Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos on 'Manners' 10th Anniversary Tour and Taking Time to Heal: 'I've Probably Never Been Better'

Jean Claude Billmaier
Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit

Amid the excitement and sudden fame that came with Passion Pit’s breakout album, 2009’s Manners, frontman Michael Angelakos was struggling in a major way. He’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years earlier, at age 18, and in the wake of being thrust in the national spotlight, the singer’s struggles with mental health only intensified. “People don’t understand that it’s not just debilitating; it’s all-encompassing,” he told me in 2012 while touring behind the band’s second album, Gossamer, of his mental health struggles, multiple suicide attempts and the PTSD he faced from childhood. “It’s something you have to work on your entire life.”

Angelakos says he now looks back at that time circa Manners as a difficult but necessary trial. His now-levelheaded view on what was once a near-impossible time period for him to revisit goes a long way in explaining his surprising decision to embark on an 18-date Manners 10th anniversary tour, which kicks off today (April 30) in Tempe, Ariz. Speaking by phone a recent afternoon, Angelakos says, if anything, the decision to celebrate his debut album is due to reaching the point in his life where he -- and he hopes, in turn, his audience -- can assess arguably his most famous work with a clear head. “I was always deriding it and I was always maligning it,” he says of Manners. “But I was young. I was scared out of my mind. There wasn’t a lot of confidence. I just felt like 10 years later a veil would be lifted. I was like, ‘I don’t think I’ve given this record a fair shot.’”  

Much has changed in the singer’s life since that time: In 2015, Angelakos came out -- he identifies as bisexual, though at the time he described himself as gay -- and also divorced his wife, who had been there for him during his darkest days. But as he works on new music and prepares for the tour, Angelakos says he’s finally at peace with where his life has taken him: “I’ve probably never been better, actually.”

I was surprised you wanted to participate in an anniversary tour given your well-documented uneasiness with fame and celebrating your accomplishments.

There is truth to that. But I’ve also always felt as though only about 40 to 50 percent of people [who listen to my music] would hear the records I’ve put out during the first three years or whatever [its promotional] cycle would be. The science behind music is pretty simple: It takes three to four listens for people to actually understand music. I always found with myself as a listener of music and someone who ingests a lot of film and books that sometimes it was the second or third time around before I fully got something. For instance, it took me years to watch The Wire. I didn’t watch it when it was really big, but then I watched it 10 years later and it was perfect for me. We’re so rapidly consuming things that it felt fair to revisit an album where I thought the appreciation might be greater -- or at least different -- 10 years later.

More than anything, I had assumed you’d be loathe to revisit a time period that by all accounts was jarring and damaging to you on a personal level.

I started listening to the album again for my own enjoyment a few years ago. I was like, “This is a great record!” It takes time to fully enjoy records after you go through all that with them. You have to shed all the emotional baggage that comes with it. And to do that you have to actually actively do it. You have to try to do it. Time heals wounds, but also I wanted to be able to reclaim it in a way. I know that sounds kind of ridiculous, but I honestly I can’t believe I made this record under the conditions and circumstances I was making it. I can’t believe this is what came out. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never been in a studio before. I had never had access to 30-something elementary school kids and an eight-piece string ensemble and all these things that I just got to play with. Are you familiar with EMDR therapy? Trauma reprocessing?

Yes.

That’s basically what this tour is. That’s what all these types of tours and these types of celebrations should be really be about, I think. Because every record is made under pressure to a certain degree. And I wanted to take it back. I have to tell you: I’m actually really looking forward to the tour. I think it might be the thing to really jumpstart my creativity again. Because it’s something to be proud of.

I take it this is one of the few tours you’ve been excited about?

Yeah. And I know I always talk about how I don’t like touring. I’ve just been in situations that have been very dire and tense, and I’ve tended to be open about it. This one, though, I actually elected to do. We got asked to play the Just Like Heaven festival, which seemed like a lot of fun. It’s filled with a bunch of artists that I remember meeting around the time this record came out and fawning over for years beforehand. That gave me the idea: Why don’t we book a tour around that festival and just get out of the apartment and get my head going again? Because I’ve kind of forgotten what it’s like to do this. I’m 31 years old. I want to feel what it’s like now. I feel like it could be enjoyable. It could be something fun. I was like, “I can put on a show and literally celebrate [Manners] a little bit and be proud of it for once in my life.”

