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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | October 30, 2020

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Interview with Passenger

Ratu Lewis

Image of Mike Rosenberg from PassangerBritish band Passenger is just finishing up their tour around Australia, promoting their new album All the Little Lights. On Friday we caught up with Mike Rosenberg before his Brisbane gig at the Hi-fi on Saturday night.


CD: So right now you’re touring around Australia, how has it been so far? Any special moments?

MIKE: Um yeah, it’s been brilliant. I mean to be honest I’ve done a few tours around Australia now. This one’s been cool because it’s with a full band instead of solo shows. And yeah, it’s kind of the biggest tour I’ve done her so far; so quite big rooms and all the gigs have been selling out and yeah it’s been…

CD: How do you find playing solo compared to in a band?

MIKE: It’s a really different thing, like I am so comfortable playing just on my own now. And you’ve got a freedom about it because you can kind of play whatever song pops into your head or whatever song people ask for and you can kind of go wherever the night takes you. And it can turn into a really unique experience. Where with a band it’s a bit more regimented you know cause it has to be a set list for everyone to know what’s going on. That being said it’s so fun to have other instruments and other musicians to interact with on stage. And I’m just really lucky that I’ve got a really brilliant band, really great players. Like this guy here [referring to Stu Larson]. To be honest I love mixing it up and doing both and giving people something different.

CD: I have seen you interact with the audience and getting them part of the show and stuff. I have seen that. I think that’s really cool.

MIKE: Yeah I think it’s important. Like when I go to a gig I wanna feel like part of it not just like I’m kind of looking in. I think the more inclusive you can be the better.

CD: So I guess that’s why you do busking and stuff. So can you tell me, what are the different emotions you feel when busking compared to performing at a venue?

MIKE: Yeah it’s a really different thing. I guess the main difference is that the people that are hopefully listening aren’t your crowd, aren’t people who know your music already or the majority of them won’t be. And so you’ve gotta kind of win them over which is a really good challenge. You know sometimes it can be hard work but more often than not it’s just a really fun thing to try and do. You know it really feels like you’re winning over new fans, not just playing to the same faces.

CD: Do you ever get scared that because your fans know that you busk they won’t buy tickets; they’ll just show up for the free busking?

MIKE: No, I think it’s a really good point and people have asked before but actually I think people really appreciate the fact that I go and play free gigs all the time. And yeah, yeah, if you haven’t got enough money to come and see a gig then you can go and see the busking. But I think as well; because I am an independent artist, I haven’t got a record label yet, people wanna support. You know it’s not that thing of ‘ah, great I can just go and see them for free and download his music illegally,’ you know? I think people feel a bit more; you know a part of it and want to support it. That’s really good, really nice.

CD: How do you choose your set list for each performance?

MIKE: Um, sometimes it’s sort of before the gig; I ask on Facebook and Twitter and stuff if people want to hear particular songs. It’s really good that way because that way they pick the set list. You know, your fans pick your set list, the songs that they wanna hear. And it kind of, as I was kind of saying before, it ensures that it’s a different gig to the last one. You know, I think it’s quite dangerous to play the same set over and over again.  Because; not just for the fans but for you as well. It’s just a bit like kind of falling into the same routines and patterns and…

CD: It’s more robotic than actually…

MIKE: Yeah and that’s the joy of live music; it’s that silly things happen and spontaneous things happen. And the more of that you can get on the night the better it is.

CD: So your new album is All the Little Lights, tell us about the meaning behind the name or the song.

MIKE: Yeah the song is about…it’s a bit of a weird concept but it’s sort of about how we’re born and we have a total open mind and heart towards planet earth and humans. And as we get older we become more cynical and more jaded about everything. I guess the metaphor is that, you know the lyrics are; we’re drawn with millions of lights shining and then every time something crap happens…not…put more poetically than that. But every time something bad happens one goes out until eventually they all do and then we all die, which is pretty miserable.

CD: So how many lights do you think you have in you?

MIKE: How many lights? At the moment I’ve got about eight hundred thousand and forty two…last time I checked. I check every sort of two or three weeks.

CD: Alright. That’s good. You’re going strong.

MIKE: Yeah no look, it’s good, it’s good. I try and do happy stuff to light them all up.

CD: Oh so you can light them back up?

MIKE: You can like them back up. Yeah, that’s the joy. You know, like kiss a pretty girl or something and one goes up.

CD: How’s this album different to the previous albums?

