As a high school freshman, Passion Pit was the first band I ever went to see play. My dad even drove me all the way up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin since the show in my native Chicago had already sold out. Four years later in college, when my yet-to-be-diagnosed anxiety disorder drove me out of my dorm room for panicked walks through the West Village, I returned to Passion Pit for comfort as the rest of my life seemed to spiral out of control. Throughout the past decade my knee-jerk answer to the question, "Who's your favorite band of all time?" has consistently been Passion Pit.
Two years later, around the same time I was beginning to accept the fact that I probably wasn't actually straight, Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos publicly came out as gay. The 2015 announcement came around the release of Passion Pit's third studio album, Kindred, at a time where Angelakos' life seemed like it was falling apart. Angelakos had always been vocal about his ongoing struggles with bipolar disorder, at one point having gone on record that he didn't see himself "living very long," and was openly railing against the strains that the music industry places on artists. During this period, Angelakos also announced he and his wife were divorcing. It was a lot to deal with, but things did eventually improve.
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Angelakos took a step back from touring, founded the Wishart Foundation, which helps provide artists with mental health resources, and gave away an album's worth of new songs, called Tremendous Sea of Love, in exchange for tweets in support of science. After years of turmoil, Passion Pit's outlook was a bit more cautiously optimistic but it didn't necessarily feel like everything was completely resolved.
In early 2019, Passion Pit announced a 10-year anniversary tour of their landmark debut album, Manners, prompting me to take stock of how far I've come in the time since. Standing on the rooftop of Pier 17 overlooking an absurdly picturesque view of the Brooklyn Bridge, I'm magically 14 again. From the foot-stomping chorus of the album's energetic opener "Make Light" to the cinematic wash of its closing number "Seaweed Song," my feet seldom came in contact with the ground, my mouth wrapping around every lyric that had been so meticulously etched into my psyche over the course of my life.
However, questions around Angelakos' sexuality still lingered. In the lead up to Manners' anniversary tour, many publications covering the announcement made passing mention of his bisexuality, which was in itself an interesting and deliberate distinction from having initially come out as gay, but no one seemed to go further than that. There was a part of me that selfishly wanted to reconcile my own queerness with this music that had been so formative for me growing up. More importantly, there was an understanding that this was a story Angelakos needed to tell himself. For him, for me, and for all the fans out there listening to "Little Secrets" in their bedrooms still trying to figure out who they are.
Below, Michael Angelakos sets the record straight. He's not.
What has it been like revisiting Manners 10 years later?
It exceeded all expectations, both personally and also for the whole band and crew. It was by far the most fun we've ever had on tour — the most positive experience. I'm pretty vocal about how touring is shitty, these are crazy, stupid circumstances that ask way too much of artists and create all these problems. I had taken time off from touring and then the anniversary rolled around, and all these people were like, "If you're going to go back on tour, what do you need? What's going to make it positive?" and it was actually pretty simple. Approaching it as a 32-year-old, I felt like the elder statesman where I have enough literal experience, and I know my batteries' limit. I was able to finally go back and be like, "this works, this doesn't work," and get to a point where this was all set up pretty well. On top of that, the fan reaction and the fact that almost all the shows were sold-out, it was the most merch we ever sold, it felt like all of a sudden people were coming out of the woodwork. It was proving to myself that it could be a positive experience and it really, really was.
You've always been candid and outspoken about your personal life, especially when it comes to mental health. What's the story behind your coming out in 2015?
I never really got to talk about it that much after it happened. I did talk about it a little bit in this amazing interview with Norman Lear, who was basically the only person to ask me about my sexuality. At that point I was identifying as [bisexual] and it had been a few years since I came out. A few people would throw it in articles but it's always like "he came out then divorced his wife." It's so easy to sum it up and make it seem like this other narrative and I started realizing that was a major problem. I think it should start by saying that around 2015, I was really, really manic. I was operating at a crazy level. I was going through a tumultuous time personally and a lot of this stuff was just resurfacing in a way that was really painful. I have a lot of trauma from my early life, and it was coming up in a way that was totally ripping apart all of the things that had been basically holding my life together. As a child, I remember growing up in a small town and I was in love with a boy and I was in love with a girl and it was just this thing. It wasn't a big deal, I was never called names or bullied like when I moved away. I ended up living in a town where "faggot" was every other word and I became extremely hurt by the idea that no one wanted to be my friend. I was this new kid and everything was "faggot faggot faggot." Suddenly, my idea of love was shattered and I was trying to set these norms. I was hiding it and hiding it, and past traumas in my life made me really want to hide from the reality that I also liked men. At that time I started a band, which was a great way to write about girls and shield myself from bullies. I felt so lost. I was dead set on being heterosexual and never talking to anyone about it, and then it just started slipping away from me.
