Like every great story in music and in life, it starts with a girl. Michael Angelakos was strapped for cash so he made his girlfriend a CD for Valentines Day; just a few tracks to show how he felt.
Cut to 2010 and Passion Pit are one of the latest hype bands, playing festivals worldwide. Oh, and they’re about to tour with Muse.
“It’s crazy to think about,” admits drummer Nate Donmoyer, who was the final piece of the Passion Pit puzzle.
“I have no idea how we scored that, they asked us if we were available, of course we said yes. It’s going to be surreal. We’re all fans of theirs, and we’ve heard and seen how epic their show is,” says Nate.
Given that Muse are leading the way for anthemic rock music, is there a little fear about underwhelming the die hard Muse Fans?
“I’m not sure” says Nate. “Hopefully we can at least not look like little kids on stage next to them. There’s not many prog rock fans of Passion Pit, so maybe they’ll give us a chance. That’ll be cool to cross over into that crowd.”
While the band has a few ideas about how to win over the Muse crowd – “maybe if we add some more interesting harmonies and keyboard solos, they’ll be attracted to it” says Nate with a laugh – they’re already not really short of admirers.
Since their formation in 2007, Passion Pit have gone from small time heroes on the indie circuit to bonafide superstars. They’ve played arenas, graced magazine covers and headlined festivals.
In fact it’s their penchant for festivals that brings them to Australia this year, for the second taste of our music scene. The Massachusetts band popped in for Big Day Out and were lucky not to die of heat stroke, so they insisted on coming back.
“Big Day Out was intense man. That Sydney show.” Nate falls silent as we both cast our minds back to the day where if you didn’t sweat, you were legally dead.
“It was brutal. The worst spot was for our monitor engineer on stage, he was in a tent, no ventilation, just like being in a big oven. It wasn’t all bad though, we went down to Byron Bay during a day off, such a gorgeous part of the world. Now we’re coming back for Splendour.”
While Splendour may have shifted from Byron to Woodford, the vibe is still the same. Festivals bring out the best in people. There are headbands, shirtless folk, and normally some novelty costumes.
Passion Pit is the perfect festival band, with songs that infect your feet with movement. Their sound is uplifting and Michael has a falsetto to die for. So does the band enjoy the festival circuit, or are they more partial to rock their own headline show?
“I’m not sure,” says the ever-diplomatic Nate. “We had a sideshow in Sydney as well, so it was a direct comparison. But to be honest, it’s a completely different experience. Festivals you’re kind of winning over fans, there’s bigger crowds, you play your bangers, so to speak, and hopefully try and get a ruckus going. But at your own show you can play your catalogue, play all of your music for your fans, so it’s a different response.”
There’s a nugget of truth in what Nate says. Festivals are like a giant party, where the guests want to hear what you’ve got to offer; your best gear. But a concert is more intimate, where you take your fans by the hand, and guide them through your repertoire. I offer this analogy to Nate, who agrees but not with the zest I was hoping for.
Perhaps the pressure is getting to him? What pressure you ask? Well, Passion Pit’s sophomore album is going to be more scrutinised then the Global Financial Crisis. Their debut album Manners had the indie kids positively frothing at the mouth. It was upbeat, sunny and got major props. So presumably their label is sweating on the next release?
“Not at all, I think part of it is because we just re-released it, with new artwork and a couple of extra songs. We were psyched on how much it changed actually, but no, everyone on the label side has been incredibly supportive, completely the opposite of the stereotype we’ve heard growing up. Which is refreshing.”
That is a nice change to the image we’re normally fed of profit driven labels and managers, who would amputate their left arm if they thought it’d improve sales. So what had sparked the change in the label’s approach the bands I ask Nate. Surely it’s not just down to a pang of guilt? Where’s the fine print?
“I think they’ve had to change their approach after the whole downloading thing, the whole plan had to change and part of that included kind of letting fans hear themselves a little bit, when it comes to trade of output. There are still a lot of moments when the labels says ‘you should really do this’ or ‘you should probably do this’ but we do trust them. I think they have our best interests at heart” says Nate, with such sincerity that I’m inclined to roll with it.
Long live the major labels!
If the band isn’t under pressure from their label, they definitely will be from their fans. Manners dropped more then a year ago: that’s twelve months without any new Passion in their lives. Like an addict with an honesty problem, I gotta ask, when’s my next hit?
There’s a pause while Nate considers his options. I’m hoping he drops a bombshell, says its coming out tomorrow, here’s a pre-release copy. Go Nuts. Instead my dreams are slightly dashed.
“We kind of started brainstorming, you know, what we want to change and what we want to keep, and what time frame we’re working with. So we’re going to start preproduction in August, then go from there, figure out where we want to sit down and record.”
August is bearable, but it’ll still be some time before we see the next Passion Pit album. Given that the band was born in the dorm room of lead singer Michael and recorded entirely on his laptop, I’m keen to here how the recording process works now. I presume the boys don’t squash into a dorm room, heavy with the stench of weed and fun times, and squeeze their sound onto a MacBook?
With a laugh Nate admits it’s more complex then it used to be.
“Well Michael is the songwriter, and that helps keep it consistent and unified because he does his thing, well the harmonic and melodic side of things. My role is more to bounce off that range of ideas, and of course the drums, mixing and sometimes playing synth parts, or just collaborating on the aesthetic values, the bones of the songs.”
So Nate multi-tasks, which is quite impressive. In fact he was multi-tasking when he first encountered Passion Pit. In between deejaying under the name Shuttle, he was running a club night in Boston, booking bands, when along came the band.
“I used to DJ and help run a night called Bass Town in Boston. A local band would open the night, then DJ’s would close the night. And we came up to Passion Pit, had heard them online, we knew it was electronic but didn’t know how good it would be. But we just went for it” says Nate with the kind of casual confidence people kill for. Needless to say he made a good judgement call on that one.
So what was the reaction once Michael Angelakos busted out into Sleepyhead?
“It was one of those things, everyone working on the night, all the other DJs looked at each other and thought ‘There is something going on here. There is something good happening.’ They won a lot of local support that night and then six months later I ended up in the band. Crazy how it works.”
Crazy indeed, from booking bands in Boston to rocking Coachella, it’s quite the journey. Nate is part of a band who is firmly set on the wave of electronic music. This kind of music has seen a rejuvenation of sorts lately, with bands like Passion Pit, MGMT and Tim and Jean leading the way.
With critics loving to focus on the shelf life of genres, has the band discussed mixing it up for album number two?
“I think definitely give it a fresh makeover. I mean the sound, I understand that electro dance sound has been getting popular in mainstream art but it’s been there for thirty years and it ain’t going anywhere, there will always be fans of dance music. It’s more about adjusting things here and there to keep fans interested, but the song writing will still carry it.”
I think Nate is spot on, with Michael Angelakos capable of a lyrical complexity not normally associated with dance music. This combined with the bands’ highly infectious sound is sure to put them in good stead.
Both Barack Obama and John Mayer have listed Passion Pit as one of their favourite bands. With fans like that, the Prez and the Twitter King, it’s clear that the band is on the right track.
I bid Nate goodbye comfortable in the knowledge that his passion for the Pit is unflinching, as is mine.