Just as the sun started setting, I was led to the artist lounge of ACL Live’s Moody Theater where Passion Pit frontman, Michael Angelakos sits on a black velvet couch. Vinyl copies of his third release Kindred, cover the coffee table and Angelakos is dressed in his signature collegiate style: khaki pants, oxford shirt, skinny tie and jacket.
Passion Pit just completed soundcheck ahead of the night’s event: the Mercedes Benz Evolution Tour, a series of concerts held in five cities, targeting millennials.
New Jersey raised Angelakos attended Emerson College in Boston where he released Passion Pit’s debut EP, Chunk of Change in 2008. In seven short years, Passion Pit has achieved tremendous recognition and success, while also facing immense challenges, primarily Angelakos’ diagnosis and struggle with bipolar disorder. I spoke to Angelakos about Passion Pit’s early days, astrology and what the future holds.
Sound Dessert: When “Sleepyhead” was released in 2008, it felt like there was nothing else like it out at the time. Do you feel Passion Pit charted new territory with your sound?
Michael Angelakos: I didn’t really have any ideas, I didn’t think anyone would care. My friends told me to put it up on Myspace because that’s what bands did, and I was just making it for my friends. As to whether or not it was charting new territory I can’t speak to that. I think it was certainly weirder than a lot of other music but still maintained a very sincere pop sensibility.
SD: You were attending Emerson College when you released Passion Pit’s debut EP, Chunk of Change. Did the Boston music scene influence you in any way?
MA: When we started as a band, I was really wary of getting involved with the music scene as it was functioning. Instead of just playing normal shows I wanted to make sure we stood out and the simplest way of doing that to me, at the time, was to align with dance nights.
Bands weren’t really playing dance nights, but everyone was going to them. I was like, “I make dance music, that’s kind of what I’m doing right?” So I started relationships with people at The Pill and Great Scott, and that’s how we differentiated ourselves. Everyone let us do our thing and that’s the most you can ask for from a scene.
SD: Passion Pit’s latest release Kindred focuses on gratitude for family and friends following personal challenges and struggles. Do you feel a big shift happens in general upon entering one’s late 20’s?
MA: Yes. I’ve had this conversation many times actually. I felt like, especially when I turned 28, it just clicked and I wanted to cut out all this excess and see things, I guess, as they are.
Having an illness or not, I have a lot of great people around me, I’m very lucky. I felt like a lot of the other records were talking about the idea of wanting to express that gratitude and not really knowing how to.
I got caught up in talking about stuff that didn’t really matter and I have this platform finally to say thank you, but emphatically. Hopefully now its led to more action in my real life as opposed to just talking about it.
SD: I don’t know if you follow astrology.
MA: I do, a little bit.
SD: Have you heard of the Saturn Return?
MA: Yeah, I don’t know a lot about it but I read something about it at some point when I was trying to…I don’t know what I was doing actually it was really late at night (laughs).
SD: The Saturn Return marks when you’re supposed to enter adulthood…
MA: Oh right, make the changes now…
SD: …and you’re supposed to experience certain struggles that push you into adulthood.
MA: I feel like that’s been happening for like eight years! But at the same time I read into it and I was like “yes.” I always can apply something, that’s the magic of that stuff.
SD: Upon entering the Saturn Return/adulthood, where do you feel your next chapter will take you from here?
MA: I’ve been waiting for this chapter for a very long time. I’ve just been waiting to finally end this current one. It’s been a long time. I feel like not having this absolute concise answer is exactly why I like it. It’s what I need.
When you do this for a living there’s this cycle: I always know I’ll have another record to make, and then I’ll have two months of promo, and then touring for a year and a half. It’s this loop that I’ve been on for three years and it kind of messed me up for sure.
For as great as its been, my life needs to change a little bit and I’m really excited to allow it to change because I’m in a place where I can, and I don’t think I was before. I don’t want to know exactly, I just want to be open to it changing, finally.
SD: Does that mean having more down time in between tours?
MA: I don’t think my brain can take that. I need to be constantly insane. That’s how I make sense of things. I do think that it will force a certain type of work ethic and discipline, because I really want to get better at a lot of things and I haven’t had time to just get better. I miss playing and practicing guitar at home. So I’ll always be working in some way. Hell, I’m just excited to read more. Stuff like that. It’s been crazy.
SD: What do you want to read?
MA: I have a list that’s really long. Right now I’m reading some J.R. Ackerley stuff; I’m re-reading Hindoo Holiday.
SD: “Take A Walk” has political undertones to it, especially in reference to the economy. Will the 2016 presidential race inspire more of the same?
MA: I never meant for “Take A Walk” to be interpreted that way. That was from the perspective of my grandparents and my father. That’s not my personal voice, I really tried to echo their sentiments, or the sentiments that my parents relayed to me. But I remain extremely sour about all things political in this country and I’d like to have a little more faith. I can’t think of anything that inspiring at this point except for angering, and I think other people voice that much better than I do.
SD: If you were to take your sweetheart to a drive-in movie, which film would be playing on the big screen?
MA: Oh my gosh, a really good one would be Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows. The 50’s mellow drama stuff.
SD: What’s your favorite place to get a bagel in NYC?
MA: I’m not that discriminate. I love bagels, but I take what I can get. It’s New York, when I walk down the street there’s going to be something, you know?
SD: How does it feel to be a part of the Mercedes Benz Evolution Tour?
MA: It’s awesome. It’s always a really nice compliment when you’re asked to do something like this and represent a company that’s prestigious and historical like Mercedes Benz.
I do a lot of things with companies and it’s never very creatively satisfying, and this time I didn’t feel like anything had to be comprised. It’s been awesome, honestly. Few and far between are these types of situations. I’m stoked about it, I don’t know if they are, I think they are (laughs), but I’ve actually had a lot of fun.
SD: Are you getting to drive any of their cars?
MA: You know, my first car was a really beat up, old 240D Mercedes. It was stick shift and I didn’t know how to drive stick shift and I kept trying to drive it. It’s amazing what you do when you’re 16 and really eager to drive.
I don’t really drive anymore because I’m so terrified of it, but I mean, I don’t mind being driven around in a Mercedes, that’s fine (laughs) you know, if Uber picks me up.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Featured image: Steven Brahms