Bill Cummings 06/04/2009
Passion Pit you must know the name by now, but what's the story behind one of 2009's most tipped new American acts? The veracious, joyful, eclectic, electro pop journeys of Passion Pit's debut EP, Chunk of Change was the starting gun of blogsphere buzz that has surrounded Massachusetts based outfit ever since. While it was originally meant as a Valentine's Day gift for a girlfriend who “put up with” frontman Michael Angelakos, that detail's only half of a story that isn't so cuddly when you consider the circumstances.
You see, Angelakos has written songs since he was a piano-pounding 5 year old, from spooky and spare folk tunes to pit-stirring ska punk. But one day, he just stopped. Not by choice. Angelakos' creative well was simply in need of a severe refill, so he started toying with the plug-ins and infinite possibilities of a computer program. Six tracks later, Chunk of Change was born by default. In need of an impromptu thank you card and some feedback from friends, Angelakos started spreading the songs around—quite casually, really.
Flash forward to 2008. With Chunk of Change's official unmixed/mastered pressing in tow, Angelakos and the ever-evolving Passion Pit band play to a sold-out crowd at New York's Bowery Ballroom. A crowd that sees nothing wrong with singing along to every word; even several Manners selections, learned via osmosis by the second verse.
According to the band's press release their feverishly anticipated forthcoming album 'Manners' (set for UK release through the Frenchkiss label on the 18th of May) is the real deal album, one that delivers on the blissful and bright promises of early fan favorites like “Sleepyhead.” It took nearly two months of “explosive” off-the-cuff sessions with producer Chris Zane (Les Savy Fav, The Walkmen) to get there—everything was written and recorded on the fly—but Manners is exactly that, an irresistible, filler-free glimpse into the mind of a man who'd like to unleash his very own Pet Sounds someday. Check the carefully-sculpted songwriting on display: the speaker-panning synths and slightly sinister children's chorus (straight outta P.S. 22 in NYC) of “Little Secrets” and future single “The Reeling,” the lead dulcimer loops and melancholic melodies of “Moth's Wings,” the ecstatic, riled-up climax of “Folds in Your Hands.” It's apparently the next step of which is taking Passion Pit's live show to a level that matches, and eventually exceeds, Manners' ambition and kaleidoscopic soundscapes. Because when Angelakos says he wants to be the next Randy Newman, he's dead serious. And when he adds that Passion Pit is “a band with a lead songwriter, not just Michael Angelakos and these guys,” it's clear he's just getting started.
Off the back of a triumphant recent set at Austin Texas' South By South West Bill Cummings and Sel Bulut caught up with Passion Pit guitarist and bassist Jeff Apruzzese to ask him to reflect on a whirlwind few months for one of the band's of the moment. He talks their new album 'Manners' those 'MGMT comparisons' and what provides the inspiration for an act that's constantly boundlessly evolving grasping onto melodies, samples, synth lines, and grooves: pushing the boundaries of what pop music means to them. Oh and just what is the most random gift they've got on the road?
Hello there Mr Passion Pit, you started out with just Mike writing songs solo and over time you accumulated more members. How did Passion Pit come to reach what they are now?
Mike did a solo show in April of 2007 which consisted of him singing along to backing tracks on his laptop. I had known the music for a while, and knew that there was a lot of potential in it. We had played together in bands before, and I was itching to start something up again. It took some convincing, but he eventually agreed to try and flesh it out with a live band. From there it just took lots and practicing, (the three main keyboardist, Mike included, are actually guitar players), and finding the right people to make this work.
What albums/artists would you pinpoint as a influence on the moveable aural feast known as Passion Pit?
From a song writing aspect, Mike's influences range back and forth between amazing songwriters like Randy Newman & Brian Wilson. I think one of the things that pushes Passion Pit along though, is that the band is made up of five guys who all grew up making different types of music their entire lives.
It's something that really comes out in our live shows. I spent a lot of years immersed in avant-jazz and open-tuned guitar finger-picking. Nels Cline & Richard Lloyd are some of my biggest influences as a guitar player. On the other hand though, we have Nate, who is an incredible electronic musician. He might have never even listened to those guys, and I usually don't know about half the people he'll be listening too, but we all find ways to connect our influences musically.
You've just announced details of your debut album, how does it feel knowing it's all done now and you actually have an album coming out?
I wish it could come out sooner! I'm really excited to see people's reactions when they start hearing it. Mike has really grown up as a songwriter. I feel like the songs reach a deeper level than they did on Chunk of Change. It's definitely a Passion Pit record, but I don't think it'll be the same Passion Pit people are expecting. It's a beautiful record, and no matter what happens I think we are all unbelievably proud of it.
Having just toured here, how would you say British audiences compare to American ones?
To be honest, it took some getting used to at first. We've had shows in the US where the crowd is so insane and out of their minds that they form together into a giant mass of humans rocking back and forth. Our keyboards have fallen off stage, or ended up sideways because of it.
When we first got to the UK, it seemed like everyone stood with their arms crossed and would slightly nod their heads once in a while. The thing that changed though, was the overwhelming amount of appreciation we'd see after the shows. I had people coming up to me saying it was the best show they'd ever seen! I haven't really heard that in the US, yet.
What's the best/most random/most memorable (delete as appropriate) gift a rabid fan has ever given you?
Someone made us cupcakes for the show in Glasgow. yum.
You've been Tipped as ones to watch for 09, and compared to MGMT? Is that kind of thing pressurizing or do you find it all a bit funny really?
I try to laugh as much as I can, so I find it a bit funny. Funny: with an underline of overwhelming shock and partial disagreement. It'll always be flattering to be compared to someone who has experienced success. However, it was a comparison I never really found true. Yes, both bands quickly gained recognition. Yes, both bands have a single that makes you want to jump around and be happy. That's about it. I like MGMT, and I'm excited to see what they do in the future, but I'm also excited for Passion Pit to not continue to grow up underneath that headline.
And because we can't only talk about yourself, what brand spanking new albums would you tell our readers to check out? (asides from Manners, obviously)
The new Harlem Shakes record is fantastic. They recorded it with Chris Zane right before we met him to work on ours. Also, the new Phoenix record is excellent.
Thanks for answering these questions!
Passion Pit release the cacophonous, sample squelching, dance floor baiting, falsetto dappled pop melodies of their brand new single 'The Reeling' on the 11th of May, it may even draw favourable comparions to the work of Hot Chip, Pet Shop Boys, and Devo, and due to the wonders of modern technology we're bringing the music to you now:
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO PASSION PIT'S - THE REELING
It's closely followed by their debut album 'Manners,' which is released through Frenchkiss/ Columbia records on the 18th of May. Passion Pit return to the UK when they play the ROB DA BANK & FRIENDS tour dates in May which calls at the following places:
09 - Trinity Ball, Dublin (*not including Passion Pit / www.trinityball.ie)
11 - MOHO, Manchester
12 - The Leadmill, Sheffield
13 - Heaven, London
14 - Orange Rooms, Southampton
16 - O2 Academy, Bristol (including DJ Yoda and DJ Derek)
Passion Pit also play Brighton's Great Escape festival on May the 15th.