Interview: Michael Angelakos on return to band after 2012 mental health issues
Michael Baggs

17:47 15th November 2012

Passion Pit were on the up earlier in 2012, with new album Gossamer earning rave reviews and lighting up the summer months for discerning pop listeners with its glorious collection of flawless pop hits. Then, mid July, the band were forced to cancel all planned shows as frontman Michael Angelakos sought treatment for depression stemming from his bipolar disorder.

Things seemed pretty bleak for the band, but Passion Pit are back on the road in the UK and Angelakos is on top form, now speaking openly about his illness in the hope of helping other sufferers, discussing the response from fans to his return to the band and why the idea that depression can lead to creative genius is far from the truth...

You're currently on tour across the UK. Is there any part of the country you particularly look forward to visiting when you're here?

Scotland. We were looking forward to Scotland and Dublin - those and London of course. We were looking forward to coming and hanging out in Scotland. We like Scotland quite a bit. We've played Glasgow a couple of times. I like Scotland a lot. I've been to Edinburgh a few times for the Fringe festival when I was younger. It's cold here, but we were in Dublin and it was pretty cold and dank there too. You guys are known for cold and dank, right?

Everyone loves the British weather.
That's right. Screw the wonderful autumn weather, we're going to come and get sick.

Steer clear of the man-flu. Do you get any time at all to experience the cities you visit?
We're not actually a very big band in the UK, so it's a lot more relaxed than other tours and so we tend to have a lot more time off. Sometimes that can be not so fun though, because it might be in a city that literally doesn't have anything to do in it. It just depends. We're just here in the UK to play the shows, say hello to everyone and then we're back in America.

You're back to performing tracks from Gossamer, which deal with some extremely personal issues. Was it tough returning to those tracks after your bout of depression?
I've been going through that for years. It just so happened that this was a specific episode that really struck me. I don't really feel I have anything to hide and I don't feel I have anything to be ashamed of. People are born with mental illness and have to grow through that. All I've wanted to do is be honest. I love honest music. You can hear when people are fake now. Anyone can make a song today. Anyone can write a pop song with a hook and a synth line. What sets people apart is the personality and the humanisation of it and I wanted to humanise this project, make myself vulnerable and show that this is actually a band. From that, to the lyrics being so personal and being so direct in getting across these pretty sad and depressing instances, perhaps maybe even more so than I ever intended for. All across the board I felt this was a humanisation of what everyone perceived to be just an electropop band.

How difficult was it making the decision to pull out of your summer shows?
The real reason I decided to be so direct and upfront about what happened was because we had to cancel shows and I felt like our fans deserved an honest answer. That's it. It's the only reason. Then, all of a sudden everyone blew it up out of proportion, and people liked to romanticise it. It's not something that can be romanticised or turned into this huge interesting story.

Watch Passion Pit's 'I'll Be Alright' below 

There is still so much stigma around mental illness. As someone in the public eye, did you feel increased pressure speaking about your depression?
My position in the world today is to have just enough leverage and coverage to the point where I can say and do a lot more than other celebrities can. Since I have opened up about it I have decided to help. There are a lot of people who don't talk about it, they don't treat it seriously and there is definitely a huge stigma but more so through media outlets - specifially television and film. We've come to recognise mental illness as this creative power for all these artists, when in fact it is actually the reason most artists stop working. There is nothing in the slightest bit romantic about it in any way, shape or form. It is a pain and torment that no one should ever have to go through or think they have to go through because they create art for a living. There's a notion that you have to feel pain to create art.

When I was interviewed for Pitchfork earlier this year I was sick. I was sick. I did that interview before I left for the hospital so I don't stand by half the stuff I said. That was me sick. It's really interesting that people keep quoting that and talking about it when it is someone who is bipolar and about to go into hospital!

Are you hoping to help others who are struggling with similar issues?
The point I am trying to make here is that yes, it is important now to stay strong about my view on where I think we should go as a culture and how we view mental illness but I also don't want it to overshadow my career highlights. For instance - we just did Saturday Night Live. They said I couldn't tour and I played Lollapalooza in front of 8,000 people. Our gig at Madison Square Gardens nearly sold out. I mean, these are things that they said would never and could never happen and because I have gotten healthy and I have worked so hard, I have proven that you can live a normal live and have bipolar. You can be healthy and stable and have bipolar. It is possible. People are like 'wow, he's so chilled out, that's weird he's bipolar'. It's just about informing people and getting them to understand it's not what they think it is, not what television makes it seem. It's a lot more difficult and a lot more painful.

Watch Passion Pit's Saturday Night Live performance of 'Take A Walk' below

What have the reaction of your fans been after getting back on the road?
It feels great. I feel like there is as much support for the band and the new album as there is support for me as a person, going out and doing this. People do recognise it takes a lot for me to do this. That's really nice for that to be recognised - because it's not, usually. Some people don't understand and ask why we cancelled certain shows, I just have to say 'I'm sorry. I had to go to the hospital.' It's so weird. I just hope that people can see i'm working hard and trying to fulfill all my commitments. I never want to have to cancel anything ever again. I want to be seen as reliable and consistant, I don't want to be seen as the artist who 'might' show up and so far it seems like people have been really receptive and I've received wonderful letters and wonderful feedback - increasingly more positive feedback as we move along - and I'm very grateful for all that.

What are your plans for the rest of 2012?
We have this UK tour and then we're off to Mexico for a few days - which is a little bit of a mind fuck, and much better weather! Then we fly back to the East Coast and we do a number of radio shows, because in America commercial radio is very important. You have to play them because they play your music - and it is also an honour to be asked to play. You play with really big bands who are massive and it is pretty fun, but it is the pop side of things that get a little weird. Then we take a month and a half off, before we do a huge tour in February with Matt and Kim. We deserve the break. We've been non stop touring for the past three months.

Passion Pit are currently on tour in the UK. Dates are below. For more information visit Gigwise Gig Tickets.

Manchester Academy (November 16)
Cambridge Junction (18)
Birmingham HMV Institute (19)
London HMV Forum (20)

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.