“Every decision should be for artistry, not for commercial reasons…” - hmv.com talks to Passenger
Passenger, or Mike Rosenberg as he’s formally known, seems to be intent on striking while the iron is hot. Since his 2012 smash hit ‘Let Her Go’ he’s been relentlessly touring and putting out new material, the latest of which is new album Young As the Morning, Old As the Sea (it’s out today, you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of the page), his third album in as many years.
We chatted with him about recording in New Zealand, hanging out with Crowded House’s Neil Finn and his plans to bring folk music back to coffee shops…
How did making this album compare to making Whispers?
“It was very different. I’d made the last three albums in Sydney and this time we went to this place called Roundhead Studios in Auckland, it’s actually Neil Finn from Crowded House’s studio. It was a much bigger space and I could record the album live with the band, which made a huge difference. I had wanted to change it up, I love the Sydney studio, but I wanted somewhere bigger and somewhere that could bring out a different side of me, it led to a very different record.”
Did you see much of Neil Finn?
“A bit, we had a beer together one night, he’s a lovely man and a huge inspiration to me, he spends his entire life making music. He’s been doing it for so many years and you’d think he’d be hanging out and sipping cocktails, but he’s at it every day, that’s incentive for me.”
You worked with Chris Vallejo again, presumably that was never in doubt?
“Never. I want to make Passenger a project with long-lasting working relationships, people who really understand each other. Me and Chris have evolved together and work so well. I’d like to work with other producers one day, but this works very well at the moment.”
How much difference it did make having the band there?
“Absolutely. I brought the songs to the band at a really early stage and they felt much more up for grabs, it was a much more collaborative environment and I let go quite a lot and was a lot less micro managerial. That felt really good and I really trusted them, there was no danger of the songs being taken into jazz funk territory…”
How did you find working in New Zealand?
“I loved it. The natural beauty is just breathtaking, amazing food, great food and really fantastic copy, I really fell in love with the place.”
It’s a 10 track album, did you always intend to keep it short and sweet?
“I went in with about 17, we recorded all of them, a couple fell away early and then we worked from there. I had 12 tracks in mind, but it was a bit long and culling those two did the album loads of favours. It’s lean and fat free now, every song has fought for its place.”
What kind of album do you think it is lyrically?
“Previous records have been more about people, stories and micro stories. I’ve pulled back a bit this time, there’s less about particular people, this is more about landscapes and geography and nature, recording in New Zealand fed into that a lot. That’s why it’s got such a widescreen title.”
Was it always going to be called Young As the Morning, Old As the Sea?
“It’s always what I thought it was going to be. Then I changed it to be Anywhere and Everything which are likely to be two of the singles, but then I realised that I’d only decided on that because it was a bit easier and snappier and that’s no reason to do anything. Every decision should be for artistry, not for commercial reasons, that’s why it’s a really long title.”
How do lyrics come to you? Are you scribbling notes all the time?
“I have a strange system. I deliberately don’t write anything down and then if I remember it then I know it’s worth doing something with. I have lost a couple of songs that way, but I think it’s a pretty good way of deciding what’s worth pursuing.”
You’re known for being prolific, have you made a start on any new material already?
“The next album is pretty much written and ready to go. I don’t know when I’ll get round to recording it, I actually think I’ll need a break after this, I’ve made eight albums since 2007 and it might be time to slow down.”
What do you think you’d do if you had some time off?
“Sleep for about three months! I’ve just opened a coffee shop and I’m quite interested in trying to get more of a scene going around coffee shops. In the US they do it really well, obviously there’s a big tradition with Bob Dylan and the beat poets starting in coffee shops, but there’s none of that here. In the UK we have pub gigs where everyone gets pissed and shouts, but I really like the coffee shop environment for acoustic music. I’d like to open a few shops if I could, I’m also looking to start my own label.”
You know Ed Sheeran pretty well, he’s making great strides with his label...
“He’s done very well. Jamie Lawson has been a huge success and I love Foy Vance, I don’t know how he’s not filling stadiums himself. Ed’s always been amazing at doing that, I’m sure he’ll be there for advice if I need it.”