Not many bands that have gained a following in the music scene today can say they literally started out as a Valentine’s Day joke. Luckily, that doesn’t seem to faze the guys from Passion Pit. Nor does the notion that they share their name with a porno movie starring Traci Lords (although the name came before they knew about the film). In fact, not a whole lot seems to bother this genuinely upbeat group of guys from Boston. That attitude is mirrored by the brilliant mash-up of electro-pop songs on their first EP, Chunk of Change, and ultimately, carries over onto the stage, where it really counts.
I had the opportunity to talk with three of the five members from the band when they made a stop in Columbus. Sitting in the frigid dressing room (they blew a fuse during soundcheck), as they devoured a container of roasted red pepper hummus and a package of pitas between swigs of Columbus Pale Ale, Jeff Apruzzese (bass), Ian Hultquist (guitar, synths), and Ayad Al Adhamy (synths, samplers) took time to answer some questions about their current tour and impending full-length release.
How’s the tour been so far?
Ayad Al Adhamy: It’s been really good, actually. Yesterday was a hilarious show because Mike (vocalist and keyboardist Michael Angelakos) took a fall off his keyboard stool within the first minute of the set. It was great.
Jeff Apruzzese: And the day before, Cale (Parks, who’s one of their openers) was like “Hey, Mike, have you ever fallen off that keyboard before?” And he was like, “Nah, dude. I’ve come close, but it’s never happened.” Then last night, 30 seconds into our set, he stands up and just totally fell. But to answer your question, this is actually the first time we’ve ever had a sound guy or a tour manager.
Ian Hultquist: That’s really helping us a lot. We haven’t had too many mishaps, yet.
So, could you talk a bit about the formation of the band. How’d you guys come to be Passion Pit?
IH: Well, we found Jeff in an orphanage...
I’ve read stories about a certain infamous mixtape that Michael made, so maybe you could tell me your version of the tale?
IH: Mike started making these songs and putting them together as a joke. They were going to be part of a mixtape for his girlfriend, but he had no intention of ever releasing it. The songs were actually really good, so Mike played a few shows, and at these shows it would be Mike just sitting there singing with his laptop. The songs were really amazing, but the performance just wasn’t that exciting. So I came up to him after one of his shows and said that I wanted to find some people and start playing together. After a couple weeks of trying to convince him, he finally agreed to it. We had four of us at first, and Ayad came after about a month or two, and we just started crafting the songs together. It took a lot of practice—from May until November—until we could actually play our first show because we really needed to figure out a format that could work for us, since it was such an unconventional start for a band and whatnot. But really, after that first show, everything just started happening. It was actually really scary how fast things were rising for us, even though it was on a small scale. I mean, we’ve all, in our entire lives, been in so many different bands, and nothing was really a serious venture before. So anyways, up until last year we were pretty much just playing shows, and then two other members left, so we got Jeff and Nate (Donmoyer, their drummer)...
AAA: ...who used to be in another great band in Boston called the Peasantry.
IH: Yeah, and when they joined it really started feeling like a band. Everything was going up until then, but something was missing. When they joined, as cliched as it is, everything just felt complete. So that’s it, in a nutshell, basically.
And your name, where did that come from? It’s legendary, you know. Did you guys have any say in that?
AAA: That was actually Mike’s favorite porno movie!
IH: It was actually a vocab word or something in a fashion class he took, I think. We didn’t even know about the porno until a year after being together.
There’s all these blogs, articles, etc. that are entirely convinced that’s how you got your name.
AAA: I know! And every time, we’re like, “No, that is false. That’s not how we got our name.” Just to be clear, once again, we did not get our name from the porno.
JA: Actually, “Passion Pit” is a slang word for the drive-in movie theatre where kids used to go to make out. Michael thought it was a funny name, and since he never really intended for this to be a band, he just called it that on the mixtape. It’s just that the one band that wasn’t serious is, of course, the one that kind of took off.
So, since this whole thing started out as a mixtape, how do you guys translate that live? It seems like that could be difficult.
IH: Well, therein lies the reason it took from May until November to get it together, because we took that entire time to really figure out how to play these songs. I feel like at this point, everything that we have so far as far as material goes, we have a formula for, and we know exactly how to put it together. But now that the new album is coming out, we kind of need to expand and stretch our limits a little bit and see what else we’re capable of, because it’s really different and has so many new sounds on it.
That was actually going to be my next question, about your new album?
IH: Oops, sorry.
No, that’s actually really impressive mind reading skills—nice transition. Keep going.
IH: Basically, it just sounds huge, and it’s not only based on synths and electro-pop. There are pianos and guitars and string quartets and horns and choirs.
AAA: People might misread this and think it’s not going to be dance-y, but it’s totally dance-y. And it’s definitely more of a straight-up pop record.
So is this everyone’s collective influence coming together, rather than solely Michael’s vision?
IH: It’s really Michael’s vision, still. He is a songwriter through and through, and I think it really works better that way because he has things already set in his mind, and we can come in and help him interpret it for live use. I mean, we all took turns going down to New York and playing around with the record a little bit, but the core of the record is still Michael, and I think we’re all totally fine with that.
JA: I should also add that I was listening to the record last night,. Then I listened to a track off of Chunk of Change, then another one off the new record, and it really did kind of throw me off a bit. It was just incomparable, like completely different. But then again, I guess this record was actually written with the intent of being played live.
IH: Our live show will be a really good medium to bring people from Chunk of Change to the new record.
What was it like opening for bands like Girl Talk and Death Cab for Cutie?
IH: Those were our really early shows...
AAA: The Death Cab for Cutie show was the most hilarious! We got to play that show because we won Best New Act in Boston. The tickets said the show started at 5:30, but we played at 4:30, and so basically no one came. But today everyone is like, “Oh my gosh you toured with Death Cab!”
IH: That was the day I graduated. It was literally a few hours afterward. So it was basically us in this five thousand–person amphitheatre with just my parents sitting there.
JA: I think the Girl Talk shows were probably the most insane. We played at BU, and it was absolutely... there’s no way to describe it other than insane. That was probably one of our most “rock star” moments. Our friends, the Death Set, played with us that show as well, and when they were playing their set, we were all just onstage dancing, and Nate was playing drums with them. But to make it short, the kids that go to those Girl Talk shows are great; they’re just all about dancing.
So to wrap it up, could you talk a little bit more about future plans for Passion Pit? When can we expect the full-length record?
JA: Our full-length will be out in mid-May, so we’ll probably be touring for the next five years.
IH: Really, we just saw our schedule and it’s pretty crazy. But we’re really excited.
AAA: Yeah, it’s just hard to explain the feeling that you get when you look at your schedule and see that the next 35 days will be spent traveling around to different cities in Europe, or something like that, with only a couple days off.
And how does a band like Passion Pit spend their days off?
JA: Actually, we’ll probably practice. We haven’t practiced in like three months, and we really should start getting some new material together and integrating that into the set. Yeah, we need to practice.