Passenger: I didn't feel the pressure then and I don't feel it now

Passenger: I didn't feel the pressure then and I don't feel it now
Photo by Shervin Lainez

Passenger| First Avenue| Sunday, August 24

The meaningful lyrics from Passenger's hit single "Let Her Go" only took Mike Rosenberg 45 minutes to write. So far, the breakup song has over 363 million views on YouTube, and has allowed the folk singer-songwriter to go from playing small pubs in England to world tours. In June, his new album Whispers was released, and it's just as full of thoughtful lyrics bashing social media as All the Little Lights but with a more upbeat tone.

Ahead of Sunday's First Avenue show, Gimme Noise talked with Rosenberg about his new album, social media, and his love for lyrics.

Gimme Noise: In an interview you said you hate Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" because it is cheesy. What do you do if you find your lyrics are becoming too cheesy?

Mike Rosenberg: [Laughs] I don't know. I certainly don't hate Celine Dion. It was a joke. I think lyrics are really important. You've got the chance to say something -- to say something in a cool way in a song. I think lyrics sometimes take a backseat and aren't really a priority but to me they're absolutely important to have. I just care an awful lot about lyrics.

How do you feel knowing your song is being played on the radio next to other cheesy songs and songs that are not highly thought of?

When I think about lyrics I certainly don't think that every song needs to be some sort of "Let Her Go" song, you know what I mean? I love pop music. I love singing to it and it just takes you back. There's a time and a place for that sort of thing. I'm actually lucky that "Let Her Go" got radio play and that it crossed over into that kind of more mainstream arena. It's an incredibly lucky thing for any artist. I feel so lucky.

You also sing about hating social media, but social media plays a huge role in the success of artists. How do you deal with hating something that is necessary?

I don't dislike social media. It's more my experience. Facebook and YouTube are so important and without those two things I don't think any music could happen. I don't hate social media. It's brilliant. It's an amazing time that we live in. I think my problem sometimes is the amount that it takes up in our lives, you know. If you're not careful, you stop consuming real life and real experiences and real people sometimes. I just think we need to be careful and not lose sight of what's important, you know.

Going into Whispers, did you feel as though you had to have a certain sound fans would like because of the success of "Let Her Go?"

No I didn't. When you have a big song you can think about it in two ways. You can think, "On my next album I need to be successful and have three 'Let Her Go' songs and try to change that sound that was successful in the first place" or you can say, "How amazing that my song did really well and now I can move and do another album." You know, you have to be realistic about your level of expectations. I am folk singer, I'm a singer-songwriter. I don't expect every song I release to have that much attention, you know. It's crazy what happened with "Let Her Go." Now it's opened the doors with my music. I think you would be crazy to go along with that expectation. A lot of the songs I've written even before "Let Her Go" did really well. Honestly I didn't feel pressure then and I really don't feel the pressure now either. I'm really proud of it, the record. Of course it's not going to do as mostly well as All the Little Lights did. I'm fine and I didn't get into making music to sell a million records. I do what I love to do.

What kind of responses are you getting from fans?

It's been really really good. It's amazing. I've released six albums and just that alone is exciting. Thousands of people over the world were inspired when the CD came out. Just that alone makes me so proud. The reaction has been incredible so far. I can't wait to get out on the road and do whatever.


You have toured all over the world. Do you have a favorite or least favorite spot to play?

It's always a different venue every time, you know. I've been to terrible venues in my time. Luckily now the shows are a bit bigger and are more professional and you can have the best of whatever. It sucks when you're playing to like 50 people but I remember playing one gig where they wouldn't turn the music down in a bar and I was sort of in the background all night. I don't really mind, you know.

What do you do for fun when on tour?

I think what I really try to do is get out and see stuff. It's like you're in a dressing room and you're off again. It's kind of pointless traveling all over the world and not seeing anything. You have to be really on top of that. You can get lazy and just spend time on the bus and you don't go exploring new towns and new places. Yeah other than that, I just get drunk [laughs].

How has the music you listened to influenced you and the way you make music?

I grew up listening to Bob Dylan. I still listen to him all the time and it sort of changed everything that I do really. The way I structure a song, the way I sing, the way I pluck my guitar, everything I do is sort of old American songwriting.

Did you really write 600 songs for this album (mentioned in "27")? If so, will we hear any of the ones that didn't make it on the album?

[Laughs] No, I think overall in my mind I've written something close to 500 songs. Most of them are terrible. I think there is a lot of trial and error with songwriting. I've written a lot of songs but eventually one or two of them are good. I do write a lot of songs. I do have a lot of songs put away. It's really good to have those packed away so they don't have to be rushed and can be used for another album.

Passenger, Sunday, August 24, 5 p.m., First Avenue, SOLD OUT. Info.

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