lightfoot stuff. I’m not even sure what it is.
Passion Pit is currently on tour with dates slated through August. They’ll be at a few festivals this year as well. If you’re looking for a really exhilarating live show, a chance to dance out your demons, or just a good time, we strongly suggest you grab tickets when they’re in a town near you.