I can honestly say that of every artist to completely explode on a global scale of the past few years, no-one has deserved it more than Mike Rosenberg. All the dude has ever had is a guitar and some dreams. Now he’s playing arenas. How many people get to say that? Like, make what you will of the guy’s music. It’s not for everyone – or, maybe, some people don’t like it because it is for everyone. Whatever the case, you’ve got to hand it to the guy for his goddamn hustle. I’ll always love Mike, and interviews like this are one of the many reasons why.
– DJY, October 2014
Mike Rosenberg doesn’t do interviews. This isn’t to imply that he is stuck up or pretentious or anything of the sort. Rather, when Rosenberg – better known to most as Passenger – is scheduled to do these “interview” things, he throws that idea out the window and engages you in conversation. None of this I’m-an-artist pedestal – Mike, an expat Brit who now spends most of his time in our fair country, is just an ordinary guy who just happens to make extraordinary music.
“I’ve been pretty busy, man,” he says when it comes to his work as Passenger. “Lot of touring last year -did shows with Boy & Bear and then my own tour, which was cool. I did Woodford [Folk Festival] in the new year, did some shows with Josh Pyke, lots of busking, writing, recording…just smashing it, man. It’s been good fun, though!”
Perhaps it’s this level of activity and productivity that has kept Passenger’s profile growing at an exponential rate. Additionally, perhaps it’s his warm and friendly nature that has seen him buddy up with some of Australian music’s biggest names on his second studio album, Flight of the Crow. Every single song is a collaboration with another act – from Philadelphia Grand Jury to Dead Letter Chorus, from Katie Noonan to Kate Miller-Heidke, Matt Corby, Lior, touring buddies Josh Pyke and Boy and Bear… it just goes on like this. Sure, he’s probably been asked a thousand times over but how exactly does one go about making such fast friends?
“Well, I paid a lot of people a lot of money, and I threatened to kidnap as well,” says Rosenberg, his tongue lodged firmly within cheek. “Really, though, dude, it was just one of those things. I knew Lior and Josh through mutual friends, I met Boy & Bear and Matt at a gig. This is the honest truth – it was a really fucking organic process. I haven’t got a label, I’m not signed to anyone, it wasn’t some big PR stunt where we came in with hundreds and thousands of dollars. It was literally just an idea that came about and just went from strength to strength. I was just lucky enough that people with such talent got involved and were so open to being involved with a project like that.”
Much has also been made of the context in which Flight was recorded, too – Rosenberg funded the entire recording process with money made from his extensive busking, something he still does every other week wherever he can. “The reason I did that was for the music – there was no other reason,” he comments. “I think people responded to that. If it had been from any other place, I don’t think it would have been as successful. It all took awhile, a few months or so. The upside of doing something like that, though, is that you’ve got no-one to tell you what songs go on or what should be on the cover or any of that kind of stuff. All that hard work is really paying for creative freedom – and, to me, that’s the most important thing.”
What advice does Rosenberg have for any young buskers who wish to follow in his footsteps and try the same thing? His answer is simple: “Fucking go for it, man!” He continues: “It can make you feel pretty weird, but it’s such a good way of improving -playing-wise, as well as learning to perform in front of people. You’ve got to develop a thick skin, you really do – but it’s so good for you. In music, there’s so many fucking knock-backs and set-backs, you get excited about something and then it falls through. In a really funny way, busking kind of hardens you up. It helps you to deal with that side of things.”
Only a matter of months after finishing his own headlining tour, Mike is back on the road once more this month for the One For The Road tour, co-headlining with his friend Ohad Rein – better known as Old Man River. “He was a guy that I had recommended to me when I was making Flight of the Crow,” recalls Mike on how he and Rein first met. “I’d heard his name thrown around a lot, and I’d heard his music and really liked it, but we’d never had a chance to hang out. It turned out that he has the same booking agent as me, so we met up a bunch of times and it seemed like a really good idea. He wanted to go out with just an acoustic guitar, and I said that was my kind of thing and it just went from there. Too easy!”