It is no secret that the economics of pop music are abysmal these days. Records don't sell, bands are forced to tour continually, and the internet makes any underground scene over-exposed in a matter of months. It has always been hard to make it big, but in modern times this process seems not only unwieldy, but often hard to define.
Enter Passion Pit. The band has enjoyed meteoric rise, starting out in lead singer's Michael Angelakos' dorm room and now playing to sold out crowds. However, their struggle to maintain and extend their success highlights the difference economic and otherwise between the modern indie musician and musicians even ten years previously. The Huffington Post caught up with Angelakos right before his Celebrate Brooklyn show to discuss Boston, MGMT, and video.
MA: They are gonna try to fit 7,000 people inside of here.
HP: They are going to try to do that? That's going to be insane.
MA: It's going to be insane. Have you ever seen Passion Pit?
HP: I've seen video.
MA: That's the one thing I don't like about The Huffington Post, is that they post videos. When they post live videos from YouTube it just doesn't do any music justice. When blogs do that it makes me so upset.
HP: What don't you like about video?
MA: Well I like it when its properly done, I just think that you know, I'm much more concerned with making sure that everyone in the crowd is actually experiencing the music. Because when you go to a concert it's experiential and it's in the moment and you pay X amount of dollars for an hour and 15 minutes of live music performed, and you can listen to the record whenever you want, but you're just sitting there and recording it on your cell phone to upload online later is just, to me that's a waste of ticket...Of course you get a lot of kids who want to film it, and they're younger. And I get it and I understand that, but I mean, when I went to shows, I was just so amazed that they were actually performing live, and part of what's so crazy about Passion Pit is that people are very interested in how we pull it off live...So, why don't you watch us pull it off live and stop standing there just silently...you know, everyone's dancing, and twenty kids just pulling their camera's up like this.
HP: It must be so odd just to see.
MA: It's one thing to have all the photographers in the front, which I actually now like. I've gotten to a point where I like to shake their hands and say, "Hello, how're you doing, I'm Michael." Because you're going to be flashing your bulb in my face, I would like to know who you are...And if I think that, you know, you're being a dick and you're blocking this smaller girl, or smaller person that can't reach around, I've actually pushed a guy over.
HP: Have you really?
MA: Yeah, because it's annoying!
HP: What was it like, culturally in Boston for musicians? Did it shape you in any way or did you feel like you weren't really attuned to it any more? Like locality I know is different now, in the Internet age it doesn't matter as much.
MA: No, it doesn't. I mean, I am a little different from the band in that I, I'm pretty much an isolated writer. I don't associate myself with a lot of other writers, unless like, I'll write someone like a fan letter, and we start talking from then on, or like a songwriter that I like, you know. But when we were in Boston, it didn't really lend itself to like, coming to terms with the fact that you are kind of just another salmon swimming upstream.
MA: It's really, really competitive, there are very few outlets, there are very, very, very hermetically sealed cliques, and so what we did was I think, the real key was approaching it. Instead of going at it as a band, we went at it as a band featured on dance nights. So we worked with DJs and played at you know... and there were DJs and the DJs would play our songs. And you know, in retrospect that was really the smartest thing ever; Because we immediately associated ourselves with dance music, which then immediately removed us from the category of Boston indie-rock band, which there are, a dime a dozen. And, once we were removed from that category, the world was kind of... I mean we were selling out. People wanted to come and dance. They knew that we played dance music, and it was different, and it wasn't just a DJ and a laptop, and people were interested. Literally the worst show we've ever had was probably, in terms of audience, it was like K-ROCK Weenie Roast because no one knew who we were. And not that K-ROCK's bad or anything, it' just no one knows...everybody was just used to knowing like, dance. You know - The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, all those bands originally started off as dance bands, and it's really interesting how people react when a band's playing dance music as opposed to... LCD soundsystem. How do people react to that? Hot Chip, How do people react to those, as opposed to two guys or you know, it's a lot more interesting. We play like a rock band.
HP: I think it also makes you, makes it inherently less pretentious because there are more elements.
MA: Yeah, I mean there is that, but there's also like, we put in all of our energy into every single show that we have. So rarely are there shows where we come up and say we really underplayed, because the music doesn't really allow for that...especially vocally.
HP: Is that hard?
HP: No?... Did you always know you could sing that high?
