In the three short years since Passion Pit first surfaced, the band has gone from electro pop oddity to one of the most recognizable outfits in indie rock. Started as a bedroom project by high-pitched frontman Michael Angelakos, the band has grown to include five members and lay claim to an album (2009’s much-lauded Manners), an EP (2008’s career-starting Chunk of Change), and a healthy smattering of remixes (of everything from Lady Gaga and Katy Perry to Phoenix and OK Go) and covers (The Cranberries’ “Dreams,” Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight”).
Helped along by a handful of killer festival spots, an insanely energetic live show, and more well-placed licensing deals than we have room to name, the Cambridge-cum-N.Y.C.-based five-piece is currently carrying the torch for catchy synth poppers everywhere. And this Wednesday, December 8, they make their Santa Barbara debut, bringing with them what is sure to be the biggest dance party the Granada has seen since its reopening. Still, guitarist and keyboardist Ian Hultquist admits that Passion Pit’s rise was never expected and far less likely than many have come to assume.
“We all kind of knew each other through different people and connections before the band started,” he explains via phone from his home in New York. “We were all guitar players, and are guitar players, but when we started this band, there were no guitars. It was all synths and keyboards, which we didn’t know how to play that well at all. The first year-and-a-half was all us trying to get better at playing music.”
Not long after, and riding the blog-fueled hype behind Chunk of Change, the guys headed into the studio with producer Chris Zane to record what would become their debut album. “I’m not sure if it was a normal studio situation, or not, but it was what we had to work with,” recalls Hultquist. “For me personally, I was kind of showing up, working on a song, and telling them what I wanted to hear. A lot of the stuff Mike really had down—he is the songwriter, after all—but we all kind of helped with different things, even simple things like reprogramming the synth or arranging the drumbeats. Mike had the main focus, but we all give our thoughts and have our hands on things here and there.”
From there, word quickly spread, and before long Angelakos and his oddly melodic chortle were provoking sold-out, sweaty, scream-sing–filled shows throughout the States. Festival dates followed, including an almost unbearably packed late-afternoon set at this year’s Coachella, and the kids kept flocking. As Pitchfork described it, Passion Pit’s ultimate selling point is their approachability, their innate uncool. Unlike dance rock contemporaries like Cut Copy and Hot Chip, these youngsters are making music that never tries to get too weird, music that rests heavily on the “pop” side of the electro-pop spectrum.
“We have a set way of arranging songs,” explains Hultquist. “Everyone has responsibilities and duties, and we kind of know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. A cover like “Dreams,” for example, we were able to get done really quickly because we knew who would do what and how we would work with each other.”
Still, onstage, the Passion Pit process is a much more organic affair, and it alone has solidified the band’s hyper-speed rise to the top. In turn, it’s the place that Hultquist has found himself facing his new reality and realizing just how far this little one-man project has come.
“It’s happened a lot of times,” he recalls. “When we first started, [it was] just the fact that we played an actual show for the first time and people came. Then it just kind of keeps happening over and over. We get to different milestones in our career, and you don’t freak out, but you have a sort of out-of-body thing where you look down and think, ‘Wow, that’s me.’”
Passion Pit plays the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) with opener Mister Heavenly this Wednesday, December 8, at 7:30 p.m. Call 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org for tickets.