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TALK ABOUT THE PASSION: Michael Angelakos (center) can probably afford a dryer now that Passion Pit, which plays the Blank Monday, is one of the hottest bands around.

Maximalist Overdrive

Passion Pit's sudden phenomenal success has Michael Angelakos reeling

By Steve Palopoli

MICHAEL Angelakos doesn't care if you don't believe the story of how he started Passion Pit. At this point, he pretty much expects you to not believe it. But he really did write the band's first EP, 2007's Chunk of Change, as a Valentine's Day present for his girlfriend.

"Yeah, everyone thinks it's some kind of fabricated press story," says Angelakos with a hint of righteous indignation. "And it's so annoying, because honest to God it really isn't. And also, that's the most ridiculous story anyway. I could have made up a way better story. If I was going to make something up, I would have made up a pretty good one."

Increased cynicism is just one of the byproducts Angelakos is learning to deal with after Passion Pit's sudden stardom. They were this year's first real phenomenon, perhaps the biggest to come along in quite some time. It no doubt had a lot to do with the timing, as the Boston band's debut album, Manners, became the epicenter of a retro-'80s explosion that had been primed by bands like MGMT and was fueled by a zeitgeist that had Bat for Lashes channeling Kate Bush on Two Suns and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sounding like Blondie on It's Blitz.

Angelakos is doing this interview from St. Louis, on a tour stop. His head is still more or less spinning, so while it seems incredible to the rest of the world that he'll be playing San Jose's relatively tiny Blank Club this week, it's the huge gigs in this mostly sold-out tour that shock him—since the band had never even been on the road until a few months ago.

"We've only been touring since February of this year. So it's been kind of an eye-opening experience for us. We're always surprised by how many people show up, and actually know the songs," he says.

And success has been a little nerve-wracking, too. "In a certain way it happened almost a little too quickly. Here we are playing as a band that's been together for a few months, and everyone's expecting a band that's been around for a few years. So we've always been scrambling," he says.

He's not even exactly sure how this all happened, he admits. Other than the first Passion Pit songs spreading through Emerson College, where he was a student, some best-of newspaper awards and media attention for their first single "Sleepyhead," it does seem like a pop-culture blur even to the outside observer. It certainly didn't have much to do with Angelakos' ambition for the project, which was next to nil.

"We really didn't do much of anything," he says. "We really don't try hard. At all."

And yet, how could Passion Pit not break big right now? It is by far the most obsessive and most brilliant music coming out of the current post-Danceteria movement. Combining a relentlessly hyper and positive soundscape with lyrics that are deeply emotional and sometimes as sad as the music is happy, Passion Pit fuses everything that made large-scale '80s pop great with exactly the kind of music that was made in opposition to it—personal, confessional indie-rock. It seems like a contradiction, but in Angelakos' hands, it's not. Full of unexpected sonic twists and turns—a chorus of childlike voices in "Little Secrets," some kind of bell apocalypse in "Eyes As Candles"—Passion Pit seems as much mashup as straightforward songwriter (indeed, Angelakos believes Girl Talk "completely changed the way people have to play"). "I was described by one of my friends as a 'maximalist,'" he says. "Everything is just completely over the top and intense, and really overwhelming. I used that for this project because I think it's appropriate. In other music I write, I scale back."

Considering the complexity of Passion Pit's music, many fans would be surprised at Angelakos' process—he wrote and laid down the music for "Sleepyhead" in two hours, writing the lyrics and recording the vocals on the spot at guitarist Ian Hulquist's house a week later. Nor should his collaborators necessarily believe him when he says he's prepared to record an album, as was the case with Manners.

"I was certainly not prepared at all. I was lying to everyone, saying I was prepared," he admits. "I went into the studio and just wrote it, because that's kind of the way I've always done things. Everyone thought I had the whole record written when I went into the studio, and I had absolutely nothing. I had a few sketches from an earlier session, but that was about it."

Somehow, it all seems to work out. Again, he doesn't exactly know how.

"Five years from now, this music is going to make so much more sense to me than it does now," he says. "I have no idea why I'm playing it."

PASSION PIT performs Monday (Oct. 12) at 8pm at the Blank Club, 44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose. The show is sponsored by Channel 92.3. Tickets are $9.23. (408.29.BLANK)

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