You might call Passenger a bit of a musical misnomer, as it was the original name of Michael David Rosenberg’s band, which broke up in 2009. He kept the simple moniker when he began writing and touring solo work, which he’s been doing since they disbanded. Joke’s on those poor souls, who missed out on sharing Passenger’s runaway success with his single “Let Her Go.”
Of course, for years and years and year previous, Rosenberg put in time busking on the streets, particularly in Australia, the Brit's adopted home. We talked about that and more before his date at Old National Centre tonight.
NUVO: Tell me about your live setup. You have The Once and Stu Larsen opening for you, and they also played on your album. Do they join you on stage?
Rosenberg: We haven't really figured it out yet. I do play with just me and a guitar, and that will be the bulk of the show. But I think those guys might come on for a [song] or two. They're absolutely brilliant. I've talked with Stu a bunch of times and I'm really looking forward to traveling with The Once. They're lovely guys and phenomenally talented, so it should fun.
NUVO: You say it's just you and a guitar on stage, but your new album has a lot of other instrumental flourishes. Do you strip a lot down for live performance?
Rosenberg: I think it kind of surprises a lot of people, because you listen to the record and it's really big, really big sounding with strings and brass. I like to do something different with the live show. I played with a band years ago and it never really engaged people in the same way that it does when I play on my own. And I think that's partly to do with the nature of my songs. They're so much about the lyrics, and the stories and the meanings behind them, that once you start adding lots of ingredients to the live show, it almost actually puts an obstacle between the audience and the songs. I've just leaned over time that actually it's really powerful just playing on my own. And there's a really good interaction with the crowd as well. When you haven't got band members to sort of turn to and play to, I think the connection with the crowd can be really, really uninterrupted and really strong. I've played live on my own for four or five years, and it's something I don't think twice about now.
NUVO: I ask this question sometimes of people who play out almost daily for a sustained number of years: how do you protect your voice on these long tours?
Rosenberg: I was quite a heavy smoker for a long time, and it was really difficult then. My voice was getting nasty and really tired. I think now that I've stopped smoking, my body is happy with me that I'm not piling cigarettes down my throat. My voice is really ... it feels okay at the moment. I think as well, after years of busking where I used to play for three or four hours straight through the day, that really built up my stamina. It used to be a lot more fragile, but now I think after some years on the road, it's a muscle, and if you work it in the right way, it gets stronger and it adapts, and you get used to it, I guess.
NUVO: The idea of a busker, a lone troubadour, is such a romantic idea that sort of exists with folk musicians only. The lone rock and roll musician busking on the street doesn't quite have the same romance to it as the lone folk busker. After so many years of being in that role, and transitioning to these major stages and major success, what's been the hardest change you've had to make?
Rosenberg: You're right, actually, and it's not something that you think about. When I was busking, when I was coming up, you don't see a downside to it, becoming successful. And there aren't many, there are wonderful things that have happened. Just as far as busking, there's a lot of freedom. We used to stay in towns for three or four days, and we'd busk and explore the city and meet people. It moved at a slower pace. At the time, I felt a little frustrated by it. I wanted more to happen. And when it does, there's a part of me that really misses that. It is romantic, there is a freedom and a fluidity to it. Those were some great years, really, really wonderful times just floating around busking and finding myself [musically] and figuring out what I wanted to do. It was a really cool few years.