Ian Hultquist is a member of Passion Pit who has garnered serious attention with their recent EP release, Chunk of Change.
Epilogue: So, for those who don’t know, tell us a little about Passion Pit and your involvement with the group.
Ian Hultquist: We’ve been together since about June last year and it kinda started where Mike had been putting this group together, and when I say group, basically a group of songs, the idea of being an artist called “Passion Pit.” The whole thing was kinda a joke to begin with. What happened was he played a show in late April at his college. It was just him dancing around stage with a laptop. I was like, “this is cool, but it could probably be a lot better.” So my role started as coming up to him, and I knew him for a long time, we had already played together in two or three other bands, and being like “these songs are really, really good. They could be even better live, if you wanna do it.” At first he was like “Eh I don’t know if I want to do that,” kinda not that serious of a thing. But the more he thought about it, the more it came together and the band started forming.
How long have you played in your current formation?
Since August. We had an old bassist and drummer when we first started but they left in the summer.
We started the project in April 2007…
So there’s a lot of hype surrounding both the Chunk of Change EP and the upcoming full length. Where are you in that process and will any of the new songs make it into the upcoming tour’s setlist?
The full length is almost done. We’ve been working on it really hard. It’s being done in New York where Mike and Nate have been staying there the entire time with our producer. Everyone else has been coming and going from Boston, which is where I’m at right now, doing our thing on it. But basically they’re mixing it right now and it’s being mastered in a week and a half. And it’s going to come out May 12. So the album’s almost done. And after that we really just start our tour. We’re still pushing Chunk of Change, because a lot of people still haven’t heard it. It’s getting popular and people are starting to hear about but not that many people know it yet. So we’re really going to push that. Then, in May, the new album comes out. I think it’s May 12th.
With this tour we are going to start bringing in a couple new songs, I think, so people start hearing where we are going to push ourselves to.
What is your strategy for the live show? Are you trying to craft a live identity or are you just trying to get the music out there as clearly as you can?
When it started, the main thing was we wanted to get the songs out there but we also really want to have fun playing. The thing we always say is that if we’re not having fun with this then why do it? For our live show we really try to make it fun for everybody. If you see us, we always like mess up and do stuff like that, we love doing that. For us it’s pretty much just having a good time and trying to make an impact on people when they hear our music because we hope that we play well enough when we don’t mess up that it sounds pretty good. So that’s what we’re still pushing for. If we’re playing we obviously want to get the music out there, but it’s really for us having a good time and making sure people have a good time and want to come see us again.
Do you ever think this is all happening too fast?
There’s been a couple moments that I remember, it’s really just been like “Ohmygod. Ohmygod. this is coming on way too fast. But for the most part we push along with it, and I can’t really say anything’s happened too fast, because it’s just happening the way it is and you just kind of expect it to become one way or another, so I’d say that everything that has happened has been great, and it’s just surprising because we don’t expect it and everything has been really progressive, like every month there’s a set of new things that come up, a new set of worries to come up, a new set of opportunities. I feel like we’re trying to help ourselves grow with it as musicians and as a band, so I’d say that we’re handling it pretty well, we’ve been trying to push through it and just accept whatever comes at us.
Had any moments where Prince came back stage or anything?
No, I don’t think I’m there just yet.
I mean, there’s been a couple times, and it might not that be that huge of a thing, because we were playing at a college with Broken Social Scene, just the fact that I was sitting behind the stage watching Broken Social Scene. For me, it was just unbelievable. There’s been times like that. The Henry Fonda in LA, just because of the setup it has. It just feels really big. So, I’ve had moments where I feel like I’m really coming into new places here, which I love. But, I don’t have a Prince attitude yet.
Your 2/4 show at Bowery Ballroom has been sold out for some time now.
That was kinda unbelievable when our manager told us that. I was just like, “Whaaaaaatttt?” It’s a great venue. I’ve only been there once.
What dates are you looking forward to the most on the upcoming tour?
The two big things for me—I’m from Chicago—we’re playing there at Schuba’s which is huge for me because I’m probably gonna have every family member I know there. So I’m excited about that one. And the other thing is I’ve never been to Europe before. I’m ecstatic—I’ve been waiting for this my entire life. And playing music too? It’s going to be amazing.
Back to the record real fast…what does it sound like?
It’s mainly new music. It’s stuff that no one’s going to have heard it before. As far as EP songs…I think we’re going to have to wait and see. It’s a question of whether that’s going to happen or not. But, I can say that it’s all new music. It’s going to sound like a completely…I don’t want to say completely different band from the original EP, but it’s gonna sound like this band has progressed a couple years since that came out. I say Mike’s songwriting, even just the sound of his voice, has really, really matured, he’s really taken control of it. I’m impressed when I hear it. The way we did it was the same way we did the EP. He has these songs and he’s forming them in the studio and we come in and give our two cents and do what we can. But Mike is a songwriter. When I hear them I’m really impressed. I’m hoping that’s what comes across to everyone else too.
What kind of music do you listen or talk about when you’re with the band?
That’s a hard question because everyone in the band has their own thing going on. Nate is an amazing DJ that goes by the name of Shuttle, so he’s always into electronic music, knows the newest stuff coming out, Jeff has an all-around indie feel of whatever is new coming up, and he’s really good about all the bands too. Ayad has been starting to produce a lot, so he’s into, he was listening to Little Boots the other day, stuff like that coming up. And Mike just knows everything, the most obscure things I’ve never heard of before, because everyone in the band will be talking about someone, and I’ll have no idea what they’re talking about. I like certain types of music—I try to venture out but I’m really critical. I think it’s music school’s fault—it’s made me so that I can only hear 30 seconds of something and I’m like “eh, ok, I’ve heard it.” I’d say favorites for me, definitely Wilco and Andrew Bird. They probably stick through as my favorites.
