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Photo: Kelly Fox

Amidst touring for the 10th anniversary of Passion Pit‘s breakout LP, Manners, Michael Angelakos released a left-field, big-feels collaboration with Galantis called “I Found U” packed full of timeless big room reverie. Although he’s dabbled in full-blown dance music in the past, appearing on “Pay No Mind” off Madeon’s 2015 record, Adventure, this Galantis collab was the absolute last thing we expected from him in 2019. “I feel like there’s no music that can spark a particular kind of utopian, euphoric tone than dance music,” Michael said. “You can create this rush, like, a serious, serious, serious rush.” From start to finish, “I Found U” is a refined distillation of that exact rush amplified to the nth degree.

Throughout his, at times, reluctant career as an electronic musician, Michael found the euphoric potential of the medium to be an essential foil to the narrative he wanted to present lyrically that often dealt with his mental health struggles. “Dance music, in general, I think matched the energetic tone that I wish I had and I felt like there was no other way I could tell these stories and explain what was going on in my head than through this music,” he said. “I could’ve shifted into another place (sonically), but when I really got into synthesis and came to understand how synthesizers work, that I could map out and create completely new sounds I understood that my production is essentially electronic.” As a poor college student with nothing but a laptop to make music on, as well as a blooming interest in dance music amongst American undergrads at the time, it’s a medium he fell into despite always identifying as a rocker.

Much has been written about Michael’s bipolar diagnosis, suicidal ideation, and how it was all amplified by his sudden rise to fame after posting his first EP, Chunk of Change, to his MySpace account, which was essentially a love note and apology letter to his then-girlfriend. Chatting with him fresh off the run of the Manners anniversary tour, he seems peaceful, grateful, and downright happy. Below is a video of him being sung “Happy Birthday” onstage last month, and it’s all the more emotional knowing Michael spent most of his 20s certain he’d never make it past 30 and uncertain as to whether touring was safe for him. “I know this record (Manners) had a big impact and I know it changed my life,” he shared. “It did more for me than I’ve ever really given it credit for and so I finally decided to reclaim it. So much of my life recently has been about reclaiming the work, which has been overwritten by narratives I put out there, but the media really ran away with it, about my mental health. And it’s overshadowing,” he explained. “But it was probably the most positive touring experience of my life — no hyperbole.”

“I felt so clear, and everyone was in a good place and the shows were unbelievably consistent from the first one to the last one,” he continued. “So it took me 10 years to get to this point, but it was really nice to get this kind of reception!” He exclaimed with the most sincere excitement, “Even my psychiatrist of 10 years came out to the show and was like ‘Holy shit!’ It felt more fresh and rewarding than it ever felt before; I think at a younger age, I couldn’t really take in what was being given to me. It was way too much too fast to really appreciate.” Now at 32, Michael is beginning to anticipate his next creative cycle because, historically as an adult, inspiration has hit him in massive, uncontrollable bursts.

“I used to write songs nearly every single day of my life from the age of four,” he said. “I was too lazy to learn other people’s songs and thought it was easier to just write my own. I also firmly believed that if I wrote enough songs I’d eventually be admitted into The Beach Boys.” Although he never achieved his childhood dream of becoming a Beach Boy, he said the hype-wave that came crashing down on him after his friends pushed him to put his Chunk of Change EP on MySpace did mess with the flow of his creative output. “My creative cycle started mimicking an album cycle, what would happen is I’d be super creative for a year-and-a-half or two and make a record, and then not be so creative while I went on tour promoting the hell out of it. I’d basically sacrifice every single thing in my life: my body, my relationships, every single thing to promote it, and then I’d crash and have to rejuvenate. That was my life for about four albums.”

“So I think right now I’m in the process of building a new constitution, some new form of how it’s supposed to work so that next time I start feeling creative I can figure out a way of making it sustainable and make it a part of my everyday life again,” he explained. He expects that entering his 30s will naturally carry with it an evolution in how his creativity functions, also understanding that when it happens, it happens. “It’s impossible to make me do something that I’m not ready to do or don’t want to do,” he admitted. I asked about the biggest difference between how he feels being in his 20s versus his 30s, and his response was a resounding “everything,” followed by a lot of neuroscience-based facts about the biochemical changes that occur in men after 30.

