Passion Pit's Jeff Apruzzese on being on SNL and getting hugged by the dude from Portlandia
Passion Pit began in as a solo project of lead singer and keyboard player Michael Angelakos in 2007. The project quickly fleshed out into a full band that combined a keen sense for upbeat pop melodies with lyrics that didn't exactly try to sugarcoat the complex emotional life and experiences of adulthood. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based act's debut full-length, 2009's Manners, yielded a handful of songs that garnered exposure on shows like Gossip Girl and Big Love, setting the stage for its follow-up.
Last year, saw the release of that album, Gossamer, which gained positive notices and eventually resulted in an invitation for the group to perform on Saturday Night Live. We recently had the chance to speak with the outfit's affable, humble and wryly humorous bassist, Jeff Apruzzese, about that SNL appearance, electric bass versus electronic bass and his constant surprise and gratitude about the small perks granted a popular band on tour.
Westword: When did you get started playing music?
Jeff Apruzzese: I started playing music, I think, the summer going from eight grade to freshman year in high school, when my friends and I wanted to be in a Blink-182 cover band.
Had you seen them at that point?
Oh yeah, that was my friends' and my favorite band. We thought they were the coolest punk rock band ever. And then I discovered real punk rock and thought that they were kind of lame. But that's kind of how I even started playing bass. My one friend, his parents had bought him a guitar for Christmas or his birthday. My other friend, his parents bought him drums. By a process of elimination, I was left to be the bass player. That's how I got stuck playing bass.
What was your band then called?
I definitely had a lot more fake bands than I had real bands. But I think that one was called Banned From the Back Porch. Kind of a play on the word "band." I don't know why we were banned from the back porch. So that kind of morphed into another name called Another Wasted Summer. These are all really, really bogus bands, and we probably had two or three practices, and then we broke up and reformed with the same people and just changed the name to write one or two more songs.
At some point you went to Berklee. What took you there?
I kind of didn't really have much of a game plan after high school. I was more in the mindset of just playing music and surfing and skateboarding all day. Living on the East Coast but acting like I grew up in a southern California beach town. Like every good family, my parents really wanted me to go to college, so I was in community college after high school, and that's when I really started getting into jazz music. I found a sheet lying around at the community college for some guys in a jazz trio looking for a bass player, so I responded to that. I started gigging around the Jersey Shore area with those guys.
Once I finished community college, I figured the next logical step was to continue my music studies somewhere else. Berklee does a really good job of advertising and marketing because I really didn't want to go to conservatory. I didn't really feel like I was good enough, and I didn't really want to play classical music. I applied to a few different schools, and Berklee was the school I really wanted to go to. I got a scholarship to the University of Art in Philadelphia for Jazz Studies and Music Education. I was about to send in my acceptance letter, and then I got another letter that said I got accepted to Berklee, of course, with no scholarship whatsoever, and I decided that was the right thing to do, and I put myself into a good amount of debt.
It was one of those things that whenever I'm talking to my parents about it, like, "Oh, it's so easy when you're nineteen or twenty years old to just sign your name on a piece of paper that says I'm going to owe hundreds of thousands of dollars that you never have the feeling you're going to have to pay it back." Maybe, had I not gone to Berklee and lived in Boston, I may have never met Michael [Angelakos], Ian [Hultquist] and Nate [Donmoyer], and I probably wouldn't have had the opportunities that I have. Everything happens for a reason, I suppose.
Did you meet your bandmates while you were at Berklee?
That's how I met everyone, essentially. Nate was the oldest friend of mine. Him and I played in a band together called the Peasantry. We played in that band together for three or four years before we started playing in Passion Pit.
How did you come to join the band?
Michael had started on his own and played one show. Ian had seen him perform and was interested in cultivating this one man show into a full band thing. The band had only played five or six shows, and this shows how tight knit the music scene in Boston was, but Nate was part of a DJ collective that threw parties called Bass Town. Nate was one of the first ones to get them their first show. I was friends of Nate and that's how we met these guys.
After I graduated from college that summer, their bass player at the time went away for an Americorps kind of job, and they needed someone to fill in for a few shows and that's how I came into play. A lot happened that summer, and I ended up staying with the band. When I started, they had a different drummer and they expressed an interest in bringing in Nate. That's how we both ended up leaving our old band and playing in Passion Pit.
