Mike Posner Interview
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For most college graduates, especially in today’s economic climate, finding work and making the transition into “real life” is an uncertain prospect. Not so for singer/songwriter/producer Mike Posner, who spent his senior year at Duke University juggling the academic grind and the hectic life of an up-and-coming musician. Needless to say, he had no doubt about his post-graduation plans – after receiving that diploma, Posner was finally able to devote himself full-time to making his dreams of music stardom a reality.
It’s been less than a year since Posner introduced his unmistakable, scratchy vocal style and equally unique production sensibility to Booth readers with mixtape cut “Smoke ‘n’ Drive,” but a lot has happened in that time. He’s released an acclaimed sophomore street album (One Foot Out the Door), collaborated with the likes of Kid CuDi and Wale (“Drug Dealer Girl (Remix)”) and, most notably, scored the all-important major deal. Now signed to J Records, Posner is getting ready to take his career to the next level with the summer release of his yet-untitled debut studio album.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” Mike Posner steps into the Booth to discuss the superhuman feat of balancing college finals with a demanding touring schedule, his increasingly raucous (and sometimes destructive) live performances, and why his forthcoming full-length is like his mixtapes “on steroids.”
Listen to the Interview
Mike Posner Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy, “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a recent college graduate who knew it was only a matter of time before he had one foot out the door towards stardom. A man who strives to make the term “pop artist” a dope tag, please welcome Mike Posner – how are you, my friend?
Mike Posner: Good, man, how are you?
DJ Booth: I am wonderful – thank you so much for asking. Later this year, you are set to release your debut album, but I wanna go back for a second. You signed your current label deal with RCA while you were still in school at Duke, correct?
Mike Posner: Correct. Over the summer, after my junior year.
DJ Booth: So, how difficult was it for you to wake up for 8:00 AM’s, take notes in class, wait in line at the bookstore, when you knew already you had your post-graduation job in place?
Mike Posner: It was tough, man. And it wasn’t like I had my post-graduation job in place; it was more like I was doing my post-graduation job every day. I would literally go to school three days a week, I would leave class, go to the studio and record every night. Wednesday or Thursday, every weekend, I would catch a flight out of Raleigh-Durham, and go to wherever I had to do shows, and that would be anywhere from three cities to five cities a week, so I didn’t spend any weekend at Duke, the whole year. It was intense, and it was definitely hard to stay focused in class when I was already makin’ money and already living my dream, but I wanted to make my mom proud, I had one semester left, and now my kids will have no excuse not to be awesome at school.
DJ Booth: Have you always been this dedicated, or did you find yourself becoming more dedicated?
Mike Posner: To school?
DJ Booth; Just to the entire process of having to be a multi-tasker, if you will.
Mike Posner: Oh, you know, anybody that’s in college knows that there are periods of the semester where you have to be more dedicated. At the beginning, you don’t really have to worry about too much, and then at the end you have to worry about a lot. Those last few weeks were really tough – I think I had a show at UNC, and then we did a show in Miami, I forget where else, but I was finishing papers and stuff at the same time. It was really hard.
DJ Booth: You mentioned all the schools that you’ve performed at – a countless number, across the country. Outside of your alma mater, Duke University, which school’s crowd really just blew you away? You didn’t know that they were such big Mike Posner fans.
Mike Posner: The first one that comes to mind is definitely that University of New Hampshire. We did a show out there with Akon. Just to give you an idea, I walked offstage, I was walking back to my dressing room after the set, and I walked by seven stretchers of people that got hurt during my set. I was like, “Oh my gosh!’ That was a crazy one. They’ve been getting crazier and crazier, that’s the thing I tell everybody. They’re like, “What’s your craziest show?” and more often than not, my last few shows are the craziest. ‘Cause the movement gets bigger every month.
DJ Booth: And that’s a good problem to have.
Mike Posner: Yeah, definitely. I take steps every day to keep this thing movin’ in the right direction, and it’s not a mistake that it’s goin’ the way it is.
DJ Booth: Definitely not. You mentioned the aftermath of your performances, and I saw you perform a few weeks back at Enclave in Chicago. Now, I’m not sure, with the bright lights on the stage, how much you were able to see going on in front of you, but I can tell you, almost three fights broke out, two girls under 5’1” almost got trampled, and the dude next to me took at least two hundred pictures of you on his camera phone. Do you have the Fire Marshall on line one before you guys [perform]? [laughs]
Mike Posner: Yeah, and that was a pretty tame show, man, ‘cause I was at a nightclub. And it was 21 and up, too, so those were, like, the mature fans.
DJ Booth: Supposed to be.
Mike Posner: [laughs] Yeah, supposed to be. We just had an issue in Lexington, Kentucky last week and thankfully no one was hurt. But it was extremely cold outside, and the venue was taking a really long time to let people in. And I was on the phone, I was yelling at them, “Let the kids in! There’s no reason for you to have them outside!” And they were just being extremely slow. And the crowd just got tired of the venue’s B.S. And they broke through the doors twice, and just stampeded through security. It was pretty nuts. The show almost got called off, but I was like, “There’s no way I’m not going on-stage.” My shows get rowdy – they’re really fun! [laughs] Definitely.
