Dark side underlies Passion Pit's euphoric electro-pop music

05:00 AM, Feb 13, 2013

Passion Pit brings its light-dark sensibility to the Armory. (Jason Nocito)/

Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

If you go

What: Passion Pit, with Matt & Kim.
When: 7 p.m. Monday.
Where: Main Street Armory, 900 E. Main St.
Tickets: $30 advance, $35 the day of the show, available at ticketfly.com, passionpitmusic.com and at the door the night of the show.

Jeff Apruzzese apologizes, he’s genuinely worried about how this interview’s going. “I’m a very, very boring person,” says the Passion Pit bassist — being the bassist in a rock band present problematic identity issues in and of itself. “A bass player has to be really nice or really funny,” he says. “Some kind of re-affirming attribute, so people want to keep you around.”

But he’s also in a band dominated by an extreme personality, lead singer and songwriter Michael Angelakos, whose demons are well documented. Not only in interviews conducted by Angelakos himself, but in the songs that he writes for Passion Pit.

Passion Pit, the much-talked about indie rock group playing Monday at the Main Street Armory, is all about the tormented soul who created the band as a one-man project, recording songs for his girlfriend. On the surface, Passion Pit is euphoric, electro-pop earworm music. Shimmering, studio-trick candy. “It doesn’t make the listener work for it,” Apruzzese says. “You can take it at face value, and just listen to the beautiful arrangements.”

Or the listener can choose the dark side. Beneath the upbeat theatricality are the downbeat themes of Angelakos’ bouts with bi-polar disorder and suicide. They’re in the hit single “Take a Walk,” in which a fellow who made some bad investments seems intent on ending his life. And “Where We Belong,” and the final line, “It’s hard to keep on living when your heart weighs about a million pounds. All I’ve ever wanted to do was be happy and make you proud.”

This light-heavy dichotomy is “the greatest kind of way to create music,” Apruzzese says. “It’s something he’s been discovering. And with how honest he’s been with everything, once he publicly acknowledged what he’s going through, a lot of people appreciate that and come forward.”

The Passion Pit guys are all from the Boston area. Apruzzese has known them, to varying degrees, for seven or eight years. They were all Berklee Shool of Music guys, except for Angelakos, from nearby Emerson College. The band’s full-length debut in 2009, Manners, was Passion Pit in full light-dark mode. But with the 2012 followup, Gossamer, Apruzzese really began to understand the source of the tortured language.

With Gossamer, I think things are more literal,” he says. “The first record, things were kind of more metaphorically put, I guess. Everything wasn’t so vivid for me. But when we were practicing the songs on the new record, hearing the lyrics over and over again, I found myself thinking: Oh my God, are you OK? I can’t believe you actually went through all of those things. Most of those songs are true stories and re-enactments of situations he’s been through.”

It’s not over. Passion Pit abruptly canceled the remainder of its 2012 summer, allowing Angelakos to undergo treatment for his bi-polar condition. “In the beginning, it was so hard for him to tour at all,” Apruzzese says, admitting that sharing a bus with a troubled bandmate can be taxing. “I don’t think we hated each other,” he says, “but we maybe got jaded with such a daunting tour schedule. For a while it was a very work environment. But we all care about each other, and we all care about him. It’s hard for me to tell if something is going wrong with Michael. And if something is going wrong, all we want to do is be there for him.

And now it seems to have blossomed into a whole new environment. It’s made us tighter and enjoying being friends again.”

Perhaps Apruzzese, and the boringness that he is so apologetic about, is Passion Pit’s Yin to Angelakos’ Yang. Apruzzese does seem somewhat domesticated. He has an apartment in Brooklyn, sidestepping the city’s “hipsters in Williamsburg” in favor of the Park Slope neighborhood. “It’s more old people and families,” Apruzzese says. “When we’re on tour, we’re always around people, so I’d rather go home to a quiet, more family-oriented neighborhood. A place where I can sit down next to a 60-year-old woman at a diner rather than a pretentious, snot-nosed kid whose parents are paying for his apartment.

This is the longest extended time we’ve had off right now, six weeks. Literally all I’ve done is stay at home, make lots of coffee, use all of my at-home appliances.”

And read. Three books during the break, including Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The true story of a woman, unprepared for the task, who hikes 1,100 miles in a test of her uncertain strengths and many weaknesses.

The whole first 30 or 40 pages, she’s just recounting her mom dying of cancer, and watching her mom die in front of her,” Apruzzese says. “I didn’t know if I could read the book. She loses all sense of herself after her mother passes away. Then she just hikes this trail, never having gone camping before, let alone backpacking. While I was reading it, all I could think was: Oh man, I want to do that.”

Perhaps the Pacific Crest Trail isn’t for Apruzzese. Yet when he says of Angelakos, “I can’t imagine how hard it is for him to go through all this stuff,” an obvious parallel emerges. Passion Pit is walking a difficult trail, the band’s lead singer a fragile cargo. How much can the audience watching this really understand the experience? All they can think is: Oh man, I want to do that.