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Interview with Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit

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After two hours, and some of the worst Sunday drivers south of Boston, I arrived at my destination. The Black Repertory Theater in Providence, RI in the middle of Westminster Street art district. The backdrop was that of a very well sought after up-and-coming band. A crisp mist of autumn rain kept the line outside the theater in a heavier stance of anticipation than the original reason for waiting there. The line kept building and my patience with the rain grew thin. So I snuck up to the entrance with an ease that most young, courageous music journalist do and made my way into the venue.

Passion Pit was wrapping up the last portion of their sound check as I stood on the empty floor, that was soon to be destroyed with an unbelievable audience of enthused fans. Somewhere in the midst of email confirmations and management confusions, I lost the time that was supposed to be my interview with the band. This misunderstanding did not deter me much. No matter what stood in my way, I was going to get my interview — as you’ll see.

The local alternative radio station WBRU was celebrating their 40th Birthday. With what better way than a guest list only Birthday Bash! Consisting of a handful of private shows for the winning listeners — kicking off the celebration with a very exciting, heavily anticipated Passion Pit show. Every fan crowding the floor was delighted to have a chance to be there and I must admit, given it was a private show, so did I.

After a slightly longer than expected wait, Passion Pit finally came out to the stage. They started the set off with “I’ve Got Your Number”. The crowd eagerly accepted the high pitch falsetto of Michael Angelakos supported by the twisting synths and foot heavy kick drum roll outs. The personalization of this show couldn’t have had a much better effect for a band like this. The venue is small and the stage is almost level with the floor; which makes for passionate intimacy on every level. Some technical difficulties throughout the show didn’t sway the guys much, as they kept things moving right along.

“Little Secrets” was really a blast; the energy could be felt high up to the rafters of the club. The song on the album version is accompanied with a children's choir for the chorus; unfortunately the kiddies voices weren’t involved for this show. However the crowd picked-up where they would have left off. Vibrating the club floor with dance-happy jumps screaming “higher and higher” to fill in for the chorus.

For a few moments during a couple of the songs played, someone thought it be comical to cut the lights in the entire venue, leaving the boys to play through the dark. Admittedly they didn’t miss a beat, and chuckled in between songs in a light-hearted manner. Although a somewhat small set, Passion Pit crept in all of the favorites — “Sleepyhead”, and “The Reeling” were very well received.

It was rather difficult trying to decipher the scene amidst everyone. A mix of hipsters and indie kids, mixed in with fans well suited for an MGMT concert, eclectic to say the least. But nonetheless it brought me to the conclusion that this type of music regains a certain mist of genre-defying lines. There is no way to describe it and really no need too. Everyone there despite their character was having fun. The show ended no sooner than it felt it had just begun, I along with the entire population of The Black Rep. could have stayed all damn night. Jumping around with the youth as if it were a McDonald’s Playhouse.

The feeling I use to describe this whole event would be overwhelmingly full but I knew my night was not done. I still had an interview to attack. After much patience, I diverted a plan to possibly sneak onto the tour bus. No, really. I would have. But alas, I did not have too. It was just I and what was left of the crowd: the hangers as I like to refer to us — the people that hang around down by the stage just waiting for something profound to happen after the show. We were all fortunate enough to be granted an invite to the back stage area for a meet and greet. So with permission from Michael Angelakos, I took the reins and initiated a rather informal interview. Essentially what came to be a reasonably informative conversation…

Do you guys classify yourselves as electro-pop or indie?

I would say neither; this is a pop band, to boil everything down I’m just going to cut to the chase and say it's pop music. I write pop music, in some way shape or form. I don’t think pop music has to be necessarily pop music like Miley Cyrus, it’s just pop music. And I think at the end of the day ya know, the structure is all there, that’s how I think of it.

When you were recording Manners, I read in another interview you had with The Boston Phoenix, where you had mentioned that you guys were really thrown into a lot of shit all at once. You were depressed, over-worked, and eating McDonald’s everyday. Yet you came out with this album that makes everybody extremely happy, like in all aspects it’s a dance-to album. Did you have a hard time recording that, because you were in that frame of mind and under those circumstances?

