ROCHESTER — The setting doesn’t exactly conjure up profound thoughts, but here’s Mike Posner, standing behind a black trailer hauled by his tour bus, going all philosophical.
“I’m going off intuition and I’m building the ship as a sail it,” said the 28-year-old singer and songwriter. Posner has close-cropped blond hair, a thin beard, and is wearing a thick gray T-shirt, dark jeans ripped at his right knee, and white jeans. His back is to a chain-link fence that separates the parking lot from the highway that cuts through downtown Rochester.
In less than hour, Posner is due inside nearby Frontier Field to play a short set at WPXY’s annual Summer Jam concert, one of several radio-concert gigs he was playing this spring as a warm-up for the big show: Posner is the opening act for Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas’ Honda Civic Tour: Future Now, which visits First Niagara Center for a 7 p.m. show July 17.
It all represents a major comeback for Posner, who broke out in 2010 with a hit, “Cooler Than Me,” but slowly disappeared from the scene as his next couple of singles didn’t do as well and his sophomore album was shelved. He gave some of music he wrote for himself to other artists, including who made them hits: Justin Bieber blasted Posner’s song “Boyfriend” onto the charts, and Maroon 5 shot “Sugar” into the pop stratosphere.
In that sense, Posner was doing well professionally —well for others, not himself. But he kept writing, and connected with country singer Jake Owen, who took Posner on his tour bus and encouraged him to write the truth. Not just truthful feelings, but the literal truth of his experiences. Posner did that – about drugs and fame – with his song “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.”
And it became a hit.
So it’s 2016, a half-dozen years after Posner emerged on the music scene, and he’s back on the radio and onstage and building that ship as he sails it, even in unglamorous places like this parking lot.
You ask about the last six years. What kind of adventure has it been?
“I think it was as much a roller coast as anyone else’s life – your life – has been, over that time period,” Posner said. “(People) see these two high points and assume there was one low in between, and they draw a straight line between those, to draw a big trough. When in reality there was way more peaks and valleys in between.”
Some of those peaks must have been seeing Bieber and Maroon 5 make “Boyfriend” and “Sugar” into hits. How much joy did you take in hearing your songs come to life for others?
“It’s such a blessing, you know?” Posner said. “At the time I had these albums that got what we call ‘shelved’ in the music industry. But even putting that aside, I write typically between 50 and a hundred songs in a year. So to have another artist take your work and show it to the world is a real blessing for me.”
Posner tells you when he was younger, he used to try to write a song a day. Now, he said, “I almost never try to write anymore.”
Instead, he waits for a song to emerge. But how does he know a new song is coming?
“You kind of a feel it right before. It’s a very peculiar emotional state of mind.”
Is it all in your head? Or your body, too? Sounds very existential
“You just feel it, yeah,” he said. “I think the inspiration is always there. It’s just a matter of getting out of the way. I don’t think there’s a specific, time, day, or a sunset. I think that’s just superstition. It’s all inside you. It’s always there. You just have to shut up, and listen.”
Speaking of shutting up, one of Posner’s managers is signaling that it’s almost time to end the interview. The man has a show shortly. So, one more question: What have you learned about the business?
“Earlier in my career I felt like I was competing with other artists,” Posner said. “Now I feel like we’re on the same team. There’s enough for everyone … There’s always room for good art in the world. I like to think I have less of a scarcity mindset than I did before.”
A motorcycle zooms by on the expressway behind Posner. You end the interview by saying, “Thanks, man. I appreciate it.”
But Posner isn’t done. “How are YOU doing?” he says, putting his arm around your shoulder. He asks about your ride to Rochester, and where you went to school. You tell him St. Bonaventure University.
He’s heard of it.
“I think I played there,” Posner said. “They have a brown color?”
Yes, they do.
“They gave me a practice jersey I wore in the gym for a long time.”
He asks if you read a lot. Posner does. He just finished an audio book on General Patton – “so cool,” he says – and has downloaded a couple of George Washington books.
You say yes, you read a lot as well.
“What are you reading right now?”
A half-dozen Donald Trump books, you say. It’s research for a political story.
“Wow, that’s cool. What have you learned from them?”
He’s been the same way for a long time: Very self-confident. Believes deeply in himself. Doesn’t look back.”
Posner’s manager is hovering close. He knows he has to go but slips in one more question.
“You read any poetry?”
Not in a long time, you say.
“I just finished a book of poetry,” he said. “I’d love to send it to you. What’s your name and address?”
He pulls out his iPhone and adds your info to what looks like a long list of names about to receive his poetry. Because that’s a Posner truth: When you have something good, share it.