COVER STORY: THE UPS, THE DOWNS AND THE JOY
The members of synth–pop powerhouse Passion Pit met in college. Guitarist and keyboardist Ian Hultquist met singer–songwriter Mike Angelakos when they were both studying in Boston. Angelakos, a student at Emerson College, was performing solo at the time, using a laptop to create music that Hultquist, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music, was interested in adding more instrumentation to.
“I had always been in guitar rock bands,” Hultquist said. “And I wanted to try synth–pop. I thought it would be fun and kind of funny.”
Now Angelakos and Hultquist, along with bandmates Xander Singh (synths), Jeff Apruzzese (bass) and Nate Donmoyer (drums), are going back to school. This time, they’re hitting the stage instead of the books, bringing Passion Pit to the University of Mary Washington on Feb. 6 alongside like-minded Brooklyn band Matt & Kim.
In a recent phone interview, Hultquist said the band looks forward to playing college campuses because they know what to expect.
“We know that all the kids at the show will have as much energy as we did when we used to go to shows when we were kids,” Hultquist said, laughing as he noted that was “way back when, like four years ago.
“We always look forward to the college shows because we know it’s gonna be a great crowd,” he said.
“It was exciting for me, because I was kind of graduating into Passion Pit,” Hultquist said of the band’s origin. “I graduated and I worked a job for a few months then eventually quit my job just to focus on the band. And I got extremely lucky that I was able to continue just being in the band.”
Passion Pit is touring behind 2012’s breakout album, “Gossamer,” which débuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts last summer. On the tour that followed, Hultquist said that the band ended up adjusting their set list to include more “Gossamer” songs in place of tracks from their previous album, “Manners.” Critics loved “Manners,” but fans weren’t as familiar with it. The audience wanted “Gossamer” tracks, so the band had to react to their fans—something they were comfortable doing.
Early in its career, Passion Pit harnessed the power of social media. Band members deftly managed the transition between the tail-end of Myspace and the rise of Facebook, and continues to use such outlets to this day.
“We were lucky that My-space was still kicking when we just started up, because I think that had a big hand in getting our music out there,” Hultquist said. “I think the first time French Kiss Records [the band’s first label] reached out to us was through a Myspace message and now we all have Twitter accounts and the band has a Twitter account. It’s more personal. I never thought MySpace was that personal.”
(Hultquist’s Twitter handle is @ihultquist.)
The band has had plenty of commercial success—their song “Take a Walk” was used in a Taco Bell television ad. There are Passion Pit songs on TV and movie soundtracks, including “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2.” They were even featured in the Brooks Brothers 2012 fall catalog.
But all of the success has come with a few obstacles.
“We had a little bit of an up and down at the start,” Hultquist said of hitting the road behind “Gossamer” last year. “But we were all smiles by the end of the year. I think things went as well as they could have, if not better.”
The “up and down” that Hultquist referred to was a period at the beginning of their summer tour when the band canceled a portion of their shows so Angelakos could receive treatment for bipolar disorder, something he has long struggled with and hasn’t shied away from discussing publicly.
“The whole reason for us taking off a week or so was so we could continue the rest of the year. It was sad that we had to cancel a few shows, but the whole point of it was to make sure we could do the rest of the shows,” Hultquist said. “I was just worried about Mike and wanted him to get better. I was never really worried about the future of the band.”
After this tour with Matt & Kim, Passion Pit will be heading to South America, a continent where they’ve only played a few shows. This time, they’re doing a full-blown tour.
“It’s usually fairly universal, give or take a few countries,” Hultquist said of the band’s reception around the world. “But it’s actually been surprisingly great. Especially in places like Japan and Australia—it’s insane, because it’s literally on the other side of the planet. But they’ve always been extremely energetic over there and super receptive.”
“I think we’re all definitely excited that we made it through 2012 and it was as successful as it was,” Hultquist said. “We’re playing Madison Square Garden in less than a month, which is extremely terrifying. I’m just kind of curious to see where we end up by the end of this year.”
Ryan Brosmer is also terrified of playing Madison Square Garden, but he’d be willing to do it if only someone would ask.