By Andy Downing
RedEye special contributor
5:01 PM CDT, August 13, 2013
Michael Angelakos is so painfully unguarded it's almost jarring when he chooses to sidestep a question.
In a recent phone interview, the Passion Pit frontman didn't flinch when inquiries delved into married life, his health and even his thoughts on that classic of modern cinema, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." But asked to name some of the hip-hop artists he's collaborated with in the past, the singer clammed up, saying, "I can't disclose that information right now."
It was a momentary blip, however, and the Buffalo native followed by listing a handful of rappers he'd love to work with in the future, including Danny Brown, who joins Passion Pit (as well as dozens of other artists) at the North Coast Music Festival in Union Park beginning Friday, Aug. 30.
"Hip-hop artists are some of the most interesting performers right now," he said. "They're a lot more interesting than the pop performers."
Perhaps that's true in some cases, but few musicians in any genre are as compelling as Angelakos, who held court on everything from the manic episode that formed the backbone of last year's "Gossamer" to what he's learned about himself since his December marriage.
The North Coast lineup is pretty eclectic this year. Is there anyone you're looking forward to seeing?
Who else is playing? I never dig too deep into my schedule, because if I did that I'd end up losing my mind.
It's pretty heavy on hip-hop. You're playing alongside people like Nas, Wu-Tang Clan and Mac Miller.
Oh, well, that's cool then. I don't know if people pick up on it, but there's a huge hip-hop thread in Passion Pit music. A lot of the BPMs are hip-hop BPMs. I've always loved hip-hop.
Who would be your dream collaborator from that world?
I worked with No ID. He did one of the first versions of the song "Hideaway" that's on "Gossamer." I really wish I stuck with that version. In Chicago, No ID is the dude. He's the godfather. If I could work more with him again that would be fun. Danny Brown is also someone I'd love to work with eventually.
You got married in December. Have any aspects of marriage surprised you?
I'm such a child, and I'm learning more and more essentially how much of a child I am. I've got a lot of growing up to do still, and a lot of the things I want to change about myself have become very apparent in marriage.
You're only 26 though, right?
At 26 I still felt like I was 17.
Right, so then you can relate to this. Where I am in my life right now it's like I'm grabbing onto my youth in some way. Lately I've gotten really obsessed with things I used to do. For instance, when I was a teenager I went to a private school and I used to wear a blazer and a tie everyday. For some reason when I started on ["Gossamer"] I looked at it like, "Alright, I'm going to work. I'm going to school." And then I just started putting on a tie and a jacket again. When I'm onstage I feel like I'm channeling my inner-teenager. I'm jumping around and rolling around and doing crazy stuff. And I feel like I'm struggling with that in married life because that stuff has to chill. I'm desperately trying to catch up with my wife, who's two years older than me and probably 10 years older than me in terms of maturity.
Passion Pit videos tend to be fairly cinematic. Do you have Hollywood ambitions?
Actually, yeah, you touched on one of my favorite things. My main influences aren't necessarily songwriters. I'm a humongous film fan. I went to school for criticism and theory and ended up doing a lot of film study. I'm probably one of the biggest Ingmar Bergman fans I know--to the point where it's almost depressing.
Being a film nerd and of Greek descent did you cringe when "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" exploded?
[Laughs] I think any proper Greek-American cringed. That was just such a disgrace. There are some Greek-Americans, however, who think it's awesome and really buy into that whole thing and overdo it and are completely faking it. Real Greeks are awesome. Greek-Americans, though? I don't know. The first generation of Greeks that live in America? Awesome. Second, third? I have literally nothing in common with them. And those are the people who love that film.
Could you see yourself directing somewhere down the road?
The real answer to the question is I'd love to get into that world. I really view my music...like a film. That's why "Gossamer" was such a painstaking process. It had to flow and have movements and a very singular vision. I didn't want it to be a collection of songs. I wanted there to be a narrative, and to get there I looked to film. "Gossamer" was essentially made in two parts. The first part was a complete waste of time. Then there was the second part, which was painful. But that was the actual amazing process that eventually rendered "Gossamer" as we now know it. In between these parts I took two weeks off around Christmas and just sat and watched three or four movies a day on my projector at home. Then I started piecing together all these stories from my summer. "Gossamer" is essentially about a manic episode, and me trying to piece together what happened during that time.
Do you think viewing the album as a film helped give you some emotional distance from the material?
Yeah, there are a lot of theories people have in regards to music and how personal it gets. A lot of people take on characters and then vent vicariously [through them]. I found this was not the time and place for it. With [Passion Pit's first record] "Manners" I was much more introverted, so I wrote songs that were harder to follow and more about general confusion and the idea of getting older and not really knowing what you're doing. Then what happened was this extraordinary event, which was this manic episode. The reason it was so difficult to understand is no one understood it in the first place. That's why it went for so long. No one had ever seen a manic episode, so it just looked like I was just drunk and upset and crazy and all these other things. Then finally they realized, "Oh, Michael hasn't taken his lithium in three months," and I got the help I needed.
But because I was drinking through that time, and because I was manic, I couldn't remember much of what happened. When you're manic you have this split-personality where you take on a completely different form. It's a difficult thing to explain. So everyone had to slowly but surely tell me what had happened. It was insanely painful. You're hearing about things you've done that are so far from you as a person. So in that way I already had some kind of distance. After that it was like, "Ok, I'm going to piece this together." The next thing I knew I was writing an album that essentially...showed how everything evolved and turned into absolute and utter chaos. [Making "Gossamer"] wasn't therapeutic or even cathartic, really. I think it was beneficial to me in ways I can't really explain. I can't think of a better way of dealing with such a horrendous thing...than taking all that pain and aguish and despair and turning it into something beautiful. It really was a coup. It didn't win in the end. And I'm still alive.
Passion Pit, Aug. 30 at North Coast Music Fest at Union Park (Aug. 30-Sept. 1). $55 per day; three-day passes sold out.
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