With the tour selling extremely well, it must be heartening for you to know that perhaps time away has created a yearning among Passion Pit fans for this earlier work.

And I think it’s really important for an artist to share that sentiment as well. I really do. I look back on all my records, and they all mark different chapters of my life. But Manners was a really misunderstood record. I really always felt that. The only way I made sense of it was playing it live. When we were touring on Manners, it was really special; as it got better live, I got a lot healthier during that tour. Early on I wasn’t doing very well. But then about eight or nine months into it I started getting into a groove, and I really wish people had seen us towards the end of that run because there was such an energy. I was in a really good place. Now I almost felt like, “I wish people could have caught us a year and a half after Manners came out because that was when it got really sweet.” It even got to the point where I had enough confidence to go in and make a record like [2012’s] Gossamer and keep the whole thing running.

So again, this is really another go-around. It’s another chance to catch people who I don’t think caught it in the full way I wish they had the first time around. And honestly, I think that’s what you do when you have four or five records and are at 11 years since your first EP [2008’s Chunk of Change]. I was always suspicious of 10th anniversary tours, but now I completely understand them. And it definitely wasn’t for the money or anything. I just wanted to get out of the house and do something different. That’s saying something. I think that’s growth. [Laughs]

Hey, sometimes getting out of the house is half the battle. You’ve also been open about never being sure you even wanted the life that is the frontman of Passion Pit.

I’ve been struggling with it all since day one. When Manners first came out, I was telling people “I don’t think there’s gonna be another record.” The way I had always worked is I would write a bunch of songs, put together a band, play shows, dump the whole project and start anew. I did not really ever imagine myself being a career artist. And especially not the type to have a 10th anniversary tour. I never imagined that. I always imagined being more behind-the-scenes. I never really imagined being at the front of it, despite however it looks and however I act.

Talk to me about where you stand right now as a creative. Have you been working on new music?

Right now I’m being pushed to make new music, and I’ve been writing new music. But I haven’t totally found the exact voice I want for it. I think that’s because I need to clear out the space for it -- clear out the cobwebs a little bit and remind myself why I do this. I just want to do something different and not put so much pressure on the new music. I felt like if I played shows again, that might help stir the pot a bit more.

In terms of creativity, I’ve learned more about my process. There’s usually about a year and a half where I soak up everything and take time off and try to figure out what I’m doing, and then it’s another year and a half of a lot of creative output. That is not how everyone else seems to be working today. [Laughs] But that’s how I work. It comes in waves. I guess it correlates with the cycles of records around the time Manners was released: you’d go out and tour a record for a few years, and then you’d be back and you’d be working on a record. But I took time off because I was tired and have always been interested in pursuing other creative outlets. I realized that sometimes you have to dance with the person you are. I used to be pretty adamant about trying to change the course of it. It’s kind of like any kind of hallucinogenic trip: If you’re not going to just let go and go with the flow and let it do its thing, you’re going to have a terrible time. I would try to fight all the natural things that would be occurring in my life.

What was the turning point then?

I suppose it’s age and a few other things. I’ve experienced quite a bit over the last 10 years, and at a certain point you have to just be like, “When do you just start going with it and accepting the realities?” Because my life has some pretty amazing gifts: I get to talk about and perform a record that I put out 10 years ago that people still care about. And that’s important to me. I think I needed that reality check: “Hey, you had no idea what you were doing, you had absolutely no rubric, there was no blueprint or templar to work from, and you somehow managed to put out this 11-song record with the guidance of three people -- Chris Zane, Alex Aldi and Nate Donmeyer -- who shepherded you through this project that no one understood for the three months of recording until the last day of mixing when it was done and everyone was like, ‘Where the hell did this come from?’”

And then all these memories suddenly start resurfacing that are positive. I’m talking to the people that I made the record with and the people that I was touring with then -- all my old band members, we’ve been talking again. It’s an amazing thing. That said, I can talk about it all I want, but honestly the more I talked about it, the more I was like, “I just want to play the songs live again.” I remember looking at videos on YouTube and saying, “Look at how much fun we were having despite what I was saying.”

