‘Devoted’ doesn’t even begin to cover it when it comes to Passion Pit’s fans. Anyone who has been to one of the band’s shows will have witnessed the hands-in-the-air abandon of the crowd, and joyful mass sing-along that inevitably breaks out during the chorus of ‘The Reeling’.
“That sing-along is the best part of the show for us,” bassist Jeff Apruzzese says with a laugh. “I think that’s something we’ve maybe gotten a little spoiled from. It happens more and more these days, so if it doesn’t happen for whatever reason, we start to feel really down on ourselves and we think ‘oh no, that show sucked!’ We wonder why people didn’t sing along. But yeah, those are the best parts…we feed off the crowd’s energy, so when they give it to us, we give it back tenfold and play harder and better.”
Passion Pit’s music is all about contrasts – the joy of the arrangements and the beauty of singer Michael Angelakos’s falsetto against the despair of the lyrics. Around the time the band’s second album Gossamer was released, Angelakos opened up to Pitchfork about his ongoing struggles with mental health. The members of Passion Pit are old friends, and in light of this, I ask Apruzzese if he and the rest of the group feel the need to protect and look out for Angelakos, as well as being his band mates. He pauses to think about this for a second. “I’d say that we definitely got off to a rough start when we were touring this record,” he admits. “It’s getting better now.”
“I think that for anyone who suffers depression of bipolar disorder, touring is one of the worst things you can do,” he continues. “When you’re missing out on sleep, when your environment is changing all the time and you’re shifting between time zones, that can be really detrimental to your health. It can put you on edge. At first, we were walking on eggshells – we were concerned for our friend, we wanted him to get through the tour.” Angelakos has figured out a regimen now – one that keeps him healthy and keeps him on the road – and Passion Pit are in a good place. “We all look out for him and for each other,” Apruzzese says. “We’re at the point now where we’ve grown up together, we’re all friends and we’re all here for one another.”
Angelakos writes and arranges Passion Pit’s songs himself before presenting them to the rest of the band, and is unafraid to lay his troubles bare in the lyrics – take a song like Gossamer’s ‘Constant Conversations’, which would seem to be about an intervention that occurred at some point. Apruzzese says that it can be difficult hearing songs like these for the first time. “I remember hearing demos, and really wondering how literal everything was,” he says. “When we started rehearsing the song, I talked to Michael about it, and I have to say, his ability to put himself out there is really incredible. I mean, it’s hard not to feel a little uncomfortable, just because I know Michael and the people around him, and I know who the songs are about, but I think if anything, I think it’s great that he can just put all his troubles out there in these songs.”
The arrangements on Angelakos’s songs are so intricate and multi-layered that learning them can sometimes be a challenge for the rest of Passion Pit. “We don’t like to rely on backing tracks or hire other musicians,” Apruzzese says. “We like to be a band. It’s tricky. I mean, we have a dozen keyboards between the five of us on stage, but we always get there.” As he tells it, Passion Pit never really have a finished version of a song – they have a rough version, which they’ll play in their sound checks until they are comfortable putting it in the show, but once it’s there, they’ll start to take it apart and re-learn it again.
Of the new songs on Gossamer, the hardest to learn was ‘I’ll Be Alright’, which is all stop-start rhythms and neon synth squiggles. “The drums are insane on the record,” Apruzzese says. “They weren’t even played by an actual person. It’s a drum kit that was played then cut up and arranged. That pattern by itself is just out of control, then you add the other 120 tracks on the recording – the harmonies and all the keyboards.
“You don’t want to be the band where, if a computer goes down, you have to stop playing. The only time we’ll use computers in the live show is to add the icing on the cake – we never use them as the main instruments.”
The elaborate live show can sometimes wear on the band’s morale. “Oh yeah, it’s terrible!” Apruzzese says with a laugh. “I mean, we play these festivals with DJs and we get so jealous, because you see one person with a laptop, and they don’t have to worry about anything. They just get to hang out with their tour manager and relax, and then pull their laptop out. They get the same reaction that we get when we play our songs, but we’re dragging around 50 pieces of gear! We’re happy for it to be that way, though. We want everything to sound as good as, if not better than, the record.”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN