Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos Talks 'Erasing The Stigma' Award, Touring Future
"My goal has always been to try to humanize the concept of having a mental health issue," singer tells Billboard about opening up on bipolar disorder.
Passion Pit recently kicked off the second phase of the extensive touring schedule supporting its captivating sophomore album "Gossamer": after beginning a U.K./North American headlining run last November, the indie-pop group is now in the midst of a heavy festival slate that includes stops at Bonnaroo, Sweetlife and Firefly. However, in between the group's performances at Coachella's first and second weekends, Passion Pit's founder and frontman Michael Angelakos will quickly press the pause button on his group's whirlwind year and reflect on a personal issue that was only recently revealed to the public.
At the 2013 Erasing The Stigma Leadership Awards -- a ceremony dedicated to honoring those who have overcome or have helped bring awareness to mental illness and addiction -- Angelakos is set to receive the Beatrice Stern Media Award, for his efforts to openly discuss mental health issues following his July 2012 admission that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Other honorees include Leadership Award recipients Quincy Jones and Jeff Greenberg, the CEO and owner of the Village Recorder.
"It's absolutely baffling and wonderful at the same time," Angelakos tells Billboard of the honor, which will be presented at the Beverly Hilton on Thursday night (Apr. 18). The "baffling" part may well refer to how far Angelakos has come as a mental health advocate in a short amount of time. One year ago, the singer-songwriter was still concealing his health issues as his band's profile was expanding: Passion Pit's 2009 debut "Manners" was critically acclaimed (the album's current sales sit at 321,000 units sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan), and "Gossamer" was poised to be the group's first major label release last summer, on Columbia Records. However, Angelakos labored against his bipolar disorder prior to last year's album release, and Passion Pit was forced to cancel a string of tour dates last July in order for the frontman to "improve his mental health," according to a statement from the band. Afterward, Angelakos opened up about being bipolar (a Pitchfork feature detailing his personal struggles was especially revealing), and almost immediately became a beacon of awareness, primarily through interactions on his social media platforms.
"My goal has always been to try to humanize the concept of having a mental health issue that has obviously interfered with my job and my career, and my life in general," says Angelakos. "'Coming clean' is something that makes it sound like a dirty secret, but the reason why I was just honest and told people about what was happening was mostly because we had to cancel shows. I didn't feel like I wanted to lie, and I wanted people to understand that there was a very serious reason that we were canceling shows."
After he offered an explanation for the scrapped performances, Angelakos says that he was inundated with more questions about being bipolar, and began reading more print pieces about his battle -- some of which took too-dramatic liberties with the subject matter at the heart of "Gossamer." "The album is about that stuff, but there's a lot more to the album than just that," he says.
Angelakos also believes that his onlookers can be prone to jump to conclusions about his general behavior -- when he paces across the stage during a performance, for instance, he knows that some fans can view it as a tic instead of natural stagecraft. "I've gotten really great feedback, but now a lot of people are like, 'Oh, it's the bipolar dude,' and that's not really what I was trying to get across," he says. "I just wanted to show that you could have this issue -- a very serious issue -- but you could still get through it and do your job, get onstage every night and be professional."
Since those shows were cancelled last July, things have gone splendidly for Passion Pit: "Gossamer" has added another 173,000 copies sold to the band's total, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and Angelakos says that the group's recent headlining tour, which included a gig at New York's Madison Square Garden, was "phenomenal. The last tour was our first tour where we all really felt like the whole tour was fantastic. We came out of it with a really positive feeling." Multiple singles from "Gossamer" have also found exposure through advertising: lead single "Take A Walk" has sold 541,000 downloads according to SoundScan since being featured in a Taco Bell TV ad, while "Carried Away" can be heard in a current commercial for Tropicana.
Successful performances at South By Southwest, Lollapalooza Chile and Coachella have slid Passion Pit into festival season, and although Angelakos says with a laugh that fans are already asking for a new album, he predicts that the "Gossamer" shows won't cease until well into 2014. "We intend to tour for a very long time… We'll be hitting a lot of places that we haven't hit before," he notes. "It would be a shame to stop now, especially when we're just starting to get in the groove of this." As "Carried Away" becomes the latest "Gossamer" single to get a radio push, Angelakos says he will try to offer fans nuggets of new music when he can, such as the joyful Juicy J remix of the band's "Constant Conversations," released in late February.
On Thursday, however, Angelakos and co. will take the night off for "Erasing The Stigma"; the singer says that he's excited to meet Quincy Jones, let alone share the same room with the legendary producer. As ceremonies like "Erasing The Stigma," which supports the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, continue to shed light on the issue, Angelakos says that his bipolar disorder doesn't even come up much in conversation now, which allows him to simply focus on presenting his music.
"A lot of fans have been receptive to it," he says. "The media has gotten better about it -- they didn't really get it at first, but they kind of get it [now]. And I can go to bed at night saying that I didn't have to make up a fake news story."