Passion Pit Discuss Gossamer | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Passion Pit Discuss Gossamer

Methods in the Madness

Aug 24, 2012 Photography by Ray Lego Bookmark and Share


There's an article on Passion Pit in the print version of our Summer Issue of Under the Radar (aka The Protest Issue). In that article Passion Pit frontman and principle creative mind Michael Angelakos discusses his much-publicized struggles with depression and the emotional rollercoaster he went on while making Passion Pit's just-released acclaimed sophomore album, Gossamer.

Below are extra portions of our interview, quotes that didn't make it into our main print issue article on Passion Pit. The focus of this part of the interview is decidedly on Passion Pit's music and the creation of Gossamer.

On a hot, New York City summer day the mood of Angelakos becomes increasingly more upbeat as our particular conversation progresses. Having made it through the more difficult portion of the interview, the part where the making of Angelakos' new album Gossamer collided head-on with his own personal instability, we've turned to more "fun and interesting and intellectually stimulating" topics, bringing with them a much-needed sense of levity. Speaking at length, Angelakos discusses the challenges of his own songwriting process, the subverting power of pop, and why a good crowd is one of the few reasons he still enjoys playing live.

Both the print and digital/iPad versions of the issue also include more frames from our photo shoot with Angelakos. Be sure to check out both the print and digital versions of our Summer Issue for much more from our interview and shoot with Passion Pit.

Mike Hilleary (Under the Radar): What was the biggest challenge for you working on Gossamer?

Michael Angelakos: It was deeming what parameters were or are for Passion Pit. There's a certain expectation for what a Passion Pit song could sound like and there's a certain world that I can dabble in without straying too far. Then there's the whole other route where you can totally scrap everything and start over.

I think what happened was I was writing so many types of songs that were not congruent in any sense that finally I came to terms with what a Passion Pit song was. After I did that, I didn't write the same song twice, but it helped me move forward. That was the hardest part, deciding what I wanted it to sound like. We were literally dealing in so many different styles and avenues that could have taken us in a whole new direction and been very successful, but I decided to not stray too far from the original sound. You're catering to your audience in a way that's not placating. It's about respecting them. They're the reason you're in the studio in the first place. They're the reason why you have another record, and you want to give them something interesting and fun and new and exciting. And you're going to alienate people no matter what you do so it was about coming to terms with that.

All of them are essentially different sounds within what someone would deem a "classic" Passion Pit song. I kind of fuck around with "Take a Walk." It was a joke doing that lead line. I was like, [mock annoyance] "Everyone's going to talk about the lead line and how it's just a normal Passion Pit song. It's 2009 again." And then all of the sudden I start singing from the perspective of my grandparents and I'm singing in my low voice and everyone's like "What?" I definitely wanted some left turns, but not without giving at least a bit of what people wanted and expected. It's so you can have room to play around and not alienate too many people. That's important. 

How do you know when you're finished with a song? 

You're never really finished. I can go on and on and on and hear different parts, especially when we play live, I always feel like there's more we can do to lift it, make it bigger, make it so euphoric that people freak the fuck out. I think the best songwriters in the world just have an innate understanding of when they're finished. They know they can always work on it more, but you just have to end it at some point. All my favorite songwriters, from what I've read in interviews and stuffcertain songwriters, you just finish it. You sit down and you fucking finish it. There's a work ethic you, as a songwriter, want so badly in your life. Unfortunately you can't turn on creativity like that. Life doesn't work like that. But because you can't control when it comes, how you end it and when you end it and what fashion you end it is the most important part of the song.

Would you say Passion Pit is completely unapologetic when it comes to the genre of pop?

I think pop is an underestimated art, in that people do not understand it's just such a blank canvas. You can do so much within it and can connect with so many people if you just stop fucking looking at yourself in the mirror the entire time. When I stop thinking about myself in regards to the music it's very liberating. I mean I fuck up the music in a variety of ways, via the lyrics or whatever, but you can do that because it's pop. You can get away with it. You can slip it under. There'll be this veneer and everyone's singing along to these lyrics that they have no idea what they're about when in fact they're about self-loathing and hating yourself, and kids are just jumping up and down singing these songs and you're thinking, "This is absolutely amazing."

You completely subvert people's guard.

Quite simply put that is exactly the point of Passion Pit. That is exactly what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to get through the gates somehow and get some really fucked up message across on how I was feeling, because no one was going to accept it otherwise unless I gave them some fruitiness. It's just something I'm good at, melodies. I'm a melodist. Puccini was a famous melodist. That's what he relished in. He wasn't the greatest in actual harmony but good god that guy could write a melody. I always think about him. That's why he was one of the most successful composers ever. It's all about melody.

A memory that continually comes up for me was seeing you live a few years back and just being completely taken back by the effect you were having on the crowd.

