"I’d love to make a record with Nas, I’m not sure he’d like to make a record with me though…" – hmv.com talks to Passenger
Michael Rosenberg is better known these days as Passenger, but for about a decade he wasn’t known to anybody outside the corest of core fanbases. Then, in 2012, his single ‘Let Her Go’ was picked up by radio stations in Holland of all places, and, playlist by playlist, country by country, became a massive hit. It’s sold over six million copies so far and catapulted Passenger into the mainstream.
He put out Whispers (you can preview it on the right hand side of the page), the follow-up to All The Little Lights which contained ‘Let Her Go’, earlier this summer. We sat down with him to find out how he made sure the success of ‘Let Her Go’ didn’t change his sound, his plans for the future and why he’d love to work with Nas…
Your new album Whispers has been out for a couple of months now, how have you found the reaction?
“Really good. It’s quite a different feeling to the last time. I’d had the crazy success of ‘Let Her Go’ and I knew I couldn’t expect the same thing. We’ve had some brilliant feedback though, it was well reviewed and people have been lovely on Facebook and Twitter.”
You do read that stuff then, some artists actively avoid it…
“I do yeah. Some are worth reading, some aren’t, but it’s an opinion all the same.”
The circumstances surrounding the making of this record must have been very different from the last time you made an album…
“They were and I was pretty careful that I didn’t make it any weirder then it had to be. I went back to the same studio and worked with the same musicians, we did the album with the same producer. Just because you have a bit of success doesn’t mean you should throw the baby out with the bathwater. It would have been an option to get the most expensive studio and the biggest producer you can, but I had a good thing going.”
You went back to Australia to work with Chris Vallejo again, what he does he give you?
“He’s incredible. He’s the nicest, most understated and most talented guy in the world. He’s built this studio up from nothing and spent every penny he’s earned to make it better. He’s a brilliant, patient, passionate dude.”
Do you need a disciplinarian? Or just someone to bounce ideas off?
“We have quite specific roles in the studio, I’m there to provide the creative vision, so I’ll tell him the sound I want and he’ll tell me how to get there. I have no technical ability in terms of production, so we balance each other out nicely.”
Where did you get the inspiration for the songs from? Your life must be quite different now…
“I was quite glad actually, because ‘Let Her Go’ took so long to happen and get to where it got, that I’d already written most of this album. I was confident about these songs and just carried on working. I never felt any pressure to come up with another massive single.”
When you wrote ‘Let Her Go’, much as you couldn’t imagine how well it would do, did you have an inkling that it could change things for you?
“No. I’ve written songs in the past where I’ve thought ‘This is really special’ and it’s just ended up as a nice song on the album. ‘Let Her Go’ felt special, but in that way, nothing particularly remarkable. I’ve been an independent artist for years, I never thought I’d get a song on the radio. It didn’t stick out at live shows, bizarrely it wasn’t until it started to get big in Holland that I noticed it was a bit different.”
Are there days when you’re sick of it?
“No. Every day you’re playing it to different people. I might have played it thousands of times, but that crowd haven’t heard it thousands of times. You have to respect that. It’s what’s got me where I am. I have to respect that.”
Have you looked at any of the YouTube covers?
“Yeah, there’s some great stuff out there, I’ve looked a few times.”
Was that a real pinch yourself moment? Being able to find things like that?
“There have been so many pinch yourself moments over the last year that my arms are covered in scars. I feel a bit like a broken record, every time I sit down to talk I say that I can’t believe what’s happened. But I can’t, I still can’t.”
Tell us about the lyrics on Whispers…
“Lyrics are so important to me. It’s mostly stories, but some of the craziness from last year has sunk into the songwriting. No one wants to hear an album about how difficult success is, you have to write songs that people can relate to.”
What’s the song on the album you’re most proud of?
“I really like Whispers, the title track. From a production point of view, it’s really strong, it crescendos into this huge moment. It starts out really simple and morphs into this shouty interesting thing.”
What will success mean to you this time? You’re not searching for your first hit anymore…
“To me, it’s a success already. I’m not just saying that to take the pressure off, it really is. Going into it, none of us were talking about having another single like ‘Let Her Go’, or selling loads of albums. I don’t have goals, you either fail or you smash it out of the park. This is the first record when I play it from beginning to end and enjoy it, there’s nothing that makes me cringe, I’m so proud of it.”
Do you have personal ambitions? Like headlining a certain venue? Or a festival?
“There’s all sorts of things, I’ve got a million ideas that I want to explore. We’ll probably do that after this cycle. I wanted to come back quickly after ‘Let Her Go’ and strike while the iron is hot. We’ve got a lot of touring into next year and then we’ve got a blank canvas. I want to play with a band, I’d love to play with an orchestra, we’ve all done our own thing, we’ve booked our own tours, busked all over the place, there’s a lot I’d like to do.”
Are there artists you look to? For career inspiration?
“There are. I want to be seen as a career artist, as an album artist, so people like Ryan Adams and John Mayer, they’re the kind of musicians I look to and admire. They might be all over the papers, but when they release an album, people listen and people take it seriously.”
They’re both keen collaborators with other artists, would you like to do that?
“Definitely. I collaborate with people already and as a musician it’s the best thing you can do. You don’t want to fit into a pattern, you don’t want to rely on the same technique. I’d love to write with more people and try my hand at producing.”
What has been your favourite album of the year?
“Ed Sheeran. He’s a friend and I think his album is incredible. He’s done exceptionally well and deservedly so, he’s just an incredible songwriter.”
What did you think of the tracks with Pharrell? Did he play it to you before it went public?
“He did. He said to me ‘This is splitting opinion, what do you think?’. I loved it. It was so big and so bold. It’s poppy, but it’s great. He could have gone in so many directions, but I love the one he chose.”
Finally, Ed’s made an album with The Game, if you could make an album with any rapper, who would it be?
“I love Nas. He’s a really clever guy and his lyrics are brilliant. I’d love to make a record with Nas, I’m not sure he’d like to make a record with me though…”
Passenger's new album Whispers is out now in hmv stores across the UK. His new single '27' will be released on November 10th.