Former street performer Mike Rosenberg admits that his life changed dramatically after “Let Her Go”— his 2012 single under the folk-pop alias of Passenger — topped charts in 18 countries, received more than 270 million YouTube views, and recently landed him Britain’s classy Ivor Novello Award for songwriting.
He mentions a post-concert night in Mexico City last year, he says, “when I ended up at a party at 3 a.m., hugging a jaguar, a real live big cat — as you do, whenever you’re hammered on tequila, with nobody you know around. It was an amazing evening. But kind of scary.”
The Ivor Novello ceremony was daunting to Passenger, who plays the Bay Area this week, backing his confident new album, “Whispers,” on his own Black Crow Records.
“Some crazy people were there. Fleetwood Mac was there, Jimmy Page, Nile Rodgers and Mumford & Sons. And just being in a room with those guys — let alone winning an award — I felt like I’d somehow snuck in the back, and I was ready for security to come and remove me,” he says.
He was listening to vintage Fleetwood Mac when composing “Whispers.”
Rosenberg, 30, knew of two possible approaches to his highly anticipated follow-up. He could crank out three more “Let Her Go’s” and sell even more records.
Or he says, he could tell himself, “What a wonderful thing to have happened, I was busking three years ago, with no money, and suddenly I’ve come up with this massive song, and I’ve got this great career. So I’m just going to carry on, making music that I like, and hope that my audience likes it, too. That really took the pressure off.”
The native of Brighton, England, came up with material that is uniquely, and delightfully, Passenger. His chipmunk-chipper singing voice is augmented by instruments including brass, woodwind and strings.
In “27,” he asserts, “I write songs that come from the heart / I don’t give a f— if they get into the chart or not.”
“Riding To New York” was rooted in a conversation Rosenberg had with a motorcycle-riding stranger one morning, sharing cigarettes at a Minneapolis gas station. “Bullets” was inspired by an elderly Australian he met who collected rare ammunition.
Next, he wants to expand Black Crow’s roster. He jokes that he might sign that jaguar as a scratch-mixer.
“He’s on my case all the time about a deal,” he laughs. “But he really needs to go away and develop his sound, and stop looking so menacing. Maybe then we can talk!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 p.m. Thursday