Alum Profile: Ian Hultquist ‘08 of Passion Pit

Passion Pit
Passion Pit. Photo credit: Jason Nocito

Photo credit: Jason Nocito

By Lisa Occhino

In 2007, a couple of Berklee students met a songwriter from Emerson, and they all thought it would be fun to mess around with synthesizers. Flash forward a few years, and the group of friends – who we’ve all come to know as Passion Pit – is headlining the biggest music festivals in the country, performing on Saturday Night Live, and playing Madison Square Garden.

So what happened in between? Passion Pit’s Ian Hultquist sat down with me at Austin City Limits last month to fill me on the band’s journey, the Berklee professor who impacted his career the most, and why he thinks Berklee students should just try to have fun making music in order to have the best shot at success.

Berklee Groove: So how did you meet [lead singer] Michael Angelakos while you were at Berklee?
Ian Hultquist: He was going to Emerson down the road, and I was starting another band with a few friends. We needed a new member, and it ended up that Mike became a mutual friend between all of us – and that’s how we really first met, it was by him coming to play bass and keyboards and sing in the band. And then we just had a few different musical projects and bands from then on, until he started writing Passion Pit music.

BG: Does everyone in the band write together?
IH: Michael’s the songwriter. The way the band started was that he wrote the Chunk of Change EP, and then we all came in… and [tried to] figure out how to play it live. Since day one, that’s really how it’s worked. He’ll go in and write the songs and record most of them, and then we’ll all come together and tear them apart and recreate them for our live show.

BG: What did you study while you were at Berklee?
IH: Film scoring.

BG: Oh, cool! Were there any particular professors that you feel had a big impact on your career?
IH: Sheldon Mirowitz. He was my Directed Study [professor], and I think he was the perfect guy to walk away from Berklee with, you know, once I graduated. Out of everyone in the department at the time, I feel like he knew what was going on currently compared to some of the other faculty members there. [But] when I started [the film scoring major], it was still very new…. I actually just went back [to Berklee] a month ago for the first time in six years, and it seems like everyone there is making a conscious effort to keep with the current times… so it was pretty cool to see that.

“It’s the best job in the world, but it’s still a job. Very much so.”

BG: So you studied film scoring, but was performance another passion of yours?
IH: I had always played in bands. I never went to Berklee with the intention of studying performance, so I never really took any classes on it, aside from guitar classes that I had to take. It was just something that I kept doing… and I was lucky enough to make a job out of doing it.

BG: So how does it feel to now be playing such huge music festivals like Austin City Limits?
IH: It’s been great. Any band that can come to a place like this and play is the luckiest band ever. [Since] we’re all just a bunch of normal guys that happen to [have] fun playing together, we always feel like we’re really lucky to be doing this.

BG: Does it feel weird to see your band’s name at the top the lineup, or are you starting to get used to it?
IH: No, it’s weird. It’s always kind of surprising, like, ‘Whoa, our name is actually on this poster.’

BG: A lot of bands say that their big break was their record deal, or meeting a key person, or coverage in a particular blog. Do you feel like Passion Pit had a ‘big break’ moment, or was it an amalgamation of several things?
IH: There were a few moments…. One of the big first ones was the day I graduated –we had won [Best New Local Act] through WFNX. So I actually left the graduation ceremony and went to the Bank of America Pavilion and we [opened] for Death Cab for Cutie…. And the second it [was] over, we were just back to being us again. But I think that this past year, with doing SNL and [playing] Madison Square Garden in February, it was like, ‘Oh okay, I guess people do actually like this.’

“We all literally started Passion Pit because we thought it would be fun to play synthesizers.”

BG: What’s the hardest thing about being in a band that most people wouldn’t expect?
IH: It’s a very hard job – mentally, physically, it takes a toll on you. We’re really lucky that we’re able to tour with buses and all that, and we’re able to live comfortably, but just not being home and being away from loved ones and being out on the road in a different place every day, it’s really taxing – and it’s more so than I think a lot of people realize…. It is fun – it’s the best job in the world, but it’s still a job. Very much so.

BG: What’s next for you guys after ACL?
IH: This is the big last run behind Gossamer, which is gonna be going for about another month. And then once it’s over, we’re gonna take a little time off to rest because it’s been a pretty intense year and a half, and then we’ll get started on the next record.

BG: So obviously a lot of Berklee students have dreams of playing huge festivals like this. Do you have any advice for them or anything you’d like to share with them?
IH: One thing is that I met so many people at Berklee who were so hungry to make it big, and I was not really that person. I think that the harder you search for something so specific like that, the harder it is to find it. I feel like you should just kind of let things come to you and have fun with it. We all literally started Passion Pit because we thought it would be fun to play synthesizers. There was really nothing else behind it other than, ‘Oh this would be fun, because we’re all guitar players and we don’t really know how synths work.’ So I think the more you can have fun with things, and the more you just kind of do it because it’s something you like to do, the better chance you might have of being a little more successful at it.