Three years ago, college student Michael Angelakos recorded a couple of songs on his laptop as a Valentine’s gift for his girlfriend.
As this home-made EP casually changed a few hands, the DIY electro-pop tracks soon began to generate some major hype, at first through word of mouth and then the blogosphere.
After seeing Angelakos play a local gig with just his trusty laptop for company, guitarist Ian Hultquist approached him and asked if he wanted to perform his songs with a real band. With the addition of a synthesizer, a bass guitar and drums, the band known as Passion Pit was born.
Four of Angelakos’ original tracks were included in Passion Pit’s debut EP, Chunk of Change, released in 2008.
But the band soon got to work on writing and recording material for their first full-length record, Manners – a project Hultquist describes as quite a turning point for the group: “With Manners we were really focused on making a solid record that had a beginning, middle and an end. We also focused on grounding ourselves, and actually showing people what the Passion Pit voice was, because this band didn’t really have an identity yet. Chunk of Change was out there, but everyone thought we were trying to be Hot Chip, or MGMT, or God knows what. So Manners was our opportunity to really prove ourselves, to show that this is what we’re trying to do.”
Under pressure to produce something immune to obvious band comparisons, Passion Pit worked hard to flesh out their own unique sound – and their efforts didn’t go unrewarded. Manners was released in May last year and received some serious acclaim, as well as finding favour in many ‘Best Album of 2009’ lists.
The album mixes feel-good synth-pop with heady electronica, all supported by the distinctive vocals of Michael Angelakos. As Hultquist says, “for the Passion Pit sound, a lot of it goes back to the Beatles and the Beach Boys, stuff like that. It’s kind of mixing timeless pop music with contemporary dance music.”
Highlights from the album include the playful ‘Little Secrets’ complete with a children’s choir, and the fan-favourite ‘Sleepyhead’, whose widespread use on TV (in everything from ‘Top Gear’ to ‘Skins’) helped to give the band even more exposure.
The release of Manners was accompanied by a gruelling tour schedule, where Passion Pit faced the intimidating task of translating their songs from the studio setting into a live atmosphere, without sacrificing any of the surreal quality about them.
Hultquist says, “It’s definitely taken some time to work it out. There’s such a big sound on the record, and we almost didn’t realise it at first. We did live rehearsals for like a month before Manners came out, but I honestly don’t think it was until this January that the songs started sounding like they were supposed to.”
Luckily for us, Passion Pit are bringing their newly polished performances to our British shores this month, playing in most of the major cities.
“I think we’ve really grown since the last time we were in the UK, so it’s gonna be good for us, and good for you guys to see who we are now.” Passion Pit played a number of UK festivals last year, including Glastonbury, which gave them the opportunity to meet a certain musical legend.
“We met Bruce Springsteen at Glastonbury… I think that kinda reigns over anyone else! He performed a song with the Gaslight Anthem, who were playing on stage before us.”
It goes back to the Beatles and the Beach Boys
“So, we were kinda standing around in the dressing room when he walked by, and Jeff – our bassist, who’s actually from the same place in New Jersey as Bruce is – he waved him over, and he talked to us for a little bit, it was really nice. And then he actually came and watched us on stage for a couple songs – that was pretty surreal!”
Does this mean that Springsteen is now a Passion Pit fan? Well we didn’t really see him after the show, but Jeff – and I still don’t really believe him but he told me it’s true – Jeff says he saw him in an Urban Outfitters about a month ago, and yeah I think he’s a Passion Pit fan.” So with a successful EP and an album under their belts, fans (including me) are already impatient for new material from the band.
But according to Hultquist, we’ll be waiting for it for some time: “We’re touring so much that the thought of even sitting down and starting to write hasn’t even come up yet, so I don’t know when it would happen. I’d like to hope that maybe next year we’ll have a new one out, but I really don’t know.”
One thing you might hear more of from Passion Pit though are remixes. “We’re always looking for more. For a lot of them Nate [Donmoyer, drums] has done most of it. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs one was me and Nate, and I actually just did one for Shout Out Loud that just got released.”
“We’re always looking for remixes, it’s kinda just a nice escape on the road…you get to just work on something and not really have to think about anything else for a little while.”