MIKE: Yeah it’s quite a different sound I think. My other records I’ve sort of sat in a room and done it live. And it’s very sort of, you know, this one kind of a more modern, slightly more produced sound. I just wanted to do something different I think. Kind of like the live sets, you’ve got to just change it up. You’ve got to challenge yourself in different ways. I tried to make it really sort of modern, right up folk record, you know. Not just sit in the room with a guitar and sing.

CD: Cause you had some strings in there as well, didn’t you?

MIKE: Strings and brass and…also a really subtle bits of electronica as well. So I think some of it worked really well. Some of it didn’t quite get there but that’s music you know. I think….I was talking to somebody the other day about it; making a record it’s just a series of thousands of decisions, you know. It not just you go in and you record and it’s obvious what to do and how to record it. Like every song, there’s so many different ways with it. I think you know you just go with your gut and some of it really works out and some of it doesn’t. You haven’t got all the time in the world. I haven’t got loads of money to throw at it. You just do what you can in that space of time and in that studio. And it gets to the point where you kind of just have to accept that it’s not going to be perfection

CD: Ok and you’re okay with that?

MIKE: Not really. But you have to be, don’t you? And I think that’s what keeps you striving towards and excited about the next record. And I wanna do this way and I wanna….and that’s cool. If you make perfect records you kind of turn into a bit of an idiot.

CD: The name, Passenger, is from the concept of someone watching the world go past, as if a passenger in a car, right? What were some of the “passenger moments” that went into making this album?

MIKE: Yeah, so I think the name kind of ties in with the observational style of writing. A lot of my songs are stories about characters whether they be real or people that we have met on the road. Or kind of slightly fictional as well, along with my own life experience.  Passenger moments in this record….yeah I guess a song like holes which is a track later in the album. Yeah it talks about, for example this guy I met in Bath, this homeless dude. And when I was busking he told me this story about when he wasn’t homeless, he was fine and he got caught in a fire and his house burnt down. And he was in hospital for about six weeks in a coma and all this kind of stuff. And yeah, that’s how he kind of ended up on the streets. It’s crazy, like a really crazy story. I don’t know just little things like that, I don’t know. You just hear little snippets of people’s lives just as you’re travelling about that kind of effect you.

CD: Well that’s really cool that you get to share other people’s stories as well.

MIKE: Yeah and I think that’s why people, hopefully why people relate to my music as well is that it is just about normal people it’s not about…it’s kind of…untouchable thing. You know, it’s about humans.

CD: Has anyone actually come up to you on purpose and said share my story in your song?

MIKE: A couple of people have asked me to write about certain things. And it’s just like, dude it doesn’t work like that. Something either affects you and you can’t just write about a sad thing because it’s sad.

CD: Yeah it’s got to be something special.

MIKE: Yeah it doesn’t have to be a big deal, you know. It can be the smallest of stories but if it catches your imagination it can kinda be [clicks tongue]

CD: I love the Things that stop you Dreaming video. Was that fun to make?

MIKE: Yeah it was. It was…we did it over a month of touring.

CD: It does seem a bit tedious.

MIKE: It was a little bit tedious at times cause it would have to be like; ok yeah it was just filming all the time. But worth it, you know. Jarrad, we got Jarrad Seng to film it. Amazing guy, he’s from WA. So yeah, it was really his patience because editing must have been an absolute nightmare.

CD: Well it was really awesome.

MIKE: Thanks

CD: What’s your favourite song from the album?

MIKE: I think Circles came out nicely. Just the way it was recorded and the sentiment behind it. You know it’s about a really good mate of mine back home. And we have been best friends forever since we were babies. And we’ve very different lives now and I only see him every so often. But it’s that thing of like once you’ve been through so much with someone, it doesn’t really matter if you go off on your own path but you’ve always got that like common ground.

CD: So kind of like the vector circles kind of thing?

MIKE: Yeah

CD: What are the three best words that describe the album?

MIKE: Tedious, egotistical and boring. Ah no that’s a bit…

CD: That’s a great promo right there.

MIKE: Yeah I do my best. Umm. Wow. Stu?

STU: Not those three words.

MIKE: No, No. Umm…lyrical, folky and slightly tongue and cheek. But its lots of words, sorry, a bit more than three.

CD: I’ll take that. Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you overcome it?

MIKE: All the time. You just don’t worry about it. Like, I write loads of songs so I’m…for the last few years I’ve been in the position where I’ve always had them up my sleeve which is a good position to be in.

CD: Yeah, you just keep turning them out.