I don't know what the phenomenon is. And they know all the words, at least their versions of the words. I love the interpretations. Passion Pit is mean to be participatory. It's meant to be communal. That's really what pop in its earliest form was all about. They were basically folk songs, old songs that were passed down and remembered and everyone would sing along around fires. Gaelic folk songs for instance, which I oddly enough sample on "Sleepyhead." But I kind of utilize that, I employ that method because when you on-record actually insinuate "this is where you're supposed to sing" without being overtly obviousthe "higher, higher" part in "Little Secrets," "The Reeling," the "ohs" in "Constant Conversations," "I'll Be Alright" with the chorusesall these choruses are meant to be sung chorally, as a chorus, a very out of tune chorus, which is great. That's the only thing that really, really draws me to the shows. When you really get a great audience and you get people that love what you're doing and know the material, with everyone louder than fuckit's so loudand they can sing the whole song for you. And the whole point is that's the sound. They're actually emulating the sound on the record. The last record was all about layers and layers and layers. I've never used auto-tune in my life. I've never had a problem with my voice. I lost my voice recently 'cause I was so stressed out. But the funniest part is when you get all these kidslike at Coachellayou can hear them through your microphone and there are no audience microphones. I don't know how. I don't know how anyone's singing that high. Some people don't know how I do. But that's my favorite part about it, that there's a communal, participatory sense that's so different from other bands. We egg on without going "come on!" It's actually intentional, whereas other bands they just hope they sing along.

How did you first get into your particular mode of instrumentation?

Only because I had no other way of recording music. I didn't have microphones, other than the RadioShack microphone I used, and I was so poor, just a college student, I just used whatever I could. I didn't learn it from my school, which they keep saying. But I learned it on my own and I made all my own samples and would rip-off synth sounds from other records and make a sampler patch out of it. And basically what was popular at my school were dance parties. People just wanted to dance to like '80s and '90s stuff, and I was like, "well, I can do that." So I just started recording these songs and my friends really liked them. My friends would come into my room and I'd be like, "hey guys," and I'd queue "I've Got Your Number" and they'd all come in and start dancing. It was super fun. I lived with five guys and we had so much fun. Personally I was in a terrible place but that got me through it. I remember when I did "Sleepyhead." I had kind of been active with the band and were trying to work out the songs and I finished "Sleepyhead" and I remember putting it online and having the whole fucking place freak out, everyone just commenting on it. And I thought Myspace was for emo bands. I thought Myspace was really corny. I was like, "I don't want to put my shit on Myspace, but I guess I'll do it anyway." And so I did and then I wanted to take it down because it was ruining the music. Seriously, I don't know why I was so self-conscious about it, because within a few days it had like 1,000 hits. I was like, "What the fuck?" And then it was being featured on all these blogs and then they were playing on the local college stations and I was just like, "Why is this happening right now? I didn't do anything." And then I did "Better Things" too, which I thought was a better song, and that went off too. And then Neon Gold eventually saw us open for Girl Talk and signed us for a 7" and that's when it took off.

What was the roundabout number of instruments you used to make Gossamer?

I used over 30 synthesizers and keyboards. That's actual hardware synthesizers and keyboards. And then we rented some. Then there were pianosthree pianosdrum sets, over at least 40 effects units, modular synthesizer stuff, and my computer station, which acts as its own synthesizer. In a way it was too much, but I always feel like if there's a need for something, I know exactly what we need sound-wise. And then we'll go through sounds, and we'll file through four or five synthesizers until we find the right sound.

You strike me as a tinkerer.

I'm less of a tinkerer then you might think. I know what it's supposed to sound like and I will go directly to it. I'll be like, "It needs this type of bass with this filter on it with this effect on it with this kind of reverb on it. Let's hook it up right now before I lose the idea." And that's how I work. I work with people that work really fast, because I want to make sure I don't lose my place and miss the idea. More often than not [producer Chris] Zane will tell me, he doesn't know how the hell I am, but I'm right. He doesn't believe me half the time and I'll always say something like, "What if I do this, this, and this, run it through this, put it through this, then we do this with it." And he'll be like, "I'll have to hear it." And then I'll be like, "Watch me. Watch this." And I'll do, and more often than not I'll be on. I usually hear everything pretty much together in my head at a certain point and it's done. I can get pretty fast with it.

What was your fastest turnaround on a song?

I programmed most of "I'll Be Alright" in eight hours by myself. Everyone just left the studio. After they left I programmed most of "I'll Be Alright." Then we had to record drums. And then after we recorded the drums Zane would be cutting it up and I'd tell him where I'd think it should go, and by the end of the night we had one of the most compelling openings of any song we've put together. I don't know where it came from. I was almost bullied into it, because I was so tired. I had such chronic fatigue and he'd be like, "I don't even know if we should work. Maybe we should just call it off." At a certain point he even said "I don't think I can work on this record anymore." And I said, "Fuck you. We're working on this record. I'm going to work on this song right now. I'll show you." And whatever it takes to get a song out of me at this point, whatever. At that point we were pretty desperate. 'Cause we were at a point where there were so many ideas we were like, "Let's figure something out. Let's finish something." So Chris learned how to bully mein an older brother kind of waybully me into working harder.  

www.passionpitmusic.com



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