The music first set off to be, like there is this built in dichotomy of two elements, there is this element pulling it down, and there is this element pulling it up. The element pulling it up is the musical hook aspect, and the element pulling it down is the lyrical content and the sentiment. And I think that literally that just kind of naturally came about.

I find some of this music, this project in particular, was always supposed to be an antidote. It was always supposed to be something that was supposed to correct things that were wrong. For instance Chunk Of Change was written to make my girlfriend happy, when she was unhappy. And that kind of carries over into Manners where I was trying to make myself happy; by creating these jubilant, euphoric, and overwhelming songs. Regardless of what I was actually talking about, actually it just became a vessel for me to kind of try to make sense of it all. Or slip it in under the radar, and I mean here I am.

I’ve got people singing along to songs about things I don’t think they quite understand. I think that’s the magic of creating music in that kind of environment. I am happy with the outcome, because I think it successfully created that dichotomy and it in many ways goes undetected; when people refer to us as “Poptomists” or something, which is great because their not getting it. And maybe that’s what is great about a good hook and a good song. They don’t really completely understand the full picture to really dissect it and then you see it all. So yes I think the environment was really special and created something I am perceptually proud of!

So I guess in some ways, you just answered two questions in one. My next question was pertaining to sort of the same caliber of underlying emotional aspects in songs. How with music people interpret the song as how they like to interpret it. They relate it to the feelings they are feeling at the time of listening. And to them, that is how the song was meant to be portrayed. Whether it’s happy, or sad, loved or lost. I guess people perceive your music as exactly how it comes across, happy. No matter what the emotions in the song really mean to you.

Well it’s a great way for me to kind of hide behind things; I am always hiding behind veils. Manners is all about taking a certain cordial way of acting and behaving, and we’re really feeling other things beneath that. And working according to a set of rules, pop is a set of rules. I thought it out; pop is really a set of rules. It’s like an array it’s like any other piece of music you have structural restrictions.

I think Manners is the whole process of breeding those things under pressure that was the concept. People taking it for what it is, and what they feel from it is the most natural part about it. Because then it’s no longer mine, and I have this concept, I had this thing, this idea; that you would give it to people and then they would construe it any which way, and if their taking it and consuming it all.

Well, that’s step one, and if you get past step one you’re golden, and then step two is really them dissecting it and making it their own. That’s the best part about making any kind of art, theater, and film, whatever. So really I just think that I don’t care what people take from it, I got what I put into it. I know what I did, I know what I made. I’m really just happy when people are jumping around to songs that are like really depressing. It’s kind of funny.

It’s a cool concept, honestly I think. Most depressing songs are written under those pretenses. I have been to shows that were some pretty heavy stuff being performed, and there you have it- I was sitting in the crowd crying. You guys find a way to shift the whole concept upside down, and turn a depressing song into a very happy, energetic portrayal of what you are really trying to say.

I have been in bands, where I have done that. I have done the slow-core thing when I have done the really, really sad quite songs. Then I realized that that’s not the actual energy that I am feeling. When I am feeling that kind of sadness, or inner pain that’s a very, very energetic feeling. It doesn't necessarily have to be this sadness, it can be this joyous mania of pulling your hair out type of anxiety. Those feelings are what I think Passion Pit successfully conveys live, and on record, if it goes on record than that’s really awesome. But live I think were always kind of freaking out, like sweating and being weird. It’s because were still like adolescents.

But it’s POP! Like you said, that is what pop is about.

When you boil it down, yes that’s what pop is. But like I said you can slip it in under the radar, that’s the fun part about it.

So all in all, the night went off without a hitch. A full-circle kind of event that would leave any fan alike pleased from all extents. Exceptionally pleased with my new found point of view on what exactly makes pop music, just pop.

Passion Pit is currently on tour. Keep a close eye on these guys, they may just surprise you.


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About Cindal Lee Heart

  • Chris Hicks

    Fantastic interview! I am by no means an avid PP fan, as much I am a fan of your last few posts, but you may have converted me! The accute sense of control you wield in your writing shouldn’t come from some one your age, and yet it does.

  • nia

    Thanks for a great article/interview, there are only few like that one of yours. I’m really liking the “behing the scene” feel of it and that it didn’t just feel like some Q&A but like an earnest interview 😉