The Dark Side of Happiness – Passion Pit’s disco-rock hides black clouds of lyrics, but the band wants to have fun

Michael Angelakos, lead singer of Boston’s Passion Pit, is a man of his word. When asked in 2009 what the next year looked like for the band, he said “touring, touring, and touring.” Here we are in December and these overnight success indie rockers step up to play The Granada as they wind their tour down.

“Certainly 2010 has been full of lots of touring and it’s been a positive change for the band,” says Angelakos, whose voice is deep and searching and slightly tired. “We started off in 2009 as a band that hadn’t rehearsed much and didn’t take things seriously. We’ve had a reawakening. We didn’t really have time to develop outside of the limelight. So 2010 is the year we came into our own.”

 Belting it out live, Passion Pit singer Michael Angelakos Leslie Plesser Photo

Belting it out live, Passion Pit singer Michael Angelakos
Leslie Plesser Photo
Passion Pit’s sudden rise really did happen in the space of a year or so. A Media Arts major at Emerson college, Angelakos had been working on a number of musical projects, most done “out of boredom.” But it was the short EP of songs he wrote for his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day that turned into Passion Pit. These weren’t songs of puppy dog love — this was a collection of psychological and self-critical lyrics set to inversely happy, disco-like music, made on Ableton Live with minimal instruments.

“I wasn’t expecting anybody to listen to it,” he says. “I still write music with that mentality to this day. It seems that if I do what I like to do, somebody’s going to like it.”

After a meeting with fellow keyboardist Ian Hultquist, Angelakos used the songs as the basis to form a band, and soon Passion Pit was a five-piece with an EP, titled “Chunk of Change.” Other members include Ayad Al Adhamy on synthesizers, Jeff Apruzzese on bass and Nathan Donmoyer on drums. While nobody was expecting it to go much further than a bit of Emerson college fun, soon things changed. The band got signed to Frenchkiss records, then to Sony. Their songs popped up in commercials for the Palm Pixi, Playstation, Rhapsody and O2, hopping up the alternative charts here and in the UK, where several of their songs have become theme tunes for radio and television programs.

Their album “Manners” followed in 2009, with several singles “The Reeling,” “To Kingdom Come” and “Little Secrets” getting airplay. The lyrics came from a dark place, but having sung the songs live over and over, he’s had to distance himself from the album.

“I never want to make a record like ‘Manners’ ever again. It comes from a world I never want to be a part of. I want to make people happy. I want to make myself happy.”

Onstage, he says, he interprets them as snapshots of a time, and lets the energy of the performance take prominence.

If this makes Angelakos and Passion Pit sound serious and gloomy, think again. Angelakos can’t stand groups that take themselves seriously, and a brief look at their videos shows a band having fun. For “To Kingdom Come,” they’re dressed as 19th century scientists and astronomers. The handlebar moustaches they wear in the video came from the studio that had shot Cold Mountain, he says.

After this tour, which ends with a New Year’s Eve show at New Jersey’s Wellmont Theatre, the band will think about a new album. Details are sketchy, with mention of special guests, but no names.

Angelakos says his parents discouraged him from seeking out a degree in music, despite his father being an opera singer. “They said if I went I would go insane, because I can’t focus on one track,” he says. “Music was always the primary focus, but they didn’t want me to be closed in, and it was the best piece of advice I’d ever been given.”

Now what do they think, now that Angelakos wound up dropping out anyway to focus on music?

“They’re proud…but they’re not surprised.”

PASSION PIT
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: The Granada, 1214 State St.
Cost: $33 to $35.50
Information: (805) 899-2222, www.granadasb.org or passionpitmusic.com

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