In the Pit
Passion Pit makes a quick climbup from the trenches
Story by Christopher T. Spargo / Photography by Justin Borucki
Most bands toil in obscurity, dreaming of the day they may catch some small break. Then there is Passion Pit. Fronted by 22-year-old Michael Angelakos, the Cambridge-based group has watched their career explode in just over a year following the release of their first EP. They have gone from playing Boston area gigs to securing spots at festivals such as Bonaroo and Austin City Limits, touring with Girl Talk and Death Cab for Cutie, and lending their song to a national advertisement. It seems a “How To” guide might be their next logical step.
In late 2007, Emerson student Angelakos began working on an EP he intended to give to his girlfriend for Valentine’s Day. At the same time, he began posting some of these songs to his MySpace page and slowly built up a following in the Boston area. This in turn led to his first solo show, where he was approached by now-guitarist Ian Hultquist, who suggested adding members and creating a band. Angelakos eventually agreed, hesitant as he did not think the music was that good. On came Ayad Al Adhamy (synth), Jeff Apruzzese (bass), and Nate Donmoyer (drums) in addition to Hultquist and Angelakos. Less than two years later, the group is on its first international tour and a staple of most critics’ top ten lists for 2009.
The difficulty in the group’s meteoric rise, as Angelakos explains, is that they had to become a band on the road. “Most bands have years and years on the road to gain a core audience. It moved too fast and felt like we were playing catch up. When we first went on tour, we could play three songs live, we had only rehearsed for three weeks, and there was all this hype and expectation.” The group managed to adapt quickly and well, though Angelakos does note that he feels they are a completely different group now than when they started. “You dive head first and hold your breath, then come up for air.”
It was on the road that Passion Pit was able to not just meet with one of their idols, but tour with them. They joined French group Phoenix at Summer Stage in Central Park this summer, an experience it seems they are still in disbelief over. “Phoenix is the group we most look up to and have learned the most from,” says Angelakos. “I mean, the fact that they are considered our contemporaries is crazy. We grew up listening to them in high school.” Indeed, Phoenix has been together since 1999 but is only now enjoying mainstream recognition in the U.S. thanks to the appearance of their song “1901” in the new Cadillac advertisements.
Passion Pit’s initial EP, Chunk of Change, as well as the group’s full-length album Manners, included the song “Sleepyhead,” a dreamy electro-synth song that, as the theme to the new Palm Pixi commercial, earned it the distinction, much like every iPod ad, of being everyone’s favorite new song. “It’s a great way to get our music out there,” explains Angelakos about the ad. The tactic has definitely worked — the song’s video has over one million views on YouTube less than six months after its release, and has brought the group an entirely new set of fans.
With a clearly devoted college audience and an ever-growing number of older fans, Passion Pit will be taking their act to Australia, Japan, and Europe in early 2010. While clearly excited, Angelakos does express some concern. “The European tour takes the biggest toll just because we are away from home.” There are no plans yet following the end of their international tour, but it would seem the band has certainly earned a break before beginning work on a follow up album. Given their work ethic, however, one wonders if the five are capable of relaxing.