DJ Booth: They are a good time. I can tell you one thing that might help lead to a more safe environment: don’t take your shirt off at the end of the show!
Mike Posner: [laughs] I’m sorry, man! I’m just tryin’ to get them fired up for the after party.
DJ Booth: [laughs] I hear you. It’s all business, I understand. Now, in June, you are set to embark on a three-month run on the Warped Tour, so, first of all, congratulations on that.
Mike Posner: Thank you, man. I’m really, really excited for that.
DJ Booth: Describe the feeling of knowing that this is really your first ever summer where you won’t be headed back to school in the fall.
Mike Posner: It’s wild, man. A lot of the feelings that every kid feels at the end of the year – I don’t know, every time I would start a new school year I’d feel like I was getting old too fast, and there’s always a degree of uncertainty that kids feel, especially when they’re finishing school, like, “What’s next?” In my case, I know what’s next. I’m just thankful that I have a job, to be making the money I do doing what I love, because a lot of people in this economy aren’t that lucky. I was born in Detroit, and I grew up in Michigan, so it’s really a tough time there, so all I can do is make the most of my opportunity and represent for my state.
DJ Booth: Let’s get into that for a second: I read your bio that you grew up in a Jewish household outside of Detroit, Michigan, and upon reading that I knew that we would click, ‘cause I grew up in a Jewish household outside of Chicago.
Mike Posner: OK. Did you live by Jon Scheyer?
DJ Booth: Northbrook is where Jon Scheyer’s from, and I was raised in Skokie.
Mike Posner: OK.
DJ Booth: Yeah, he’s rockin’ it on your basketball team right now.
Mike Posner: Yeah, that’s my dude, man.
DJ Booth: That’s Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon right there. We’re really, like, real close friends.
Mike Posner: [laughs] Yeah.
DJ Booth: [laughs] In all seriousness, though, what type of role did your childhood and your religious upbringing have on what we all know now is your musical foundation?
Mike Posner: I’m really blessed to have the most open-minded parents, like, ever. My mom’s actually Catholic, my dad’s Jewish – you know, right off the bat that’s going to breed a degree of open-mindedness in our household. I was born in Detroit, and anybody that is in Michigan knows that the Detroit schools aren’t what they should be, and so my parents, being the believers in education that they are, they moved out to a city where there’s a better school system for their children. So I grew up in a city called Southfield. Southfield is one of the most diverse areas in the state, if not the country. I grew up around countless different cultures, and people in different socioeconomic statuses, and that led to me listening to a really wide array of music, and that’s why my stuff sounds the way it does. And I look at my crowds now, and it’s the same demo as Southfield, and I’m really proud of that.
DJ Booth: That’s the best demo to have, ‘cause that means everybody is listening to your stuff.
Mike Posner: Yes, sir.
DJ Booth: Mike, there are very few artists these days who are legitimate “slashes.” What do I mean by that? You are a writer/producer/singer. But which of those skills brings you the most satisfaction?
Mike Posner: Aw, man… that’s a tough call, man. In my head, they’re all the same thing; I’m just being creative, you know? So I don’t split them up in my mind, like, “Right now I’m gonna make beats, and tomorrow I’m gonna write songs, and the next day I’m gonna sing.” It’s all one thing to me. Two years ago, I couldn’t sing at all. I just started singing. That skill is the weakest of the three, and that’s improving the most. I enjoy all of them, that’s why I do them all. ‘Cause I could pay somebody to do any of ‘em.
DJ Booth: Nah – keep the money in your pocket.
Mike Posner: Yeah, man. The reason I started singing was because I was writing and producing for other people, and I just got tired of giving my ideas to other people. I realized that no one could really pull off the lyrics I was writing, so I just started singing them myself.
DJ Booth: Now, how do you go from not really being a singer at all, having never really had any vocal training, to, all of the sudden, really becoming bona fide at your craft?
Mike Posner: It’s hard work, man. I practice every day, I sing every day, I make music every day – that’s how you get good at anything, you know? And now I have a vocal coach and the whole nine. It’s a process. And if you listen to A Matter of Time and then you listen to One Foot out the Door, you can definitely hear how much better I’ve gotten in that – what was it? – like five, six-month period. So you’re gonna hear craziness on my album. That’s the thing I’m most excited about: it’s like, wow, I got this far only being singing for a year and a half, so when my album comes out people are gonna be blown away.
DJ Booth: Speaking of which, I heard you do another interview in which you described the debut as one of your mixtapes, but on steroids.
Mike Posner: Oh yeah, most definitely.
DJ Booth: In terms of puttin’ this project together, did you take the same mind-frame as when you crafted the mixtapes, or did you think “bigger scale,” and it just ended up that way?
