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Interview with Passion Pit’s Ian Hultquist

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By Rob McCarthy
Photo by Jason Nocito

What started as a one-man project, and further, was simply a late Valentine’s present to one very lucky girl, quickly became an international sensation. Passion Pit is one of the more encouraging success stories in modern popular music. A boy makes music for a girl and ends up making music for the world. With hits like “Sleepyhead” and “Take a Walk,” Passion Pit’s music has risen to great heights on notable charts, has appeared in commercials and on movie soundtracks, and has stuck in the heads of millions of fans across the globe. The brainchild of Michael Angelakos, Passion Pit evolved into a full-fledged band when members Nathan Donmoyer, Jeff Apruzzese, Ayad Al Adhamy, and Ian Hultquist joined up. With one EP and two full-length albums under their belts, the band is poised and ready to bring their live show to fans everywhere. Passion Pit will be performing at this year’s Free Press Summer Festival. FPH recently connected with keyboardist/guitarist Ian Hultquist to talk to him about creativity, success, gear, and music.           

Gossamer did a lot of really great things for you guys. For one, it helped solidify the group as having range beyond your debut releases-which was something that had been looming over the band since its inception. Secondly, it introduced the band to an entirely new audience. How do you feel about the reactions to Gossamer in terms of critical acceptance and the obvious popular appeal of songs like “Take a Walk”?

It’s been really great. When I first heard the songs that Michael put together, I was really impressed and happy. Obviously, I’m partial because I am in the band, but it’s one of my favorite records of the past year. It has been great for us; different people come to our shows and check us out. The crowd ranges from a 15-year-old kid to a 60-year-old dad and everyone enjoys the music.

Your singles are unique, comparatively, to a lot of what is happening in popular music, and your sound is more the leader than the follower. How do you all approach the pop format and how has the band’s collective musical upbringing shaped the way you all write as far as staying original and not conforming to trends?

Michael is the songwriter but as far as playing the music that we want to play, we do what we like, to be honest. We don’t change the way that we play to suit others. We want to enjoy the music that we are playing, so as long as we stay true to that, then we are happy.

We constantly hear from the less-informed public that “everything has already been done.” How do y’all feel about that statement? Where do you stand on that argument?

I come across that from time to time but I’ve also been surprised from time to time. I think there is still so much ground to cover musically. There are only 12 notes in the music scale but unless you are trying to do something that’s been done before, I think there is still a lot left to discover.

Most of the band went to Berklee College of Music. What was that experience like?

Berklee was great; it was an interesting experience. It wasn’t a normal college experience but I am really happy that that’s where I ended up.

So far, what has been the hardest obstacle you all have had to overcome as a band?

Something that we’ve always worked on is making sure we are on the same page, and for the most part we have been. However, when you have so many people working together with different backgrounds and interests, it’s hard to make things work all the time but we’ve come to a place where we all agree and have the same goals.

If you could give any words of wisdom to up-and-coming bands in this decade, what would it be?

Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons-because you love playing music. It’s not an easy job at all. I’ve seen so many people try so hard at it and not get where they want to be, and vice versa. It’s a big gamble in the end but as long as you are happy, that’s the most important thing.

Because of the success the group has had, I imagine you don’t have to worry as much about things like gear and recording costs. Does a level of financial stability hinder the creative process or aid it? For instance, the ability to afford the top-of-the-line gear versus having to improvise and make do.

We still worry about gear because we play live. We try not to use any tracks, [so] we end up touring with a lot of gear. We want to stay true to what we’ve always done, which is playing as much as possible. I think the success has allowed us to evolve and open up more with each record. We never want to repeat ourselves. Monetarily, it does help you explore and I don’t think it has hindered anything.

Have you acquired any new pieces of musical equipment that you are particularly excited about?

I started touring with new digital Mellotron and it’s really fun. I love how the keys go through the whole body; you feel like you are playing a real instrument.

Any bands that you are interested in or excited about that are relatively new or unheard of?

Holy Other, Chvrches.

Guilty musical pleasures?

I’ve been watching the show Nashville on ABC. It’s made me realize how much I like country music.

What is next for Passion Pit?

Lots and lots of touring. We will be touring throughout the rest of the year, pretty much. Hopefully, next year we will be looking at LP number three.

Are you excited to be playing the Free Press Summer Festival?

The last time we were in Texas was some time last year. I’m excited about playing festivals in Texas; I just hope it’s not 120 degrees out!

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