ALL EARS When Michael Angelakos first toured Manners, the 2009 debut of his then-rising project Passion Pit, he couldn’t hit the high notes. A side effect of the anti-psychotic medication Seroquel, it turns out, is paralyzing your vocal cords.
Angelakos was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 17 and speaks so candidly about his mental health as to often surprise interviewers. “When I was making this record, I didn’t think I was going to be alive much longer,” he tells me, rather offhandedly, of Manners.
Manners came out on May 15, 2009. Now, Angelakos is taking the album on tour for its 10th anniversary, backed by a crack squad of musicians tasked with performing songs that haven’t been played live in nearly a decade.
“It’s not like I’ve been very positive about touring in the past,” says the New Jersey-born, Boston-based musician. “But it’s jarringly therapeutic and strangely easy and fun getting back in the rehearsal and playing these songs.”
The tour kicks off in Tempe, Arizona on April 30 and includes a San Francisco stop on May 5 at the Masonic. The run wraps up May 25 in Washington, D.C., with Chicago’s Riviera Theatre the venue for the album’s true anniversary.
Compared to the blunt lyrics on later albums like Gossamer and Kindred, Manners is a little more poetic. I asked Angelakos if returning to these songs is easier because the lyrics aren’t so directly reflective of his experiences.
“To me, that stuff actually conjures more specific emotional spaces than the more diary-like storytelling of Gossamer,” he says. “The more abstract and the less on-the-nose I was with the lyrics, the more I feel what I was feeling then.”
Angelakos turns 32 next month. When he released the first Passion Pit EP, 2008’s Chunk of Change, he was 21 and thrust rather suddenly into stardom at the peak of indie pop’s cultural ubiquity, He made the EP as a Valentine’s Day gift for his girlfriend, but friends liked what they heard, and word spread fast around the campus of his alma mater, Emerson College.
The project found enough fans to enable Angelakos to drop out of college and pursue music full-time. But like many bedroom projects airlifted onto the national stage in the post-MySpace era, Passion Pit wasn’t quite prepared for fame.
For one, there was the experience of putting on a façade at shows. (“That’s literally the title of the album—manners.”) In a Pitchfork cover story, Angelakos described playing a packed SXSW set for enthralled Columbia executives before breaking down in tears backstage. He got signed but immediately checked into a hospital after returning from Austin.
In 2012, at the peak of Passion Pit’s success, Angelakos canceled much of the Gossamer tour to seek further treatment. He’s described guzzling liters of liquor a day during the sessions for the record, barely aware of what he was doing, and regularly attempting or threatening suicide.
Then there was the response to the music itself. Passion Pit’s records got a lot of good reviews, including praise from Pitchfork at the peak of its influence. But some music fans objected to the singer’s falsetto. Others dismissed them offhand because their neon synths put them in line with popular bands like Phoenix and MGMT.
Critics even faulted Angelakos for being honest about his mental health. “They thought it was a way of selling the record,” he recalls. “Ironically, it kinda did because it got attention and was important to people.”
But he always had a feeling in the back of his mind that “at some point, people would get it and the people who publicly dismissed it would come around to it.”
Now Manners, as luck would have it, is something of a classic in the indie-pop canon.
Angelakos is excited about Just Like Heaven, the Long Beach festival he’s playing the day before the SF stop, whose lineup is devoted to bands who hit it big around the same time as, or earlier than, Passion Pit—Phoenix, MGMT, Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear. He doesn’t seem too miffed about being considered an act from a bygone era and might even agree with that assessment.
“We were one of the last bands to pop off the way we did,” he says. “That was the end of the music industry as we know it. Calling it an industry now is too much credit. We don’t make CDs anymore. Bands don’t get signed the same way. We were one of the last ones.”
Besides, Angelakos has a fondness for Manners. He calls it his most “misunderstood” record—though he points out that, because he’s not exactly shy about divulging the details, there isn’t much to misunderstand about Passion Pit.
“I’ve always been proud of the fact I finished it,” he says, perhaps implying that he wasn’t even sure how much longer he’d be alive while making it. “But now, I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I pulled off this record.’ It’s pretty ambitious for a debut record.”
Passion Pit continues to release music, most recently 2017’s excellent Tremendous Sea of Love. But with the initial shock of fame gone and the expectations for the project a little less strenuous than when following a hot major-label debut, the singer’s found a little more clarity.
“After turning 30, I’ve been figuring out who I am more than I ever had before,” he says. “I never had time to do that in my 20s.”
PASSION PIT: ‘MANNERS’ 10TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR
Sat/5, 8pm, $39.50+
The Masonic, SF.
Tickets and more info here.