Mike Posner: Oh, totally bigger scale – it’s not the same mindset at all. A lot of artists come out and their album comes out and you’re like, “Man, their mixtapes were better,” you know?
DJ Booth: All the time.
Mike Posner: I can think of like 20 people off the bat, that I’ve thought that about. In my case, it’s just simply not going to happen.
DJ Booth: Let’s talk about a few cuts off the last few mixtapes. Clinton Sparks, he’s my man, one hell of a DJ, but I’m kinda ticked off that he cut off “Traveling Man” early on One Foot out the Door.
Mike Posner: Don’t blame him, man, don’t blame him.
DJ Booth: [laughs] Who should I blame?
Mike Posner: The label. And me.
DJ Booth: OK, OK. Two-part question: one, have you received any hate mail on his behalf since the song didn’t play out in full and, two, how long ago did you create “Traveling Man,” considering, really, there’s no better title for a song to describe your current situation?
Mike Posner: I haven’t received any hate mail. I very seldom get any hate mail. I have gotten stuff where people are disappointed, like, “Oh man, I wish the whole thing was on there.” It’ll be out soon. Let’s see… that song is actually a remake of an older song by Ricky Nelson, and this goes back to my parents; my mom used to play Ricky Nelson in the car. That’s how I even found out who he was. I redid that song, I want to say in like September or October. I couldn’t have done it too long ago, ‘cause I wasn’t traveling that much, until this semester.
DJ Booth: Mike, when an artist first starts to buzz it seems more often than not that the first set of calls they make are to the most popular artists they have locked into their Blackberry. In your case, though, you’ve reached out to a lot of your fellow buzzmaking artists – you’ve got XV, Big Sean, Freddie Gibbs… – what was the driving force for working with these kinds of artists?
Mike Posner: Well, it’s a different situation with each person. XV actually hit me up, Sean has been a friend of mine since I was a senior in high school, and that’s how a song like “Speed of Sound” came about. And Freddie Gibbs, that came about through my manager. Actually, I didn’t meet him until after the song was out, but boy is he talented.
DJ Booth: Absolutely. Speaking of the college connection, I first started playing Freddie’s records when I was a DJ at school at Illinois State University, and this goes back about six or seven years. So it’s amazing how everything comes full circle.
Mike Posner: Yeah, man. You’ve got your ear to the street. You were supporting me very, very early in the process, so I just wanna thank you again, man.
DJ Booth: Not a problem, man. Like I told you in the pre-interview, we believe in good music, so as long as you don’t stop making it, we won’t stop supporting you.
Mike Posner: [laughs] I won’t stop making it.
DJ Booth: You mentioned “Speed of Sound,” Mike, and there’s one line I remember from that song – something about, you have a hundred million numbers inside your phone, but you have no one to call.
Mike Posner: Yeah.
DJ Booth: First of all, what phone do you have that has that large of an address book? ‘Cause I need it.
Mike Posner: [laughs] Man, I actually just got a new phone, man. It’s the first time I’ve had to switch my number. And this girl called me yesterday on private, tryin’ to have phone sex. I was like, “How did you get this number? I’ve had the phone for three days!”
DJ Booth: [laughs] I saw that on your Twitter timeline. What ended up happening with that call?
Mike Posner: I just ended up putting it on speaker phone for all my boys at home, ‘cause they get a kick out of it.
DJ Booth: [laughs] Going back to “Speed of Sound” for a second, at the time that you wrote this record, is that lyric a hundred percent true? That’s how you felt at the time?
Mike Posner: Yeah, man, it still is. It’s hard to talk about your feelings as the process unfolds, without alienating your audience, because my audience isn’t going through what I’m going through. It was tough. There was a line I had to walk. And as it’s happened, this definitely can be just as isolating as gratifying, you know what I mean? I meet hundreds of people every day, but where are my real friends?
DJ Booth: Should you ever be in a situation where you’re scrollin’ through your phone and you don’t know who to call, just give me a call – I’m your friend. [laughs]
Mike Posner: Thanks, Z. I appreciate it.
DJ Booth: No problem, man. Obviously I can’t wait for your debut, as I know your fans – or, as you like to call them, all of your friends-
Mike Posner: Thank you
DJ Booth: -feel the same way.
Mike Posner: Definitely by the end of the year, and we’re pushing for, like late summer. It’s just so good, man! It’s better than everything I’ve ever done!
DJ Booth: And, you know what? Listening to you excited about it, if people already were not excited about it, I think they’re gonna be that much more excited now, my friend.
Mike Posner: Straight hits!
DJ Booth: [laughs] Mike, give everybody a Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, something – anything – so they can find out more about you, if they don’t already know.
DJ Booth: Thank you for takin’ the time to join me inside the DJ Booth for the interview, and nothing but the best of luck moving forward, my friend.
Mike Posner: Thank you guys! There’s very few people that get on good music and really champion it when it’s just getting started, and no one else really is. Like, there was no reason for you to champion my music at the beginning, but you did because you believed in the sound. I’m just so grateful, man. I appreciate you.
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