For those who say PASSION PIT‘s Gossamer isn’t as exceptional as Manners, screw you. “Manners is a decent album, but Gossamer is obviously the product of hard, meticulous work, and it paid off,” says Michael Angelakos who knows enough not to care. “People would, at first, like it, but then end up absolutely loving it.” He doesn’t need to squeal about how good it is—we hear him loud and clear.
“I learned that experimentation does yield very useful sounds later on down the line, so save everything you do. Scrap nothing.” — Michael
Hey, Michael. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. Let’s rewind a bit. Who or what would you say drove you to this particular path of the music industry?
“This particular path” idea makes it harder to answer the question, because I’m not quite sure what the path is, especially within a very complicated industry. As it is mostly just smoke and mirrors, I suppose any success I have has been due to the encouragement and support of really honest, brilliant people who understand me and know how to help me execute my vision…
Did you have any visual imagery as you were making the songs in Gossamer? When is the best time to listen to it?
…Gossamer is a twofold record. It was sequenced to be listened to from front to back, thematically and musically. But it’s also a very wide-ranging record, so I’m assuming, since this is the age of iTunes, that some people will pick their favorite songs and that’s that. I feel like there is kind of something for everyone if they’re not totally invested in the record. But if someone is invested in the record, then they’ll really enjoy the full listen on great headphones and a loud sound system.
You mentioned in an interview with Pitchfork that you’re “really obsessed with perfect songwriting craftsmanship.” What makes a “perfect” song?
I should begin by saying that I never said I really even know what a perfect song technically is, though I’m pretty sure I know quite a few. I have my own criteria, we all do. A perfect song can be, for instance, a song that, while executing the typical pop formula, somehow remains both radical and formulaic while piercing through the blandness of pop culture—in other words, a song that’s not only magnificently written and produced, it also works as a catalyst in the world of musical trends. That’s one kind. Usually it’s just simply well-written. The point is that you can produce any type of song you like, but you are really only leaning on the song, so the song needs to be really strong. The most successful songs in the world right now are mostly hook-driven in the chorus and lack everything else almost just to emphasize that catchy chorus. That’s really a jingle, that’s like a song for a commercial. That’s not technically a successful song, though it’s smart and typically very production heavy. A perfect song, in terms of pop, makes every section seem like the most important, delicate, fragile piece of a balancing act. Every piece relies on the other. You can’t have too much here, must have enough there, and so on. Balance and making it sound easier than it actually is seems to be a common thread amongst perfect or nearly perfect songs.
What else is something you learned about yourself while making Gossamer?
I learned that experimentation does yield very useful sounds later on down the line, so save everything you do. Scrap nothing. And experimentation is also very helpful when things feel stagnant. I guess I also learned new ways of completing songs, ways to feel more concrete about parts—Passion Pit is more fragmentary writing than linear songwriting.
Your voice is amazing. How do you do all that “falsetto” all throughout? What do you do/drink/take/eat to prepare for recording and/or performing live?
It’s actually not falsetto, it’s just head voice, or super head voice, which is a totally a different mode that your vocal chords go into when they vibrate as you sing. Falsetto is breathy and Bon Iver-ish; it’s very quiet. I sing really, really loudly. And I’ve developed these massive muscles in my upper range. But, like any other sport, if you don’t work out and practice with those muscles that you need to develop, they will quickly go away. So, I’m starting over again a little—it’ll take about a month for me to be up to snuff. It’ll be easy once I get back into everything
In the studio, it’s just lots of throat coat tea and lozenges. Some ginger sprays, weird things. I do some warm ups to clear my throat, but it depends on the song. I mostly just ring out my voice, drain my sinuses, and start recording some takes. I let my voice be raspier for certain songs and then the opposite: very clean for others. So, preparing for those actually, well, it wasn’t much of anything. Studio recording is easy because it makes more sense to me than live performance. Though it’s hard for people to imagine anyone really not using auto-tune or pitch correction, I can honestly say I’ve never used those in my life, but we do have some secret weapons in the studio, but they’re just compressors and limiters that are very strange and rare. They just work with my voice.
What does the future hold for Passion Pit? Where does the future of music lie?
The exciting thing about the future is that it’s almost always full of surprises. So, who knows? I have no idea where the music is going to go, but I think the next record will probably be a little more envelope-pushing. Gossamer is the perfect record to move into the more experimental pop side of Passion Pit. Don’t worry, it’ll probably still be some permutation of pop.
Interview by Reena Mesias
Photographed by Jason Nocito
For the full story, grab a copy of STATUS September 2012 issue