Pitted in the Throes of Passion

Amidst the hyperbole and throwaway soundbites, <b>Billy Hamilton</b> discovers Boston-born electro-poppers <b>Passion Pit</b> are a band who're having to grow up quickly...

Feature by Billy Hamilton | 20 Apr 2009

Sometimes the folly of youth lies in its blind ambition. As the industry hype-machine buzzed around Passion Pit last year, founding member Michael Angelakos fell prey to the wrath of the dictaphone by decreeing an intention to blend Randy Newman and Stevie Wonder-like song writing with experimental dance pop. The wishful thinking of a starry-eyed young pup, certainly, but in these feral days of bitch-slapping blogs such bravado can fester a sneering resentment that focuses on everything except the music.

Not quite the introduction a fresh faced electro-pop outfit needs, yet the truism of no publicity being bad publicity seems to resonate with the Boston-born ensemble: “We were 21 years-old, you know,” explains drummer Nate Donmoyer before a show at Glasgow’s Captains Rest. “Men don’t physiologically mature until they’re 30 so hopefully the press will go a little bit easy on us. I think Mike would take any criticism as a compliment though because Randy Newman is a major influence on us and has a special influence on Mike’s life.”

So far, it’s been Angelakos alone who has taken Passion Pit to the periphery of success. Recorded in his bedroom over two years ago, debut EP Chunk of Change was a Valentine's Day collage of sun kissed laments intended for a then-girlfriend. But the EP’s mix of personalised lyrics and hook-infused electronica quickly made its way on to the US college radio circuit before exploding wider thanks to a series of commercial tie-ins and, of course, the obligatory Pitchfork commendation.

Now signed to effortlessly cool indie label Frenchkiss Records, Passion Pit has evolved as a full-formed band of five, adding flesh to the bones of Angelakos’s intimately conceived numbers. “It’s almost like method acting,” says Donmoyer of playing someone else’s personal songs. “Even though the person is singing about his experiences you’re still trying to put it into your own context. I don’t really know what the story he’s trying to tell is but I have one for when I’m playing it live that I believe in, so it inspires me to play harder.”

Having drawn comparisons with acts like Hot Chip and The Go! Team while infiltrating a ream of January tip lists (including our very own), the anticipation surrounding the release of debut long-player Manners is almost rapturous. Not that the band notice: “We try and not pay attention to what people say,” claims Donmoyer. “It’s always good to hear the positive things but not so good to hear the expectations are so high. Though, it’s nice to have the opportunity to live up to it some day.”

But with a spectrum of ideas running through the creative veins of Passion Pit, can Manners really mesmerise the lugholes like Chunk of Change did? “It’s still a summertime record but our range of influences can definitely be heard on this one,” Donmoyer states. “There’s live drums running through the whole thing and there’s more guitars and pianos that’s given it a more organic feel. There’s still a shit tonne of synths on it but there’s more of a medium with live instruments now.”

Through the maze of hyperbole, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that Passion Pit are newcomers in an unforgiving industry. Their brazen soundbites disguise an openness that suggests this is a band coming to terms with its new status. Or as Donmoyer says: “It’s been really eye-opening to how the industry works. I’ve done DIY indie rock and dance and DJ kind of things and I’d never seen it on a major label. It’s kind of crazy how it all works but we’ll take it, I guess.”

Manners is released via Frenchkiss / Columbia on 18 May.

Passion Pit play T in the Park, Balado on 10-12 July.