Interview With Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos and a Neuroscientist
When Michael Angelakos (better known as Passion Pit) met Michael F. Wells, PhD, Wells showed him a neuron, and Angelakos cried. Angelakos had taken the bus from New York to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Wells is a research neuroscientist at Harvard University in the Eggan Lab, after a conversation the two had on Facebook about mental health treatment.
“When I went to his lab I think it was like when I bring people to my house and they see my studio for the first time,” said Angelakos during a conversation with Teen Vogue in April. “A lot of people don’t actually know what neuroscientists do.”
“But that’s our fault,” clarified Wells, as the two began a familiar back and forth about the disconnect between art and science, which had been a center of their focus for the last few weeks. “I think that’s what scientists in general have not done a good job of – explaining our work – and the result of that is we tend to think of science in a vacuum.”
Bridging these gaps — between science and treatment, and treatment and artists — is what the two Michaels have joined forces to do, taking on mental health and the need for conversation, research, and funding as a form of promotion for Passion Pit’s new album, Tremendous Sea of Love, which the two spent April sending to any who retweeted one of their neuro-centric questions, or used the hashtag #weneedscience with input of their own.
The push for conversation crossing through different fields is a vision the science and music duo are hoping spreads further than just Twitter. Angelakos, who’s been open about his struggle with bipolar disorder and recently started an organization to support artists with their own mental health, sees the change in approach to making our way through mental health as necessary to avoid the overwhelming trial and error he’s faced in attempt to stay, as he puts it, at “base fine.”
“I just want to get to whatever….is an effective way to get back to who I was when I was 16 and just kind of doing a lot of stuff,” he told Teen Vogue, noting that he’s tried thirty different prescription drugs over his lifetime. “That state is kind of where I’m just trying to go, that’s zero, and I want to get back to zero for a second.”
For some, art can serve as an introduction to their own mental health, and the way they recognize parts of themselves too private to share with anyone else. A song can be a lifeline, wherein one person you’ve never met tells you in code: “I’m like you too.” Passion Pit, in particular, has always had a penchant for writing out, as Angelakos puts it, what his brain sounds like. With Wells at his side, he’s hoping even more answer back if theirs sounds the same.
“I would actually argue that part of the reason why things like mental health [research] have not been funded by the government over time is because past generations have kind of treated funding of mental health the same way they treat talking about mental health [research],” says Wells. “If we pretend like it doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t exist anymore.”
One problem both see in their field’s approach to mental health is a need for perfection, or, more specifically, a fear of anything un-perfect. Their rough draft approach, both to the album and the movement around it, is meant to shake people out of the idea that one’s brain reaches a point of readiness.
“They told me [talking publicly about being bipolar] was going to follow me the rest of my life,” says Michael on his publicists’ hesitation during the Gossamer days. “And I was like, wait, you’re telling me it’s going to follow me the rest of my life?”
The astonishment, of course, lay in the fact that for Angelakos, there wasn’t a choice between dealing with his mental health forever or not. His decision to go public with the details, he says, has made it easier. A few days after this interview, he live-streamed himself getting transcranial magnetic stimulation, with the hope that showing people what treatment looks like for him will encourage others to find their own.
And while privacy and selectiveness are likely tools in most approaches to self care, both hope the days of being too afraid or ashamed of one’s brain to step out and get help for it are falling behind. On the research side, giving patients the tools and confidence to speak up when something isn’t what they expected from a treatment is crucial, Wells thinks, for the entire system to function better.
“We’re still trying to perfect these things,” says Wells. “And I do think we’re getting closer and closer every day, but if they take our funding, we could lose a generation of scientists.”
Related: Instagrammers Open Up About Mental Health Posts