Multi-instrumentalist Ian Hultquist, of electro-pop outfit Passion Pit, is the kind of guy that's comfortable and secure in his role as a sideman that carries out the artistic vision of the band's creator and public face, Michael Angelakos. Since 2007, when Angelakos asked him for help building something greater than a self-made EP, Passion Pit has been a steady touring presence, and a consistent name on year-end top 10 lists.
Now that the band's second full-length, Gossamer, has been released, it's clear Passion Pit is an entity with two divisions. Imagine a corporate scenario where everyone knows exactly what their role is. At least in this current age of Passion Pit, such a description isn't an insult; it's a diagram of the basic inner-workings of a band of friends that understand what they need to do to accomplish the greater goal. There's the recorded product division, and given that Angelakos recorded Gossamer completely on his own, it's safe to say the he's the head of that company. But the live, on-stage product division is a much more collaborative one.
When it comes to turning tunes Angelakos has created into songs for their live set, Hultquist explains the process is a methodical and democratic one.
"On the live side of things, we're fully a band and we all have a say, and we work together to see how things fit together," Hultquist says over the phone. "It's very collaborative and it's also a deconstruction process. With "Constant Conversations," we had to really experiment with the version on the record, because it wasn't working live. It takes a bit of patience to figure out what works for all of us."
Hultquist quickly showed his dedication to Angelakos' vision when he went from a guitar player to a multi-instrumentalist. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hultquist simply made the practical decision to diversify his artistic portfolio.
"Originally, we weren't a band, really," he says. "Mike had made his Chunk of Change EP, which was based around electronic music. When he wanted to get a band started, he knew that we had a history of playing in other bands together, and we called some of our go-to guys that were friends of ours to bring in. We spent the whole summer learning how to play those original songs live. It took me months to learn how to play one song on the keyboard. I just love playing music, and I've always wanted to be a great piano or keyboard player. It's been a struggle, but now I'm the first person to jump in on keyboard."
Angelakos has always been the public face of the band when it comes time to promote a new album, and he's a charismatic presence on stage, as well. For that reason, Hultquist recognizes that his more subdued personality and pragmatic approach create a symbiosis with the frontman.
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"I think being someone that's pragmatic is something that you need to have," he says. "For Mike, if he had a larger, practical side to him, then Passion Pit songs probably wouldn't be what they are now. For me, I can help reel things in on-stage and he trusts me. It's important to have someone in the band that has a realistic touch on what's going on and what can be done."
Of course, practicality and sensibility in the creative process are traits any long-lasting band can benefit from, but at some point, the group's members must be able to take their places, set aside egos and personality conflicts and perform. Hultquist believes they all must be fully invested in the artistic vision of Angelakos, and committed to a life as a cohesive unit when they're hitting the road.
"I love Michael's music, but I take a business-like approach to how I listen to new songs and figure out how they're going to work in concert," he explains. "This is a tough job. Everyone thinks, 'Oh, rock star, that's fun!' And it is fun, but it's also taxing emotionally and physically. It'll chew you up. If you care enough, though, you'll have the strength to carry on even when it gets tough."