Late last year, after five albums in six years and an unrelenting international touring schedule, the English singer-songwriter Mike Rosenberg decided he had to take a break from working before perpetual exhaustion became a permanent breakdown.
On his first day off Rosenberg, who records and performs as Passenger, sat on the couch in his Brighton apartment and tried to relax. It didn't exactly take.
"I freaked out and immediately started spring cleaning my flat for three days," Rosenberg says. "After 10 years of teaching myself how to work really hard, when I had to work every single day, to then tell yourself the opposite and switch off was not simple. It takes a long time for your body and your brain to catch up with that memo."
The 34-year-old eventually found a degree of calm, but he couldn't keep his hands off a guitar for long. By the time three months had passed Rosenberg had written a new batch of songs that he then recorded. Released last month, Runaway is his ninth solo Passenger album, and he recently launched it in Europe with a series of full band busking performances.
"It reminded me why I started doing this in the first place," says Rosenberg, whose first stages were street corners across Britain and Australia. "It should be fun. You spend half your life dreaming about making it, whatever that means, but when you get there it's easy to be stressed out the whole time. You've got to remember that 17-year-old who would have died if they played a gig where 100 people wanted to listen to their music."
Songwriting is how Rosenberg naturally expresses himself. He has musician friends who struggle to pen enough songs for an album, but Rosenberg always has more songs than he can release in a timely manner. Whatever his outlook, making music is his natural release.
"I don't know who I would be without songwriting. I can take everything that I'm thinking and feeling and going through and put it into this big pot of confusion and emotion and out comes a song as a result," Rosenberg says. "Not only is it a place where I can explore these feelings, it emerges as something productive that hopefully connect with other people."
The acoustic instrumentation and inviting melodies that have been his signature since Passenger's 2012 chart-topping single Let Her Go (just under 2 billion YouTube views and counting), remain, but now they're given added texture by Americana harmonies and lap steel guitar. One track, Why Can't I Change, is Rosenberg taking stock of his own evolution.
"You learn from every experience and hopefully as you get older you get a bit wiser, but that song is all about making the same mistakes over and over again," he says. "I'm still the same guy as that 17-year-old, just with a few more gigs and few more nights out. The essence of then remains now and it's really important to get your head around that."
References to America dot the album lyrically as well as musically. Rosenberg sees the US as a country of extremes, good and bad, and he never tries to sum it up. It's a crucial place in his family's history because it's where his paternal grandparents, German Jews who survived Nazi Germany, fled after World War II, and their journey to New Jersey is documented by the Runaway track To Be Free.
"I've known most of their story since I was a kid, but it was only on my break last year that I found myself writing about it," Rosenberg says. "I cried when I realised what the song was about and it was obviously this deep-rooted sadness coming out. But at the same time my grandparents' story of displacement couldn't be more relevant to what is going on in the world now."
Passenger plays the Enmore Theatre, Newtown, on November 18.
Craig Mathieson has been the film critic for The Sunday Age since March 2012, having previously held the same position for Rolling Stone and The Bulletin. The former magazine editor writes widely on film, music and television, and is still able to quote sizeable chunks of the dialogue from Michael Mann's Heat.