Passenger and Ed Sheeran have a decade-plus-long friendship that has culminated in the release of the “Sword from the Stone” Gingerbread Mix.
Passenger sat down virtually with ET Canada ahead of the Sheeran-helmed remix of “Sword from the Stone” — as well as the original version’s music video — to chat about their latest album, Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted. The English singer-songwriter also reflected on his fateful first meeting with the “Shape of You” singer more than 10 years ago.
“There is a lot that I probably shouldn’t talk about but I really remember the night that we met. It was the first year that I started busking. The first summer I started busking, so I must have been 23, he must have been 5 or something,” Passenger teased. “No, he must have been 16, 17. We ended up randomly playing on the same night in a little pub in Cambridge.”
“I remember walking in, and he was one or two songs into his set, and I was completely mesmerized by this kid. You don’t see 16-year-olds doing what Ed could and can do. It just blew me away. I think he watched my gig and really enjoyed my stuff as well. We just sort of got chatting afterwards and the rest is sort of history,” he reminisced. “I’ll never forget that night. It ended up being a very fateful evening.”
Handing over the keys to a song like “Sword from the Stone” can be a difficult thing to do; however, Passenger knew the song was safe in Sheeran’s hands.
“‘Sword from the Stone’ is the opening track on the album and it’s a really exciting song for me. I knew when I wrote it that there was something special about it,” he shared. “I sent it to Ed Sheeran because we’re good mates and whenever either of us writes something that we’re excited about, we usually send it to each other.”
“We’ve always discussed working together in some capacity. He sort of came up with the idea of him doing a remix for the song which I obviously jumped at,” Passenger added. “Getting a brain like Ed’s on my music is a real privilege. He’s done this really cool, sort of pop-ier remix of the song which I really love. I think it compliments the original version very well.”
Passenger had intended to release Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted in 2020, however, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic served as a crucial fork in the road. He took a detour, writing and recording his eight-track album Patchwork in July, and used the additional months to refine the 20 tracks featured on Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted.
“We finished the original album in January or February,” Passenger explained. “It was all set to come out in May but we got to April and there was a severe lockdown. I felt like we didn’t have the tools that are usually at our disposal to gain momentum around the record. Usually, I’d go busking and do a lot of gigs and do a lot of promos. None of it was really available.”
“It felt like a shame to have put in so much work and love into this album only for it to sort of get punted out into the universe without any support. I decided to hold it back and I’m so glad I did because throughout lockdown I’ve written so many songs,” he continued. “I ended up writing a bunch of songs that I’ve added to this record. It’s been a really good lesson.”
The additional months of work produced the album’s strongest pieces.
“Those three songs that we added are three of the strongest songs on the record,” he said. “The standard of the album has gone up dramatically and it’s really taught me a lesson to maybe just allow myself more time to record the album and also just after the album. It’s really valuable to just sit with the songs, sit with the recordings.”
Passenger often sources from sadness to give life to his projects and lockdowns in his native England offered endless fuel.
“The macro-micro thing is really interesting because songs are both. In my writing, it’s often very specific to me, but you’re also trying to speak to everyone,” he explained. “For me, it was the perfect storm writing-wise. It wasn’t fun at all, and obviously, I’ve had a rough year like everyone else has. But it really inspired me within that kind of set-up.”
“Going through a breakup and then lockdown on your own, you’re not going to be writing reggae, summer good vibes. Especially me. Even if I’m in a good space I’m writing sad songs,” Passenger chuckled. “I make a lot of jokes about my music being depressing, and I think some moments genuinely are, but I also think there is a lot of hope in Passenger songs.”
Busking, the act of playing music in the street or public places for free or voluntary donations, is something Passenger brought up on several occasions.
“I think it’s really special. I started busking on sort of a needs-must situation. I was completely broke,” he said. “I had no idea how to get my music to people. So I just kind of boiled it down to the simplest form. Which was, ‘I don’t even need a venue, I don’t need anyone else involved.’ Busking is something where I can just grab my guitar, grab my amp, grab a bunch of CDs and just go.”
“There was something really liberating about that,” Passenger elaborated. “Early on it was really great for just supporting me. Now when I go busking, I just love it. There’s such a sense of freedom to it.”
In fact, it is something Passenger holds near and dear to this day.
“I love that no one has to pay any money. You can stay for one song or you can stay for six. You can be 6 or 60-years-old,” he shared. “It doesn’t matter. It’s so welcoming, it’s so involving, There is something magical that happens in that situation when you’ve got a big crowd outside. There’s a buzz about it. Everyone knows that it’s special.”
“It’s something I still love to do when I can. Every couple of years I go out for a busk. I think it’s really at the center of how Passenger started. It’s a very intrinsic part of who I am now,” the singer-songwriter concluded. “I think it’s a very healthy thing to touch base with every now and again when I can.”
Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted released on Jan. 8. Review the tracklist below:
1. “Sword From The Stone”
2. “Tip Of My Tongue”
3. “What You’re Waiting For”
4. “The Way That I Love You”
5. “Remember To Forget”
7. “A Song For The Drunk And Broken Hearted”
9. “Nothing Aches Like A Broken Heart”
10. “London In The Spring”
11. “London In The Spring (Acoustic)”
12. “Nothing Aches Like A Broken Heart (Acoustic)”
13. “Suzanne (Acoustic)”
14. “A Song For The Drunk And Broken Hearted (Acoustic)”
15. “Sandstorm (Acoustic)”
16. “Remember To Forget (Acoustic)”
17. “The Way That I Love You (Acoustic)”
18. “What You’re Waiting For (Acoustic)”
19. “Tip Of My Tongue (Acoustic)”
20. “Sword From The Stone (Acoustic)”