You've obviously been playing electric bass for many years, and likely acoustic basses of various kinds, but you also play synth bass. What do you feel are the merits of both?
I think it's very related to the style of music you're playing. I would say the more uneducated people think that if you're playing bass with a pick, you're not a real bass player. But no, it's just that whatever style of music you're playing [dictates] what approach you take. That's how I look at playing synth bass.
If I'm playing a song that's a real rock and roll song, I'm going to play my electric bass with a pick. If I'm playing a more R&B type of song, I'm going to play my electric bass again but I'm going to use my thumb for a subtle, bass-y attack. If it's going to be something very bass heavy but calls for a bass line that has infinite sustain and an attack that's going to stay there and has no decay, then I'm going to use a keyboard.
Like it or not, you can try as close as you want, and me and a bunch of people I know have tried every solution possible to play electric bass to mimic Moog filters and samples, but at the end of the day, a Moog Model D or a Moog Voyager or a Roland SH-101 sound like themselves, and a 70s P Bass going through a 70s micro synth pedal is going to sound awesome, but it's not going to sound the same. Whatever the song calls for, you use that tool for it.
In October, 2012, Passion Pit played on Saturday Night Live. Will you tell us about that experience?
That was really awesome and in my eyes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There are a lot of things that have happened with this band where I think, "If this band breaks up or no one cares about us after today, I can be happy because at least I got to do this." SNL is definitely one of those experiences. It was super short notice. We'd been talking about it for a while, but we didn't find out about it until it was 100 percent going to happen, which is better because if we had known that it was going to happen for months, I think it would have driven us crazy.
I remember vividly being in Australia in a movie theater watching the movie Looper, and we got a phone call from our manager telling us we were playing it. The way our schedule was lined up is that we flew back from Australia two to three days before we started rehearsing for it. So it wasn't really a lot of time to process things, and it was kind of fast-paced.
But the show is so professionally run, and everyone on the show is so nice and so encouraging and so endearing, it really made me take a step back, where I was nervous and scared to be on set with Bill Hader and Fred Armisen and the other cast members coming to our dressing room and saying, "Oh, we really like your record."
Someone said, "I have your music on my wedding mix for my wedding." That was totally insane. It was just really amazing. It happened so fast I didn't even really believe it happened. I had to re-watch the end credits of it because at the end, while they were rolling the credits, Fred Armisen hugged me and I was like, "Is this really happening right now? Am I going to go home tomorrow and watch Portlandia, and this isn't going to be real?"
You were a Music Business major, did you learn anything at that time, and perhaps during your internship with Kemado, that you apply to what you do as a musician now?
I wish I could say that I was intelligent enough to have taken those things and really applied them to this. But I haven't. I think, though, having studied that at school and pursued other internships, I think a lot about all the costs that go into our show, and I like to be involved. I really actually like seeing settlement sheets from the shows.
I find it interesting to see what it actually costs to put a show on. But I'm certainly not using any of that knowledge to save the world or to save the band. I'm not marching into Sony and being like, "Hey, I remember from my MB-101 class that you can't do this!" Then they're like, "Alright, little boy, I know you have that copy of that Donald Passman book somewhere, but that's ten years out of date now."
In an interview with The Aquarian you did a couple of years ago, and you touched on this earlier, you said that if the band ended tomorrow you'd have no regrets because you got to do this great thing. And that there are little things you appreciate like a coffee machine in your dressing room. Are there any little things of late that have excited you?
I'm still very much on that same level, I guess. I got a compliment from an old friend of mine I grew up with that I saw when I was in D.C. He said, "You're still very much the same person I grew up with and went to elementary school with except you have a beard now." I'm still on that same page. Some bands may say, "We want the local craft beer of your city on our rider." For us it's like, instead of a coffee machine: "We want locally roasted beans in our dressing room."
It got kind of ridiculous at the end of our last tour, though. We had twenty different bags of beans from all over the country that we collected and brought with us. Those little things definitely make me happy. Some venues are totally decked out to accommodate bands, like the NorVa in Norfolk, Virginia. They have a whole rec room for touring bands where it's like foosball, ping pong, a pool table. The third floor has a whole basketball court in it.
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