Interview with Passenger
British 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 youâ€™re touring around Australia, how has it been so far? Any special moments?
MIKE: Um yeah, itâ€™s been brilliant. I mean to be honest Iâ€™ve done a few tours around Australia now. This oneâ€™s been cool because itâ€™s with a full band instead of solo shows. And yeah, itâ€™s kind of the biggest tour Iâ€™ve done her so far; so quite big rooms and all the gigs have been selling out and yeah itâ€™s been…
CD: How do you find playing solo compared to in a band?
MIKE: Itâ€™s a really different thing, like I am so comfortable playing just on my own now. And youâ€™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 itâ€™s a bit more regimented you know cause it has to be a set list for everyone to know whatâ€™s going on. That being said itâ€™s so fun to have other instruments and other musicians to interact with on stage. And Iâ€™m just really lucky that Iâ€™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 thatâ€™s really cool.
MIKE: Yeah I think itâ€™s important. Like when I go to a gig I wanna feel like part of it not just like Iâ€™m kind of looking in. I think the more inclusive you can be the better.
CD: So I guess thatâ€™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 itâ€™s a really different thing. I guess the main difference is that the people that are hopefully listening arenâ€™t your crowd, arenâ€™t people who know your music already or the majority of them wonâ€™t be. And so youâ€™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 itâ€™s just a really fun thing to try and do. You know it really feels like youâ€™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 wonâ€™t buy tickets; theyâ€™ll just show up for the free busking?
MIKE: No, I think itâ€™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 havenâ€™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 havenâ€™t got a record label yet, people wanna support. You know itâ€™s not that thing of â€˜ah, great I can just go and see them for free and download his music illegally,â€™ you know? I think people feel a bit more; you know a part of it and want to support it. Thatâ€™s really good, really nice.
CD: How do you choose your set list for each performance?
MIKE: Um, sometimes itâ€™s sort of before the gig; I ask on Facebook and Twitter and stuff if people want to hear particular songs. Itâ€™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 itâ€™s a different gig to the last one. You know, I think itâ€™s quite dangerous to play the same set over and over again. Â Because; not just for the fans but for you as well. Itâ€™s just a bit like kind of falling into the same routines and patterns and…
CD: Itâ€™s more robotic than actually…
MIKE: Yeah and thatâ€™s the joy of live music; itâ€™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…itâ€™s a bit of a weird concept but itâ€™s sort of about how weâ€™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; weâ€™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 Iâ€™ve got about eight hundred thousand and forty two…last time I checked. I check every sort of two or three weeks.
CD: Alright. Thatâ€™s good. Youâ€™re going strong.
MIKE: Yeah no look, itâ€™s good, itâ€™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, thatâ€™s the joy. You know, like kiss a pretty girl or something and one goes up.
CD: Howâ€™s this album different to the previous albums?
MIKE: Yeah itâ€™s quite a different sound I think. My other records Iâ€™ve sort of sat in a room and done it live. And itâ€™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, youâ€™ve got to just change it up. Youâ€™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, didnâ€™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 didnâ€™t quite get there but thatâ€™s music you know. I think….I was talking to somebody the other day about it; making a record itâ€™s just a series of thousands of decisions, you know. It not just you go in and you record and itâ€™s obvious what to do and how to record it. Like every song, thereâ€™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 doesnâ€™t. You havenâ€™t got all the time in the world. I havenâ€™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 itâ€™s not going to be perfection
CD: Ok and youâ€™re okay with that?
MIKE: Not really. But you have to be, donâ€™t you? And I think thatâ€™s what keeps you striving towards and excited about the next record. And I wanna do this way and I wanna….and thatâ€™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 â€œpassenger momentsâ€ 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.Â 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 wasnâ€™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, thatâ€™s how he kind of ended up on the streets. Itâ€™s crazy, like a really crazy story. I donâ€™t know just little things like that, I donâ€™t know. You just hear little snippets of peopleâ€™s lives just as youâ€™re travelling about that kind of effect you.
CD: Well thatâ€™s really cool that you get to share other peopleâ€™s stories as well.
MIKE: Yeah and I think thatâ€™s why people, hopefully why people relate to my music as well is that it is just about normal people itâ€™s not about…itâ€™s kind of…untouchable thing. You know, itâ€™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 itâ€™s just like, dude it doesnâ€™t work like that. Something either affects you and you canâ€™t just write about a sad thing because itâ€™s sad.
CD: Yeah itâ€™s got to be something special.
MIKE: Yeah it doesnâ€™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, heâ€™s from WA. So yeah, it was really his patience because editing must have been an absolute nightmare.
CD: Well it was really awesome.
CD: Whatâ€™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 itâ€™s about a really good mate of mine back home. And we have been best friends forever since we were babies. And weâ€™ve very different lives now and I only see him every so often. But itâ€™s that thing of like once youâ€™ve been through so much with someone, it doesnâ€™t really matter if you go off on your own path but youâ€™ve always got that like common ground.
CD: So kind of like the vector circles kind of thing?
CD: What are the three best words that describe the album?
MIKE: Tedious, egotistical and boring. Ah no thatâ€™s a bit…
CD: Thatâ€™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: Iâ€™ll take that. Do you ever get writerâ€™s block? How do you overcome it?
MIKE: All the time. You just donâ€™t worry about it. Like, I write loads of songs so Iâ€™m…for the last few years Iâ€™ve been in the position where Iâ€™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 itâ€™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 donâ€™t write for four months and itâ€™s just…you just kinda have to bear with it and not panic and you know and sometimes you think f*** Iâ€™ve lost it, Iâ€™m never going to write again, you know, itâ€™s over. And generally when you start feeling like that itâ€™s just around the corner. Itâ€™s just that backing yourself and not worrying about it.