MIKE: Yeah, yeah and it’s cool. I think it just keeps momentum going. I think…yeah, there are times when I write four songs in a week and there are times when I don’t write for four months and it’s just…you just kinda have to bear with it and not panic and you know and sometimes you think f*** I’ve lost it, I’m never going to write again, you know, it’s over. And generally when you start feeling like that it’s just around the corner. It’s just that backing yourself and not worrying about it.

CD: Just believing that it will come.

MIKE: Yeah, and I think it’s, you know….I’ve been writing for years and they keep on coming so you just have to have faith in it really.

CD: How do you stretch yourself in your music?

MIKE: So challenge it?

CD: Yeah, also challenge yourself.

MIKE: I think, you know, trying to work with as many different people as possible both writing and playing. Going to as many gigs and trying to keep your mind open as far as what you can achieve in music. Busking is a challenge and you know as I said, doing things with like a full band. Not just always taking the easy option. So yeah I think I need to challenge myself more as far as like, I always write with on the guitar. I never write with any other instruments.

CD: Do you play any other instruments?

MIKE: I kind of fumble about with piano and stuff. And that’s why I don’t write with it cause it would be rubbish. But maybe ah…I would love to one day like just put lyrics to music. Cause I write stupid arse lyrics, it would be fun to get somebody else’s musical landscape and then combine that.

CD: What is success in the music industry for you? So I’ve kind of given you examples: is it winning awards? Playing at major venues? Having one of your songs done on Glee?

MIKE: I think that’s the moment where you actually stop making music altogether.

CD: So not a fan?

MIKE: Uhh. Not really. I think umm…I don’t know man, like all of that stuff, yeah like obviously awards and playing big venues and stuff is great you know, and it kind of tells you you’re on the right track I guess. To be honest as long as you’re bloody happy with what you’re doing. I know a lot of famous and successful musicians are unhappy because they’re backed into corners by major labels and they’re misrepresented and they’re doing something that’s not quite right in what they want to be doing. So even if you’re making lots of money and your kind of landing big gigs it doesn’t necessary, I know it’s an old thing to say, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re happy.

CD: So are you happy?

MIKE: Yeah, for the majority of the time. I’ve got a lot of creative control and you know between me and my manager and Stu and a few others we kind of work things out together as far as where we wanna take it, where we’re gonna tour and you know all of these decisions are just with people I really trust. And I’m very much in control of it as well. I think when I’ve been unhappy within music is when I’ve felt out of control. And I’m constantly waiting on other people’s decisions and people I don’t necessarily trust to make the right decisions. That’s when it starts getting hard, you know and it’s your career in somebody else’s hands. And that’s dangerous.

CD: What is your favourite creative space in the whole world? Is there one specific to Brisbane or Australia?

MIKE: Australia, I really like Freemantle. Yeah it’s got a really nice sort of airy, light feel about it. You know the weathers always glorious; beaches are lovely and got some really nice mates over there. Yeah I tend to write quite a lot when I’m over there. It’s funny like cause I travel so much, I think that you just kind of have to find a creative space wherever you are, you know, if you can.

CD: We are a networking company for creative’s, so how important has networking been in your success in the music industry?

MIKE: Yeah pretty important. I don’t ever like to call it networking it feels a bit weird. But…yeah…look when I first started out, my dad’s kind of been in the arts and entertainment and he was kind of like saying you’ve really gotta network and meet people and blah-blah-blah. And I was like nah I don’t wanna do that, I don’t wanna….you know it’s not me and just wanna do my music. You’re sitting there and it’s not about like…it’s not even about getting a leg up a lot of the time, it’s just about feeling part of the community. You know what I mean? And talking to like minded people who are trying to do the same thing. You know whether that being music or art or photography or whatever. It’s just really good to hang out with creative people who are…who face the same struggles as you do. You know; how to make money out of doing something you love is the million dollar question. And yeah I think that’s more important than that whole thing of it’s who you know.

CD: What are some ways that young musicians can network today?

MIKE: Obviously online is massive – Facebook, twitter, whatever else is new that I don’t about. That’s really important. But yeah, I think the main thing is just to be yourself around people. Don’t go with an agenda, or even have certain things you want to, you know, hopefully achieve; its very transparent I think where people kind of turn up  and you know if you ever you know….it can be quite annoying I think.

CD: Like if they have an image they want to project kind of thing?

MIKE: Yeah and actually trying to get things out of other people, you know. I think just go and be yourself. And become friends with people naturally and opportunities will arise from that, you know. Does that make sense?

