Last summer, Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos announced he’d be taking a break from being a “commercialized artist” in order to devote more time to his well-being and the launching of The Wishart Group, an advocacy company whose mission is to support musicians by providing them with legal, educational, and healthcare services.
“Protecting health is the first step in maintaining a culture’s artistic output,” wrote Angelakos, who for years has been open and honest about his own struggles with bipolar disorder and depression. “The risks associated with being a commercialized artist and embarking on a typical album release, like endless promotion and touring, have nearly killed me.”
In November, however, Passion Pit announced a 2018 North American tour in support of his latest album, Tremendous Sea of Love. The trek, which began earlier this month and ends the first week of February, came as a bit of a surprise to fans, who figured Angelakos wouldn’t be playing shows anytime soon due to his plans to scale back and step away from the limelight.
Now, a recent interview with The Independent has revealed the reason for Passion Pit returning to the road so soon. Pure and simple, Angelakos needed the money to survive. “I need money to be able to afford my treatments, to be able to afford the myriad costs of living with my disorder that have nearly ruined me,” he said.
Consequence of Sound reached out to Angelakos for further comment on the tour and his medical costs. In our lengthy chat, Angelakos and I discussed the significance of mental health awareness, for which he’s long been an advocate.
“I will say that my life hasn’t improved since becoming open about it, I haven’t seen better treatments, stigma hasn’t changed, the suicide rate has increased, so the brutal reality of it all has maybe never been more important to share,” admitted Angelakos.
We also talked about how difficult it is for artists like him to find health coverage in our “absolute train wreck of a fractured system.” “I know lots of musicians that just look for insurance just like anyone else that freelances, and that’s why the ACA is so important for us,” he said. “I guess what we’re missing is drugs without crippling side effects and more diverse long-term care without the astronomical costs.”
On the topic of the industry, Angelakos called it “so archaic and obviously unhealthy that we can now prove that they, in fact, exacerbate or *create* these issues,” adding, “It’s like they’ve forgotten about the people that create their product.”
Angelakos acknowledged that being on the road probably wasn’t the best place for someone in his condition, but says it “doesn’t make the tour less sweet.” In some ways, it might even help with his disorder. “After a manic episode, you’ve got to rebuild your sense of a schedule in every sense of the word. Eating, showering, sleeping — you’re just a mess, you’re rebuilding your entire life. So, instead of just complaining about it, I am just trying to use this tour in the most positive way, and that’s in multiple ways.”
He’s also hoping that by being upfront about the circumstances of the tour, other artists will feel encouraged to come forward about their own health issues. “And hopefully, this helps artists become more open and honest with their fans. I can’t imagine the fans being anything but grateful and respectful for feeling like they don’t need to be lied to.”
Read the entire illuminating interview in full below.
At what point did you decide that, financially, you’d need to continue touring in order to cover medical costs? How difficult was that decision to make?
There’s this thing with artists and their brands where the artist’s personality is now a persona, shrouded in such specific “brand-like” qualities that throw up red-tape everywhere, that then makes something like being honest about financial situations more than just gauche. The honesty of an artist who is in a particular financial situation tends to create a negative marking almost, and then an awkward perception that would make the artist seem less successful or powerful, or it would signify a “snowflake” of an artist merely looking for sympathy. I know for a fact that what I’ve stated so far this year in regards to my financial situation has been greeted coolly. It’s a bit of an embarrassing situation to a certain degree, of course. But the real reason I am in this situation, at least what it boils down to, is a neurological disorder. It’s something that I know very well was the cause of it all, but unfortunately, most people don’t see that, and most people don’t really care or know how to respond. Many other factors could be pointed to, but the only reason those factors are or were there at all is again because of the disorder.
My feeling is that we have this really terrible understanding of mental illness and the people that speak openly about it. We believe they are safe, they are away from harm and that they are above it. This is one of the many problems with advocacy, but it’s one of the hardest things about advocating for mental health while living with a chronic mental illness, a neurological dysfunction that is not about cures but treatments. And one of the first things you’ll read about Bipolar Disorder I, in particular, is not just about the mood swings, but the importance of protecting patients with it because of the devastating effects it can have financially. Some of the most famous people who have spoken about this issue have talked about it, though they have spoken about it in the past tense. This is my life, this is a hard truth, and this is what living with bipolar disorder does and has done to me over and over again. In 2012, I wasn’t just afraid of the backlash that was building in regards to my becoming more open about the disorder. I was going to go bankrupt, I was in the hospital and broke. I didn’t start making money from that touring for months. The timing couldn’t have been worse. This time, it *was* worse — and it’s not the fault of my doctors or my friends. It certainly won’t get worse, in my opinion, if someone with a platform uses the platform to talk about their life honestly and simply does their best.