“I honestly thought I’d never live to see my 30s; the second half of my 20s was really scary. Now, I can finally take into account how much I’ve done and be proud of it,” he said, attributing that ability to an overall slow-down within the brain. “I’m okay with being alone and learning about myself again, because I never really took the time or got the chance to. I always tell people who go through mental health issues or have conditions that once you get through your 20s, it gets a lot better if you put the work in early on, and I did. And I am absolutely 100 percent feeling the effects of that — my doctor promised me it would get better if I could just hang on and it did. I feel more in control of my life than I ever have before.”

When Michael isn’t in a spurt of uncontrollable creative output, he’s inputting music, books, films, TV, and musicals at what seems like an unfathomable rate. He’s described by friends as a human encyclopedia of music and cultural knowledge: “The stuff I’m into I don’t think anyone thinks is cool,” he laughed, sharing the playlist he put on before Passion Pit’s set each night of this last tour. He said everyone in the band and crew made fun of it because his picks include deep cuts like Annie composer Charles Strouse’s original performance of “Tomorrow” and a piano ballad from the ’60s by an Ethiopian nun called “Mother’s Love.” “I think most interviewers are disappointed when I’m not pointing to a Hot Chip song as some huge influence,” he said. “I think my whole life I’ve been trying to qualify why Randy Newman is such a big influence on me. I know I sound nothing like him! I know it!” Spoiler alert: there’s no Randy Newman songs on this playlist, but I understand his point. “I’m at a place in my life where I know my playlists are just not going to crush, and that’s okay.”

The Galantis collaboration, “I Found U,” was also the fruit of his current lull in creative output after his management suggested he do some features or collaborations. The song was first sent to him in 2016, but it was something he wasn’t in the right place to work on because it was in the throes of making the outrageously brilliant audio-visual album, Merry Christmas Mr. Fields. In case you’ve never seen it, we took the liberty of embedding it below. There’s no better testament to the sheer scope of Michael’s output when the so-called creative faucet is on than this work, a full-blown musical that seems to draw equally from his love of The Beach Boys, show tunes, and historical narratives.

Three years later, he found himself ready to revisit “I Found U,” and as of last month, the final product is finally out in the world. Michael insists he wants to keep his own process pure when it comes to production, even if that means it comes out messy and weird. While he loves to learn from electronic producers he considers to be masters, like Christian and Linus of Galantis, he says he deliberately stays ignorant when it comes to what’s considered to be proper production technique. “I think being naive is probably one of my greatest strengths sometimes,” he shared. “I almost didn’t want to know too much about electronic music when I started to realize I was being cast as an electronic artist. I feel like probably that’s the reason my version of electronic music comes out the way it does, I come at it from a completely different angle.”

As Michael recovers from tour, which he said is the equivalent of running a 10K onstage every night, he’s getting ready for the faucet to turn back on by prioritizing self-care and making sure he has the right people around him. He’s also not taking things too seriously, and the left-field release of “I Found U” seems to be a symptom of that freedom that even he didn’t see coming. In a lengthy, amazing (according to Michael) phone conversation with Christian after he finished the vocal, he said, “We were talking about how we really needed this song to jumpstart our creativity; what we’d been going through the past year plays out in the lyrics and the whole song itself kind of explains where we were personally. It’s almost too weird, it was definitely meant to happen and I’ve had so much fun learning from him.”

He was also quick to reiterate, “I don’t normally do something like this. I really thought the next thing I was going to release would be really Passion Pit-centric and would be whatever my vision was. But then I thought, fuck it, this song is fun. It’s summer and it’s absolutely appropriate and just let go! Michael Angelakos at the age of 29 or 30 would have never done this, but at the age of 32, I’m like, fuck yeah! A lot has changed — I’ve become a lot more flexible and that’s partially because I’ve been gifted with the ability to link with people like Galantis.” Their mutual goal to be able to create what Michael calls a “euphoric, blisteringly beautiful” song is clearly of a certain era of dance music, but it feels timeless at its core. He also wanted it to feel like the entire cast of Annie singing at the same time, and that mission was definitely accomplished. Check out the lyric video below for the full effect.