Passion Pit

The music industry, more than any other, is known for its constantly changing astrology. There are those few stars that have found a permanent home in the shifting constellations of music history—indelible pinpricks in the sky, whose perfectly coiffed and carefully managed images take years to arrive down on Earth. And even after they die, or disband, or otherwise go gently into that good night, their fame lingers like a beacon, their traveling reservoir of light not yet up. But more often, new artists are nothing but shooting stars. They appear suddenly and vanish just as suddenly. But for that moment before they crumble under the weight of a fickle industry, they glimmer and sparkle—and are inevitably proclaimed the “It Band.”

And that’s exactly what Passion Pit was when they played New York’s Bowery Ballroom this June, playing songs from their debut album Manners. When they came to the Bowery last year, armed with only a six-track repertoire from their much-lauded EP Chunk of Change, they arrived with the advantage of buzz and excitement, an army of bloggers all hungry to proclaim them the Next Big Thing. This year, they arrived with the pressure of actually being the Big Thing. “We had to live up to a pretty high standard,” says frontman and founder Michael Angelakos. “It was our first time saying, ‘This is us. We’re actually playing these songs as a band that’s touring, that’s signed, that’s doing this for a living.’ It was scary.”

The sold-out stop in New York was part of what Michael calls Passion Pit’s “reckoning,” their last stateside show before playing raucous festivals throughout Europe, with avid eyes on them at every step, as if for fear that they might burn up in the atmosphere. Throughout the tour, the band’s kicky synth pop, Michael’s dreamy, childlike falsetto and their whiplash ascent up the indie grapevine all made for easy comparisons to Hot Chip, Vampire Weekend and last year’s sudden smash MGMT. And just as those bands reached an assumed downturn, Passion Pit arrived, fighting against the same eventual fate. “I think anyone would get a little nervous,” says Michael, who along with his bandmates has rejected any labels resembling an It Band. “I’m just trying to make sure our shows are going.”

If there is any anxiety in their minds, the boys of Passion Pit don’t show it. At a photo shoot in Toronto a week before their New York shows, the group proved to be a band of brothers as much as a band, not hesitating to blow glitter on one-another, or bundle together for a group hug. “There’s a kind of ‘We’re all in it together’ attitude, and I feel a lot better going out on stage because of it,” says Michael, whose whiplash ascent from club band to festival headliner hasn’t given him time to manage his stage fright. (“I shake a lot,” he says. “I mean, I shake A LOT.”)
While they’ve become indie darlings together, it’s Michael’s story of how he started the band that precedes them wherever they go, told and retold by journalists, bloggers and fans. And retold here once more, because if you’re going to one day find yourself wedged somewhere in the starscape among the King of Pop, Mother of Soul and the many Princesses of Meltdowns, you need a mythology.

Michael Angelakos

In 2007, holed up in his Emerson College dorm room, Michael recorded a CD on his laptop for his then-girlfriend. It was a Valentine’s gift and an apology letter and it would later become Passion Pit’s debut EP, Chunk of Change. “The lyrics are about me being an asshole,” he says. Sung with Michael’s trademark exuberance, however, the EP plays like a dance party—in fact, when he recorded “I’ve Got Your Number,” the opening track that includes the lyrics, “Can you see me cry / tears like diamonds,” he called his roommates into his bedroom for an impromptu dance party. While the story goes that he began giving out the CD and later charging money for it, Michael actually reveals, “It was the other way around. I sold a few of them and then I felt so bad about it that I gave the money back a week later.” Soon after, he began playing shows around campus and was shocked to find the venues packed to fire capacity. “It was the most baffling thing in the world!” he says. “I don’t think I knew a quarter of the people there.”

If it were a wonder that a mob of strangers would want to share in Michael’s private (but oh so chipper) lament, it’s more of a wonder to Michael that his relationship history has become tangled with Passion Pit’s creation story. (“Isn’t it insane that on our Wikipedia page, it says that I’m no longer with my girlfriend?” he asks, bemused. “Why? Who cares?”) Like it or not, the myth has become part of their charm. But ironically, the realities that the myth overlooks are what reveal the kismet quality of Passion Pit’s inception and attest to their longevity.

Growing up, Michael wanted nothing more than to be in a band, writing songs about ninjas and motorcycles. “Electropop is the last thing I thought I’d be playing,” he says. “I’ve played folk and slowcore. I was in a bossa nova band. I played jazz for money in high school.” He adds, “It’s the project you least expect to do well that does well, I think.”

Even when Ian Hultquist, a friend and now one of the band’s three keyboardists, approached Michael to form a band to flesh out Chunk of Change, Michael said, “Absolutely not. There’s no way at all.” After a lifetime of wanting to write music, Michael had decided to stop. “The second I decided I didn’t want to do this, this happened,” he says, “I swear to God.”

Still thirsting for change and growth, Michael is now working as a lyricist with other artists, and planning quietly for a far-off second album while his bandmates pursue their own busy projects. Now signed to major labels in both the States and the UK, with a strong following, a buzz and a myth, the stars seem to be aligned behind them for the long haul. But what’s refreshing about Passion Pit is that none of that matters—they have steered clear of their own hype and preempted backlash by simply being five guys from Boston with a story and some damned catchy songs. “I’m trying to put it out of my mind as much as possible and try to enjoy what we’re doing now, because it’s pretty fun,” says Michael. “Something like that would just put a damper on things.”

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