Mike Posner: Nicely chilled
23-year-old recent college graduate Mike Posner is currently enjoying his first taste of global success with his instantly-infectious debut single ‘Cooler Than Me’. Which - described as a “hot electro-pop ode to a haughty hottie with a snotty attitude”(!) - is currently charting in no less than 19 countries, impressively attaining Top Five status in territories ranging from Australia, New Zealand and Canada to the UK and Ireland.
All of which bodes well for the forthcoming British release of the Southfield, Michigan-raised singer/songwriter/producer’s genre-bending debut album ‘31 Minutes To Takeoff’. Which, having already followed ‘Cooler Than Me’ into the US Top Ten, finds its mainstream-yet-credible fusion of electro-pop, rock, hip hop and soul boasting guest appearances from multi-million-selling former Motown R&B legends Boyz 11 Men plus Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker; while producers (in addition to Posner himself) include Benny Blanco, The Smeezingtons, Gigamesh, and Greg Kurston.
Indeed, with Mike having started his career as an artist just over two years ago by making mixtapes (‘A Matter Of Time’; ‘One Foot Out The Door’) in his college dorm, the eclectic nature of his music has since seen his aforementioned debut song (‘Cooler Than Me’) gradually grow from cult student anthem to resonate across numerous different genres and generations to the point where its uptempo electronic bounce and catchy hooks have already exceeded sales of two million paid downloads worldwide.
… Cue for a softly-spoken, yet charming Mr. Posner to meet up with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis in the basement of a Central London studio to discuss his current worldwide breakthrough, and how his musical diversity derives from his roots in the multicultural suburbs of Detroit, Michigan.
His international Top Five debut single ‘Cooler Than Me’, which has been described as “a hot electro-pop ode to a haughty hottie with a snotty attitude”(!)
“A lotta people don’t know I recorded that song while was still a student, and that I recorded it in my dorm-room on an extremely cheap microphone! So to now be hearing it on the radio in The States and over here is very special for me, knowing that I made it in such a makeshift manner! And while yes, it is about a specific girl in my class I had a crush on - though I’m not gonna tell you her name, because she doesn’t deserve any notoriety! - it’s also about a specific TYPE of girl! Because there are girls like that EVERYWHERE! You know, everybody knows that girl who thinks she’s cooler than them! Which is why I figured I’d just try to capture that moment of feeling snubbed! Because all my songs are either driven by something that’s happened to me, or by something I’ve felt on the inside.”
Mike’s US Top 10 debut album - ’31 Minutes To Takeoff’ - which has been acclaimed for its “genre-bending fusion of electro-pop, rock, hip hop, soul and R&B”…
“Musically I think that description is bang-on, because there are a lot of different styles on there. Plus it’s a 21st century album - meaning that, instead of listening to l2 different artists on your i-Pod, with my record you can just listen to ONE! Because every song is refreshing and different from the one before, and at the same time BETTER than the one before!...And while I’m not the greatest singer in the world - I’ve only been singing for two years - I do without a doubt consider myself a LYRICS artist. Because there’s not another artist OUT there that has lyrics like mine! Which is why I won’t write for any other male artists - you know, I wanna KEEP it that way! Because, like I said earlier, my stuff does come from real-life. And I figure that - more often than not - if it’s real to ME, then it’s gonna be real for OTHER people! And subject-wise I talk mainly about things that have happened with girls - both past and present - as well as just things that I’ve felt emotionally over the past few years.”
His early background growing up in Southfield, Michigan - a suburb of Detroit
“I grew up in a super-diverse area. So, for as long as I can remember, I listened to an array of music that was as broad as my social network - which, as I say, was really BROAD! So I heard things like Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Miles Davis and Rage Against The Machine as well as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, J. Dilla, Paul Simon, Luther Vandross… Plus of course, being born in Detroit, I had all the MOTOWN stuff - which kinda runs in the veins of EVERYBODY where I’m from!.. So yeah, all of that is woven into the fabric of my music today. Which is the reason why people have had a hard time genre-fying my music - because I jump around from song to song!.. Though, that being said, I do think the combination of my lyrics and my melody and my voice does still make my album a cohesive project.”
How Mike first got into music professionally
“Well, I’ve actually considered myself a professional since I was 13 - though I’m sure OTHER people didn’t consider me that way until probably like a year-and-a-HALF ago! But yeah, when I was around l1 years old I convinced my mom to buy me a keyboard. And within a couple of years I’d figured out how to hook it up to her desktop computer, and started producing and writing! Which is something I did for around eight or nine years - and still do TODAY! The main difference now being that I also SING! And the only reason I started singing was actually because of my initial failure as a producer and writer!”
How becoming an intern at super-credible New York rap indie Definitive Jux Records helped him get his artist career off the ground
“Oh, that was two summers ago! Like you said, I was an intern at Definitive Jux Records, which is owned by a rapper named El-P. So I used to change his cat litter, do his laundry, take out his trash, do his dishes... You know, EVERYTHING! But for me that was basically just an excuse to be in New York! Because, while working there, on the side I’d be taking meetings with all the record labels, playing them the songs I’d written, and trying to sell them to their clients... But their response would always be ‘We don’t have an artist that this fits’… Which was when the light-bulb suddenly went on over my head! I was like ‘OK, there’s no artist that fits these. So, if I ever want to hear any of these songs on the radio, I’m gonna have to sing them MYSELF!’... And it was literally just a few months after that that I recorded ‘Cooler Than Me’!.. You know, I’d been singing for literally like two months MAXIMUM when I recorded that song - and that right there was basically the birth of me as an ARTIST!.. So, while I do still consider myself a producer and writer at heart, what’s really exciting for me these days is the actual taking ownership of what I create! Because it means I don’t have to channel my ideas and creativity through anybody ELSE any more - and I LIKE it that way!”
How Mike ended up with his current record deal with Sony Music’s J Records (also home to the likes of Alicia Keys, Jamie Foxx and Fantasia)
“After I recorded ‘Cooler Than Me’ and released it on my (March 2009) mixtape ‘A Matter Of Time’, things got CRAZY! You name a label, and I can guarantee I sat across the desk from the CEO that summer! And so, by the end of that school year, I was lucky to be in the position where I got to pick the label I wanted to BE with! Which is an opportunity that a lotta artists don’t GET! So I chose J Records because I thought it was the best FIT for me - and right now I couldn’t be happier with my decision and my situation!”
His feelings on his music - due to his college background - being dubbed by US critics “frat-boy soul” (!)
“Well, I’m always pleasantly surprised whenever somebody attaches the word ‘soul’ to me. Because that’s not something that you can like quantify or practise. And I do think it maybe goes back to where I was raised, being so close to the Motown tradition. You know, there was a lotta Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross that was playing in my household, and also in every OTHER household in my neighbourhood AND in my city... So yeah, I do sing from the soul - like every artist SHOULD, but every artist DOESN’T. Plus I also only sing my own lyrics - which in turn means everything I’m singing MEANS something to me... And so I like to think that’s where these descriptions come from. Because I don’t feel I’m actually similar to ANYONE! I mean, if I thought I was just regurgitating something that already existed I’d see no point in doing this INTERVIEW! It wouldn’t make SENSE to me! You know, I do genuinely feel I have made something that’s original - and I think people will realise that very quickly when they hear my album!”
The single ‘Cooler Than Me’ is out now. The album ’31 Minutes To Takeoff’ will follow on February 28, both through J Records
Words PETE LEWIS