Touring seems like it would be one of the more exciting aspects of making a living as a musician. The chance to visit different cities and meet fans across the country, or even the world, is something only a lucky few get to experience. But for artist Michael Rosenberg (aka Passenger), ten tours across the US were hardly an inspiration. Most tours don’t take you to America’s more thought-provoking landscapes—like Big Sur or the heart of Yellowstone. So, while recording his newest album, Rosenberg and co-producer Chris Vallejo took a few weeks to road trip the country, recording live, acoustic versions of songs and shooting video footage along the way.
As Rosenberg put it, “I’ve toured the States 10 times, and like with all tours it tends to take you to the same cities. But there is so much to the States that I hadn’t seen, so that was a massive part of why I wanted to do this—to take in some of this epic scenery.”
But even before he was touring the country as a successful musician, the British-born singer-songwriter was familiar with the concept of roadtripping across America. His father is from the States and Rosenberg grew up visiting the US every summer. It sparked a curiosity for exploring iconic American landscapes and a love of travel. His newest album, “Runaway,” cobbles together inspiration from tours, these childhood trips, and other travels.
Here’s the scoop on some of the road trip stops Rosenberg found most inspiring.
Detroit’s Michigan Theater
The track “Ghost Town” was deeply inspired by the story of the rise and fall of our favorite Comeback Kid city: Detroit. Rosenberg recorded part of the video in the famous Michigan Theater, a once-opulent venue turned parking garage.
“I played a gig in Detroit a few years ago and got chatting to people afterward,” he said “It’s such a sad story. Detroit had been affluent but was allowed to fall to its knees. For the video, we filmed amongst the abandoned houses and factories. I wasn’t quite prepared for my reaction to it—it was a really moving couple of days. This is the richest country in the world, and yet a city is just left to fall apart. It’s the land of extremes.”
There’s no better place to find yourself than in the desert. Just ask Jack Kerouac. Or Jesus. That’s why the video to the Passenger’s song “Hell Or High Water,” the track that opens the album, was a perfect fit to be filmed in the vast, sweeping deserts around the West, such as Monument Valley.
“I came out of a relationship a few years ago and I was just baffled by it,” Rosenberg said “Was it something I’d done? Something she’d done? The song is a personal inquisition. The massive landscapes of these parks really suit the big chorus and big production. As soon as we decided to do this American road trip idea I felt like this song needed to be shot in this part of the States. There’s something about these landscapes that are epic, and immense, and incredible—but quite desolate and sad at the same time. Seeing this up close it’s humbling, it makes you realize how silly and insignificant you are, and to not take yourself too seriously.”
The Vegas Strip
Inspiration can strike in unexpected places. One might expect songwriting to be the last thing on anyone’s mind when strolling the Vegas Strip, but Passenger found something particularly significant in the bright lights and bustling crowds of Sin City.
“[When] we’re in Las Vegas, I find it all a bit overwhelming. [‘Heart to Love’] is a one-take video walking through the Strip in Vegas full of people, full of lights, full of craziness.”
National parks are famous for sparking creativity for art of all kinds; photography (hello, Ansel Adams), writing, painting—and, of course, songwriting. “Eagle Bear Buffalo” is one of the songs on the album that was inspired by and is about a specific place: Yellowstone National Park. America’s first national park remains one of its most visually stunning, and the music video for the song can attest to this.
The Pacific Coast Highway
The video for “Why Can’t I Change” was shot up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, from the wildflower-studded overlooks of Big Sur to the nostalgic kitsch of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk to the Hollywood Sign itself. Since many people go on road trips to enjoy a chance of scenery and escape the rut of everyday life, it’s a fitting setting for a song with an overarching theme about “falling into the same trap throughout your life.”
New York City
The idea of survival for most immediately brings to mind “The Revenant”-style images of the wilderness, so the country’s biggest city might seem like an unexpected location to film the video for a song called “Survivors.” The song is about surviving the everyday, existential things we all think about. Here’s how Rosenberg describes the song:
“[It’s] about a few things: Living in 2018, with climate change and Donald Trump and everything else—but also life and love, all the big questions. So it’s about navigating through life. Surviving.”
Home, sweet home
Every good trip ends back at home, and Rosenberg’s album is no exception. He was lucky enough to get to record a version of “To Be Free”—a song about his grandparents, Jewish refugees who came to America after WWII—on the lawn of the house where they once lived in New Jersey.
“We just knocked on the door. The bloke who lived there was very generous and let us set up on the lawn. It was pretty special to be able to record that. That song is very important to the record and very important to me as well.”
Looking for the soundtrack to your next big road trip? Download the album “Runaway” here. And if you want to hit the road, but aren’t quite sure where to go, catch Passenger live in concert at one of his shows.