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Passion Pit and Gossamer
(abbreviated from an essay by Brent DiCrescenzo)
Hundreds of hipsters, college kids and music biz schmoozers gather under a massive white tent to see Passion Pit. It is an afternoon shindig hosted by the blog Brooklyn Vegan, at the 2009 South by Southwest festival. The sun is setting and it is a classic make-it-or-break-it moment for Passion Pit, who is headlining despite having just released a lone EP, Chunk of Change. Between songs, frontman Michael Angelakos runs his fingers and sweat through his thick, curly, Greek hair. He starts to rant about a shirt he bought for his new girlfriend, about veganism, about inane blog comments. After a few awkward minutes, the music kicks back in. By the end of the performance, Michael is rolling on a red Persian rug amongst many, many keyboard and effects pedal cables, clutching his microphone, wailing in his signature helium falsetto. The audience cheers, the Tweeters tweet, the bloggers blog ecstatically.
Michael leaves the stage and begins crying. He has made it, and he has broken.
When the festival ends, the rest of the Passion Pit guys van back to Massachusetts. Michael stays behind in Texas. He calls a friend for support and begs her to come be with him. In a panic, he buys her a plane ticket. It is for the wrong year, 2010. He calls his parents in Buffalo, New York. "I'm going to a hospital," he tells them.
Michael is standing with his father outside a hospital in Houston, looking at mock-ups of album artwork on his cellphone. Passion Pit has just signed to Columbia Records, and a debut album, Manners, is due in a couple months. The record cover is green and messy and murky. Michael is not crazy about it, but there is no time, as the hospital is about to take his phone away from him. "It looks fine, Michael," his dad says. "Just go."
In the hospital, Michael is not allowed to talk about work. "Up there, onstage, you're alone, darling," a nurse tells him. "And if your life evolves into ruin, everyone will watch what you're doing." Michael thinks these would make good lyrics. His friends smuggle in positive reviews of Manners. When one magazine blesses the record with an 8 out of 10, he almost cries again.
Michael Angelakos' brain is like a shaken can of spray paint with no nozzle. Millions of particles of bright ideas bounce around in there. When inspiration punctures his head, art sprays out. Often, someone else must puncture the can, or smash it. Only, if you hold Michael's bursting skull up to a canvas, you would not get a cloudy splatter of dripping bits. The paint would land perfectly in a detailed map of the knotty Tokyo subway system. You can hear this on "I'll Be Alright," the second song on Gossamer, in which a sudden seizure of skittering programmed drums swarms over diced synths. "My brain is racing and I feel like I'll explode!" Michael sings amidst the orchestral glitch.
A spark of a Passion Pit song might be found in the fuzz of a guitar pedal. It might be a stumbled-upon drum loop, the tintinnabulation of layered chimes or some gibberish harmony he's humming. It might be one of the 200 scratch melodies Michael has stored on his iPhone. Later, Michael might sit at a keyboard and work out a melody. "I do things backwards," he admits, "and I'm a maximalist." Indeed. The songs on Gossamer carry anywhere from 60 to 200 instrumental tracks, according to Michael. If you ask Alex Aldi, Michael's engineer, the number 80 to 120.
When Alex and Michael set forth to record Gossamer in January of 2011, the two first rented a studio near the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood. The new Passion Pit headquarters shared the building with digital media start-ups, dot.coms, that sort of thing, which were not appreciative of gut-rumbling bass bumps rattling the uninsulated walls. The duo began working from 6PM to 6AM, partly to avoid pissing off the neighbors, partly because Michael is "really OCD about who's hearing me." In the wee hours, Michael would toil at his array of keyboards, sequencers and computers.
In June of 2011, Michael headed to L.A. to continue work on Gossamer with a variety of big name producers. One producer would bring in pretty girls to sit on a couch in the studio. He would play back tracks at top volume. If the girls got up and danced, it was a hit. Michael recorded in a fancy house outside of which photographers snapped models in lingerie. Michael worked with a prominent hip-hop producer. They tinkered with "Hideaway," an upbeat tune set to a speech a nurse once gave him. Michael played the hip-hop producer his demo. "You don't need anyone to produce you," the producer humbly admitted. Michael flew back to Brooklyn, ending what he now calls his "June gloom."
Aside from the sarcastic "Love Is Greed," all the songs on Gossamer are 100% true. Unlike some songwriters, Michael does not write in character. He compares the album to a collection of John Cheever stories. "It's non-fiction, but dramatized. It's euphoric pain."
"Are you sure you want to be this open," Alex asked when he first heard the lyrics.
"This music is so on point with myself, I don't know that I could do it any other way," Michael replied.