Mike Posner

In Interview on August 18, 2010 at 4:26 pm

*This interview was done in May. I apologize for the lateness, but Posner’s a great, great guy and interviewee so check it out.

“I thought we started.”
“No, I wasn’t recording yet.”
“Why not?”
“I dont know. I’m effin’ up.” [nervous laugh]
“Are you recording with your brain?”
“There. It’s recording.”

         Mike Posner is unguarded, kind, and very self-assured. He will greet you with a hug and ask you what the tattoo behind your ear means. You will tell him, and he will misinterpret it and make you laugh. Posner and his electro and hip hop inspired music are from South Hill, Michigan, which he carries with him every day. In his final semester of college at Duke University, he played 35 shows, released a mix tape, and kept a 3.59 GPA. Now he has a bachelor’s degree under his belt from a top university, a record deal, and is set to play the entire Warped Tour this summer. He answered my questions in a sleepy slur and his answers were long as they were genuine and everywhere there was a story to be told. His debut album 31 Minutes to Takeoff will be released August 10th, 2010.

What brought you to create the electro hip hop style of music that you create?
Well I think my sound- I know my sound is a product of where I grew up and how I grew up. So, I’m from South Hill, Michigan which is an incredibly diverse area. It’s one of the most diverse cities in the country. And um, so for as long as I can remember I had white friends, black friends, really poor friends, really rich friends, and uh, they all listened to different types of music. When I was a kid, my cd book would be Charlie Parker and Miles Davis on one page, turn that over and it’d be Red Hot Chili Peppers, Led Zepplin, Rage Against the Machine, and Paul Simon. Then you’d turn that over and it’d be Nas, Jay-Z, Mos Def, and Dub Qawwali. People have a hard time genre-fying my music because it’s kind of a patchwork of all those things. But I don’t really care what you call it as long as you come to my show and act like those kids here just did.

What’s your first musical memory?
Um… with me making music or just anything to do with music? I remember my sister when I was in 5th or 6th grade; she’s six and a half years older than me. So she was in college, (she went to school in maine) she took me to see The Roots, Dub Qawwali and Dead Prez in a gymnasium at her school. I was probably too young to be at that show, but it was dope. I always convinced my parents to let me go to shows that none of my friends could go to. Later that year, my mom took me to see The Roots again with Outkast and Moby. [his voice rose, excitedly] And lucky me, I got to see Outkast and they don’t do shows anymore. But I remember looking at the stage when Outkast was doing a song off of Aquemini, I think, and I looked to the row in front of me and there were like, six college kids smoking a bowl. And I looked behind me and my mom had two earplugs in, sleeping. I was like, ‘what’s going on?’ [said while laughing under his breath]

Can you tell me about juggling college, playing shows and working on your music? Were there any specific instances where they crossed over?
Yeah. Everyday. I was constantly having to make choices between finishing a paper or assignment and turning in a record for some other people’s album. I made a mix tape during a semester as well as doing 35 shows you know, as well as taking a full load of classes and keeping a 3.59. So, I mean, there was countless times where I’m writing papers on planes… writing my setlist on the back of my homework assignment and taping it to the stage. [laughs] It was crossing over everyday, but um, the students at Duke and the faculty was very supportive of me. I didn’t get shortcuts at all, people ask me that. They’re like ‘oh, you got a record deal, you’re a big deal at school, you didn’t really have to do the work, did you?’ And that’s completely untrue. Duke is a hard school and it doesn’t matter if you have a record deal or not. The teachers make you do the work. It was incredibly hard. I’m proud of what I did, but I’m glad I finished, you know? I’m excited for the record to come out in August.

What semester was it that you were talking about?
The first semester of my senior year, which was also my last semester.

Can you tell me in what ways you’ve grown in between your mix tapes and from your mix tapes to the album you’re working on right now?
The songs from the album are just the cream of what I’ve been working on my whole life. You know, it’s not like it’s been one year in the making; it’s been twenty-two years in the making. So, even while working on the mix tapes I’ve been working on an album. I’ve been saving the best songs for the record all this time. There’s no features like on the mix tapes. You’re not gonna find a bunch of rappers like you would on some of my previous works. Each song is incredibly special. There’s probably 20 or 30 great songs that I did and I’m just gonna pick the best 10 and put em’ out. But there’s no like, filler. Like, every song could be radio, number one.

So I read you’re playing the entire Warped Tour? What are you most excited about?
Warped Tour just looks like an incredible party the whole time. And it’s a great opportunity for me re-connect with people I’ve met; friends and fans I’ve made. But also the opportunity to go a whole bunch of places I haven’t, and I know it’s gonna be a crazy party every day.

