Pocketful Of Songs

17 April 2012 | 9:13 am | Michael Smith

UK-born Mike Rosenberg, aka Passenger, it’s still all about songs that connect, best tested busking and best recorded right here in Australia

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He's your archetypal 'have guitar and a backpack full of songs, will travel' musical troubadour, is Michael Rosenberg, who has been travelling solo under the moniker Passenger since he released an album called Wide Eyes Blind Love back in 2009. The travelling inevitably brought him to Australia and the opportunity to not only live and work here for a year or so, but also to record an album, Flight Of The Crow, with a few of the musical friends he made along the way, which he toured throughout 2010. Before he returned to the UK last year, he got stuck into recording another album, this time without the guests but again with a core band.

After a year or so back in the UK touring Flight Of The Crow, Rosenberg is back in Australia to launch that latest album, All The Little Lights. “I guess Flight Of The Crow was such a different thing, you know, with all the collaborations and everything else,” Rosenberg explains. “This album's the first one which has actually been a Passenger album and been a proper release. You know, a few of my records in the past have just been soft releases through my website, and this one feels really proper, so… I dunno, it feels good at the moment.

“I'm really happy with the sound of it, man. It's funny you know, whenever I make an album, I go through a real rollercoaster with it; one minute I love it, the next minute I hate it and don't wanna release it,” he laughs. “I know a lot of my mates go through the same thing and I think it's a fairly natural process, but I'm really happy with it now and just can't wait to get out there and actually start working it, you know?

“Going in, I didn't just want to sit in a room with my guitar and make a folk record, I wanted it to be something that was a bit more challenging. I wanted it to sound a bit more bright and poppy in a way. Not in a naff way but in a sort of Regina Spektor-y kind of way – you know, just something new and different and interesting – and something I hadn't done before, and I think we've really achieved that in moments on the record. I think it's quite an ambitious album sound-wise.”

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Of course, like any self-respecting singer/songwriter, Rosenberg, who this time is touring with a band, has already written a whole new album in the time it's taken to get All The Little Lights mixed and mastered, the artwork sorted and so on. “I've got so many new songs, but they're not going anywhere and it's a nice problem to have. I'd rather be in that situation than scraping around for songs in a couple of years to try and make a new record.”

Recorded again in Sydney, as had Flight Of The Crow, for All The Little Lights Rosenberg was joined by a core band that included Boy & Bear drummer Tim Hart, jazz bassist Cameron Undy (who also played on Flight Of The Crow), plus keyboard player Stu Hunter from Katie Noonan & The Captains, along with two female backing singers, horns and string sections. If there's a theme to be drawn from the album, it's not just the usual stock-in-trade of the travelling troubadour – love – but the love of life itself.

Rosenberg's musical journey has been a very different one in some ways. Invited to join a pop band called Passenger, he opted to keep working under that name after that band fell apart in 2007, supplementing the regular gigs and tours around the UK with a bit of busking. It was the busking that proved the perfect vehicle for Rosenberg to continue developing his music, taking him first to America and then Australia. It could have turned out very differently. “I think it's happened for me at a much more natural pace for me,” he suggests. “In fact, at the time I felt it was pretty slow, but looking back on it I'm kind of pleased it happened in this way because it kind of allows you to adapt and grow and not freak out. I've learnt so much and I'm sort of grateful for all the mistakes and all the wrong turns that I did take early on, although there have been days where I've cursed it. You know, it's been frustrating, but I kind of think now that this life that I've got now – busking and travelling and everything else – okay, it's not amazingly well paid, it's not 'fame and fortune' or whatever, but it's totally fascinating and actually… I dunno, I feel very blessed to be living this life.”

That's why the busking side of things remains a cornerstone of Rosenberg's touring life – just before performing at the Adelaide Fringe at the time of this conversation, he'd been “busking and putting on these small sorts of shows for people who have pre-ordered the record, just as a sort of thankyou, really” – because not only can he roadtest the songs in a way that gets him instant feedback, but he also gathers the stories that eventually become songs. “Absolutely,” he confirms, “and they're so real, you know? They're about real people that you're meeting in hostels and town centres and pubs all around the world. And I think that's what people connect to, because that's what people know about.

“I think Let Her Go is a big song on this record. I think it's typically Passenger in the way that it's about love lost and, you know, all those fun things. That's the track that we kind of got excited about and maybe built the rest of the record around. But I dunno man, I think it's just a body of work that kind of sits well together and hopefully works together as a set of songs. I mean, I hope all the songs have kind of earnt their place. We took a few off and added a few and changed things about a bit to try to make sure there weren't any fillers, and that each song kind of made its mark.

“And I've been travelling around playing solo shows, and people may be buying this album expecting just to hear that, so I've actually made it like a double CD. We've done, like, an acoustic CD to go along with the record, so hopefully it doesn't alienate those people who just love that really pure sound of just the guitar.”