Passenger’s Mike Rosenberg Chats Embracing America On His New Album & Why He’s Chill With Being A One Hit WonderWritten by David James Young on September 11, 2018
Two major events recently happened within the camp of Passenger, the nom de plume of singer-songwriter Mike Rosenberg. The first was the release of Runaway, which is the tenth studio album overall to bare the Passenger name. The second was the news that the video for his signature song ‘Let Her Go’ – a relatively low-budget performance-based video filmed during a show at the Factory Theatre in Sydney – had officially cracked two billion views on YouTube. No surprises which one made bigger news – despite constantly writing, releasing and touring in the years since All the Little Lights came out back in 2012, Rosenberg will never truly outrun the success of that song. Not that he’s actively distancing himself or anything – in fact, it’s something the Brighton-based musician has come to embrace.
“It’s a funny thing,” says Rosenberg. “It’s such a blessing, and it’s opened doors for the rest of my music in an amazing way, but it can have these negative connotations a lot of the time as well. I find that sort of bizarre – as far as I’m concerned, I’m really grateful to have had a song that big in the first place.”
Consider Passenger a one-hit wonder in the same way that artists like Gotye and Radiohead are one-hit wonders: Purely on a technicality. They may have only entered mainstream conscience with a singular entity, but scratching even slightly below the surface will quickly reveal a whole and realised body of work.
Passenger is no different – Runaway marks the fifth album he has put out in five years, which is a level of productivity many songwriters can only dream of. “I’ve never known any other way – I just write and write and write,” says Rosenberg. “I’m lucky in the sense that I can write wherever I am – on the bus, in the hotel room, backstage, sitting at home. Usually, by the time I’ve gotten back from a tour for one album, I’ve gotten most of my ideas and quite a few songs fully written for the next one. It can be a challenge to make sure you’re not overlapping or repeating yourself when you write that much, but once you figure out how to channel it then you find it’s a pretty good problem to have all things considered.”
Following on from 2017’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Runaway sees Rosenberg taking a look at a more Americana and folk-oriented style of songwriting. They’re subtle differences, sure, but they’re just noticeable enough to allow for differentiation and progression between albums, in spite of their close proximity. “It may not seem like all that long, but I feel like all of us change fairly dramatically from year to year,” Rosenberg muses.
“My albums showcase that to me, and I feel like I start to make sense of those changes once I’m putting the album together. That was especially the case for this one, as there’s a bit of a theme to it. When I sat down with all the songs before recording, I realised I’d written a few songs specifically about places in America – there was this song about Detroit, and another about Yellowstone National Park. My dad is actually American, so I wrote another song about that side of my family. Once it became clear that this was what it was going to be about, everything came pretty naturally by extension.”
Runaway may not be a radical departure from the archetypal Passenger sound, but it’s certainly worth noting that Rosenberg feels right at home when you hear him on tracks such as ‘Let’s Go’ and ‘Eagle Bear Buffalo’, the latter of which is unquestionably indebted to the likes of early Dylan and The Band. “In the past, I feel like I’ve shied away from having certain elements in my songs that could be perceived as too American, for lack of a better phrase,” says Rosenberg.
“It was actually kind of liberating, in a sense, to go in there with the band and just embrace it for this album. I think being unabashed about it – whether that was making the songs a bit more rambling, or adding banjo parts and stuff – made the album even better.”
Rosenberg is also quick to give credit to his core backing band – Peter Marin on drums, Rob Calder on bass, Ben Edgar on guitar and Jon Solo on keys. “This is our third album that we’ve made together,” notes Rosenberg, “and I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of guys. Every time you go in to make a record with the same group of musicians, the communication gets better and better. You’ve got that joint experience, and you learn with every single one that you have on top of that.”
Up next for Rosenberg is – quelle surprise – more touring. He’ll circumnavigate the globe once again in support of Runaway, which will include a run of solo theatre shows in Australia this November. There’s a lot of ground to cover musically, especially with a new album to take into consideration, and Rosenberg is already racking his brains trying to figure out how to accommodate for everyone that comes to see him. “It’s a really broad, really interesting demographic,” he says of his typical – if, indeed, there is a typical – audience.
“I love that – you get everything from seven-year-olds to 87-year-olds at Passenger gigs. It’s difficult to please everyone when you’ve got that in mind – some people will be hanging out for a certain song off the fourth album, other people will only really know the later stuff. You’re just up there by yourself with an hour and a half – which is usually quite a long show, but at my gigs it just flies by because there’s so much to play. I’ve tried to combat this by putting a little medley about halfway through the set. It’s too early to tell whether people like it or not, though – it might be a bit weird. I’ll keep you posted on that one, mate.”
Passenger’s new album ‘Runaway’ is out now & you can catch him touring it live across the nation this November.