Interview: Passion Pit

Love is responsible for many creative works of genius. Picasso’s I Love Eva, Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal, Passion Pit’s 2009 debut album, Manners…. If it weren’t for Michael Angelakos’ peacocking for his squeeze, Passion Pit might never have happened. Enter bandmates and Berklee College of Music alumni Ian Hultquist (keyboards/guitar), Ayad Al Adhamy (synth/samples), Jeff Apruzzese (bass/synth bass) and Nate Donmoyer (drums) who then added meat to the Valentine mixtape Michael had recorded. The sound of a chipper MGMT, Passion Pit’s jaunty electronic pop has since soundtracked shows like Skins, In Betweeners and er, Gossip Girl, and made dollars for brands like O2 and iPhone. Playing the chilled Sunday night slot before headliners The Pixies at last year’s Splendour In the Grass festival, JUICE chatted with Ayad and Jeff backstage ahead of the big gig.

So how are you guys?
Ayad: The jet lag and time difference is pretty amazing. The 28th of July didn’t exist in our lives at all.

But you get it back when you go back.
Jeff: That’s true. Yeah, we get to pick it back up.
Ayad: We have the same day twice – it’s fun!

While you’ve been here at Splendour, have you had a chance to catch any of the other bands?
Jeff: Yeah, we actually just got to see Ash, which was one of Ayad’s favourite bands growing up.
Ayad: The first song I ever wrote, I ripped off an Ash song and I was 14. And they played it!
Jeff: We just watched our new friends, Surfer Blood play and they were awesome. We shared an airplane ride over with them, we were all sitting in the same row. That was cool.

A lot of your music has turned up in TV programmes and commercials; is that a big part of promotion for bands these days?
Ayad: Definitely. I think it’s really important. Sinking and placements makes people aware of the music even if they don’t know who it is. You can go out and search for it and find out and having it in certain TV shows really helps. You can hit people who would never have found you just by having it on a really cool commercial or a TV show or movie.

Do you guys watch a lot of TV?
Jeff: With the internet, it’s kind of amazing that anything that you’d ever want to watch or any movie you could ever watch you can type it into the internet, like Google it, and then have it on your computer. There’s still the majority of the masses who still watch cable and satellite TV though.

So what shows do you watch?
Jeff: I’ve been really into Mad Men. Ever since Ayad and Ian really got me into it. It makes me feel really classy (laughs).
Ayad: Ever since I watched it, I started drinking whisky straight.

You guys weren’t into the whole Lost thing then?
Ayad and Jeff: No (laughs).
Ayad: Ian was the worst, our keyboard player. He has Lost figurines. But then he lost them somewhere. Irony! He must be quite upset now that it’s all over.
Ayad: Yeah, I was like, “So what happened?” And he’s like “I still don’t know man.”

Back to music, almost everyone went to Berklee. Is there stuff that you guys learnt at Berklee that you haven’t learnt from being in a band?
Ayad: Yeah, a whole different set of skills. Like when I went to college, it was to learn music. You have to do harmony and ear training and stuff like that, and I got my major in Film Scoring, like orchestral composition, conducting and programming. Band stuff is a whole different world.

So being in a band, is there any advice you’d give to Berklee students?
Jeff: Everyone who goes to Berklee has it in their mind that they want to go there and be in a band.
Ayad: Sometimes if you’re overzealous with your music and you meet someone and you’re like, “Oh hey, listen to this, it’s something I just did,” it’s like too in your face. You should let people absorb your music and find out for themselves because then they feel like it’s theirs.

That’s probably some good advice: share music conservatively. If you didn’t want to be in a band when you went to Berklee, what did you want to do?
Ayad: I wanted to be a producer and an engineer. I wanted to do a lot of studio work and writing and composition. I still get to do that, which is amazing. Being in a band is amazing too because you only play a set an hour a day, yet you get to meet so many amazing people that you’d never get the chance to have met.
Jeff: I changed my major so many times (laughs). I did Jazz Studies for a while, then I wanted to do Music Therapy, and when I found out you had to work in a mental institution for 6 months – I completely turned away from it. I ended up graduating in Music Business. I’d interned at a lot of labels and I saw myself going in that direction. And then this just kind of happened out of nowhere….

What do you think keeps people on the dancefloor?
Jeff: Four on the floor and bass.
Ayad: And also 130bpm (laughs). That is the beats per minute that you want. You wanna hear dubstep? 138.

The industry has created this machine that will tell you if a track has the right formula for it to become massive a pop song – that it’ll sell. What do you guys think of that?
Ayad: Well I know the formula (laughs). So I’m glad someone made a machine for it. Pop songs have a formula. If you hear a pop song from the 50s and one from right now, it’s the same chords. The whole thing with pop music is the aesthetic. How it sounds, the instrumentation, the recording. Mathematics is a pretty amazing thing.
Jeff: And that’s why it sells so well; it’s familiar, so it’s easy for people to digest.

I got sent to Splendour by Air Asia X. If you guys were to jet anywhere around the world, where would you go and what would you do there?
Jeff: I’ve never been to Italy. Like all the places we’ve toured, I’ve never been to Italy. I’m Italian, and my grandmother grew up there in Naples. Which I heard is like the worst part of Italy (laughs). And I know I have family there too, so I’d really like to go there. I just want to go with a backpack full of clothes, rent a Vespa and kind of cruise around.
Ayad: Hmm … I think India would be pretty fun to go to. I’ve never been there, from growing up in lots places and travelling a lot as a kid and then playing in a band and travelling exponentially more, that’s one place I’ve never got to go. I like Indian food. I like the culture. I like the instruments. I like how different it is from a lot of places that I’ve been. It’d be a unique place to go to.

Thanks so much guys,especially as you guys are up after this.
Ayad: I’m going to start stretching now…. J

JUICE got to see Passion Pit live at Splendour In The Grass in Woodford in Queensland, Australia. We were flown there by Air Asia X. Air Asia X flies to Gold Coast near Woodford daily. Book your flights to Gold Coast or any other Air Asia X destination by clicking to www.airasia.com. It’s all things Passion Pit at: www.passionpitmusic.com or myspace, facebook page or twitter.