How Passion Pit’s Mastermind Learned To Feel Normal, In His Own Words

Michael Angelakos can’t say if Kindred will be the last Passion Pit album. But it’s definitely his most triumphant.

The press around Passion Pit's fast-selling second studio record, Gossamer, focused heavily on how the album's themes related to the mental health problems of project mastermind Michael Angelakos. In interviews, Angelakos was refreshingly candid about his bipolar disorder, which added a layer of self-awareness to the record's darkest corners—which were often masked by Passion Pit's signature, era-defining synth maximalism. Its recently-released follow-up comes from a brighter headspace; according to Angelakos, Kindred is a pop record about adjusting to feeling "normal," which can be a complicated thing in its own right. Here, in his own words, the songwriter and producer explains the whole story behind the album: how it almost didn't happen, how working with Benny Blanco helped him trust people again, and how it felt to finally create from a happy, healthy place. — Patrick D. McDermott

MICHAEL ANGELAKOS: I always knew that I was going to have to be open about my illness. The reason why I came out about it was because I was canceling shows, and kids paid money to go see the shows, and they deserved an honest answer. I hate lying about stuff like that. It's just not worth it. And why should I lie about it? That's only continuing this unhealthy pattern of how we feel about mental illness: we don't want to talk about it, we shouldn't talk about it. I remember when I filmed the Bring Change 2 Mind PSA, they wanted to do this thing that was very dramatic, and I said, "It needs to be dry." It's not the privileged white kid that goes to school in New York City that needs this, it's the dude that can't go to work in middle America because he's so depressed, but he can't ask for help, or talk about the fact that he feels sad. He can't talk about it because it's emasculating. I've seen it at every hospital, and I've felt like that before, too.

I didn't do a few advocacy things I wanted to do because I couldn't manage it monetarily, or time-wise. But that doesn't mean I don't have an enormous amount of plans for the future. It's always been something I felt really strongly about because I have to live with that type of prejudice every day, with people looking at me a certain way, like, "Is Michael crazy right now?" It's like, Dude, I'm a normal person, too. I have this issue, but I'm also a normal guy. Gossamer was about action related to the illness. It's not necessarily about the end result in the lyrics, it's that I—at the last minute—finally just let it go, and pull it all out there. To me, that's what makes that record interesting. But not everything I write about is about bipolar.

The touring around Gossamer went on too long. I think everyone just got tired. I got tired, I didn't think we were going to tour anymore. I didn't think we were going to be a band anymore. After all the stuff that we had been through, it seemed just so unnecessary. We were like, "What's the point? Why are we doing this?" It didn't feel like it was fun anymore. I thought that was gonna be it. I was so happy to get home—it was the first time where I came back and I wasn't, like, obsessed with work. I was spending time with friends. Things were pretty stable for me. I had a really good holiday season. But I wasn't working at all.

I started thinking about recording a little bit because I'd been working with Ryn Weaver, trying to hammer down exactly what her music was going to sound like. Benny Blanco and I were doing that together. That's when I finally got back into recording. Benny and I kind of have this crazy chemistry: we finish each other's sentences in the studio, and we can do up to three tracks in one sitting. I've never been able to sit in a room and make music so easily with anyone. Ever, ever in my life. We could sit down, and even if we hadn't seen each other for three months, we could sit down and utterly destroy a whole new project. It's just so easy. I've never really made myself vulnerable to other people, and that's kind of what a lot Kindred is about now, that vulnerability. He broke that down for me, that wall. That kind of got me back into the swing of things.

Do you know how excited I was to make a record in a healthy state? I've never been able to do that. Working on Kindred was fun. I was very steady with everything: I worked through X amount of songs, I cut out songs, I saw songs through. I didn't scrap things the way I usually did. I was practicing a lot of these life lessons that you're supposed to practice, but through the music. It was really therapeutic. When we got the master back, I was like, I feel like I've really accomplished something that I've never been able to accomplish before, which is seeing something through the whole way. I made the record that I wanted to make, I made the statements that I wanted to make. Do you know how long I've tried and worked for that? I mean, it's a frustrated record, there's a lot of feelings, but at the end of the day, I won. I did this, I earned this, I finally got this. And do you know how amazing that is?

When all of a sudden you're confronted with some normalcy, that's like starting over. Or starting a new life. That's really what Kindred is all about. It's like, what am I doing? Who the hell am I? It's about figuring out who I am. It's crazy, I'm 27 years old and I'm saying that. I've gone most of my twenties not knowing who the hell I really am. I've always just been concerned with, like, what medicines I'm taking. Now that that's not really a concern, we're talking about a whole different type of lifestyle. That's why there's an emphasis on family on Kindred, and finding support systems, because that's what I'm trying to build. I've never had the chance to build anything like that.

Kindred is about togetherness, but also feeling alone while being with people. It's not directed at my wife or anyone in particular: it's like about everyone. It's the people I'm closest with, or how, sometimes, I feel closer to people that I'm not close with at all. It's so confusing trying to figure out who is what and what means what. Kindred is about navigating these things that are seemingly so simple and laid out for you, but when the dust finally settles, and you're looking around, everything's in a place that you never expected it to be. But it's also a new adventure, I guess, and it's a much healthier one. But it's just as stressful and confusing. But, obviously, not as catastrophic.

To me, it's kind of like this: after eight, nine years of doing this as Passion Pit, no one can say that Passion Pit doesn't have an identifiable sound. That's really been the whole intent of the project. There are certain people that are like, "It's kind of just like the same thing over and over again." It's like, "Exactly." They hear the high vocals, the synths. There are a lot of things that are different about the arrangements that probably lets you to say that this is a different-sounding record for Passion Pit. And you're right. But at the same time, there are so many things that just hammer the sound in. This is what Passion Pit is supposed to sound like. I've always despised the idea of working on a project and it not having a very clear direction and sound. Every chance, it was like your last chance to make sure that you nail that in. And for me that's always been a major issue: I've always wanted it to be identifiable and different.

There's this misconstrued story about how the Passion Pit band members have all left. Ian's scoring films. Xander had medical issues and couldn't tour. Chris Hartz is out on the road with me. Jeff and I are just not working together anymore. This was all stuff that was just naturally going happen at some point or another. It's just life. I can't say for sure if this is the last Passion Pit record, and I wouldn't, but I think it's the proper final installation in a triptych. It's a culmination: you get the dark, trudging-through-the-mud middle section, and then now we've got this redeeming third installation. I feel like it ties things up a little bit. I hate it when bands are constantly saying, "This is the final tour. The final final tour. The most final of final tours." But to me, it's always been, like, three's the charm. But what the hell do I know.

How Passion Pit’s Mastermind Learned To Feel Normal, In His Own Words