MA: No. I developed that. Well, I figured it out in high school, but I didn't really dabble with it much until I started recording and then I got the idea for the sound of it - the texture and everything - when I was watching a Truffaut film and all these kids were screaming in this playground, and I was like, oh my god I love that. And then I wanted to emulate that, and somehow create a character out of it, because I thought Passion Pit was just this little side project that I was playing around with that wouldn't go anywhere; it was just fun. And then that just kind of developed and I developed the layer. You know, there's no modifications made to my voice, its just layers, I just layer my voice. That's it. Layers, and certain layers will be softer, I'll sing them softer and other layers have to be really loud, and you just hand them correctly, and they'll sound like a bunch of kids singing along. And then that, in and of itself is a way to bring people into the music. People feel like they're always singing along. There are always parts to sing along to. It's built into the music. Wait, I didn't, this all came after much analysis. I did not think about it and design it that way originally. I just realized I had created something that really worked well when it came to getting the crowd engaged in a part of what we were doing.
HP: Are you doing anything new now?
MA: Well, people forget that with the internet that this album sold. We're not like MGMT, we haven't sold like a million records, but we've sold a lot of records for an indie band that has the backing of a major label. People think that since we're on a major label, all of a sudden everyone's telling us what to do and it's really not like that at all. They're just saying you should tour because you can finally get out of debt and everyone's coming out to the shows we sold. The show's sold out for The Governor's Island now, and this one show sold out in like a day, and that's a huge deal.
MA: I mean when you know Interpol's doing 9,000 at Madison Square Garden and John Legend's doing 9,000 at Madison Square Garden and we're doing over 14,000 in two days, for an indie record that's been around for a year, like... tour and the record. So the new record is something that I'm working on and I'm getting it together with you know... actually we just had a meeting talking about when we wanted to start working on it but honestly, after a year and a half of joining this record we're allowed a little bit of time off... But everyone's like new Passion Pit music now I've been listening to this song for forever! And I'm like alright, well then stop listening to it, listen to something else. I don't know. I'm very happy you want to hear more music but like, if it would work the way I'd like it to work I would be making three records a year. But I have to tour and I have to push for this the proper way. People forget that.
HP: Do you write much on tour? Isn't that like impossible to do?
MA: I am a songwriter, as in I write with other people as well, I do a lot of co-writes for people. Nothing has really happened yet, it's slow on that - it's completely separate from Passion Pit. And it's basically my way of like ex-, you know, writing's a muscle and you need to keep working at it. Yea, I've been writing a little but touring just, it's hard enough to get up in the morning.
HP: I can't even imagine. You must be exhausted!
MA: Yeah, even remixes just like, I mean I don't do any of them but when I do one it's like "Augh" [let's out huge tired breath]. I mean obviously a lot of the press has died down because the album has been out for about a year so... I think that we'll be ready for the new record when we're ready for it, and actually it's not technically our sophomore record, at all. Our second record was really Manners so, this next record is just going to... it's not going to be like an MGMT "Oh Gotcha!" move, it's going to be a Passion Pit record just way, way better... or... not.
HP: Do you feel like you're going to change the way it sounds very much?
MA: Well, I think there are things that need changing obviously. I think there are things that I think we overdid on the first record, I think there are things we didn't do enough of on the first record. And as a writer and directing this project, I know when to pull off now. I mean, I didn't at the time because when I was making the record I didn't think I was gonna get to more than like 30,000 people, at most. And not that I should be placating or pandering, I just know what, without comprising my dignity, I know how to make a successful album, or exacerbate and work with a successful album as Passion Pit and also integrate new ideas and sounds. Basically, make the right next record. You can't over-think it but you also do need to give it a good amount of thinking, so it's a weird balance you have to strike.
HP: It must be strange when you play something over and over and over again.
MA: You learn, you also learn how to improve. I just know exactly how to improve that's why I've been like learning from other people as well, watching how they write. But my sound is my sound and that's what has gotten us this far and has kept our head above water and I honestly think that we're doing something right. So it's not necessarily broken but I think it could always use a little bit of tweaking. But, don't worry we're not going to do like a 180 degree turn and screw all our old fans over with (something) things. I mean as much as I love, I love that record actually - the MGMT record, but we're not gonna abandon our sound.