CD: Yeah, no it does; perfectly. I understand like the whole band forming was you meeting up with Andrew Phillips? Is that right?

MIKE: Yeah years ago, right.  We just became mates and it kind of just happened very organically and I think if anything really sticks in music it has to happen naturally. You know you can kind of stick stuff together but I think it misses a genuine bond then. It sort of falls apart eventually.

CD: So what’s next for you? Can we expect another collaborative album like Flight of the Crow?

MIKE: Maybe one day. Yeah, and I think the next record….I wanna get on it fairly soon, maybe July-ish. So hopefully it will be out by the end of the year, early next year.

CD: Christmas songs?

MIKE: Oh yeah exactly; Christmas with Passenger, that’s what we’re thinking. But…yeah just a lot more touring. Me and Stu are going to the UK in May and touring there and then tour the States. And then hopefully back here fairly soon. So yeah, constantly, constant touring…you know.

CD: Alright I might just finish off with some get to know you questions…

MIKE: Alright.

CD: Apart from the guitar what instrument are you most attracted to?

MIKE: Attracted. I think the cello is an attractive instrument….and the harp. Quite often there are quite attractive people playing those instruments as well. There are a lot of attractive cellists out there.

STU: It’s dangerous.

MIKE: Dangerous, yeah. I love how that’s your only input. “It’s dangerous.” Um yeah, I guess those two.

CD: Cool, so cello and the harp. Do you name your guitars? What are they?

MIKE: No I don’t. I’ve never named them.

STU: Boey

MIKE: Yeah, Boey.  I think if you name your guitars you probably start talking to them. You know and that’s a dangerous road to be on, isn’t it?

CD: You’re not crazy unless they talk back.

MIKE: Yeah, right, exactly. I haven’t named them as yet. I think they’re…I think I refer to her as a female. But she doesn’t have a name. That’s even more weird, isn’t it?

CD: Is she nice to you?

MIKE: She is. She’s very nice.

CD: Do you button your shirt upwards or downwards?

MIKE: From the top.

CD: So downwards?


CD: Cool. I think that’s the way normal people do it.

MIKE: I think so. But there’s a way to not get muddled up isn’t there? Cause sometimes you’re like…aww woops.

CD: Yeah but you kind of get past that stage…

MIKE: When you’re five? Yeah, that’s true.

CD: What are the five most played songs on your iPod?

MIKE: Oh my god. I’d have no idea. Like I listen to a lot of old man music. Got some Neil Young and Paul Simon and James Taylor and stuff like that. So that and a bit more modern things like Stu Larson’s Ryeford, which you can pick up on iTunes.

CD: Nice plug-in.

MIKE: Yeah, don’t even worry about it.  Um..and yeah like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes and that sort of stuff.

CD: So what song gets stuck in your head the most?

MIKE: Probably Stu Larson’s San Francisco. Which has just been recently been put out on iTunes. It’s a really great song about travelling up the west coast of the states. Yeah it’s got a very catchy chorus. So if you’re into that sort of thing, check out Stu Larson’s San Francisco.

STU: Or maybe Toto.

MIKE: Or maybe Toto’s Africa. Yeah but enough people know that already

CD: Do you have a lucky charm?

MIKE: Um. No. I have a little mantra, a little song that I sing before I go busking; which is a bit weird. I guess it acts as a lucky charm.  But no I haven’t got anything physical.

CD: So what’s the song?

MIKE: Couldn’t tell you. Sorry. It’s a bit of a secret.

CD: OK. What is your best feature?

MIKE: Physically?

CD: Yeah physically or personality wise…

MIKE: I think my calves. I’ve got strong calves.

CD: I have heard that you think yourself as quite the athlete.

MIKE: I don’t know; that’s probably ironic. I’m not an athlete at all.  I’m a skinny weirdo.

CD: I would have thought you would have said your beard.

MIKE: Yeah I was joking about my calves. They’re pretty scrawny. I don’t know, yeah, beard. Beard. Beard is a strong… maybe beard. Yeah, the beard.

CD: Lastly since you’re quite the seasoned traveller, are you a scruncher or a folder?

MIKE: Look when I can be I’m a folder because it just saves time and patience but there are definitely times when I have to scrunch.

CD: Awesome. Well thank you. All the best with your show tomorrow and you’re going to be brilliant of course.

MIKE: I hope so. Thank you very much.

Make sure you grab a copy of the new album All the Little Lights on iTunes or at JB Hi-Fi so you can start lighting up your little lights.