A lot has happened since Mike Rosenberg, the British singer-songwriter who records and performs as Passenger, signed to IE Music aged just 17. Having originally emerged fronting a band, his re-invention as a solo performer began with years of busking, largely in Australia. Then came a number of shows supporting Ed Sheeran. And then, in ‘Let Her Go’, a tune that topped charts in 20 countries around the world. Those who know only that single, which won an Ivor Novello and clocked up a billion Youtube hits, might be surprised to hear that there have also been seven albums, less ubiquitous but no less acclaimed, from Wicked Man’s Rest (2007) to Whispers (2014) and Whispers II (2015).
Passenger’s eighth album, Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea is a record of continuity but also of change. The exquisite songcraft and the distinctive delivery remain as before, because Rosenberg himself remains as before: thoroughly down to earth, responding to the size and scale of ‘Let Her Go’ with the mix of genuine humility and self-deprecating humour so evident in his onstage performances. (‘How amazing, in a lifetime, to have a song that’s got this big,’ he told Reuters at the Ivor Novellos. ‘I’m so happy. That’s a story to tell my grandkids. You know, I was number one in Luxembourg.’)
What has changed? While recent albums have been recorded in Sydney, Young as the Morning… was recorded at Neil Finn’s Roundhead studio in New Zealand, inspired by the epic landscapes in that country and in Iceland, the location for the accompanying videos and photos. Lyrically, too, the album is newly panoramic. The stories both individual and universal, of relationships and the passing of time, are still there, for instance on tracks like ‘When We Were Young’, ‘Everything’ and ‘Somebody’s Love’. Yet they are joined, this time, by widescreen landscapes: Finnish forests, Norwegian lakes, Scottish highlands, the Italian coastline.
Musically, the sound has filled out too. Young as the Morning… is again a co-production with Chris Vallejo (INXS, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Empire of the Sun), in whose Sydney studio most recent Passenger material has been recorded. For this album, however, the pair were joined by a group of live musicians who also perform with Australian indie-folk duo Angus and Julia Stone.
Chris and I agreed to step it up for this new record,’ says Rosenberg. ‘We brought in some great musicians – I had met and jammed with them at a few festivals, and we got on really well. We also did pre-production for the first time: we all got together for a week in Sydney a month or so before recording the album. It meant the guys had a chance to digest the songs and we had a chance to really get to know one other. So the recording process, which can end up feeling quite pressured, felt very relaxed.’
The sense of taking time is reflected in the final album, which captures the growing confidence of Rosenberg and Vallejo as a production partnership. The involvement of fellow musicians from an early stage, meanwhile, has resulted in the kind of fuller arrangements and big sound that does justice to the epic lyrical themes.
‘I’ve done pretty much an album a year for the last decade’ says Rosenberg, ‘and the worry is that you don’t live with things for long enough. This time we’ve culled from 16 tracks to 10. I know the most recent record is probably always my favourite, but I honestly feel this is the first time I can play the new record to people and not feel obliged to make excuses. I’m so proud of it.’
Mike Rosenberg began working as Passenger in 2003, initially with fellow musicians and subsequently as a solo artist. Prior to Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea, he has released Wicked Man’s Rest (2007), Wide Eyes Blind Love (2009), Flight of the Crow (2010), Divers and Submarines (2010), All the Little Lights (2012), Whispers (2014) and Whispers II (2015). He lives in Brighton and still busks when he can.