Michael Angelakos looks like a private school boy who cut class, pulled a Rip Van Winkle under some oak tree for a few years and woke up with a face full of beard.
The eternally bed-headed 26-year-old writer, singer and composer behind Passion Pit adopted his uniform of khakis, dark blazer and thin, Alexander Olch tie for reasons both practical and mystical.
“The blazer started mostly because I dislocated my shoulder, and it prevents me from popping it back out during shows,” Angelakos said in a call from New York. “But I’m really very superstitious. We started this tour last year and I’ve worn the same thing on stage every night. I’m channeling my inner teenager and it’s working, so I can’t change it. Even on Halloween I just told people I was dressed up as a serial killer.”
We expect he’ll be wearing it Saturday when the electrifying pop band headlines the Coastline Festival in Tampa. The fest is billed as a “musiculinary experience,” boasting two stages with 11 bands, a Food Trucktopia, a Craft Beer Cove pouring more than 25 craft beers and an Isle of Art with works including sculptures, paintings and photography.
Superstitious wardrobe or not, anything that helps the show go on is a good thing, since performing live has been a serious — and quite public — struggle for Angelakos. The band canceled shows last summer when he was dealing with debilitating depression, and he spoke openly to media and fans about his ongoing treatment for bipolar disorder.
“I was in a hospital and literally couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t see why I had to hide it,” Angelakos said. “What I really wanted people to know is that if you take care of yourself, develop a support system, admit there’s a problem, you can do many things people will say you can’t do. They told me I couldn’t perform. I couldn’t accept that because I want to play music for people. Playing is hard for me; it’s not easy for anyone, actually. Ultimately I just wanted to show that having a disorder doesn’t have to be as debilitating as everyone makes it out to be.”
It has been a huge 15 months for Passion Pit since the release of its sophomore album “Gossamer,” a critical and commercial success that has carried the band to new heights. They sold out Madison Square in February, and headlined major festivals around the world this year.
Musically, it’s bright, euphoric, dance-pop. Lyrically, it’s almost the exact opposite, full of melancholic storytelling that touches on alcoholism, crumbling finances and suicide, among other dark themes, all delivered in Angelakos’ haunting falsetto. The listening experience is something akin to laughing at a funeral.
Angelakos refers to Passion Pit as a “twofold enterprise.” The studio side of Passion Pit is him alone, where the writing and recording is his “cathartic vehicle.” The live performances where he’s accompanied the band, he says, are cathartic for the audience.
“Someone else said it’s like ‘dancing the pain away,’ and I guess that’s true,” Angelakos said. “I look into the crowd and people are singing along to these terribly sad lyrics, and smiling and dancing. I cant think of a better way to deal with those kinds of issues than by getting together with thousands of people and jumping around and dancing and smiling and having a good time.”
That elaborate, layered sound on Passion Pit’s studio recordings is part synthesizers, part acoustic instruments that have been mercilessly tweaked in the studio until they sound foreign, Angelakos said.
“We process things in ways that it would take three hours to explain how we got the sound on just the beginning of “It’s Not My Fault I’m Happy.” To to explain the process of how I made “I’ll Be Alright” — I don’t know how I’d even begin to explain it actually,” he said.
When we spoke, Angelakos was looking forward to a visit with his grandmother after that night’s concert in Atlantic City, and having the following day off at home in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife. With more than a year of touring behind “Gossamer” coming to an end with Sunday’s Coastline Festival performance in West Palm Beach, Angelakos sounded relieved and ready to work on a follow up.
“I’m approaching the next album differently. The other albums, in particularly ‘Gossamer,’ I’m taking as learning experiences. I know now exactly what not to do.” Angelakos said. “I’ve written some things. I have some melodies in mind. I certainly know what the overall vibe is going to be. Hopefully, I’ll (get in the studio) in a month or so, but I can never definitively say. I may need more time than that to decompress. But I do know that I want less time to pass before the next one than passed between the first two.”