I already have been doing so, but not entirely, I admit. I’ve always tried to hide a great deal of it. At a certain point, I’ve gotten so deep into being open about the illness, I stopped thinking about whether something would be “too much” as that would be very clear to me, there are certain things that are off limits. But since my work has started turning more towards this topic and the development of new treatments, better ways of discussing it, and changing our perceptions of those with the illness, I know what and what not to share. I will say that my life hasn’t improved since becoming open about it, I haven’t seen better treatments, stigma hasn’t changed, the suicide rate has increased, so the brutal reality of it all has maybe never been more important to share.
Had you considered other options that were perhaps less physically taxing — something like a GoFundMe/crowdsourcing campaign?
Yes, and despite what I’ve said, I just don’t think means of raising money like that are good for me. I’m the kind of person that works a lot. I worked a lot and made a ton of products that could’ve helped me make money. I tried to get jobs. I attempted to help people with other projects. I kind of tried to do everything but tour. But this is what puts me back in the picture and in a way that people have come to understand me. It reminds people that, yes, even without an active record, without the push of a record label, without massive amounts of press, I can do a national tour and sell out nearly every venue. It reminds me of this as well, which has helped me a lot. I can barely describe how appreciative I am of the fans and everyone who has been coming out.
But on top of that, I can never just do something and not try to get something else out of it — in the right way. I need to kill multiple birds with one stone, and I thought this was a good opportunity to maybe start pushing some pilot projects for Wishart. I also promised people I care deeply about that I’d do this, and their argument was that it would make me feel better to be around friends and get back into a schedule. After a manic episode, you’ve got to rebuild your sense of a schedule in every sense of the word. Eating, showering, sleeping — you’re just a mess, you’re rebuilding your entire life. So, instead of just complaining about it, I am just trying to use this tour in the most positive way, and that’s in multiple ways. Could the financial side of things have been avoided given how much work I made in the last two years? Yes. No one seems to have paid much attention to my output in the last few years until just recently, or maybe I was terrible at sharing it and didn’t understand that. People could have helped me financially, but maybe they would have if I hadn’t been manic. That sounds backward, but it’s hard for people to respond to people who are manic. But I also want people to see a person with a severe mental illness be high-functioning and work through it, not just because they can, but because sometimes that’s what we should do. Is it sustainable? I’m not so sure. But I’m still pretty young and I really want to do everything I can to earn my keep and use this platform correctly while I have it. I think that’s the responsible thing to do. If it ever got too dangerous, I’d pull the plug, but I’ve used the last episode to be more specific so we can avoid that.
I’ve had firsthand experience dealing with what at times can be an incredibly unhelpful and unforgiving health insurance system here in the US. I’m sure you’ve come across similar hurdles while launching and operating The Wishart Group. For those unfamiliar, what’s it like being a musician trying to get coverage for mental health here in this country? What is our system lacking when it comes to addressing and providing care for those affected by mental health disorders?
Unless you’re on SAG-AFTRA, which means you’re a singer, you look to the American Federation of Musicians. But AFM is decidedly a joke when it comes to this because you have to qualify by forfeiting a portion of your income to get probably one of the weaker health insurances in media (at least to my knowledge). I know lots of musicians that just look for insurance just like anyone else that freelances, and that’s why the ACA is so important for us. It helps young people who entered a jobless job market. To be honest, most young people, not just artists, do not have access to good doctors, or that’s what gets circulated. There’s the story of a person having to try doctor after doctor until they find a doctor that they like that, and that’s really hard to do. You need a lot of time, patience, and understanding of what you need from a doctor, which of course no one really tells you about and no one seems to help with, least of all the doctors. Sometimes social workers can help with this, but that’s another stop. It’s laborious, and in an environment that is all about being available for work and having the time to take jobs when you can, nothing could seem less attractive than the mere idea of this. And then there are tons of others complicating issues such as stigma itself, then the self-stigma that destroys the will to push through for better help, and then the obviously dangerous behavioral patterns that have or are developing while trying to find the right doctor. And many people just assume that a pill or working out alone or a mood-tracking app will suffice — it’s a whole slew of things that are required, really. And right now it’s just an absolute train wreck of a fractured system. On the subject of mental illnesses first and foremost, I have the most lethal neurological disorder of the disorders we talk about. It is chronic. It is the most expensive by far, it is a lifetime of attempting to find medications and treatments to make you feel like you can trust yourself let alone other people can trust you. The stigma is not just in other people, it is in the medical world as well. Scientists have yet to find biomarkers for bipolar disorder, so there’s this whole “little is known” about mental illness that drives me up the wall because if that was the case, why have I taken over 30 medicines, done 3 different types of treatments, and subjected myself to incredibly invasive and humiliating situations to regain social credit that people who aren’t perfect and have problems too have instantly? The system is a drug-heavy one because it is so expensive and that’s what has sort of worked in the past, but as we progress, we see that the structures we currently have aren’t at all adequate at keeping people stable and healthy over the long run. I guess what we’re missing is drugs without crippling side effects and more diverse long-term care without the astronomical costs.
