Beacon music columnist gets to the core of Passion Pit

by Beacon Staff • November 12, 2008

p>"I feel like we're at the point right now where we're going to have to decide on a defining sound," says Michael Angelakos, talking about his band's alarmingly catchy iChunk of Change/i EP, which has caught the eye of Spin and Nylon in the last month. "Or have it defined for us.",The first time most people see Michael Angelakos, his head is disembodied, impaled on some sort of weird screw/Rubik's Cube concoction. His face ismdash;what else? this man's head has no bodymdash;contorted and grimacing, and he looks to be shirtless and generally uncomfortable with the whole situation.

But, oh, gotcha, he's fine. This is what all those fancy Hollwood types call special effectsmdash;his face is being spun on this future-spit for the sake of his band Passion Pit. Bear with me here. Their single, "Sleepyhead," has this medium downbeat tempomdash;one of those hearty thumps you hear as you walk by an Abercrombie amp; Fitch, unaccompanied by the shame of kind-of-sort-of wanting to dance to the horribly uncouth stuffmdash;over a sample of a little boy saying, "And everything is going to the beat."

And, since everything is going to the beat, so is Michael Angelakos' head-on-a-stick in this very music video. Presto. Movie magic. Oh, the wonders of modern film!

But, really, he's standing outside the Middle East right now and, sure, there was no physical conducted or anything, but he seems to be the bearer of a perfectly healthy, non-spinning, unimpaled noggin. Michael Angelakos is fine, a head planted firmly on his shoulders despite the movie magic.

But Angelakos, 21, cannot confirm thismdash;if his head really is on his shoulders to stay, not in some airy place elsewhere amid fleeting fame; if this is all happening too fast to really, completely comprehend right now. This devastates him slightly.nbsp;

"I feel like we're at the point right now where we're going to have to decide on a defining sound," he says, talking about his band's alarmingly catchyChunk of Change EP, which has caught the eye of Spin and Nylonnbsp; in the last month. "Or have it defined for us."

Maybe the keyboard player/singer of this all-of-a-sudden ferociously-popular-in-certain-circles electropop band sounds a little superlative right now, probably even a little jumpy and a little skittish, but he's gotta be thinking: if everything can come this fast, it can be taken away just as quickly, right?

Two years ago, even though this dude just had his head superimposed onto a kebob by a film studio last month, there was about a 30-percent chance Michael Angelakos was playing a set below where you are right now.

center*****/centerbr /He remembers spending a lot of time mixing beats together with some samples he found on the Internet. He also remembers, like lots of 19-year-olds with questionable self-esteem, doing a lot of wondering about why his "girlfriend ever put up with him at all, ever."

So, he thought, why not take a chance?

Unlike lots of 19-year-olds with questionable self-esteem, he decided to put together the beats and samples with some catchy keyboard and vocal hooks. The accompanying lyrics described things like sleeping ("Sleepyhead"), promising better things to his girlfriend ("Better Things") and, um, having her number ("I've Got Your Number").

"You know when comedians say they write their best material when they're at their saddest? I'd spent a lot of time in a lot of different genres, but this kind of happy, upbeat sound came naturally, for some reason, when I was having tough times in my relationship," he says. "I know it doesn't make sense, but I needed that to come out."

And thenmdash;yikesmdash;he decided to try to play them in public. br /In fact, he tried to play them in the Cabaret, in the bottom of the Little Building, which may be literally below you, reader. Because he was a sophomore at this here Emerson College at the time.

"I only called it Passion Pit because I was in Mary Harkins' American Fashion class and she said it was a euphemism for drive-in movie theatres in the 1940s," he says.

He was to take his laptop down to this basement with the bad lighting and worse acoustics and, in person, sing over his plugged-in laptop, without, bless his heart, any vocal training.

"I didn't, like, practice in front of a dorm room mirror, or anything. It's not like I even could do that, anyway. I don't have a normal singing voice," he says, and he's right. His voice ranges somewhere in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" register most of the time. "It was basically just karaoke."

Then a weird thing happened. People kept listening. Eventually he got shows at clubs like Great Scott, where he picked up drummer Nate Doumoyer, he was DJing there the night of a solo Passion Pit gig and fell in love with the sound.

Then he got a bandmdash;a bassist, another couple of auxilliary keyboard/guitar players and Doumoyermdash;transposing all of those sounds from his laptop, making the sound even fuller and thicker. Then Passion Pit got themselves a real, live fanbase. From all of the persistent hype in the Boston music scene and on the Internet, Passion Pit shows were "places for cute, hipster MGMTnbsp; people to go and hang out and not listen to MGMT," said the band's dead-on merch andisetable worker Margaret Jacobi. Then they got a record deal with Frenchkiss Records, had to take a break from school, started getting offers to tour the country. They just got back from New York City where they played atVice Magazine's launch party.

The point is, Angelakos' head is spinning figuratively as well as grapically. And this is OK.

center*****/centerbr /He's trying to make it so the early press doesn't get too out of hand, he says. He'll talk to MTV News, yes, because it's an institution (and who can say no to Kurt Loder?), but he's being careful.

"I'm cautious about this whole thing. I'm trying to get what I really want out there and trying to stay away from the big magazines. We have to be smart," he says, and then he says something about "persona of the artist" and other things unrelated to making awesome pop songs that you can dance to at parties, but I'll keep writing it down anyway.

As he's talking about marketing his new album that comes out in April, a frantic woman jogs up to Angelakos.

"Have you seen this police officer?" she asks.

He was standing in front of a police car this whole time and didn't know it. He shakes his head no.

"Well, whenever he comes back, could you please tell him to go over to the McDonald's across the street? There are a couple of teenagers and they're throwing french fries at a drunk man and he will not leave."

"Sure thing!" he says and he laughs. "So, um, what were we talking about?"

Persona of the artist.

"Oh, never mind," he says. "Just make sure the fry lady gets in the story."

Yep. Whenever it's done spinning

, his head will be fine.