Music and travelling have long made the most companionable of bedfellows. Ever since The Beatles made their first foray abroad, seamlessly incorporating India’s kaleidoscopic sounds into their already groundbreaking rock-pop, musicians have harnessed the creative spirit born from the freedom of the road to create new, beguiling sounds. But Mike Rosenberg, frontman of UK band Passenger, took the concept a step further when he decided to busk around Australia to fund the recording of his new album, Flight of the Crow. The result is a string of collaborations with Australian artists including Boy & Bear, Josh Pyke and Matt Corby.
“I’d just done a whole summer of busking and thought I’d quite like to carry on the summer vibe, and Australia seemed a good place to do that,” Rosenberg says. “I originally thought I’d just be travelling around, maybe recording a few things and putting it on YouTube. But as I travelled I thought: how cool would it be to record each new song with a different artist? Everyone I contacted seemed really up for it and got onboard. The fact that each of them got involved in a project that could very well have turned into nothing shows a great deal of character and passion for music for music’s sake.”
Although the title of the album is “in no way a reference to Flight of the Conchords”, Rosenberg managed to experience the type of incredulous and surreal events that might befall the New Zealand comedy duo while on the road. “You meet all sorts of people busking. I once got punched in the face in Glasgow by someone who heard my southern English accent. And once a homeless guy in Dublin told me to get a “proper job”, which was pretty amazing,” he adds.
The album itself is reminiscent of folk at a grassroots level, with heavy influences from one of Rosenberg’s idols, Neil Young. Despite this, he’s quick to dismiss the move from lo-fi underground muso fodder to the heavy airplay, chart-topping success that folk music is currently enjoying (think Mumford and Sons). “I love folk music by the likes of Bonnie Prince Billy, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Iron and Wine – anything that’s heartfelt and from the right place and is not just trying to look cool to pick up chicks,” he says.
“The folk scene has been quietly picking up for about five years, but now it’s become a lot more mainstream. I almost think, like with any genre, when that happens it’s the beginning of the end. But what is good is that I feel like people are listening to music again. Before people would just talk through gigs and I’d wonder why these people were there at all. Was it just so they could brag about it to their mates later? But I feel like people go and really listen now – they give it a bit more time, which is a great thing.”
Rosenberg is currently in the middle of a two-month tour of Australia, supporting Matt Corby and Boy & Bear, but he also says he’s been on tour for the past two years, spending alternate six months in the UK and here. “Australia seems to do brilliantly all the things the UK is crap at: coffee, food, outdoors, and more free time. It’s a very seductive way of life. But you do end up missing little things about the UK, like the comedy and cultural aspects. But travelling the world playing your own music, there’s just no down side. It’s a privilege to live that kind of life. I never dread Monday mornings. What’s better than that?”
Mike Rosenberg plays two shows at the East Brunswick Club supporting Boy and Bear on October 23 and 24.