In your interview with the Independent, you said that the circumstances don’t “make the tour less sweet,” but acknowledge that the road is probably not the best place for someone in your condition. At the end of the day, I imagine the tour will feel different for you than those in the past? It might feel different for fans who will know the circumstances surrounding the tour, too — are you worried about that?
I should start by saying someone with my condition. Imagine this person with a pretty well-established mood disorder, with years and years of experience with it (good and bad), being the keystone of a very large entity. Many people depend on me: my band, my crew, my managers, the people who buy tickets to shows, the labels, etc. It’s a lot of pressure to begin with. Always has been, always will be, and I cannot say that just because of that I did not necessarily know what I was getting involved with when I entered this industry. I barely understood my illness then, and even if I did I’d probably have thought that the world would get easier for people with what I suffer from or that the industry would become better at handling it. Obviously, neither of those things have occurred, and there’s a real reason: someone healthier might come along. Except the problem is that the industry and its practices, in general, are so archaic and obviously unhealthy that we can now prove that they, in fact, exacerbate or *create* these issues — studies have been linking to this reality for years, and more recent ones very clearly indicate this. Imagine an industry that hasn’t done a thing about that — what does that mean? It means that it’s financially not in their best interest to invest in the health of the people that create and produce their “products” because, well, it has a history of not doing so and not being held accountable for it. So why change now? It’s like they’ve forgotten about the people that create their product.The tour feels kind of the same as the other ones except that people treat me a little differently. I continue to become increasingly outspoken on the health and wellbeing of not just artists but the individuals that tour with us — the tech’s, the engineers, all touring personnel. It hits everyone. There’s a mutual respect that I don’t think is always shared but one must understand that we’re all putting on a show every night, not just me. And the people around me go through a lot, too — they tour longer and harder than I do. And this is how they make their living, and I wouldn’t be able to help myself in this current situation without them. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to look out for each other, and I think that’s generally been the feeling on this tour. I sensed a bit of worry from my fans, but I could lie and just make it seem like everything is fine like I have before and cause some weird cognitive dissonance, which I’ve never enjoyed. If I actually have nothing to be ashamed of, I would never worry about how my fans felt. I would hope they’d be happier to see me because of what I’ve shared, and if anything were to happen to the tour, which because of my openness now I highly doubt anything would happen, I feel like they’d understand. Most of these artists are lying. I bet you they don’t want to lie, I bet you they wish they could be honest. And hopefully, this helps artists become more open and honest with their fans. I can’t imagine the fans being anything but grateful and respectful for feeling like they don’t need to be lied to.
Do you worry the tour might lead to further health issues?
Yes, of course. But I can say that I worry that literally all tours, as they are currently run in an over-saturated touring environment, with record sales plummeting and few people making money off of anything other than touring, that will lead to health issues or further health issues. But I am making a concerted effort to learn and build something useful out of this tour to prevent that. It’ll take time but you have to start somewhere.
How do you prepare — mentally, physically, etc. — for such a tour? How do you ensure that it doesn’t lead to more health issues?
I kind of didn’t for this one. I didn’t have time. I was home recovering from the ECT sessions, and it took a few weeks to adjust to the meds, and then I was back on the road. I am actually kind of amazed I was able to pull it off. Again, just because one can, it doesn’t mean one should, but I can’t say I wasn’t pleasantly surprised by how quickly I kind of got int it. The shows are a bit more exhausting than usual but I’m also older. I take my medicines, I sleep, I drink a ton of water, I eat at the appropriate times, and I remain sober. For the time being, that’s about the best I can do.