Mike Rosenberg is known by his stage name, Passenger. He is a singer-songwriter from the UK. He stopped by our Oakland office last week and played a few songs for us. I was lucky to speak with Mike after his performance about his life as a musician.
Mike has spent much of his musical career busking. He’s performed on the streets of many cities, playing for whatever by passers stop to listen. Currently, Passenger is touring the US with Ed Sheeran, putting him in front of paying crowds of thousands every night. Mike let us know that he likes both sides of his career.
When did you start playing music?
I learned classical guitar as a kid at about 7 or 8 years old. When I was about 14, I started dabbling in songwriting. That’s when I got into the folky singer-songwriter style.
What musicians do you look up to?
I’m a bit of an old man as far as my music tastes; I love Paul Simon, James Taylor, Cat Stevens. It’s been exciting to see what’s happening with artists like Midlake, Bon Iver and all that new crew. But on the whole I have pretty traditional taste.
When did you start doing this for a living?
I dropped out of school at 17 ’cause all I wanted to do was play music. I had odd jobs on the side of gigging until I turned 22, when I was lucky to start doing this full time. I believe it’s important to put all of your energy into what you’re doing rather than doing an office job and trying to muster up energy for music. It’s been a real blessing to play music full time.
What’s the weirdest gig you’ve ever played?
I’ve played in some pretty weird settings; busking puts you in all kinds of situations. I can tell you the most depressing gig I’ve played was in the North of England. At that time I was playing with a band, we drove 7 or 8 hours to Carlisle to play a 600 – 700 capacity venue – 9 people showed up. Gigs are so bizarre ’cause one minute you’re playing for 5000 and next your busking for a couple of people.
What instrument would you play if you had time to master a new instrument?
Harp, most incredible instrument ever, beautiful looking and sounding – I’m not being sarcastic. Or pedal steel.
What is your main mode of transportation?
For years I mostly traveled on my own. I don’t have a driver’s license, you see, it’s different in Europe, you don’t always need one because the cities are closer and easier to get around. I like to travel by train, stare out the window and get song ideas… I am just a passenger after all… I named the band Passenger after a song that I wrote called Passenger; it seemed to fit with the observational style of songwriting.
How do you pass the time on the road?
I have a soccer game app on my phone, I play that for hours a day, I do some reading, I sleep. There’s been a lot going on lately so mostly I do anything to try to escape business.
Obviously you’re comfortable with being on stage, how does playing for a crowd in a club differ from busking?
Nowa days when I busk there are some people who already know my music but generally I’m playing for people who have never heard of me. There is a lot less pressure busking because whoever wants to stop and listen listens and whoever doesn’t want to doesn’t.
There are no obligations. Whatever pops into my head I can play it. In venues there’s an understanding of what you should do because people are paying to hear you. Playing venues is wonderful because people sing along and get excited. On other hand it can cause pressure, you want to give people their money’s worth. It’s funny, but I really enjoy both busking and playing venues.
What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out?
Try to be as honest with yourself as possible in all aspects. Don’t try to be someone else when writing. Good songs are genuine and unique; obviously we all take references and are influenced by other writers but people really started paying attention to me when I found what was honest and unique about myself and concentrated on that.
Just fucking keep on going… it’s a long, long road to achieve anything in music. You have to have a mad belief in yourself that if you keep on taking opportunities, writing good songs, being nice, being yourself, people will pick up on it.
Of course it also takes a bit of luck.
-Aaron (Community Manager)