Passion Pit's Geek Chic
"I think it helps that we're so dorky," Al Adhamy says with a laugh. "People are like, 'Aw, they're not that handsome.'"
According to Frenchkiss Records president Syd Butler, capitalizing on Passion Pit's regular-guy charm is central to the label's rollout of its debut album, "Manners," due May 26.
"If these guys were coming out in Gucci suits," Butler says, "people would be like, 'Who are these asses?' But they're not models -- they're genuine and nerdy, and they haven't been corroded yet. People feel like they're their neighbors. We want to promote that aspect."
True to those humble roots, frontman Michael Angelakos formed Passion Pit in 2007 not as a band but as a Valentine's Day present: He originally recorded the six-song "Chunk of Change" EP for a girlfriend at Boston's Emerson College, then watched as the song "Sleepyhead" caught fire last year throughout the blogosphere. After quickly assembling a live outfit, Angelakos spent much of 2008 playing shows; Frenchkiss rereleased the EP in September, and in December the group signed to Columbia in the United Kingdom.
Bassist Jeff Apruzzese acknowledges that the rapid rise was a wild ride. "It's just been snowballing since I started playing with these guys," he says. "All of a sudden it went from a show with six other bands at the Middle East (club) in Cambridge (Massachusetts) to a sold-out tour in Europe. I'm still surprised when we show up in Pontiac, Michigan, and we're playing to 300 kids."
Al Adhamy remembers a gig in Paris for which the members of alternative rock band Phoenix called to get on the guest list. "That's when I was like, 'Hold on -- this is crazy.'"
For "Manners," the band's goal was to make a record that "doesn't have to cater to a small group" of in-the-know bloggers, Al Adhamy says. "It has the option of a bigger audience. I think it could be on the radio."
It already is in the United Kingdom, where BBC Radio 1 has spun the album's lead single, "The Reeling."
In Apruzzese's view, Passion Pit's position sets the band up to reap rewards from both the indie and major-label spheres. "Because we were originally signed to Frenchkiss in the U.S.," he says, "that gave us some leverage in terms of allowing us to have creative control and not being sucked into a 360 deal where the label takes 35 percent of everything and tells you what you can and can't wear."
Though his current contract with the band calls for only one more album, Butler is advising Passion Pit to think long-term. "I try to remind these guys that just because they're big on the blogs or in their hometown, that doesn't mean they're actually big," he says. "I tell them, 'If you want a career in this business, you have to earn it. You're 21 right now. You have 30 years ahead of you.'"