CD: Just believing that it will come.
MIKE: Yeah, and I think itâ€™s, you know….Iâ€™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 thatâ€™s why I donâ€™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 elseâ€™s musical landscape and then combine that.
CD: What is success in the music industry for you? So Iâ€™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 thatâ€™s the moment where you actually stop making music altogether.
CD: So not a fan?
MIKE: Uhh. Not really. I think umm…I donâ€™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 youâ€™re on the right track I guess. To be honest as long as youâ€™re bloody happy with what youâ€™re doing. I know a lot of famous and successful musicians are unhappy because theyâ€™re backed into corners by major labels and theyâ€™re misrepresented and theyâ€™re doing something thatâ€™s not quite right in what they want to be doing. So even if youâ€™re making lots of money and your kind of landing big gigs it doesnâ€™t necessary, I know itâ€™s an old thing to say, but it doesnâ€™t necessarily mean youâ€™re happy.
CD: So are you happy?
MIKE: Yeah, for the majority of the time. Iâ€™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 weâ€™re gonna tour and you know all of these decisions are just with people I really trust. And Iâ€™m very much in control of it as well. I think when Iâ€™ve been unhappy within music is when Iâ€™ve felt out of control. And Iâ€™m constantly waiting on other peopleâ€™s decisions and people I donâ€™t necessarily trust to make the right decisions. Thatâ€™s when it starts getting hard, you know and itâ€™s your career in somebody elseâ€™s hands. And thatâ€™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 itâ€™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 Iâ€™m over there. Itâ€™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 creativeâ€™s, so how important has networking been in your success in the music industry?
MIKE: Yeah pretty important. I donâ€™t ever like to call it networking it feels a bit weird. But…yeah…look when I first started out, my dadâ€™s kind of been in the arts and entertainment and he was kind of like saying youâ€™ve really gotta network and meet people and blah-blah-blah. And I was like nah I donâ€™t wanna do that, I donâ€™t wanna….you know itâ€™s not me and just wanna do my music. Youâ€™re sitting there and itâ€™s not about like…itâ€™s not even about getting a leg up a lot of the time, itâ€™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. Itâ€™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 thatâ€™s more important than that whole thing of itâ€™s who you know.
CD: What are some ways that young musicians can network today?
MIKE: Obviously online is massive â€“ Facebook, twitter, whatever else is new that I donâ€™t about. Thatâ€™s really important. But yeah, I think the main thing is just to be yourself around people. Donâ€™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 upÂ 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.Â 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 whatâ€™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, thatâ€™s what weâ€™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…
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: Itâ€™s dangerous.
MIKE: Dangerous, yeah. I love how thatâ€™s your only input. â€œItâ€™s dangerous.â€ Um yeah, I guess those two.
CD: Cool, so cello and the harp. Do you name your guitars? What are they?
MIKE: No I donâ€™t. Iâ€™ve never named them.
MIKE: Yeah, Boey.Â I think if you name your guitars you probably start talking to them. You know and thatâ€™s a dangerous road to be on, isnâ€™t it?
CD: Youâ€™re not crazy unless they talk back.
MIKE: Yeah, right, exactly. I havenâ€™t named them as yet. I think theyâ€™re…I think I refer to her as a female. But she doesnâ€™t have a name. Thatâ€™s even more weird, isnâ€™t it?
CD: Is she nice to you?
MIKE: She is. Sheâ€™s very nice.
CD: Do you button your shirt upwards or downwards?
MIKE: From the top.
CD: So downwards?
CD: Cool. I think thatâ€™s the way normal people do it.
MIKE: I think so. But thereâ€™s a way to not get muddled up isnâ€™t there? Cause sometimes youâ€™re like…aww woops.
CD: Yeah but you kind of get past that stage…
MIKE: When youâ€™re five? Yeah, thatâ€™s true.
CD: What are the five most played songs on your iPod?
MIKE: Oh my god. Iâ€™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 Larsonâ€™s Ryeford, which you can pick up on iTunes.
CD: Nice plug-in.
MIKE: Yeah, donâ€™t even worry about it.Â 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 Larsonâ€™s San Francisco. Which has just been recently been put out on iTunes. Itâ€™s a really great song about travelling up the west coast of the states. Yeah itâ€™s got a very catchy chorus. So if youâ€™re into that sort of thing, check out Stu Larsonâ€™s San Francisco.
STU: Or maybe Toto.
MIKE: Or maybe Totoâ€™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.Â But no I havenâ€™t got anything physical.
CD: So whatâ€™s the song?
MIKE: Couldnâ€™t tell you. Sorry. Itâ€™s a bit of a secret.
CD: OK. What is your best feature?
CD: Yeah physically or personality wise…
MIKE: I think my calves. Iâ€™ve got strong calves.
CD: I have heard that you think yourself as quite the athlete.
MIKE: I donâ€™t know; thatâ€™s probably ironic. Iâ€™m not an athlete at all.Â Iâ€™m a skinny weirdo.
CD: I would have thought you would have said your beard.
MIKE: Yeah I was joking about my calves. Theyâ€™re pretty scrawny. I donâ€™t know, yeah, beard. Beard. Beard is a strong… maybe beard. Yeah, the beard.
CD: Lastly since youâ€™re quite the seasoned traveller, are you a scruncher or a folder?
MIKE: Look when I can be Iâ€™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 youâ€™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.