Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos

Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos
Actions may speak louder than words, but Michael Angelakos put the two together and gave his girlfriend the best Valentine’s Day ever recorded – literally: an EP called Chunk of Change. The first release by Passion Pit, the EP caught on like wildfire and thrust Angelakos’ bedroom laptop project in between bands into the upper echelon of the always-discerning (ahem) indie blogosphere, forcing him to throw together what is now a full-fledged band. Speaking to Exclaim!, Angelakos revealed that Passion Pit has now moved far beyond the EP’s introspective electro pop and become a fluid, forward-thinking band set to blow everyone’s mind when their LP drops in the spring.

So you guys are doing some shows up here in Canada at the end of January...
Yeah, we're doing a number of shows in Ottawa. I know we're playing Toronto - that's where you guys are based right?

Yes we are. Are you doing a full tour then? When I checked your schedule I only saw Toronto and Montreal.
Yeah, we're doing a full tour, but we're kicking it off in Canada, which I'm actually excited about. I'm excited about Toronto because I'm from Buffalo, so we're really looking forward to playing there. We had a great time when we played Montreal [for Pop Montreal]. I'm a really big fan of Canada.

You guys are based out of Boston currently, right?
Yeah, but we're in New York City a lot. I'm in New York right now, working on the new album.

What can you tell me about the album?
It's certainly shaping up. This is our ninth day in the studio. As a writer I go into the studio with a lot of ideas but nothing concrete. I like to let the studio direct me, so it's kind of chance every time we go into the studio as to where we end up. But it's a really big sounding record, which we're excited about. I think the instrumentation is going to surprise people. It's not an electro pop record at all. So, there's nothing off of the EP on the record, all new material. In fact, nothing we've played live ever is going to be on this. It's a completely new record. I think it's our backlash to they hype. We get tired pretty easily, so we move in all sorts of directions. So for the tour, a lot of the songs are being rearranged and manipulated - we never play anything the same way.

So this change in direction, is it a result of having a band now? As opposed to you writing and recording the EP on your own.
Yes and no. I've never had a band for a long period of time. I'd start a band to play a show, do a few shows, record and release an album and then move on to another project. That was my life before Passion Pit. I mean, Passion Pit was one of those projects that has just gone too far - in my life. WIth the band though, everyone is just as restless as I am. We never want to be cornered and pigeonholed in terms of how we sound. Especially this early on, where if people write us off, they write us off as some derivative electro pop, throwback, Hot Chip or Postal Service rip-off, bullshit like that. We don't look at it like that at all because when we play live we feel more like Supertramp [laughs]. Then we'll rearrange a song and then sound like some late '70s pop. We've never seen it as being something congruent. I think this album is very cohesive, it's got its own sound. It's not a collection of songs. I'm writing it to have a beginning, middle and end, an album with its very own flavour. It's so unbelievably different from the EP. I can't wait for people to be like, "Oh! They're not some typical hype band." As opposed to a hyped band that would just build off the EP and run off some singles.

Was it a natural progression for you guys then?
Yeah, I just couldn't see myself doing it any other way. When all of this buzz started, we were looking at each other like it was the scariest thing in the world. We didn't think of ourselves at all like this. I'm sure it's like that for other bands, but for us it was shocking. We're so into recording all different kinds of music. Electro pop was just a fun, easy route for us at first, and that's just what people caught on to. It's amazing what people catch on to, and start to listening to. It's never what you plan.

I guess it was natural. We always try to push those things away from us. The moment things become to easy we start challenging ourselves more. This album is pop at its core, but we're moving more into a band-oriented direction, a lot more instrumentation, a lot of sampling, and the live show is going to be extremely intense - very few backing tracks. We actually perform everything, which is what we're actually proud of.

So, how did you find your sound? Was it the result of experimenting with software?
Well, I didn't go into the record thinking I was developing a sound or anything, as a band or an artist. I was doing it for one particular person, and honestly, even though it sounds like a story for the press I seriously didn't think about it any other way. I literally was just experimenting with a program, I never amde electronic music like that before. I just did what I usually do with music, just layer and layer and texturize until I can hear... I'm into polyphonic counterpoint, like music where there are multiple points, like Steve Reich. And a lot of drone music like Fennesz, where he just layers and processes music to the point where five instruments sound like one because he texturizes so discreetly. When I was writing the EP, I don't know how I developed it because it happened so fast, because it was just about songwriting. Putting together a pop song that was danceable and fun, and made my girlfriend smile, really that was what I wanted to do. Then I'd go listen to it with her and we'd laugh about it. I'd sit and listen to it by myself and go, "That's pretty good. It's a joke, and the quality is laughable." I cannot to this day, believe that this record is on the shelf of a store. You can hear people coughing in the background. It's really funny. If I dissected it for you, you'd be really surprised.

What made you decide to release it commercially then? Honestly, when I signed with Frenchkiss it wasn't in the agreement at all. They had heard it and they liked it, but we were gonna move on from it. But then the full-length wasn't going to be released for a while, and I had this material that was going over pretty well, people were requesting it. I really like lo-fi music and demos and thought, "Well, someone might appreciate it." So I mentioned it to the guys at Frenchkiss, and they said, "Well, maybe," and didn't really seem so hot on it at first. I don't know exactly how it came together but they were like, "Let's release it but not put anything into the marketing, let's not do much of anything." There wasn't much money going into the record, which is what's cool about it. We just wanted it to be there. If people wanted it, they could get it, that kind of thing. And it's been received really well, which is nice, because it was pretty private... my girlfriend didn't have a problem with it.

Seeing as it was a Valentine’s gift, was Chunk of Change written more as a "this is a love letter to my girlfriend" or a "shit, I'd better write something so I don't end up in the doghouse"?
[Laughs.] I didn't forget it, but I'm so stupidly bad at remembering presents. I didn't write it to get out of the doghouse, I wrote it to get on her good side. Essentially it's a love letter to her, and we can laugh about it... I didn't make our relationship public by releasing it. I didn't say anything really new in the lyrics. I just told her how much of an asshole I was and how great she is to me, or was to me rather. So, it was just a love letter, and I like that because I made it in my bedroom. I know for a fact that it was a natural way for me to tell someone that I love them.