"As a child, I remember growing up in a small town and I was in love with a boy and I was in love with a girl and it was just this thing. It wasn't a big deal."
How did things change for you after that moment?
I didn't really have a lot of people to talk to about it, but someone once told me, "you're always coming out," and that has never resonated louder to me then over the past however many years. The fluidity, I didn't understand yet. I was proud to be able to confront it and talk about it because it felt like a weight off my chest. Then it was this extremely confusing two years trying to figure out, Everyone thinks I'm this one thing, but am I actually this? I had been putting all my energy into my life's work and never developed a sense of myself. I kept seeing these paradigms shifting, and [I realized] no one needs to necessarily be one thing. It's been a strange journey to try to figure out how to basically develop and become comfortable with myself, while everyone else talks about what I am.
I put it out there and I didn't know how to talk about it or clarify it because it was my personal life. Now I fully understand that I am and always have been fluid since I was a child. That it's something I'm still learning about, that there's no mastery of it. It was a really, really, really, really weird experience. Feeling like, if I talked about it publicly, it'll sort itself out. What kind of person thinks like that? It's taken me years and years to heal from what that did. I was like, "Isn't that crazy? I'm in my late twenties and I don't know what's going on with me. I don't really understand it." Over the last year I suddenly started feeling like this is the way its always been for you. You've never been any other way but open. I really wanted to be part of something. I wanted to be straight or gay, but the one thing about being bipolar is that you're BI-polar. I mean I'm so much more than that, but its a qualifying thing. I can identify with other people who are bipolar and it's helpful. I [came out] in a way that I wish I had more guidance, that I had been in a better state or wasn't going through the divorce and all these other things that people wrongly attribute to the fact that I was also coming out. That was part of it, but that was not the whole reason at all. I felt like that was a little unfair.
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Was it a singular thing or an amalgamation of things building up that pushed you to come out?
It was the latter. When you're in the public eye and you're married and you're writing... I felt like I was stuck in an archaic paradise. I was thinking that I had been fraudulent and I felt like all these other people had figured out their sexuality, which was incorrect. I had this false understanding as to how it worked. It was time for me to take control and I was swinging all the way to some other side. I didn't fully understand what it meant, but then I realized it didn't really matter. It's not like it's untrue, but it didn't tell my whole story. I didn't feel like I was in control of my narrative and all that stuff. So you can imagine how weird it must've been and painful.
After coming out, how did you come to terms with your bisexuality then?
It's hard when people write about me, they say "he's gay" and "he's this" and all these things. Now I'll have my managers or publicists say, "No, he's actually bi," because I'd rather people know I'm fluid or bi or however anyone wants to put it. I'll actually now correct people. I don't think people understand that it changes and that it can be fluid and that I am a more fluid person and that is okay. That is something I never really have been able to stand up for. The reason that I actually wanted to do this interview is that no one's really asked me about my sexuality in that situation and how that whole thing occurred. Some people have asked me to be a part of certain pride things, but I felt like I wasn't there yet. I felt like I'm 30-something years old, shouldn't I know where the hell I am? Isn't that supposed to be the way things are? I thought by now I'd figure it out, but it's like no and I guess that's okay. It's alright to be confused a little bit.
What was your first experience like falling in love with someone outside the heteronormative norm?
I've had so many. My first experience was when I was very young and then I had many over the years. Most of my life I could feel myself get close with certain people in a way that wasn't any different than being in love with someone. I would fight off urges and other things because I was like, "This is not the way I'm supposed to be." I was 19 when my career took off and I was in a relationship basically from the get-go, a heteronormative one. I couldn't really ever experiment or try to see what it would be like. I felt like if I lost the person I was with, my entire life would fall apart. There's just a lot of feelings of guilt and shame that I now no longer feel.
"I felt like I was stuck in an archaic paradise. I was thinking that I had been fraudulent, and I felt like all these other people had figured out their sexuality, which was incorrect."
