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Passion Pit looks beyond electro-pop

Given that Passion Pit's rising star in the dance/electro-pop genre began rocketing thanks to the single "Sleepyhead," it's only appropriate that when The A.V. Club caught keyboardist Ian Hultquist over the phone recently, he was still in bed, jet-lagged from a European tour. Hultquist has every right to be tired. Although the Boston band began as a four-song Valentine Day’s gift for lead singer Michael Angelakos’ girlfriend, it quickly blossomed, releasing the 2008 EP Chunk Of Change and becoming a fully rounded live act with near-constant touring. Passion Pit released its debut full-length, Manners, in May to general critical acclaim, and plays Lollapalooza today. Hultquist talked to The A.V. Club about Passion Pit’s developing sound, and what it would play as a cover band.

The A.V. Club: Why did you want to join Passion Pit?

Ian Hultquist: The only reason I asked Mike if he wanted to start a live band and that I wanted to play with him was because I really liked the music. But I didn’t think that everyone would like the music, you know. [Laughs.] I mean, he started it as a half-joke, just for fun. The reason we started playing and learning the songs is because we were bored and wanted something to do. Before that, I was in a slew of different bands, but I was really into bands like Wilco and Andrew Bird. I went from folk to indie rock to this almost noise, avant-garde jazz. So it was a whole slew of things, never the electro-pop. That was something new.

AVC: On record, Passion Pit favors complex, layered production—how do you change that for the live show?

IH: It’s definitely not us sitting there playing along to some tape. It really is us playing the instruments, re-arranging things to make it work better live. Take a song like “The Reeling”: I think we took out the bridge entirely and changed it around a little bit because we thought people would respond to it better live. For Manners we had a really hard time, because we all love the record but when it came to playing it, not all of it worked just like that.

AVC: How was the transition from recording Manners into touring?

IH: It was crazy. Mike and [drummer] Nate [Donmoyer] finished and literally the very next day we went out on our first U.S. tour. That was back in January, and we didn’t get into serious rehearsals for Manners until April or May. I think there were only two or three songs from Manners we were playing [at the beginning of the year.] At that point we only had Chunk Of Change out and everyone was complaining that we only played 6 to 7 songs live, but what else are we supposed to play?

AVC: You could have become a cover band.

IH: [Laughs.] We have covered songs in the past and they are always kind of strange. In our first show we played a John Cale song, "Gideon's Bible," as well as Fleetwood Mac's "Gypsy" and "Everywhere." We haven’t played those in over a year, but there’s always talk about bringing some more cover songs in. We’ve talked about more Fleetwood Mac. If we cover a song, Mike is really strict about not doing anything too current—it would have to be from the '80s or early '90s and there would probably be a long discussion that would last for days before we decided to do it.   

AVC: Do you expect Passion Pit to evolve away from the electronics into more organic instrumentation?

IH: I think so. I don’t know what it's going to sound like at all, but I feel it’s something we all want to do. The reason Chunk Of Change was all-electronic was because Mike did it in his bedroom, and he didn’t have very many keyboards. All he had was [audio editing program] Ableton and his computer. Then we went to do Manners in a studio full of pianos and guitars and organs where we were able to take on new responsibilities, and I know we all want to do that. I am always trying different keyboards to get a more natural keyboard or organ sound instead of having a synth. And then I have my guitar, which I try and sneak into as many songs as possible.