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Mike Posner populates new album with poems

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2018

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Mike Posner has achieved enough during his decadelong music career to feel pretty confident any time he hits the stage.

But his latest release stems from “an egotistical attempt ... to cope with my own inadequacies.”

The album, “I was born in detroit on a very, very, very, very, very, very, very cold day,” is a collection of poems the Southfield native and Birmingham Groves High School alumnus performed on the road during 2016, both as a headliner and supporting Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas on the Honda Civic Tour. It comes out Friday, Jan. 26.

The poems were created especially for the individual shows — sometimes made up on the spot on stage while Posner’s band improvised behind him. The album includes 13 of the 66 he wrote, and he plans to put the rest up on YouTube.

“It was a vain attempt to impress my bandmates and keep up with their musicianship,” Posner, 29, says by phone from Venice Beach, near Los Angeles, where he now resides. “The things they’d do in rehearsal would just routinely blow me away, whether it was the way they soloed or different grooves they would play. I felt like I had to start writing things each day to impress them and to keep up.”

Posner acknowledges the undertaking was “terrifying,” but also rewarding. “It was kind of like writing push-ups for me to do that,” he explains. “In the past I often (wouldn’t) write on the road as much, so it was a good way for me to keep exercising and also a way to make each show special. The audiences each night were hearing a piece for that night only and probably would never be done again live.”

With two major-label albums to his credit and a Grammy nomination for his 2016 single “I Took A Pill In Ibiza,” Posner has been writing in verse since he was very young, culminating in the March 2017 publication of his first book, “Tear Drops and Balloons.” But the performance pieces were something different altogether.

“It’s much different because it was written to be performed live, on top of music, for huge audiences that weren’t expecting to hear poetry,” explains Posner, who’s also co-written hits for Justin Bieber (“Boyfriend”) and Maroon5 (“Sugar”), started a podcast series last year called “What Does This All Mean?” and launched a duo with blackbear, called Mansionz. “So while my book was written to be experienced alone, probably, and then meditated upon or thought about, the (live pieces) were meant to be experienced by a lot of people, together, a different kind of sharing.”

Vibey and often stream-of-consciousness, The “born in detroit” pieces are deeply reflective, often self-deprecating and self-recriminating. There are a plenty of candid admissions — including, in “Dear Mom,” that his mother kicked him out of the house between his high school graduation and when he started at Duke University.

“I was just horribly rude and ungrateful,” Posner recalls, “and she was rightfully like, ‘You’re 18, Mike. Why don’t you stay somewhere else for the next couple weeks before you go to school?’ We have a wonderful relationship now, though.”

He also name-checks former Groves band teacher Jim Zarzycki for telling him, “Mike, you ain’t s---” in “Gratitude.”

“I haven’t seen him since — but I have him on my mind, I guess,” Posner says with a chuckle. “I really did quit band and then started to focus on my own music, so, yeah, I’m grateful.”

Posner says the spoken pieces were “at moments transcendent.”

“At times it would address and cut through the script that runs through a concert,” he says. “If we were really doing a good job we would cut all the way through that and experience a real moment with each other and with the audience when everyone was really just present and actually there, together, connecting.”

Posner anticipates doing more poetry in the future, but his focus now is on his third album, which he’s writing and recording in Los Angeles. “I have the songs written,” he says, “and some of them are close to done, and some are demos or things I just play on guitar.” He’ll premiere some of the material during an upcoming residency at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles, and plans to start working with producer Ricky Reed in the studio.

“People ask me, ‘Which one do you enjoy more, the music or the poetry?’ but it’s not much of a distinction for me,” Posner says. “It’s all just water and it’s coming out of different faucets. I’m just being creative and expressing myself, and it shows up in different ways on different days.”

With the album coming this week, it bears asking — just how cold was it on Feb. 12, 1988, when Posner was born?

“Really cold,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t have a degree or anything, but I know my sister had to stay home from school. It was that cold.”

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