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Mike Posner is still on the quest for "one hell of a song"
Last year Mike Posner released a single and video about being on "Top Of The World."
But the Southfield native and Birmingham Groves High School graduate didn't always feel like that during the six years between his two albums.
Posner came out of the box quickly, netting a record deal after mixtapes he made while attending Duke University began to get broad-based attention. He scored a Top 10, double-platinum hit with "Cooler Than Me" in 2010 and a Top 20 follow-up in "Please Don't Go." His "31 Minutes To Takeoff" album debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200. Posner's career seemed to be, er, taking off.
But it would be more than a minute before his sophomore album -- the mature and reflective "At Night, Alone" -- surfaced in May. During that time Posner had success writing for other artists (including Justin Bieber, Maroon5, Nick Jonas, Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg and others) and making guest appearances for good pal Big Sean, Iggy Azalea and others, but he had a couple of albums (titled "Sky High" and "Pages") rejected by his record company, eventually changing labels and even then taking more than another year to finish "At Night, Alone."
"It's easy to think that your situation is so special, but when you step back other people have gone through the exact same thing that I've gone through s far s obtaining success at a young age, and what does that mean?" Posner says while sitting in a second-floor lounge at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Austin, Texas, after performing at a brunch party thrown by his current label, Island Records during the South By Southwest Music + Media conference. "A lot's changed in my life since the last record, so I feel I've changed a lot as a man, and the music I'm writing now is really true to who I am, more than the stuff I was working on before.
"Y'know, I struggled with depression a lot when I was in high school, and then I finished (college) and had some hit songs, and I was really kind of reaching for purpose. I always thought that if I got a record deal and I had big songs it would kind of solve all my problems. But it didn't really."
From the vantage point of having come out the other end, however, Posner, 28, sees value in the struggle he experienced.
"I think it afforded me a lot of wisdom," he says. "I think a lot of people go through life believing that it's about acquiring the most worldly possessions that they can, and I certainly subscribed to that school of thought -- and there's a part of me that still does that I'm trying to get rid of. Obtaining a lot of worldly possessions at a young age doesn't solve everything.
"So getting to go through tat at 23 is actually sort of a blessing. Because I made a bunch of money when I was young and I didn't feel great, I got to realize, 'Hey, this is not what life is about' and I got to ask the question, 'Well, then what IS it about?'"
Posner pauses and chuckles. "I don't know the answer to that one yet. But I'm looking."
"At Night, Alone" -- which debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 after its May 6 release -- certainly grapples with that question. It's lyrically introspective and musically eclectic, filled with sparse arrangements that have plenty of his trademark pop hooks but also delve into Country-Western ("One Hell of a Song"), blues ("Silence"), lush balladry ("Iris") and Celtic ("Only God Knows") flavors -- while remixes at the end of the album show the songs are strong enough to support cutting-edge EDM treatments. There are cautionary tales and songs about raising self-awareness, and with "Buried in Detroit" Posner reflects on a complex triplet of mortality, legacy and lineage.
Posner says country singer Jake Owen exerted a significant influence on his writing. The two traveled together while Owen was touring to do some writing -- and occasionally play "Cooler Than Me" during the shows -- and Owen introduced Posner to music by Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and other writers to instill a sense of "honesty" into his work.
"He and his guys, we all really got along and they took me to country school," Posner recalls. "I learned about all these guys -- Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard and Hank Williams, Sr. And when I first started, y'know, I was inspired by hip-hop, and I felt the same kind of honesty and reality coming from this music.
"I mean, the first song they played me by Merle Haggard was 'Mama Tried,' which was about the trouble he got into as a kid and getting thrown into prison and running away from home and breaking into saloons. To me songs don't get much better than that, and what makes it even more special is a lot of that (stuff) is true. It really happened to him.
"So I heard that and then I listen to the music on the radio, some of which I've written, and I go, 'Where is that today? We're all just pretending. No one wants to tell the truth.' So I said, 'I'll tell the truth!'"
Hard to do? "Not at all," Posner says. "It just happened quickly. But then it was like, 'Well, what the hell do I do with this? I equivocated for, like six months when I was like, 'OK, maybe I'll do a side project with this stuff' or whatever.
"And then I realized I was just being scared, and I was like, 'If you're gonna do it, just do it.' It range true to my hear. You have to adjust to the material, not the other way around."
Posner will be spending plenty of time this year, and into next, promoting "At Night, Alone." But more material is being written, both for himself and others, and the insights he gleaned over the difficult interim between albums only make it easier for him to create with newfound confidence.
"What I know now is my occupation is not really who I am at my core," Posner explains. "Don't get me wrong; I'm still very passionate about music. I practice all the time and I enjoy getting better. I take classes online from the Berklee School of Music. If you're gonna do something, you might as well get better at it.
"But there was a time when it was, like, my everything. I don't feel it's my everything now. If it all got taken away, I would still be me -- and I'd be happy with that."
Mike Posner with Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas
7 p.m. Saturday, July 30.
The Palace of Auburn Hills, Lapper Road at I-75.
Tickets are $29.95-$89.95.
Call 248-377-0100 or visit palacenet.com.
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