Do you think you’re looking at things through rose-colored glasses? You’ve said you were in a dark place around that time

But I’m not the person to do that! I think I’ve gone on record to say I’m not. I’m pretty candid about it. I think I’ve done my fair share of showing and telling about how hard it was. But I don’t think I’ve done my fair share of talking about how exciting and fun it was. My God, do we need that right now!

How are you on a personal level now?

The last year or two were very interesting. [Laughs] They were not as productive, they were more administrative -- sorting out things I needed to and had been putting off and neglecting. It’s understanding the mechanics of how everything in my life works and how I need to function. And also what it is to function in a completely different environment. My entire life shifted. That takes an enormous amount of time. Especially when you don’t have the same schedule as other people; there’s just a lot of change. And I think the timing for the tour is right. I’ll be turning 32 on the first show in New York City -- May 19. I needed the time and the space and the peace to heal a little bit. The real story behind all of it is that I was never given enough time to properly integrate and heal between tours and records. It was always, “Go, go, go!” It’s taken me a lot more time to get to a more peaceful and stable place. I’ve probably never been better actually.

That’s so wonderful to hear.

I know a lot of people are going through a lot right now ‘cause it’s a really strange and anxiety-inducing time. I don’t think I’m alone. It’s not been easy, but I’ve had enough to keep myself safe and get myself to a place where I could quiet down and understand what I need and take care of myself.

You were saying earlier that you’d previously neglected your personal well being for your career. I’d love to hear more about this -- there’s this idea that those who get famous at a young age stunt their personal growth.

I do feel like the last few years have been me making up for lost time. It was stunting to be thrown into it. I did make decisions that kept me from learning the same things that people learned at that same age. I did have a lot of guard rails put up to get me through. I thought I was totally in a fine place, but really I was relying too heavily on a lot of people. And I feel like in the last few years I’ve got my ass kicked a little, but I’ve learned to fend for myself and actually get my shit together to the point where I can actually say, “Hey, I’m going to do something,” and then I do it. Where I can actually talk to people, and they’re not afraid about what’s going to happen to me. You want your whole world to be on the same page as you. And I don’t think that’s ever been the case until recently. Hey, if it took 10 years, it took 10 years.

You’re not even 32. The idea that we’re supposed to have life figured out by our early twenties is patently absurd.

It’s so ridiculous! I was talking to somebody who said that in your twenties you’re just thrown into society and expected to understand how everything works. And everyone is so hard on themselves. I’ve talked to so many people -- especially between the ages of 20 and 28 -- who are just so hard on themselves. And I could see myself in them. I feel so badly about it because I remember how hard I was on myself. And I don’t feel that as much anymore. You need to process and go through all of that, obviously, but I feel like something really shifted in the last year or two to the point where I’m doing a fucking 10th anniversary tour. [Laughs] It doesn’t necessarily jibe with the person you were speaking to in 2015. But that should speak to the honest-to-god growth.

And I’m nearly positive that the second you get out and begin playing these anniversary shows, that will be all the affirmation you need.

I hope so. I’m kind of a hermit and stick to my own. I’ll go weeks without talking to people. I’ll just work and read and be by myself to the point where I get so antsy that I have to go and do something and start making things. And that’s the point where I’m at now. But for me to actively be putting all this energy into re-pressing records and actually honoring the work that put me here -- that’s a big deal for me. I didn’t have the energy for that a year ago. But I just want to have fun again.

Some of these songs you haven’t played in nearly a decade.

I remember playing Manners shows where I’d be drunk because I was so scared of actually performing the songs live, and I wouldn’t even remember the lyrics. But everyone else would know the lyrics, and everyone else would be singing the lyrics louder than I would, so I didn’t even have to know the lyrics. I just had to know the melody. It was the most euphoric, exciting time in my life. I don’t want to be in the same place as I was then, but I bet with this tour I can get someplace close to that that will bring some closure so I can finally move on. Because I think for me to move to the next chapter of my life and career and make new music I needed to confront this album.

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