Interview with Jeff Apruzzese of Passion Pit: Darlings of 2009

Few bands have made a dent on 2009 like Passion Pit. Or 2008, for that matter. Formed just out of college in Boston two years ago, the synth-based quintet have been selling out clubs all year long (at least four different times in New York City alone) with material from their September 2008 debut EP, Chunk Of Change, and the May 2009 full-length, Manners. Both albums feature lush synth-pop in quirky, hooky arrangements supporting the trebly near-falsetto of Michael Angelakos that has tapped into the collective unconsciousness of indie critics and fans across the country and beyond.

It’s still sinking in for Angelakos, Ian Hultquist, Ayad Al Adhamy, Jeff Apruzzese and Nate Donmoyer. Sitting in his car waiting for a locksmith to tend to his frozen front door after the recent area blizzard dumped two feet of snow on his parent’s home in Red Bank, NJ, bassist Apruzzese reminisced about the whirlwind year the band has experienced.

Like all hip journalists, I jumped onto Passion Pit’s Twitter feed to see what was going on. Turns out, Apruzzese was basking in the warmth of Songs In The Key Of Life before he was stuck in his car for a half hour.

I read you’re listening to Stevie Wonder this morning.

I am! Yeah, that was me. I woke up and put on ‘Sir Duke,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I forgot!’ I’ve been in like, a total Motown, neo-soul mood for the past week like Temptations, Supremes, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder stuff.

Yeah, you can’t argue with that.

No! It puts you in a good mood all the time, and then aside from that, the musicianship is just retarded; the players on it are just so good.

Did you grow up on Motown?

Not really, I grew up on more of a classic rock background. The first CD my parents ever bought for me was Rod Stewart’s Greatest Hits. They were always listening to the quintessential Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Beach Boys type of stuff. It was always like my dad was always listening to the cool classic rock stuff, my mom was always listening to show tunes, so I got this really weird mixed exposure to music.

Barbara Streisand in Mom’s car.

Oh, totally Barbara Streisand. I actually didn’t really start listening—aside from the Jackson Five—to too much Motown until college. I was really into jazz music, because I’m a bass player, and of course, bass playing in Motown music is just incredible. James Jamerson is like an absolute monster and that was like all the stuff I would listen to to be like, ‘Holy crap, dude is totally vibin’ right now, and like effortlessly.’ I started really getting into that stuff, and now it’s just like, you know, there’s so much music out there, and so much new music coming out that a lot of people overlook, like all this great influence that’s out there, and I’m trying to really get into that and not really pay attention to any new music right now.

Is a stereo CD representation as good for you as seeing a band live?

I mean, yes and no. For me, when I see a band live, and this is how we all kind of approach our live music from the same sense, [that] they are two different areas. I really like it when bands take a departure with their live set and deconstruct things and arrange them in a different way, especially like a band of our nature. A band who, on the recordings, there’s like, anywhere from 50 to 100 layers of tracks and vocals and little nuances of sound you probably wouldn’t know it was there unless you were looking for it. And then you take the live setting, and it’s like, ‘Well we could take the easy way and dump all this on a backing track, and go from there,’ or we can be like, ‘We know the bare structure of it, so let’s fuck around with it and see what kind of interesting layer we can portray in the live setting and make it sound good without it sounding artificial.’

There were technical concerns, I know some of your shows in New York earlier in the year, you were trying to get everything together. In terms of transitioning Manners into a live setting, how much did you change?

It was funny. The record came out and as soon as the record was done recording, we left to go on tour, but we didn’t know the record yet. We were actually supporting Chunk Of Change, so we were going on tour headlining shows, and we were playing seven-song sets and it was kind of embarrassing. We’d be headlining shows with like 28 minutes of material, and so, after that kind of died down, we took five weeks in rehearsal studio and stripped everything apart, because on the record, it’s not a lot of sampling, it’s all vintage synthesizers and real pianos and stuff.

In the studio you have the freedom to be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to play this Jupiter 8 for this one 30 second sample, and I’m going to hop over to a Moog Little Phatty for the rest of this and then go to a Prophet 8,’ just switching back and forth between tons of different things for songs. And for us, we don’t have the resources to have all these synths on stage with us, so it’s all about recreating the sound as well—reprogramming synths with what we had to make it work.