Does now being comfortable with your bisexuality make you look back at Manners or Chunk of Change in a different light?
Actually, I was way more myself. Even though I was sticking to certain heteronormative guidelines at that point that were almost grilled into my head, I was way freer and radical. This was before I was in a super long-term relationship, but I do identify with that far more adventurous person in those earlier records. Actually tapping back into it, felt like a kind of closure. I think that plays a large role in my increasingly more positive outlook on how I see my future developing with my sexuality. It just sounded so laced up and basically unable to see how much richer life could be if I allowed myself love whoever the hell I wanted to love. I feel like this 10-year anniversary has played a large role in reexamining who I was before I got really locked into, This is the way you're supposed to live your life. This is the role that you're supposed to fulfill. I'm still learning how to talk about it, to be honest with you. I'm sure it's probably even apparent in the way I'm talking to you.
I think it's a constant process of learning and figuring out how to talk about these things.
Before the interview I got emotional about it because I don't talk about it a lot and it has been a really hard two years understanding it all. For some reason it was hard to talk about it before... [chokes up] sorry...
I work in a space where I wait for the right opportunity and try to get a sense for what feels safe. But, for the record, to set the record straight [Laughs] I just... Everybody wants to look like they're completely put together, especially people who are artists and are putting themselves out there in a way that's supposed to be marketable like a product, an entity, a commodity that's supposed to stand for something like a brand. Like I stand for mental health, and I've come out and all these things and suddenly you've checked off a bunch of boxes and you apply to a group of people. But I didn't have an answer for people who asked about these kinds of questions. I was so desperate to want to figure out how to talk about it and then I realized it's okay, I'm still figuring it out. I talk to very few people about it and I don't really date a lot. I don't really go out a ton, I'm mostly a hermit, I'm a writer, you know? It did just make me a little emotional because no one's really asked me in a way that's felt comfortable yet. I appreciate you saying it like that.
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Speaking more as a fan than a journalist, I want you to know your music has personally meant a lot to me. You were the first concert I ever went to see, your music was there when my own mental health was falling apart, and when I was coming to terms with my own sexuality I found comfort in the fact that you were too. This is kind of a full circle moment.
You have no idea how much that means. That was part of the reason why the Manners tour was so emotional. I live in a bubble and it's not like I can go out and be like, "How does my music influence everyone?" I don't know how it plays out in people's lives. You kind of cry out into the darkness with music, and trust in the universe that there are people out there listening and regardless of what numbers or statistics prove, it must go further than that. I always felt like the only thing I really needed to do with my music is just be as honest as I possibly could be. My manager, who I'm working with now, one of the things he told me is, "The craziest thing about your music is that it's just truthful. You couldn't lie if you wanted too." I'm sure people must have detected the questioning and the confusion of it in there. There's tons of allusions to gender and dependency and acceptance buried in the lyrics. When I started becoming a little more vocal about my sexuality, [I thought] people must be picking up on this. It's impossible for me to explain a lot of Manners and these songs and these lyrics and how they work because they're complete coagulations of extraordinarily complicated feelings and absolute confusion. I don't need to have all the fucking answers. In fact, I kind of don't want them. Things change, people change, the answer isn't necessarily set-in-stone and that's fine.
"I've always hoped that my music would make sense to people like me. I've always made music for people that I've wanted to be friends with."
After coming out, did you end up connecting more with the queer portion of your fan base?
I've never really known how to do that. I'm sure you can tell right now I'm not awesome at social media and I think that's for the better. I started getting more and more messages from people about LGBTQ-oriented things and I started sensing this all does resonate with people who are in this community. But I've never really known who I resonated with. I know that I have a lot of fans that are very different. If you go to a show there's like bro dudes, young kids, it's all over the place which I think is really amazing. I'm not as good at understanding who my fan base is, but like I was saying before, some of us get it. That's the truth of it.
Is there anything else you wanted to get off of your chest?
I feel like I got a hell of a lot off my chest. Probably like the most I've gotten off in a really long time. I really appreciate the conversation. I've always hoped that my music would make sense to people like me. I've always made music for people that I've wanted to be friends with. That's why I started making music, to connect with people, literally like in my dorm room and then it became this larger thing. I think this is part of my journey, figuring out who really listens to my music. After 10-12 years, you start to really understand that stuff.
Photography: Jean Claude Billmaier