Is there anything you’re worried about?
Warped Tour? No, I know it’s gonna be hard. It’s gonna be the longest tour I will have ever done in my life. But as long as I keep healthy and take care of myself, which I always do, I’m straight. And do my vocal warm-ups and cool-downs. I was made for this. It’s not gonna be harder than having a record deal, doing 35 shows and getting a 3.6 at Duke. It’s just shows.

I’m happy for you.

I also read that one of your mix tapes was on iTunes U but was taken off because it was “un-educational”? Can you tell me about that?
Well, I wasn’t the first person to do this but I was the first person to do it successfully and launch a career out of it. I got my music under iTunes U, which is set up for professors to put up their lectures so kids can get them for free. I wanted my music to be free and I wanted it to be in the most universal spot there is. iTunes. So, as I started doing shows I told my friends and I made a Facebook event; free iTunes download. That’s how I started my career. And uh, I got a record deal out of that. The record companies didn’t even understand how I did it. They were like, ‘how’d you get your music for free?’ I was like, ‘you gotta go to school.’ Um, when I put out the second one I had a name for myself. I wasn’t a nobody when it came out. And so, I think it got close to one-hundred thousand downloads. The people at Apple and iTunes caught wind of this and emailed my record label. They were like, ‘this isn’t a lecture by a professor.’ [said while laughing] So it got taken down. They caught ‘The Posner Rules,’ but I’m incredibly grateful for everything iTunes has done for me even though it was through kind of a loop hole that I discovered. Um, yeah. I can’t do it anymore. [laughs]

Who’s been your favorite collaboration?
Working with Big Sean is always so fun, you know because he’s one of my best friends, has been. [Then he turns to his tour manager, Pat.] Yo, Pat, if you wanna go off, like, rage, by all means. [To which Pat smiles and proceeds to leave the hotel parlor] I actually met Pat at the University of Dayton. He was the first person or one of the first people to book a show for me that wasn’t at Duke. He brought me to Dayton. So, I went there right after my first mix tape came out and this school has basically been behind me the whole way. So… whenever I come back there’s always growth in between. When I see these kids they take ownership in me and they should because they helped me get to where I’m at. So, it’s always special. But Pat, he’s done more shows for me and that’s why I hired him, because he’s the fuckin’ man. This is his alumni and we have the day off tomorrow so, we can go crazy. What were we talking about?

Your favorite collaboration.
Oh, yeah. Sean. He’s the man, and like, not long ago I was a member of his entourage you know, so for me to do songs with him and be on the stage with him, side by side killin’ shows, it’s just awesome.

Can you tell me about the collaboration with 3OH!3?
Yeah, it was a remix. The guys of 3OH!3 are really cool guys. Sean and Nate are good friends. When I was trying to pick a record label, they were very helpful and gave me advice because they’re a few years ahead of me in their career, at least a year. And so I value their friendship very much. They also had that single [Don’t Trust Us] that was produced by another really good friend named Benny Blanco and they asked me to get in on the remix. So I did. [laughs] But we were never in the studio together.

What do you think makes good music? What do you think good music requires?
Passion. And ethos. You know as a writer like, your audience has to believe what you’re writing. There has to be a degree of authenticity behind everything you do as a writer. It’s the same thing with being a real artist; there’s a million pop artists that have people produce for them, have people write their songs. They go in and sing what they’re told to. It goes on the radio and they have a hit. And then you never hear from them again. Or there’s like another breed of artists who have number one hits and their record comes out and no one buys it. Or they have number one hits that play on the radio all day long and they do shows and no one comes. And it’s because they don’t have that ethos. they don’t have authenticity in their music. And so um, I feel the things I write, you know? They’re a part of me and come out of my real life. You know, real feelings that I have. And so even though I make pop music, I feel, I know that I’m different than any other pop artist out there because I have that authenticity. I have that ethos, you know. And all my [inaudible] have it, too.

All of your what have it, too?

Oh, I thought you said all my girls have it. [laughs]
[laughs] And all my beetches have it, too.

What are some personal goals you want to accomplish for yourself through your music?
Um… I plan on winning a Grammy.

Yeah. I plan on headlining a big festival, one day. And um, I Just plan on releasing music that’s true to me for a long time. Some of these things take years. Like Kanye West wasn’t really Kanye West until his third album, the way we think of him now. But he was a big deal. He made incredible music and was like, one of the biggest rappers out but wasn’t the biggest rapper out until it took him three albums. I’m ready for that journey. I’m ready to work harder than anybody else out there.

