Only five years ago, Mike Posner felt washed up. As he detailed in a 2016 Medium post, his fast rise to fame on the heels of his 2010 single “Cooler Than Me” was followed by a slow drift into obscurity, as he failed to deliver hits while pressure to do so grew both internally and externally. Instead of sinking deeper into a burgeoning depression though, the Detroit-born singer donated his clothes, went back to music school, and began fine-tuning a personal regimen for mental and physical health that he uses to this day.
Now, he's not only a hitmaker once again (the Seeb remix for “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” has nearly a billion streams on Spotify), he's happy and thriving, working on a follow-up to 2016’s At Night, Alone., plus side projects (Mansionz) and poetry books (Teardrops and Balloons, recently released as an album as well). When we met the 30-year-old at a photo studio in Venice, California, he was clad in a denim shirt softened by frequent wear, and sunken into a sofa, perfectly comfy amid the bustle of a video shoot. We could've sworn he was glowing.
You took a lot of steps to improve your mental health. When you look back, are you able to identify the root causes of that anxiety and depression that many artists experience?_
Those feelings exist in the general population. Do I think fame exacerbates them? Yeah. I think there's a difference in how it looks to people to be an artist, or how we make it look on our social media, and how it really is, which is at times really stressful. And busy. It's not the only job in the world that's stressful and busy, but a lot of disillusion can go with it. Especially if you're like me, thinking, "This will solve all my problems. I won't feel as insecure when I get this." Then I got it and felt insecure. My chips were riding on this fixing everything. When it doesn't, that's scary.
It can be overwhelming trying to troubleshoot one's life. Once you pull one thread, like "not exercising enough," many more threads come undone. Where should you start?
Daily meditation practice. That's first because it's a tool to change your state of mind. Then all of a sudden these other things on the list look different. They may not seem as overwhelming. I do Transcendental Meditation but it costs money. If you can't afford it, there's free resources online.
So what does your daily regimen look like?_
I wake up, drink a bunch of water, go to the bathroom. Lately, I sit on the toilet and write what I'm going to do that day in a notebook and envision myself enjoying doing it, so I'm pre-paving. When I get to that thing, I'm more likely to actually enjoy it. And on the other side of the paper I'll write the things I'd like to come to me, and imagine them coming to me. [Like] Album of the Year Grammy. Then I'll brush my teeth, meditate usually 20 minutes, and then I'll exercise. And then I'll take my phone off "airplane" mode. So I'm on offense, filling my day with the things I wanna do before I let anyone else tell me what they want from me, because then you're on defense.
It's one thing to have a regimen at home, but is this translatable to touring too?
Sure! The most important word for the beginning of a tour is "routine." Your regimen does get totally interrupted. Sometimes you wake up and you're not there yet. If you're a newer artist, you might be driving and not sleeping as much, so you have to formulate a new routine as soon as you can. You have to carve out time for the things that matter to you, whether they be meditating or exercising or practicing your instrument. I find it works to do that first thing in the day. It takes a little more planning and willingness to be selfish, but that's not a bad thing in the right amount. You definitely don't need a gym to exercise. I'm a proponent of "high intensity interval training." They call them HIIT workouts, so if you just Google or YouTube that, there's plenty of resources.
When things are busy, they're very busy. Is it important to cut back and create a schedule that's less intensive? Or when you have a good regimen, can you take on anything?
If the skills in your life —learning a language, an instrument, how to negotiate—are apps on your phone, then having a good meditation or exercise routine, being in good mental health, is like having a good operating system. It doesn't give you superpowers. You still have to look at your commitments in advance. You want to be in communication with your team, and not be afraid to stand up for yourself, to say what you're comfortable doing. But then do what you said you were going to. It's bad practice to get there, realize you're in over your head and cancel five minutes before. For a new artist, play it relatively safe. You can add on if you feel you have more juice.
When you lose mindfulness or have a bad day, how do you get yourself back on track?
My cheat code is cold water. If I take a cold shower or dip into the ocean, it's scary how quickly it works. If you're just in a funk, analyzing the problem may not help. If you just go do something, change the state of your body, you can flip your mind into a better state. Overall, I believe in the law of attraction—you get what you think about. If you're thinking, "Man, I'm having a bad day," you're going to get more bad day. Do the things you know will help. That might be listening to a certain song—everyone has their own set of those. But don't dramatize your own suffering.
A lot of musicians who experience some success can feel trapped in their lane. You've branched out with side projects. Is that part of maintaining mental health as an artist?
Well, that's the point of being an artist, right? Your job is to create the art you want to exist, and that's it. If you find yourself catering to what your manager, record label, or fans want, you're not really an artist anymore. You're a businessperson. I don't know how much that plays into mental health, but having this stuff in order—your body, your finances, your relationships—gives you a solid place to stand from which you can take wilder artistic risks. It will make you a better artist.
— Chris Martins