Do you listen to older music?
I do. I’m really open to anything. When I say I don’t listen to a lot of stuff, it’s that I give everything a chance—I’m listening to a lot of stuff but I usually don’t pigeonhole myself into listening to one record on repeat. I used to do that when I was a kid, like listen to an Incubus record fifty times before I listened to anything else. But now it’s kind of random songs or whatever comes on. I’ll use the Genius thing on iTunes and just see what comes up.
Do you think that’s attributable to the music-distributing power of the Internet?
Absolutely. It’s hard to stick to one thing. I will say when In Rainbows came out a year ago I definitely did listen to that a couple times before I listened to anything else. Radiohead’s definitely a band for me that’s always gonna be up there.
One record I’ve had on repeat is the new Animal Collective.
I was listening to them a lot during the summer, especially when we were starting to think about live sets. It’s funny that, you know, they just like hit sample boxes the entire set. But it’s still so impressive and so impactful. I was thinking about that a lot. When we think about how we want to revamp the set, if we want to change anything. It’s cool to find bands that give that same thing that you want to bring to people.
What does the studio setup look like? What kind of equipment are you guys using on the road?
In the studio, there’s a lot of stuff. So many different kinds of synthesizers lying around that come and go. There’s actually a lot of piano that’s come through, upright and grand pianos. There’s going to be a lot more organic instruments on the record. There’s live drumming on every song too which, Chunk of Change is all samples and all that. And live what we usually do, there’s like five keyboards on stage. I have the easiest setup because I have a keyboard and I play guitar, which is going to start coming through more. Ayad has a pretty crazy setup with two synths and a mixer and an MPC Sampler. For the most part I think our live setup’s going to stay the same if not grow a little bit, like I might have two keyboards now. I think we got the formula right for our live set and we started doing the live songs and I don’t think it’s going to change much. Nate also does backing tracks in certain songs—it’s obvious when he does it—he’s not trying to sneak it around. He also plays off having the backing track but plays live drums on top of it.
Do you borrow any production tricks from songs you like or “rephrase” another song?
Most of it is stuff Mike’s had floating around in his head for years. It’s funny because he can somehow like shape you songs that sound like he just wrote it, but I think he’s had a couple songs that he actually wrote for a musical when he was a kid. It’s mainly that. If we ever listen to other artists it’s because we want to get the feel of a song. Or, backing vocals—“we love how they did it there.” It’s having different elements come in. But it’s never anything very direct at all.
Do you trust the creative dynamic you’ve set up between one another?
I do. I think that it’s something that’s always going to be evolving though. What I think would happen, what I would like to see happen, is that the next record everyone starts coming together more. And I think that after about a year and a half of touring it’s going to make sense for that to happen. As far as creativity, I think Mike’s always going to have it no matter what. I think that later on it’s going to turn more and more into a band, as opposed to a songwriter and then a band. He’s always going to be at the forefront of everything which is what makes us work.
I had a friend come up to me and say, “Passion Pit is SO Brooklyn!” which is interesting because the band inhabits Boston. Why do you think that happens?
I think it happens the same way that I do that. Like I said a couple minutes ago, I over-criticize everything when it comes to music. I’ll hear something and say “ok that’s that band, and that band, and that band, I’ve heard it before, I don’t need to hear it.” So it’s just the way that people are, and the way everyone listens to music nowadays. It sucks and it gets annoying. But I understand because I do it myself. I think it’s funny to say that we’re so “Brooklyn” because we don’t live in Brooklyn. I can see how we can sound like other bands that come from Brooklyn, and everyone loves putting us up against MGMT, which is fine because nowadays, unless you can compare music to someone else you usually don’t understand what it is. So if someone says, “Oh I’ve never heard this before,” I’ll be like, “Well I don’t want to listen to it.” But if someone says, “Oh, this band sounds like MGMT,” then, “Ok, I like them, let’s give it a listen.” I mean, I don’t mind it, but then I hate it at the same time. It’s kind of a funny thing that goes on. I do think that after the full length comes out that that comparison might drift a bit because I think it definitely goes away. Because it sounds further away from MGMT and Chunk of Change than anything else.
What’s your favorite Bob Dylan record?
I’m probably one of the more Dylan guys out of anyone in the band. My answer is Blood on the Tapes. All the bootleg tapes from Blood on the Tracks…
I like all Dylan for the most part. I’m obsessed with Dylan and The Band, which is one of my huge, huge influences with myself, playing music. Those songs, I just feel that he comes through as a songwriter best on those. There’s a couple different versions of a couple different songs on there, and they just keep changing and they just keep evolving and for him I feel like it never stops. After I heard that album, it just made sense to me.
It’s a toss-up between “Dig a Pony” or “Day in the Life.” I feel bad for the other songs if I say one is better than the other. I’ll say those two definitely stand about some of the rest.
What are your goals for this next year?
Play as much as possible. Make as many people happy with our music as we can. That’s a hard one to answer.
I think you answered it perfectly.
Passion Pit Interview
Photo by Elizabeth Weinberg