Passenger's New Ride: The Busker-Turned-Star Leaves Smash Hit "Let Her Go" Off His New Album

"It's time to move on"

Never underestimate the power of a cute puppy in a Super Bowl ad. That's one lesson British singer-songwriter Passenger (real name Michael Rosenberg) learned when his folk ballad "Let Her Go," from his 2012 album "All the Little Lights" (Nettwerk), was featured in an adorable Budweiser spot that premiered during the big game in February and sent the song flying up the Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at No. 5. The song is still hovering at No. 35 on the Hot 100 dated May 24, but the 30-year-old already has a new batch of material, "Whispers," due June 10. Here, the former busker discusses his friendship with Ed Sheeran, Twitter's downside and why he's ready to let go of "Let Her Go."

What has been the single most memorable moment watching "Let Her Go" blow up?

It has been a series of crazy moments, but one that springs to mind was when I was on tour with Ed Sheeran. "Let Her Go" first got big in Holland, and it coincided beautifully with when we first went to play there [in November 2012]. I was the support act, so the audience would usually be like "Oh, OK, cool" when I came out. But that night, people were there to see Passenger. They sang along, and I had goose bumps the entire set. I can't explain the feeling, going from busking in the street to that.

What kind of influence has Sheeran had on your career?

We've been friends for years. I met Ed in a pub in Cambridge five or six years ago. By chance, we were playing on the same bill, to about 30 people. I don't think he was allowed to drink beer, so they got him a fizzy pop or something. But I watched his set and he blew my mind, and he liked what I was doing, so we kept in touch. He broke sooner than I did, and he was so good to me, taking me on tour around the world. He has been an inspiration, and I've watched how he deals with fans, and the press, and the pressure, which was essential for me.

"Let Her Go" came out in 2012, but it's still a top 40 hit. Did you ever consider putting it on your forthcoming album, "Whispers"? Hits that big are hard to come by.

Not really. "Let Her Go" has been smashed on the radio, and I don't want people to get sick of me. As an artist, you want to develop your work, and for people to focus on your new songs. It's time to move on - for me, anyway.

On your new single, "Scare Away the Dark," you sing, "We want something more, not just nasty and bitter/We want something real, not just Facebook and Twitter." Are you not a fan of social media?

I am, actually. Facebook has been massive for me as far as connecting with fans. That song is a comment on how we live today, because I feel like, if we're not careful, we'll be stuck to our phones all the time and miss the really cool stuff that's going on. I was playing a festival last summer, and I looked out at one point and saw 15,000 people watching the show on their phones. Everyone was sectioned off into their own little world. I'm as bad as everybody else, but I just thought it was a point worth making.

Have acts like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers breaking during the past few years helped "Let Her Go" become a hit?

Definitely. When I first started playing, it was impossible for a guy with a guitar to get a gig. It was all DJs. Even two years ago, "Let Her Go" wouldn't have been able to do what it's done.


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