Q&a Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos - on new album Gossamer, its "painful" creation, why debut Manners "doesn't hold a candle to" the new LP, baring all & more
With Passion Pit set to release their second album Gossamer on 23 July, Q sat down with frontman Michael Angelakos a few weeks ago to talk about the record, the odyssey behind its recording, why its creation was so "painful" and more, scheduling the resulting Q&a interview to run this week.
Obviously when news reached us yesterday (17 June) that the band have cancelled a handful of dates this month so Angelakos can "take the time to work on improving my mental health" we naturally considered postponing the piece. However, after consulting with Passion Pit's representatives - not to mention the fact that the LP's release date hasn't moved and Angelakos and co are currently expected to resume playing live early next month - we felt not only should we run our interview now, but with Angelakos in an open and talkative mood throughout, it might provide a clearer, non-sensationalist impression of where the Passion Pit man's head was at.
How the devil are you?
"I'm very well right now. I'm tired, but good."
When did you begin work on Gossamer? It feels like it's been a while since your debut...
"Only because we were touring for four and half years!"
People expect a tour and an album now simultaneously, it seems.
"And that's crazy, because it's impossible - like many things that people are expecting. It took about two months to get into the atmosphere of writing and then once I was in to it we started doing intense writing sessions. I was really obsessed with getting it right and doing everything properly. I wrote over 200 songs for this record and I think at the end of it all I can say is time is an artist's best and worst friend! Because of the time I had, the gestation period created a really interesting record, but that interesting record was caused by a lot of pain induced by the very long process. And a long process is a breeding ground for terrible shit to happen, and that was a problem. If I said I wanted to work with a certain person the label would say, Ok. I'd try it then I'd go, Fuck, no I don't like this. So we went through a lot of different people, made a lot of friends, but in the end went back to the people I know, the people I work with all the time. That whole process had to take that long, I couldn't just go back to them immediately. I had to explore and know for sure I didn't want to work with the people in LA and stuff like that. You know, it could have been cut down, but then I wouldn't have the record I have today."
Was there a fear that if you didn't get our of your comfort zone you might miss out on something new and amazing?
"Looking back I'm glad it happened the way it did, although it was very painful. But if it didn't happen that way then I wouldn't have this collection of songs. This record is exactly the record I envisioned making, unfortunately it took this silly turn which was really hard on everyone. Whatever it takes to make a good record is what takes."
It sounds like you had a very specific idea for what you wanted this album to sound like?
"I had too many! I was writing eight albums. Eventually I whittled away at it and started focusing and focusing and then I wrote Take A Walk during a real low period and I was like, Ok that's Passion Pit, that's a Passion Pit song. I didn't really want it on the record but it works! What it did was to help say this is Passion Pit, this is what Passion Pit sounds like, go back to your roots, go back and work with the people you know. I co-produced the album this time with Chris Zane [who worked on first album Manners] and within a six-month period we really created something. It was supposed to be this arduous, laborious, painful thing. It just was. Hopefully the next album won't have to be because we've figured it out, but sometimes it happens this way."
It's interesting because listening to Gossamer the production is very striking and different, yet you ended-up working with the same people.
"That's good! We change the way it was organised. I had a lot more say in how it was going to sound but we were all a lot more ambitious on how we wanted it to be. I wouldn't say we were swinging for the fences, but we wanted to do it in a way that engaged our old fan base, yet do it differently without alienating them. That's a very hard thing to do. I think we did that. It spans a lot genres in a way, but no specifically. It doesn't commit to them, it's always fucked-up in someway. There might be R&B influence on Constant Conversations but it sounds like a Passion Pit song. There might be a hip-hop beat on Cry Like A Ghost but it's a Passion Pit song. It ended-up close to my original idea, but I needed to experience those things [working with people outside the band], I needed to say, Ok that's not what I want! Look I had an opportunity and I had to take advantage of it. Unfortunately the truth of it, it's all bullshit, I can write better than half those people. I'm not slagging anyone off, it just wasn't right."
It would be a concern if someone could write Passion Pit songs better than you.
"That's impossible! [laughs] Surely you mean as shittily as me! Nah, working out in LA was amazing. I learnt so much from so many different people. Either they said to me or I said to them, We can't work together on this project but we can co-write for this person or this person, not Passion Pit."
So despite trying out different collaborators, you always had a very definite view of what the album would sound like?
"Every song, the lyrics and... well the content really, match-up precisely. There was no roll of the dice. Everything was so unbelievably... just look at the amount of time we took on this record! I think it's the most amount of time Zane has spent on a record, he was going nuts at the end of it. There was so much thought put into every single element of it that it trumps Manners in every single way. For us it eclipses it. I mean, Manners doesn't hold a candle to it. Manners has its moments and it put us on the map in many ways, sonically, and we couldn't have made this record without it, but Manners makes this record look way better. It's just a striking, drastic improvement on all levels. For me I can sit down, listen to this record and still be proud of it. I could never do that with Manners, I was always hesitant and apologetic about it. This one is Ok."
So Manners set the boundaries for Passion Pit and Gossamer has filled in the details?
"I wouldn't put it like that. Manners was the platform where we could say, Hi this is who we are. Gossamer is the record where we say, This is what we can do! Manners has that staple sound that people are even ripping off now but Gossamer is on a level that I think finally shows my songwriting in a better light. It shows my production in a much smarter light. It's the product of a lot more thought, time, energy and an incredible amount of attention to detail, things people will never hear. You'll never hear it! You'll think you're listening to one keyboard sound but it's probably 12 keyboards, some processed through five different pedals. What you're hearing is not what you're hearing. I'm sampling my own songs within my own songs. Every sample on the record is from a song a wrote for another person or something else. I use all my own stuff, it's like the most ludicrous amount of self-referencing and I'm really proud of that. The recycling is really cool to me, it's fun! I wish people could see that but they won't."
