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.