It was not so long ago that the U.K. native was traveling hemispheres to avoid having to busk outdoors in cold weather. He was a wandering musician, playing to small-to-medium size venues and writing songs as they came to him.
As Passenger began collaborating with more artists and building a following success eventually found him. He cut a few albums in Australia, working with a lot of the local talent and joined a tour with longtime friend Sheeran in 2012.
His single “Let Her Go” catapulted him into the international spotlight in 2013, topping charts around the world and earning him a handful of awards and nominations.
Passenger released his latest album, Young As The Morning, Old As The Sea last month, and it was jousting with Bruce Springsteen’s Chapter And Verse for the number 1 slot in the U.K., Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. Passenger wrote a humorous little song about competing with Springsteen and released a video the week of the launch.
Now that the album is out, he is finally bringing other musicians along for a new kind of tour. He is currently running around Europe until early December. After that, it’s Australia and New Zealand for January and early February, then the U.S. and Canada from March until April.
In the midst of the tour he took some time to talk to Pollstar about his latest endeavors.
So you’re pretty busy these days, between the headline tour and the album hitting No.1 in four countries.
Yeah it’s been a crazy few weeks. The album came out two weeks ago and it basically coincided with the start of the European tour. So it’s been a whirlwind these past couple weeks. The whole No. 1 thing has been fun. It’s just insane, completely beyond our wildest dreams really.
Did you think your music would be that popular in Europe?
Yeah, we are doing really well in Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and Switzerland. Australia has always been good to me because I spent a lot of time there busking, playing in the street and I’ve built up a pretty big grassroots fanbase now. I guess Australia and the UK are probably my strongest markets. It’s just nice to see that response to the record and to see the fanbase get behind it and push it over the line. That’s been pretty cool.
You spent some time busking in Australia. How long did you work building up your fanbase down there?
I was busking for about four or five years. I spent about half the year in the Northern Hemisphere, around Europe and a bit in States and Canada as well. When it got too cold to busk around these parts then I would bugger off down to Australia and spend six months down there.
It was a great little arrangement actually, it meant that I didn’t really feel a winter for years.
In those days did you ever imagine you would get a hit like “Let Her Go?”
No, absolutely not. I had sort of let go of any commercial expectations. When you are busking in the street and playing clubs in front of 100 people, the idea of having a hit single is so foreign, so far away that it would be like winning the lottery. You would never expect it to happen. And that’s sort of a healthy way to approach it. I wasn’t trying to put any pressure on it to do anything crazy, and so I think that’s what gave it the breathing space to go and do something crazy.
Where did you get inspiration for this new album?
Inspiration hits you in weird times and weird moments. But I think the running theme to this record is nature. There’s a lot of references to landscapes, to mountains, forests, and oceans, and I seem to be talking about that more and more. And I think in real life as well I’m trying to put myself in those locations more and more. After touring for so long and so intensely, I find that any time I get to escape, [I go] to these rural places, and I think that’s really starting to come through on this new record.
It’s something that keeps on giving, you never get bored. A sunset or looking out on the ocean, it’s a constant source of inspiration. It can never get old and its different every day.
Your current tour features a live band for the first time?
Yeah, for many years it’s just been me and a guitar and when I was busking I didn’t really have the money to bring a band out on the road with me.
I think I got used to playing on my own. And I think that’s something that made what I was doing a little different. There was no band, no loop pedal or anything, it was just me and a guitar. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been able to grow as an artist.
But I just felt like it was time. I think it was the new record being a really big, epic sounding album, and for the first time I thought, “Well … I don’t think I can pull this off on my own in a live situation.”
But I also thought it was just time to give those people who have come to 10 or 15 solo shows something completely different. I wanted to do the new songs, but also the old songs with a full arrangement and a big band.
We’re about [eight] shows in and we’re just loving it. It’s so new for me and all the fans and I think people are really digging it so far.
So a big reason for the full band is your fans?
Well, primarily as an artist you need to do what is right for you. You can’t try and please everybody because you’ll end up pleasing nobody. I think it felt absolutely the right time for me to change it up and move into the full band thing. But I think it’s also a really nice knock-on effect that those real hardcore fans who’ve seen so many shows, that it’s something so different for them to see.
What was the songwriting process like for “Let Her Go”?
