It's a story old as time: boy meets girl, falls in love, writes four songs as an anniversary gift for girl, songs leak, boy is prodded to start a band that changes the face of music. And it's the story of Michael Angelakos, singer/songwriter and driving force behind Passion Pit. In three short years, Michael and bandmates Ian Hultquist (keyboards/guitar), Ayad Al Adhamy (synth/samples), Jeff Apruzzese (bass/synth bass) and Nate Donmoyer (drums) have set dance music on its ear by welding well-crafted lyrics and melodies to slinky rhythms geared for the dance floor. After almost three years of almost continuous touring, Passion Pit will wind down their schedule at the end of 2010, but not before making a stop at the IU Auditorium in Bloomington Oct. 23. We were able to grab 20 minutes with Apruzzese in advance of the show.
NUVO: You're out on a full-scale tour behind the latest full-length LP, Manners. The Passion Pit story is pretty well known by now — a 4-song anniversary gift launched the project. And it's been the strength of the songwriting that's grabbed people. From an insider's perspective, what are some of the other strengths of the band as a unit?
Apruzzese: What's weird is that, individually, we all have such varying and different personalities. One may not think that, as a whole, we would function too well together. But I think that it's all of those differences in our own personalities that puts this interesting spin on the live band, so to speak. If it wasn't for Mike's songwriting, the band wouldn't be anywhere near the level it is now... We've been on the road for two years now, constantly evolving, and trying to get our live show to the point where it best represents us. I think that now we can confidently say that, within the past six or seven months, we've gotten to a point where we feel like our live show is a really good, true representation of ourselves and how we want to appear. That's a whole different thing — especially with this genre of music and being categorized as a buzz band, so to speak. I think a lot of people, upon seeing us for the first time, are there to kind of judge us or rank us, seeing where we lay in all of this or if we're a flash-in-the-pan or if we're actually worth their time. I think for the most part we've had a really good response, just with people almost being impressed with how we can actually pull off our record live without mimicking the album with (pre-recorded) backing tracks.
NUVO: You mentioned the different personalities that have come together for the band. That's got to make for some pretty interesting writing sessions when you're trying to come up with new material.
Apruzzese: Not really. This is Mike's baby, so to speak. The songwriting is his thing. When all of these ideas are going on...it's just how the band's been since the creation, and it's how it works best. Mike kind of demos the songs and creates them, for the most part, in his head. I don't think there's ever been anything that's come to us that's been drastically changed. He has a vision in his head — and as an artist, the vision never quite comes out as you have it in your head, but everything that's come out has been fleshed out into this tangible form of music that's always been well-received by the band.
NUVO: Mike's the only member of the band that hasn't attended Berklee College of Music, and Berklee seems to have played a large role in all of this. You and Nate Donmoyer, both Berklee attendees, were brought in as a new rhythm section in 2008. How important was that Berklee connection in putting the current lineup together?
Apruzzese: (laughs) It's not like there was a flyer: "Looking for talented musicians in the Berklee College of Music institution to play in Passion Pit".
NUVO: Did you guys know each other from college? Were there recommendations made by friends?
Apruzzese: That's kind of what happened...Nate and I have known each other the longest, playing in that other band for three years before this. Our whole inclusion in this is that we were friends with everyone in the band. I was friends with Mike and Ian and Ayad and we would hang out at parties or whatever. When the band first started in Boston -- before Nate and I were even in the band -- Nate used to help run this monthly dance party called "Basstown," and he was really influential in the dance and DJ scene in Boston. One of the earliest shows that the band played was a show at this monthly party, which was really cool. From that, everyone in Boston was super-welcoming...When the old bass player was going away for the summer, they asked me if I was interested in playing for a few months, and I was like, "Of course. (laughs) I'm friends with you guys, I like the music, I like how everything is going. If anything else, I'm just graduating college and have no other plans anyway." It kind of all seemed to work out. Then, with me playing in the band, it just made sense to bring Nate on board, since he and I were already pretty cohesive as a rhythm section. On top of that, to bring in his knowledge and ability of DJing and electronic synthesis into the band to run and program all the other elements in the band just made a lot of sense.
NUVO: You mentioned that nothing sounded like Passion Pit at the time when you were putting together the Chunk of Change EP — and even going into the Manners LP. There have been a lot of bands that have tried to emulate the Passion Pit sound. What is it like to hear bands that are being touted as the next buzz band that have their roots in the things Passion Pit did on those early records?
Apruzzese: It's weird. I don't know if we've ever listened to anything and said "That band is totally ripping us off." Except for this one band, actually (laughs). A band I will not name. I remember they were submitted for a tour we did, and they had — verbatim — copied the melody and rhythm of one of our songs, and it was the first song on their MySpace page. And they're submitting to go on a tour with us.
NUVO: Not your best foot forward.