So, I noticed you didn’t say ‘I want to do this’ you said ‘I plan on doing this.’

Yeah? So, you’re pretty set?
Yeah. [laughs] Usually when people ask me that question I don’t answer it because I sound like a dick head saying things that I’m gonna do before I do them. But if I didn’t think those things were gonna happen, if I didn’t know they were gonna happen I would have retired yesterday, you know? Um, I’m grateful for all the love and the luck and the support I’ve gathered from a variety, a spectrum of places in my life but, I am 500 percent confident in what I’m doing, you know? You have to be. Like, this is what I do every day. I go on a plane every morning, I record music every day and I do shows every night. If I didn’t believe in myself and what I was doing this wouldn’t make sense. It’d be retarded. Well, not retarded. But it’d be stupid. You wouldn’t be able to keep it up, you know?

Where do you think that confidence comes from?
Um… probably one of my basketball coaches back in the day. Like, um, I remember we had a game against this school called, named de Porres [St. Martin de Porres High School in Detroit] and they had a bunch of the best players in the state. And everybody was very sure that they would blow us out. And um, we went, I just remember going into every game, especially that one was no exception, knowing we were gonna win. We didn’t always win, but we knew we were gonna win every game. Like we really thought we were gonna win that game. We lost that game, but I’m convinced that attitude you know, allowed us to play, I think we lost by a few points but I think I’m convinced that that attitude allowed us to play on the same level with that team and not be scared of them because everyone else thought they were better than us, you know? And that’s been how I attack things for as long as I can remember. I remember in high school thinking ‘I’m gonna get an A on this test’ and usually I did. I had to take the ACT four times. The first time I didn’t do well, I got like a 28. But I remember not freaking out and saying I’ll just take it again. Then I got a 30. And I took it again because I knew I could do better and got a 31. And then I had one more chance and got a 33. But I’m convinced now, if I had to take that test again I’d get a 35. And if I had a chance to take it one more time, I’d get a 36. It’s how I’ve approached things for as long as I can remember. And everybody on my team’s the same way. I only hire people that are the same way.

What was the coach’s name?
His name was Bill Norton.

How do you know when you’ve “made it”?
When there are flags in your crowds.

What do you mean by that?
If you look at YouTube footage from big festivals, the people in the crowd are waving their country’s flag or really big flags. That’s when you’ve made it. Usually there’s only flags like that when there’s 80,000 people or something crazy like that.

What are you doing when you’re not writing or recording?
Sleeping. Um, rocking shows. Flying. I’m on airplanes a lot. And uh, I read. I try to make time to read every day. Right now I’m reading Abraham Lincoln’s biography.

Yeah. I just forgot it though, at home. I’m so mad. I’m on the road for a week and a half or two weeks and I forgot my book. Sucks.

What’s something you’ve read in it that’s stuck with you?
That book? I just started it, but it was interesting that he managed his public image. When he would run for president he wrote his own campaign biographies and they were in third person and there were things that he would completely leave out or be very, very vague about because he wanted to appear a certain way. But the reason I’m reading it is because I already know a decent amount about him and what I thought was most interesting about him was that he was incredibly depressed guy, even in The White House. And he saved the Union, was one of the best, if not the best president ever, the second best for sure. And was fighting his greatest battles inside his own head at the same time. I always thought that was crazy. And we have the same birthday.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
Just be honest and surround yourself with good people. Like I’ve only known Pat for less than a year but he’s a good person and I can trust him. I have this song called “Speed of Sound.” It goes, ‘At this time last year I was all alone/ felt like I was two feet tall/ now there’s like a hundred million numbers inside of my phone/ but I still got no one to call.’ So, I’m in a space where there’s too many people that wanna be friends with me. I have to create this circle of people that I love and trust. And I’m learning who my real friends are. Not that anyone’s you know, like done me wrong or anything, but in order to maintain some remnants of normalcy in my life I have to limit who’s in my circle. Who’s with me every day.

Was there ever a point when things got really rough and you almost quit?
No. I mean things are rough every day. Some days I’ll finish a show like this at one or two in the morning and have another one at six and the airport’s an hour away. So, I have to leave for the airport at four in the morning and I’ll be doing that for weeks at a time, barely sleeping every day. But it’s because I love what I do; it’s the reason I do it. I love those kids up there. So much. More than I can really express because they allow me to do what I love, what I dream about. Is it harder than people think it is? Definitely. But someone’s gotta do it. Someone’s gotta make ill music, you know? [laughs]

Official Site

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