"This thing always started as Michael's baby," says Passion Pit keyboardist-guitarist Ian Hultquist from the Fillmore in Charlotte, N.C., sounding staunch and not a bit resentful. "It will always be, no matter what."
It turns out the electro-pop group behind the 2009 hit "Sleepyhead" is more of a one-man operation. Singer-composer Michael Angelakos imagines the music, records the albums with synthesizers and directs the four members of his band in live performance.
For Hultquist, that dynamic works just fine. The Chicago native says the band's members understood Passion Pit belonged to Angelakos from the start, and their part came after the creative process had begun.
"As far as the studio goes, that's his territory," he says. "But when we bring the band to the live stage, that's when it becomes a collaboration."
The romanticized idea that all musicians crave the spotlight and demand all the credit for their work doesn't apply to this band. "There was a few months of just sitting around," Hultquist says, while Angelakos worked on Passion Pit's sophomore album, "Gossamer," released this past summer.
"It's kind of a nice thing in a way," he says. "I didn't have to deal with a label, or I didn't have to deal with being in a studio all day. I went out and lived my life and worked on my own projects for a while."
These projects include a trip-pop duo with wife Sofia, called Aislyn, and film-scoring.
"I love film," Hultquist says. "I've always ended up being the musician. So [film-scoring] was kind of my way of mending the two."
He does his share of composing, albeit for independent shorts and student-film projects, and is working on his first full-length independent film, a love story. Meanwhile, with Passion Pit, Hultquist focuses on performing. He says Angelakos occasionally has asked for help in the studio, but Hultquist doesn't know that there will ever be a song "written by Angelakos/Hultquist."
"For me, it's whatever works," he says. "I don't think 'Gossamer' would be the album that it is if we'd all been in the studio arguing about what instrument to put on that song, or how to play this part or sing that line."
So Hultquist, like the three other members of the band, hears the songs after they're finished, and learns enough of them to play them on tour. He says there is little or no improvisation onstage, because Angelakos' compositions are so structured.
The frontman's upbeat melodies sound like themes for intergalactic children's television shows, with epic interludes layering violins over ambient scratching, and his vocals sound natural or distorted depending on the song.
"I think you just get going and do this to make it what he was hearing in his head, which is fine," Hultquist says. "Because what I really focus on is the live show, and how to perform these songs live, and how to push myself to be a better musician."
But it seems like regardless of how much his musicianship may improve, the aspiring film composer would choose Hollywood, if given the chance. "If this band ceased tomorrow," he says, "I'd love to be able to make [film] a career for myself."
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