After pouring jazzy synthwave tones served with a slice of prog-rock panache in our ears with his sophomore album, Blackberries, the classically-trained LA-based artist, Poseidon’s Alley spilt his genre-melding secrets.
Poseidon’s Alley, welcome to A&R Factory! Can you tell us a little about your sophomore album, Blackberries?
“Thanks! Blackberries is an album that I would describe as genre-bending, groove-based instrumental music. It’s my second LP under the “Poseidon’s Alley” moniker, and I think personally it’s a big step up both production and composition-wise. Unlike my debut album — which I think sounds a little bit more eclectic, abstract, and overall happier — Blackberries is pretty moody throughout and tries to paint these dark, synth-y soundscapes layered with dreamy guitar lines that feel nostalgic, wistful, and even melodramatic at times.
I worked on the album on and off from 2018 to 2022, a period of time that obviously includes the pandemic as well as some personal loss that I went through. So, not the easiest of times for me, or most people, and I think you’ll hear that reflected pretty well through these mostly minor key vibes happening on the record. In fact, I actually let the album sit 85% finished without touching anything for over a year, before finally pulling myself out of the mire and finishing what I started. I called the album Blackberries in a little nod to the Pacific Northwest where they grow (and I live), as sort of a personal “silver lining” metaphor — that these thorny, painful plants still ultimately produce something sweet.”
It’s quite the melting pot of genres; was this something that happened naturally?
“Yes — my compositional style, I would probably compare to abstract painting. Other than the mood I’m in when I start a piece, I don’t really push myself consciously in any direction — I just go where my ear takes me. I actually kind of wish my music wasn’t quite so hard to pin down, because it makes it incredibly difficult to fit yourself in these narrow boxes that the big Spotify playlists kinda require you to be in. First of all, I make instrumental music, which is already sort of disqualifying yourself for a lot of listeners. Besides not having vocals, I’m too synthwave for the prog-style playlists, too guitar-forward for the synthwave playlists, and too complex for some of the lo-fi or indietronica playlists.
But at the end of the day, I’m going to follow the classic Rick Rubin advice and just make the music that I want to hear, rather than artificially trying to stick to a style just to more easily find an audience. And when people do click with Poseidon’s Alley — which, when they do, is thanks in large part to several smaller playlist curators who have found and generously featured me — the response I’ve gotten has been really encouraging to just be myself.”
The spacey amalgam of prog, synthwave and jazz is definitely something we have never heard before; what inspired the album?
“It’s a pure, subconscious reflection of the music that has inspired and impacted me the most in my life. Until my late 20s, I really mostly listened to (and played) guitar-centric prog rock. As a music student and professor, I’ve naturally gone quite deep into classical and jazz for years at a time. That background really forms the basis of the way I approach musical structure, which is classical, and the way I hear and think about harmony, which is jazz. And in the last few years, synthwave, chillwave, vaporwave, all of that stuff really scratched this strong nostalgic itch I have for the 80s and early 90s, and the vibes of the world during my early childhood.
Anyway, I think on most of the songs on Blackberries, the influences are pretty evenly blended. But you also have tracks like “Farewell, August Macke” which is like an “Alfa Mist meets Men I Trust”-inspired jazz tune. You can really hear the Dream Theater-esque prog rock influence on “Gatsby’s Green Light” and “Object Permanence” at the end of the album. And I think “Knight of the Mirrors” and “Rosa Californica” are the two biggest love letters to the retrowave artists that inspire me like Lazerhawk, A.L.I.S.O.N., Lucy in Disguise, and Eagle Eyed Tiger.”
How did your classical training interplay with writing Blackberries and bringing it to life?
“My classical training was the best thing that ever happened to me as a musician just in general because it gave me the context and tools to understand what I’m doing harmonically and melodically instead of just fumbling around in the dark hoping to get lucky. I’m biased as a music educator, but I strongly feel that internalized knowledge of music theory just opens up these amazing worlds of possibilities for a composer, and helps to push and evolve your ear in ways that make music more rich and exciting.
My classical training started with my amazing guitar teacher Rick Sailon who gave me a head start as a teenager, continued at Los Angeles Valley College and Cal State University Northridge, and finished after grad school at the University of Southern California. Once you’ve gone through that many years of thinking about music through this theory-based framework, it’s kind of impossible to turn it off. But I wouldn’t want to!”
Who was involved in the making of your new album?
“I wrote, played, and mixed everything on the album. My incredibly talented fiancée Monica does all the album artwork for Poseidon’s Alley. And it was mastered by Elliot James Mulhern who’s an audio legend in LA.”
You’re a part-time music professor too; what do you think your students would have to say about the release?
“That’s a great question — they’re usually surprised that someone who spends most of his time talking about Beethoven, Bach, and Charlie Parker creates music like this in his spare time, and not, like, string quartets or something. To my beloved students, all I can say is: smash that like and follow button for the Spotify algorithm!”
Are there any future releases in the pipeline?
“This definitely won’t be the last Poseidon’s Alley album. I feel my ability as a composer and recording engineer are getting stronger with every song I work on, and I’m excited to keep building on that. After the darkness explored on Blackberries, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next album is quite a bit lighter. I’m super inspired by the music I’ve been listening to lately including Khruangbin, Her’s, Men I Trust, Hello Meteor, and Pacific Coliseum. So, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear those influences reflected back on the next LP! But yeah, my focus for the next few months is on trying to support Blackberries and get it into the ears of people who would dig this kind of music, but maybe don’t know it exists yet.”
Interview by Amelia Vandergast