Q&A with Passion Pit
Passion Pit guitarist and keyboardist Ian Hultquist talks SNL, road superstitions and adjusting from the studio to stage.
Passion Pit is a rarity — an indie-pop band enjoying both critical acclaim and commercial success. After rocketing to the top of the blogosphere in 2008 off the success of the iconic “Sleepyhead,” they signed to Columbia Records for their 2009 debut album, Manners, and toured relentlessly. 2012 saw the release of their sophomore effort, Gossamer, which shimmers and dances its way through singer and sole songwriter Michael Angelakos’ convoluted mind.
The album brought even greater exposure for the five-piece, which plays Monday at Jesse Auditorium along with Matt and Kim and Icona Pop. In anticipation for the show, Passion Pit guitarist and keyboardist Ian Hultquist talked to us via phone last month from his home in Brooklyn.
[MOVE]: This will be your first show in Columbia, amongst other college towns you're touring with Matt & Kim. But you’re also headlining Madison Square Garden on this tour. How does the band adapt to such varying venues and audiences?
[Ian Hultquist]: It’s really been something that we’re working on. The interesting thing is like playing at festivals against playing at a venue or a club show. And it takes a lot of figuring it out … We’re bringing in new production. We want to extend the set even longer. We want to work on sounding like a bigger band that deserves to be playing in those rooms. We’re going to be rehearsing the last week of January to get ready for all that, so we’ll see how everything goes.
[M]: Speaking of big New York shows, you had another one last year — "Saturday Night Live." Was there more pressure than usual being on national television?
[IH]: You know, I think a lot of us were pretty nervous at first during rehearsals because we went in the Thursday before for a full day of photos and sound check rehearsals. I think we were kind of tense that day. But everyone there was so incredibly nice to us, and by the time it actually got to Saturday, we were all really comfortable and just kind of ready for it. And it goes so fast when it actually gets to the live taping — you don’t even realize what’s happening.
[M]: How do you get adjusted to touring? Can you ever really get adjusted to bouncing around the country and the world at all?
[IH]: It gets tiring. We’re all pretty good at touring now as far as being comfortable and knowing our habits and each other’s habits as well, because we’re together all the time, but it’s very exhausting. We made a conscious effort to take January off, aside from the shows at the end of the month, to get some rest. We’re all so exhausted from the past six months or so.
[M]: Do you guys have any rituals or superstitions on the road?
[IH]: We have a little “root chant” right before we go on. It’s kind of like putting your hands in the middle and make a bunch of noise and go crazy. But we have to do it, because every once in a while there’s a show where we’ll forget to, and it’s usually terrible. Something goes wrong or we just aren’t playing well, so now we always have to do our little root before we go onstage.
[M]: Are there any new elements put in during each show, or is it pretty much the same each night?
[IH]: For a while, for the first half of touring this season, we were changing the set list every night, and we were kind of working towards something that works together. Balancing the newer songs from Gossamer and songs from Manners, which was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. They’re generally the right distance from each other. By the end of last year, we kind of got a good set where we kept the set for the most part but changed a couple songs to bring in some variety. But through the course of this year, we’re looking to extend the set list and bring in new songs, have a little more freedom.
[M]: How does the band adapt the music that comes out of the studio to live performances? Is it collaborative?
[IH]: At this point, we all kind of know our roles within the band. I usually end up picking along with the piano parts and the chord backing. We know Nate (Donmoyer) and Jeff (Apruzzese) will take drums and bass, and then a lot of times Xander (Singh) will take the lead lines. So we kind of have set rules in that sense. And since there is so much more than chords and bass guitar on the new record, we have to fill more duties than just one. We’re still in the process of looking at the record, because there’s so much in there that we want to bring to the stage and be able to play live.
[M]: Speaking of which, you actually have a new member. Last year, Ayad (Al Adhamy) left the band and was replaced by Xander. Was it hard for him to get adjusted to the band?
[IH]: It wasn’t too bad, actually. We’ve known Xander literally since the band started – we’ve all been friends. And we always kind of had a sense that he’d join the band in one way or another in the future.
[M]: You have a side project, Aislyn, with your wife Sofia. Is that just a creative outlet, or do you have bigger ambitions for it?
[IH]: No, it totally has just been a creative outlet for us. We actually did a remix that came out a couple of months ago, but things have quieted down with us for the last year because Passion Pit’s kicked up again. I’m hoping that sometime this year we’ll put out a few more recordings, because I know both of us want to do more together.
[M]: Michael (Angelakos) took a lot of risks in making Gossamer. The lyrics are almost autobiographical, very emotionally charged, and songs like “Constant Conversations” are really different from what you’d expect from Passion Pit. Was there any reluctance or confusion when you guys first heard it as a band?
[IH]: Not really. I started to see it a little bit when Michael first started “Take a Walk,” so I kind of had an idea of how this album was going to turn out, as far as being different from Manners. We were all kind of ready for it, and we knew there was going to be changes. We knew the second that this was done, Michael was going to say he’d never want to do this again. (Laughs) So we were all just waiting to see what it was. The new songs are just so much more fun to play live, and we feel much more like a band when we play them.
[M]: Have you gotten the chance to meet any musical idols while on tour?
[IH]: Yeah, there’s been a bunch. The one that’s popping up right now is we met Bruce Springsteen a few years ago, which still holds as one of the biggest guys we’ve met. We met at the Glastonbury Festival in 2009.
[M]: What’s been the best part about being in Passion Pit and having such success these past few years?
[IH]: I’d say being able to play music for a living and being able to see the world, and being able to always be with friends when you need them. Even if you don’t want them around, they’re still there! We all feel very lucky in the band that we’ve been able to take this as far as we have, and we’re all very much set on seeing how far we can take this.
[M]: Do you have any idea what’s next for the band? You’re heading to South America later this spring – what will you do after that?
[IH]: I know there’s going to be more U.S. touring coming up. It’s still being planned out, but we’ll probably be on tour for the rest of the year, and then we’ll see what happens after that.
[M]: One last question -- “Take a Walk” was used in a Taco Bell commercial last year – there were a lot of butthurt hipsters. Did you guys get any free shit from Taco Bell for it?
[IH]: (Laughs) No, we did not. It’s unfortunate.