Jeffrey Apruzzese and his wife Paige Holbrook at the Cliffs of Moher from a trip to Ireland over the winter break.
As the bassist of the indie electronica band Passion Pit, Jeff Apruzzese played on “Saturday Night Live,” performed a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden and toured around the world. Now, as an assistant teaching professor at Drexel University and the associate program director of the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s music industry program, he’s using those experiences to help students learn more about the industry.
“One of the things that seems apparent within the Westphal community is that faculty come on board with relevant experience, versus all of the degree initials that go after your name,” said Apruzzese. “Right now, our music industry faculty mostly have dealt with on the label side, like management, marketing and supply chain distribution. I was always the artist in the label meeting, and I came to Drexel to hopefully fill in those gaps with my experience with the live music side of the music industry.”
Apruzzese was a music business/management student at the Berklee College of Music when the student band he played in exploded in popularity and success. From 2008 to 2015, he played in Passion Pit, releasing three full-length records (one of which debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts) and supporting them at festivals and on late-night talk shows with David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel. But after years of touring and a change in the band’s direction and personnel, he returned to his alma mater to help establish the Berklee Popular Music Institute, which provided opportunities for students to learn through live music tours and performances.
“I kind of feel like the ‘accidental academic’ in a way,” said Apruzzese. “I went to school, got lucky and was in a band for eight years. And now I’ve fallen in love with teaching.”
He taught for a few years at his alma mater, all the while earning a master’s degree in music industry leadership from Northeastern University and commuting to Boston from his home in New York City. But he wanted to branch out, settle down and start somewhere new on his own. Drexel, with its emphasis on experiential learning, was the perfect fit for the New Jersey native (who had actually applied to the University as a student).
“I always loved playing in Philly — we played the Electric Factory [now called the Franklin Music Hall], the Mann Center, the BB&T Pavilion and the First Unitarian Church,” he said. “Having lived in New York and Los Angeles, and having played all around the world in these large markets for music, I think there’s something to be said about coming to a tight-knit music scene like there is in Philly.”
During his first term at Drexel, Apruzzese taught two practicum-based courses and organized a panel discussion. He scheduled a final where students had to put on a show at PhilaMoca (the final grade was reflective on the percentage of attendance) and brought in guest speakers from his past, like the head of music for a major advertising agency and the head of A&R for Secretly Group, which oversees labels like Secretly Canadian, Jagjaguwar and Dead Oceans.
“I think a lot of students got the opportunity to meet these important people and make connections and continue these conversations,” said Apruzzese. “That’s really one of the biggest things that I was most proud of this term, and it’s what I want to keep doing. I want to convey my experience and my knowledge and just arm the students with the right set of tools to help them get to where they want to go.”
He has also been involved with the program’s student-run record label, Mad Dragon Records, and is using his connections to build up partnerships with venues and promoters in town.
Plus, he’s been going to concerts around the city on his own time — standout concerts he has seen so far include David Byrne at the Mann, the War on Drugs at Tower Theater and Childish Gambino at the Wells Fargo Center (“Passion Pit’s old production manager and tour manager is Childish Gambino’s personal manager, and the band’s old merch guy and drummer is on tour with them,” he explained).
Music is also something that’s always playing at home — Apruzzese grew up in a household that always had the radio on, and now he has outfitted every floor of his Northern Liberties row home with Sonos speakers, so he can play music throughout the house. He said he’s also in the middle of managing the “sizable” record collection of about 500 or 600 albums he shares with his wife, who works at AEG Presents, the live music division of the AEG entertainment group.
“A lot of them come from things that I would collect on tour or, you know, after we discovered that you could buy records on Amazon, there would be some weeks when we would just buy like 15 records on there,” he said. “And then it got to a point where I was buying duplicates because I didn’t know what I had, so now I’m using Discogs to sort everything out.”
So what kind of music does he listen to the most?
“I listen to a lot of experimental contemporary composers, like Johann Johannsson and Max Richter, who has this eight-hour album called ‘Sleep’ that’s really amazing to listen to when I'm going to sleep,” he said. “Last night, I was listening to Brian Eno’s ‘Music for Airports,’ which is really good. And the record that I always reach for, no matter what, is something from The National. We have every record from them.”
Though he enjoys teaching about the music industry, watching bands play and listening to and collecting music, Apruzzese has no plans to be in a band again.
“I was in so many other bands before Passion Pit took off and I feel lucky now that things worked out the way they did,” he said.
This story was published in the winter 2019 issue of Drexel Quarterly.