An interview with Mike Rosenberg from Passenger

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Mike Rosenberg, aka Passenger, supported Ed Sheeran on his recent South African tour. The response was so fantastic that Passenger will be returning to South Africa to perform his own solo shows in Johannesburg and Cape Town in November. He commented, “I had the most incredible time opening up for Ed in South Africa. I couldn’t believe how lovely the crowds were, and the response online has been completely insane! I really can’t wait to come back and play my own shows!”

Passenger has come a long way since the release of his first album, Wicked man’s rest, back in 2007. The initial incarnation, in which Rosenberg was backed by a full band, was followed by his reinvention as a solo artist and a period of busking, largely in Australia and New Zealand. Then came a year touring the world in support of Ed Sheeran. And then, the hit single, “Let her go”, followed – Rosenberg smiles – by “two years running round the world after that song”. “Let her go” is a classic break-up song. “I think that’s why it’s resonated with so many people. It was inspired by a relationship ending.” He had to run fast: the song, for which Rosenberg won an Ivor Novello, has had over two billion plays on YouTube to date.

“Let her go” changed nothing, and it changed everything. Rosenberg reflects, “Everyone wants you to succeed. When “Let her go” got big, it changed the way some people saw me. It was challenging to stay true to myself, to the principles of being a busker. There’s this weird balance of letting the snowball roll down the mountain and gather momentum, while also trying to shape it: you don’t want it to turn into something you don’t want it to be. I just tried my hardest to make all the decisions for the right reasons, to carry on writing songs I believed in and recording them with people l loved and trusted.”

Mike says his folks had a huge influence in his musical formation years, and have been very supportive of him pursuing a career in music. “I left school to pursue a career in music; it was the only thing that I was really excited about, back then. I wasn’t particularly academic, and all I wanted to do for as long as I can remember was write songs. It got to the stage where I just took the plunge, and, looking back, I’m so glad I did. My folks introduced me to so many amazing artists, most of whom I still listen to on heavy rotation now.” He believes Simon and Garfunkel are probably the most important inspirations behind his music. “I love Dylan and Joni Mitchell, too, but I think Paul Simon’s style of writing is what helped to shape mine.”

Being in the crowd myself when Mike opened for Ed Sheeran in Cape Town, I perceived his interactions with the crowd as unique. “I feel like I might be both an extro- and an introvert. On stage and in social situations, I can definitely be an extrovert, but at home, I’m fairly quiet and always need a lot of time and space on my own, especially when I’m writing. Perhaps it’s having both sides that allows me to do what I do.”

Mike is just as comfortable performing cover songs as his own – and it seems the crowd responds very well to that. “The covers I play are usually from my favourite artists, but not always. I think it’s so important to play other people’s songs. It keeps your mind open when writing your own ones.”

Apart from singing, Mike loves to cook; in actual fact, he is a chef. “I love cooking, and I’m so grateful for my time in the kitchen. It taught me how to cook, but also how to work hard. I think that was a really important time. I have the greatest respect for people who work in kitchens – it’s really tough!”

Mike Rosenberg has a phenomenal voice and talent, and thus far an amazing career he can really be proud of. “I’ve already achieved a million times more than I ever thought possible, so, at this stage, it is just all about making honest music that I’m proud of. That’s all you can ever really do as an artist, anyway.”  

On 2 May 2019, Passenger also released a new album, Sometimes it’s something, sometimes it’s nothing at all. This is his tenth album in 11 years, recorded between the UK and Australia with his co-producer, Chris Vallejo. “Its aesthetic is North American; some of the lyrics refer to specific locations, such as Detroit and Yellowstone. My dad is American, and we used to go over every other summer when we were kids. I always loved it. I guess I was seduced by it a little bit. It was such a culture shock coming from England.” All the profits from sales will be donated to Shelter, a UK-based homeless charity.

Passenger South African concert dates, brought to you by Big Concerts and AEG Presents:
Johannesburg: 23 November 2019 at the Ticketpro Dome
Cape Town: 26 November 2019 at the Grand Arena, GrandWest

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