Apruzzese: At first, I was the one who was like, "This is weird — should we send them an email and tell them this is not cool?" But Mike and Nate were like, "It is what it is." And, in a way, is kind of flattering that they're mimicking our sound. I don't really think we're the sole proprietors of this. There were a lot of other bands coming up in this movement. I think that this movement was so isolated in different territories, maybe — and with us coming out of Boston, no one else (there) was really doing it. With this sound and with how technology is progressing, the tools available to musicians now are amazing. It's so easy for people to create music now in a more tangible form. Even if it's for demo-ing stuff. You know, people have demo-ed in a program and released full albums on major labels. It's so easy for people to create music now in a more tangible form. Even if it's for demo-ing stuff. You know, people have demo-ed in a program and released full albums on major labels. Like Chunk of Change, for example. That record was recorded on laptops, primarily singing vocals into the microphone on a MacBook Pro. To have that released on an indie label, then a major label, and go to master it and realize it's so crappy-sounding that the engineers weren't even able to master it correctly -- it's kind of hilarious.
NUVO: The Chunk of Change EP has been our for a couple for years now, and the full-length Manners has been doing the business for the past eighteen months or so in the US. Do you have any new material in the works, or are you just focused on touring right now?
Apruzzese: It's something that's being talked about back and forth. I've actually talked to a lot of other bands about this. When you tour so much, it's a blessing and a curse at the same time. It's great because it means our album is being well received and that people are still digging the material, so we're able to sustain the life of the album and tour more. That being said, we'll go on a five-week tour and literally will go home for four to ten days, at the most, then go back out for another three to five weeks, and that's been the cycle for almost three years now. It's really hard for us to want to work or do anything when we're off tour, going through such a rigorous cycle. We finally put the marker at the end of this race, so our last shows on this tour will be in December. We have a show in Hawaii, two weeks off, then a New Year's show. Then, starting the new year fresh, I think Mike will start demo-ing, and there's plans of around mid-summer to start going into the studio and recording some stuff. We're going to take our time with this one — it's not going to be as rushed as Manners was. Literally the day after vocals were finished being tracked for Manners we were on tour again. We were selecting album artwork and liner notes from hotel rooms while on tour. We'll take our time with this one and enjoy the freedom that we have to do it.
NUVO: With so many live dates in your schedule, what kinds of things do you do as a band to keep the material fresh and exciting for you as performers?
Apruzzese: I don't really think we've had to psych ourselves up to play the music. We were all playing in bands before this and it's what we all wanted to do, so it's pretty awesome. No one's ever dragging their feet to go onstage. Really, for us, it's the crowds and the different territories, and how the crowds react to us and the material that feeds our energy in a way. There's nights that we'll go out there and — even if we're having the shittiest day, or mad at one another, or just bored — the second we walk on stage and those people who paid to hear a song like "Sleepyhead" that we've played...At this point, it's safe to say we've played it a couple thousand times. Even though we've played that song a thousand times, it's still the first time for someone to hear that song. Seeing that excitement in someone's face pumps us up and makes us want to go out there and go all out and have a good time playing. At the end of the day, I'm still playing with my friends and having a good time and joking around while we're doing it. We've never really gotten to the point of monotony or being boring or a chore.
NUVO: You've got a date at the IU Auditorium in Bloomington on October 23. How does your live show scale from the more intimate venues to the big festival stages and back again?
Apruzzese: The tour we're currently on, we're supporting Muse, so that's been a completely crazy learning experience for us. Seeing how a band of that magnitude does things every day. We're doing our own shows. The bigger the venue means the more lights and crap we can get away with on stage (laughs). It's amazing to see how lighting engineers will interpret our music and the impact of a good lighting engineer. When things kind of work in synchronicity, the music and lights and that overall experience, can just change the mood of the music. At our club shows, we've had everything from video panels to floor lighting fixtures and a backdrop that is very sensitive to different lights being shined on it. That's an overall experience, whereas playing a festival slot at five in the afternoon, we can't have lights — and we have a 20-minute grace period before, like, The Killers or Vampire Weekend goes on at the stage across the field from us. That sort of anxiety and nervousness of not having a proper soundcheck and knowing how your equipment is going to sound on this stage versus the confidence in knowing you've sound-checked at the venue and being in the venue all day. (With festivals,) it's just like, "Okay, get in the van, we're driving up to the stage, you guys have a half hour, put your stuff on — let's go."
NUVO: In regards to the IU Auditorium — on the plus side, it's built for acoustics, so it's going to sound great. It's also seated venue, so the chaos and energy of an open venue might be curtailed a little. Do you have a preference for the types of venues you play?
Apruzzese: I really love to play the theaters. One of the most beautiful places I've actually played was the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee. It's this beautiful 2500-person venue. Originally, when we started to play bigger clubs versus playing bars, one of our concerns was how our music was going to translate to people in these seated venues. It really hasn't changed so much. A lot of places, on the floor, have GA-standing room and all of the seated people are on the balcony. We really haven't had to battle losing the energy of the crowd. Everything's still been there. We've been able to enjoy the beauty of both works, playing in these interesting, old and ornate ballrooms. Some of those have been around since the '20s and '30s, and still have this joyful and energetic crowd reaction and response.