Mike Rosenberg is an English singer-songwriter and musician, primarily known by the stage name Passenger. Renowned for his anthem Let Her Go, the song gained multi-platinum states in numerous countries across the globe. Hitting platinum a record four times in the UK, and six times in the US, the song when on to gain nineteen #1 chart positions. Following on from the success of his 2015 hit, the single has now reached over three billion YouTube views, with similar figures in Spotify streams. The Brighton-born performer has also acquired several awards, including an Ivor Novello award, leading to a strong and loyal, worldwide fan base.
Bouncing back with more music, Passenger is set to release his latest studio album A Song For The Drunk and Broken Hearted in January 2021. Experiencing a breakup just before the Nation’s lockdown, Passenger channeled his feelings and emotions into his music. Turning pain to passion, he used music and writing as his release. In turn, Passenger’s music remains raw and emotive with his honest and relatable lyrics paired with typically tuneful and uplifting melodies.
As covid put a halt to Passenger’s planned year of busking, festivals and headline shows, he utilised the quiet pause to really reflect. We had the pleasure of chatting with Passenger, discussing everything from past to present, lockdown and beyond.
First of all, with all of the crazy things going on in the world, how are you doing?
Yeah I’m ok thank you. It’s been up and down for me like it has for everyone but I count myself very lucky. I live in the countryside so I’ve still been able to get out on walks and enjoy nature easily. It’s also been a really productive time for songwriting so that’s been a weird positive.
How did you keep your creative juices flowing during the intense lockdown period?
I think being on my own for lockdown meant that I played a lot of guitar and as a result wrote a lot of songs. It was also really challenging being alone and I think being in quite a lonely and in a vulnerable state is always weirdly good for songwriting .
Known for your stage name, Passenger. What is the meaning behind Passenger?
It’s a good question. When I came up with the name back in 2005ish I was playing in a band. We were struggling to find the right band name for a long time – it’s a very important thing to get right. Eventually I wrote a song called passenger and we all felt like it worked really well as a band name. It didn’t mean too much at the time ….. the band then broke up a few years afterwards and I opted to keep the name for my solo project. I’m really pleased that I did as I feel like I’ve really grown into it and it feels perfect now. Somewhat a little confusing, as it sounds like a band name haha.
We want to say a big congratulations as you gear up for the release of your latest album, Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted. Of all your albums, does this one encapsulate or embody you most as a person?
Haha the drunk part maybe … but seriously, I’m extremely proud of this record. I wrote a lot of the songs during a very raw and difficult time and as I mentioned earlier that is never a bad place for songs to come from. I think it just means they’re very honest and real.
Your latest album’s packaging is all made from 100% recycled materials, with one tree will be planted for every physical piece sold. Is it important to you to do your bit in saving the planet?
I think it’s a responsibility that we all need to take on as much as we can. I feel like if you’re producing any physical product in 2020 you should be thinking about how to minimise the environmental fall out from it. My manager Dan is really great with all of this stuff and he was the one who looked into it all. I’m lucky to have a team that really cares about the important stuff.
Do you think people in the public eye should do more when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint and prolonging the Earth’s natural resources?
I think it’s at the point where we all need to be aware of the state of the planet and that huge change is needed. I do however think that nowadays there can be an unrealistic expectation put on people with a social platform and that can sometimes be unfair pressure on an individual. Real change needs to come at a governmental level. No bad thing that we’re about to see the back of a certain world “leader”
Written post break up, detailing relatable experiences of newly single life. Is it important for you to share honest music people can relate to?
Always. I think honesty is paramount in this kind of music. It’s what gives people goosebumps and what really hits home I think. I feel like the job of a songwriter is often just to say what everyone is feeling.
Is writing your release? Turning certain challenges and negative experiences into a more positive outlook?
Absolutely, I’ve always felt so lucky that I can pour all of my emotions into something as productive as a song . Everyone goes through difficult times and I guess we all have to find a way of dealing with them. Songwriting is definitely mine.
After breaking onto the scene with your global hit, Let Her Go, back in 2012 you have gone on to achieve international success, acquiring numerous accolades and album sales. Have you noticed the industry change and evolve over the years?
Massively. I release a lot of music – usually an album a year. And every time we release one I feel like the landscape has evolved and changed. I think it’s part of what makes it exciting …. You can’t just do what you did last time. You always have to come up with a new plan and a fresh approach, which in turn helps keep it interesting for me and hopefully the fans.
As the single became such a popular song, did you feel increased pressure when releasing further music?
Haha definitely. It was weird. Up until that point I would just write with no expectation – internally or externally – but once you have a big song it becomes very difficult not to feel like there is a pressure there to keep on delivering commercially successful songs. I think that’s why a lot of people really struggle at that stage and stray into making music that they’re not particularly proud of long term …. I’m lucky to have some really good people around me to help steer me through that time.
How did it feel being on the road and performing to thousands of people?
Wonderful. It’s all I ever wanted to do since I was a kid and it’s every bit as fantastic as I had imagined it would be. There are also real challenges that come with that way of life and I have definitely been guilty of losing the healthy balance … but yeah, playing live will always be very special to me.
Starting your career busking, street corners or stadiums, where do you feel most at home?
Haha … I like both for different reasons. The buzz I used to get when I would draw a big crowd in the street was electric. I loved the fact that people were stopping to listen for no other reason than the music . Having said that, I’ve been lucky enough to play some crazy places (mainly supporting Ed Sheeran) and those moments are hard to beat.
Often described as an authentic acoustic sound with heartfelt lyrics. How best would you describe your musical style and genre?
I think that’s a nice way of putting it for sure.
When did you first fall in love with music?
Very early on. I remember listening to my mum and Dad’s music – Simon and Garfunkel / Cat Stevens etc very early on and falling in love with it. It just felt like a magical world that I didn’t understand and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.
Where do you source inspiration and influence for your music?
I think I’ve always found travelling and people a huge source of inspiration. Travelling because it throws you out of your comfort zone and makes you think differently and that really helps. People are an incredible source of inspiration too – everyone has their story and there is probably a song there for all of them if you had the time to write them …..
If you could collaborate with any artist who would you choose and why?
Paul Simon. Just because he is my favourite songwriter of all time …. Although I think I would burst into tears so probably not a good idea haha.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
That’s a really difficult one…. I don’t think it’s actually possible to pinpoint a certain moment. There are a few that spring to mind. I remember supporting Ed in Amsterdam around the time “let her go” was just getting big in the Netherlands and walking out on stage to a huge cheer. Looking back, that feels like a real turning point and a totally mind-blowing moment.
And finally, as rising artists what advice would you give to young and aspiring musicians/creatives?
Two simple things –
1. Don’t try to sound like anybody else . They already exist and will always do what they do better than you will.
2. Work really really hard and be nice
What’s next for you, what are you working on, what are your plans?
Well the album will come out in January so there is a lot of preparation for that – videos and promo etc – we then hope to be touring again in the summer and autumn of 2021. Guess we have to wait and see if that’s going to be possible … fingers crossed !!
Look out for Passenger’s latest album A Song For The Drunk and Broken Hearted dropping January 2021. Whilst gigs are a no-go, sign up to Passenger’s exclusive intimate performance streaming live from the Royal Albert Hall on January 10th 20201.