Perhaps you should do a 'directors commentary' for the album to point these bits out?
"Oh my god, it would take forever. It would take a week to talk about because there's so much, but honestly I do believe it's the best album I could have put out at this point. Maybe in three years I'll put out a better one."
On this record how much of your songwriting is through the production and how much of your production is down to the songwriting?
"They're both hand in hand. With Passion Pit, and this is where I do liken myself to a dance producer, they coexist. At the same time I'll sit down at a piano and write On My Way or Hideaway. The beginning of Hideaway is an old demo sped up and dragged out, which is one of the most beautiful parts of the album. I messed it up and did a bunch of effects on it and it's my favourite part. The songwriting to Passion Pit is like [cookery show] Iron Chef. You have no idea what they're doing, you know what they're using but it's this giant mess in the kitchen. Then all of a sudden time's up and they throw it on the table and there is the finished product, it's done. The label's annoyed because they haven't been able to hear anything till then, but then they're happy because it's done. Everyone's kind of confused because you can't send an early mix. Hearing an unfinished mix is like hearing 25 per-cent of the song, so I'm going to wait until it's done. So to answer the question yes, production is a humungous part of the songwriting process because it's all about how the production influences the writing. I'll edit parts out just because of the production. On I'll Be Alright the chorus came from five different songs. It took me eight hours of programming and we had a rough demo, and I still wouldn't play it to the label! [laughs] But they became so understanding when they realised how ambitious it was and what we were trying to accomplish."
Looking ahead, how will you do all this live?
"Adding three girls, multi-instrumentalists. It's going to be a big show. We're taking out more instruments though I'm still going to be doing the frontman thing which is always scary, but it's going to be a lot more of a fun show. I think over here in the UK everyone is going to be so surprised how much we've grown. I'm very excited because people saw us in a very youthful state. We just want to do a good show."
Can you even dare to try to do the record live, or will you have to change things?
"Yeah, it's going to sound pretty close. You'll be surprised. My band are very competent, incredible musicians, and they've got good ideas so we're going to make it work. It won't be exactly like the record, that's really boring. I mean, I like Radiohead but I might as well go home and listen to the record. Honestly I love them, but I like bands that branch out."
How do your lyrics fit into that production mix? If you're happy to edit bits out for because of how they sound, how protective of the message can you be?
"Well with each song you realise where it's going and what the tone is. Every song I write the lyrics usually come after the song. So first you get the song down, then the melody, then you start mouthing words and realising what works and then there's the moment when you go, Of course! There was a conversation in my house that makes complete sense so I'll write the song around it. It's so quick. Creativity is this beast you can't wrangle. It is something that's a spark and when it happens you have to go with it and have the muscle there to execute it. The muscles come with time, that's why it didn't happen at the beginning of this. The 13 months or whatever we took to make this record, I developed that muscle over that time and by the time we were really recording - close to November of last year - that's when my muscle was really there and really executing. When I had a creative spark I could actually finish the idea. You can't have one and not the other, you have to have both."
A lot of the the lyrics of the new album sound like they come from different aspects of your life. Could any subject be a song for you?
"I liken myself to filmmakers or short story writers rather than musicians or lyricists. It's a brief moment or a brief look or something someone says or a strange vibration you get in a room or a certain interaction with a person... and I get carried away, it totally sets me off. Anything can tip you off: you could see a beautiful scene and want to get that in shot or listen to someone's conversation and want to get it into a story... but for a song you have to be particularly careful at balancing these things. You can't be overly heavy on the production or the lyrics, they have to coexist in a perfect world, so you have to pick your subject matter so carefully and you need to be cohesive. That's where the cohesiveness of this record comes into play. I do believe that there's a running theme throughout this record. I don't know exactly what it is yet, I'm still trying to figure it out because I'm just starting to talk about it and it takes a while to figure it out."
By saying it out loud, you can work out if it sounds right to you?
"Right. There definitely is something, it's not just me being manic or depressive or whatever, it's about a lot more than that. It's about being overly self-aware, young, hyper self-conscious, living in this world where you're now responsible for people or someone. There are a lot of these new elements that popped into my life right when we started recording. It put me in an interesting position as a writer, how much to I hold back and how much do I bring in? It caused some friction but overall it's been pretty good."
Is there a sense of catharsis then for you?
"Yeah, but it's a therapy. All art should involve extraordinary pain in its execution and getting it out. Once it's out you can look at it and say, I can't believe I did that! I look at [debut EP] Chunk Of Change and I have no idea how I did it. It's definitely a therapy, a different form of therapy and I think all art should be like that. All art should serve the purpose of relieving someone of some kind of burden and this record is an overt example if that."
Are you comfortable with that therapy been listened to and dissected by loads of strangers?
"The most open art has helped me the most and I've respected it the most, so I can only consider it contributes. It's contributing in a larger sense to this world that is so impersonal. I'm just tired of hearing records where people are hiding behind characters or these visions that they create for other people. I'm not that kind of person. I'm normal songwriter, this is my life, this is what I do, I'm not a celebrity, I've never wanted to be a celebrity, so I'm happy writing about my life. I've no problem with people reading it wrong. I have a problem if people don't give me the platform to correct them, because I like correcting people! [laughs]"
Paul Stokes @Stokesie
For more head to Passionpitmusic.com.
11:04 AM | 18/07/2012
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