- 20 Apr 15
Life’s been tough for Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos – who has fought a life-long struggle with mental illness. Now, though, he is in a good place – a state of mind reflected in the group’s winning third LP.
Michael Angelakos is doing okay. It’s three years since the Passion Pit frontman’s very public suicide attempt – he tried to jump off the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway after a row with his girlfriend (now wife). He was at a low ebb in a struggle with bipolar disorder – or more, precisely, a struggle with having to explain to the world he was bipolar, only for the world to laugh in his face.
Seriously. That’s what happened. He was sick and people thought it was a publicity stunt for Passion Pit’s new album. Jesus fucking Christ.
“It wasn’t the explaining [about being bi-polar] that was the problem. It was defending it. It put me on a back footing,” he says. “That had nothing to do with the way the information was conveyed [by Angelakos]. It was to do with the media’s natural inclination to assume something is fake at all times.”
So he has break-down, tries to jump off a highway overpass – and is accused of a tasteless publicity stunt? You see, this is why the Internet is such a bad idea. People are idiots.
“I would be a genius if I was able to orchestrate all of that,” he says. "I don’t think anyone realised what I’d been through, having to lie about [his condition] all the time.”
Did he regret making a life for himself in music? Were he just another schlub, nobody would have cared. He could have dealt with his illness in absolute privacy. It wasn’t as if he’s made a mint out of Passion Pit. When the bipolar thing came to a head, he had to endure all of the pitfalls of celebrity, none of the perks.
“Well I elected to do this,” shrugs Angelakos “I elected to be, in a way, a public person. I’m not going to make records and then NOT talk to people. That’s impossible. I have to talk to people. From day one, I knew it would take three, four years before people understood what was going on. In the moment, I was having to cancel shows. God forbid I be honest about the reasons for that. I wish some people had dealt with it differently.”
He is, he says, past all that now. Married, happily settled in Brooklyn, and with a new Passion Pit album, suddenly life is sort of okay. You don’t have to take his word for it – the truth of the matter is writ large in Kindred, his group’s third LP. Strikingly reflective, the record finds Angelakos – who, in the studio at least, more or less IS Passion Pit — ruminating on his childhood, divided between New Jersey, upstate New York and finally Boston (where the project came together).
“I’m stable enough and healthy enough and I can look back at my childhood, the same as anyone else does. To reflect on it honestly, without blaming my parents or anything.’
Angelakos was born into relative privilege. His father is a music teacher turned rock-star stockbroker. When they lived in Buffalo, NY, Angelakos attended the exclusive Nichols School, where fees start at a Clongowes Wood-esque $19,000 annually (one website claims that Angelakos, the younger, is worth $14 million – but, hey, maybe that’s the internet).
“Because I’m healthy,” he elaborates, “I’m now able to think about my childhood. I can write about subjects that are relatable to on a more human level. It’s like, wow, I’m writing about things that humans deal with on a daily basis. These are the things you think about as you get a little older and your brain stops being so malleable. That’s literally true: I’m 28, the age at which you brain starts to harden.”
There almost wasn’t another Passion Pit album. Angelakos has a parallel career as producer and a multitude of side projects. His sense of self isn’t hung on his most popular music project.
“We’ve been doing this eight years. Which is crazy, if you think about it. I didn’t know if I wanted to do another record. Then I found I had an itch. I scratched it. And now I’m talking to you.”
From a certain perspective, of course, Passion Pit is the worst thing that ever happened to Angelakos. With success came constant touring – the exigencies of life on the road contributing to his 2012 breakdown. He did wonder: could he bear to put himself through all of that again? Nobody was holding a gun to his head.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever toured man – but it sucks,” he says. “I don’t care if you’re at the very top of the game or at the bottom. It’s all the same. Actually, sometimes it’s MORE fun at the bottom. You don’t have a huge crews and production and all the promo to do. For Passion Pit, that was the most fun – just starting out.”
One of the reasons Angelakos’ public wrestling with bipolar disorder was received with a degree of skepticism was because Passion Pit’s music is grounded in a happy/sad dynamic. The melodies are swooping, uplifting even – though the lyrics are terribly downcast. It seemed a little too neat: the guy who writes songs that happy on the outside, dark and conflicted within, turned out to be JUST LIKE THAT. He gets it – and thinks it insulting that anyone would think him capable of what amounts to artistic chicanery. His music and his personal issues need to be considered in isolation.
“The happy sad thing…it’s the oldest trick in the book,” he told me once. “The girl-pop music from the sixties…just listen to that. There is nothing revelatory about saying my music is happy and sad. Abba did that all the time. They’re a great example of a band you could liken to Passion Pit – they created well structured pop songs, where there was almost a math to it. But still with a lot of heart in there.”