I wrote it in 45 minutes backstage at a gig in Australia, which is ridiculous, isn’t it? But I think that kind of sums it up the success of it, because its not over-thought, it’s not over-processed, it hasn’t been through some sort of songwriting machine and come out the other end. It was really spontaneous, and it just fell out.
And I’ve heard it summed up this way before: they literally just fall out of you, without you having to think about it. And that was “Let Her Go” and I thought at the time it was a nice song, and it was catchy, but I didn’t for one minute think I had just written a song that was going to change my life.
Anything else you’d like to say to fans?
Just a heads up about the U.S. dates coming up. I’m really looking forward to coming out to the States with the full band. By that time we should be really tight and it should be a great show.
Here is Passenger’s full routing:
Oct. 11 – Helsinki, Finland, Helsinki Hall of Culture
Oct. 13 – Stockholm, Sweden, Filadelfiakyrkan
Oct. 14 – Oslo, Norway, Sentrum Scene
Oct. 16 – Copenhagen, Denmark, Store Vega
Oct. 25 – Paris, France, Trianon
Oct. 26 – Amsterdam, Netherlands, Heineken Music Hall
Oct. 27 – Brussels, Belgium, Cirque Royal
Oct. 29 – Cologne, Germany, Palladium
Oct. 30 – Frankfurt, Germany, Jahrhunderthalle Frankfurt
Nov. 1 – Hamburg, Germany, Alsterdorfer Sporthalle
Nov. 3 – Munich, Germany, Zenith – Die Kulturhalle
Nov. 4 – Winterthur, Switzerland, Eishalle Deutweg
Nov. 6 – Barcelona, Spain, Razzmatazz
Nov. 19 – Brighton, England, Brighton Dome
Nov. 20 – Brighton, England, Brighton Dome
Nov. 22 – Plymouth, Plymouth, Plymouth Pavilions
Nov. 23 – Bristol, England, Colston Hall
Nov. 25 – London, England, Eventim Apollo
Nov. 26 – London, England, Eventim Apollo
Nov. 29 – Birmingham, England, O2 Academy Birmingham
Nov. 30 – Manchester, England, O2 Apollo Manchester
Dec. 2 – Dublin, Ireland, Vicar Street
Dec. 3 – Dublin, Ireland, Vicar Street
Dec. 4 – Belfast, Northern Ireland, Belfast Waterfront
Dec. 7 – Edinburgh, Scotland, Usher Hall
Dec. 8 – Glasgow, Scotland, Barrowland
Jan. 17 – Auckland, New Zealand, Civic Theatre
Jan. 18 – Wellington, New Zealand, The Opera House
Jan. 20 – Brisbane, Australia, Brisbane Riverstage
Jan. 21 – Cairns, Australia, Munro Martin Parklands
Jan. 25 – Melbourne, Australia, Sidney Myer Music Bowl
Jan. 28 – Newtown, Australia, Enmore Theatre
Jan. 31 – Hobart, Australia, Odeon Theatre
Feb. 2 – Adelaide, Australia, Thebarton Theatre
Feb. 4 – Fremantle, Australia, Fremantle Arts Centre
March 7 – Philadelphia, Pa., The Fillmore Philadelphia
March 8 – Washington, DC, 9:30 Club
March 10 – Boston, Mass., House Of Blues Boston
March 11 – New York, N.Y., Beacon Theatre
March 14 – Montreal, Quebec, Metropolis
March 15 – Toronto, Ontario, Rebel
March 17 – Chicago, Ill., Riviera Theatre
March 18 – Minneapolis, Minn., First Avenue
March 21 – Denver, Colo., Ogden Theatre
March 25 – Vancouver, British Columbia, Orpheum
March 26 – Seattle, Wash., Showbox SoDo
March 28 – Portland, Ore., McMenamins Crystal Ballroom
March 30 – Oakland, Calif., Fox Theater
April 1 – Los Angeles, Calif., The Wiltern
April 2 – San Diego, Calif., House Of Blues
April 5 – Dallas, Texas, House Of Blues
April 6 – Austin, Texas, Stubb’s Bar-B-Q
April 8 – Nashville, Tenn., Ryman Auditorium
April 9 – Atlanta, Ga., The Buckhead Theatre
Tickets to most of the shows are on sale now. You can learn more about the singer/songwriter at PassengerMusic.com.