Jeff Pridgen, Poe the Passenger: Glenbard West Alumnus in L.A. alt-rock band, speaks on success, future goals


William Hohe

Jeff Pridgen, lead vocalist of Poe the Passenger and Class of 2011 GBW Alumni, sits on the bleachers at Duchon while band members, Matt Rosenblum, center, and Trent Maderosian, farthest right. Pridgen discussed his role in the formation, inspiration, and development stages of the trio’s emerging alt-rock band.

As a senior at Glenbard West, the next years of my life are on my mind. Whether it be where I’ll be in 10 years, how far away from home I might be, or frankly where I’ll be going to college next year, the future after Glenbard West is both exciting and contains endless possibilities.

Many former Hilltoppers have gone on to notable success and have made significant impacts in their fields and industries. The past few years have recognized such alumni in the annual Glenbard West Distinguished Alumni Awards, but was postponed due to COVID-19 related circumstances this year.

This past month, I had the pleasure to converse and discuss the pursuits of Jeff Pridgen, alumnus of Glenbard West from the Class of 2011, who now lives and works in Los Angeles. I sat down with Jeff in early February via Zoom interview and got the chance to meet him in person by Duchon at the end of last month to catch up in person on his up and coming band, Poe the Passenger

First, I focused on Jeff’s beginnings at West. Besides graduating as part of the Class of 2011, “within two months of [him] graduating, [he] moved to Los Angeles.” Initially set on becoming an actor or focusing more on acting, Jeff took his one rotary scholarship and the “little money saved” and has been living in Los Angeles since 2011. From an early age, he had been into movies, dabbled in activities at West such as baseball, and eventually worked under Mr. Crowley, currently an English teacher at West, through Forensics. He participated mostly in the Humorous Duet Acting/Dramatic Duet Acting events, and extended his acting and artistic abilities by participating in some of the Glenbard West Theatre plays with Mr. Fox and took studio art classes. Jeff shares, “I really loved the arts when I was at West. I had always been a big proponent of film and music and I played in a handful of funny bands when I was [living] in [the Chicagoland area].”  

After moving to the L.A. area, he realized that he “didn’t have as much control in the acting industry.” He worked on some big film sets and roles in YouTube, short films, and various productions. Looking away from acting, he “stumbled into music and started performing in shows” due to the surplus of shows that occurred daily throughout the city. 

Initially he was petrified of singing and opted for a guitar. Considering his voice as “not immaculate [nor] incredible,” his adoration for music and being in a band helped him to push his singing voice and learn to “carry a tune.” 

Confiding that he “didn’t even move to L.A. with the intention of playing music or even doing the ‘band thing,’” he is now ecstatic that he did. Poe the Passenger initially “started off with different acoustic, folk band” vibes, influenced by Jack Johnson, Iron & Wine, among others. The initial members of the band soon shifted in and out as time went on.

However, in 2017, Jeff joined forces with current band members Trent Maderosian and his close friend, Matt Rosenblum, who play on drums and bass respectively. Though they have toyed with the idea of a fourth member, “something about the three is really special to [them].” Coincidentally, the trio all attended Pasadena City College, which is similar in scope to College of DuPage, around the same time, but met in totally different circumstances. 

Besides what brought the band together, one question that I had throughout my research and listening process of the band’s current singles was, “Where does the name Poe the Passenger come from?” 

Pridgen shared that not only is this the original name, but the name itself has clever literary references. Not only does the name “Poe” carry an artistic flair and edge to it, but Jeff shared that after the death of his father, he learned that although he was a businessman, Jeff “found out after he passed away he had written poems” and drew similarities between his father and the notorious Edgar Allan Poe. Seeing the similarities between Pridgen’s praise for his father’s poetry, mirroring Edgar Allan Poe’s newfound fame after his own death, the name Poe the Passenger brings a positive connotation to not only the infamous poet but sheds a light on mental health and mental disorders, a consistent thematic element throughout the band’s lyricism, while paying homage to Pridgen’s own father. 

Within the band, major inspirations musically include Green Day, Twenty One Pilots, The Killers, and anything pop-punk or alt-rock. Trent, the drummer, is into hardcore rock and post-hardcore bands, while bassist Matt is driven by similar bass sounds of Tool, The Who, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. 

Beyond that, the latter part of the band’s title, “the Passenger,” is a way for the band members to write songs vicariously through this imaginary character. It characterizes the idea of Poe. “He is our muse and we can get away with a lot of things by saying ‘it’s about Poe,’” shares Pridgen, who describes situations in which friends, loved ones, and family have questioned whether a particular song is referencing or about them. Taking after one of their major alt-rock inspirations, Twenty One Pilots, this literary reference is rooted both in substance and sophistication and offers both fans and the band themselves multifaceted possibilities and purposes. 

As a photographer myself, when I was researching the band, listening to their tracks, and watching their YouTube videos, I was immediately struck by their cover art and photos of the bandmates on their Apple Music and Spotify platforms. “Visuals are a big thing for us, we try to have a photoshoot for each single,” Jeff shares. This is quite evident, as many of their photoshoots are inspired by the songs themselves and play with juxtaposition between the music’s lyricism and the singles’ cover images. For their song Sweet Talk,” a sarcastic song about superficiality within the music industry, the song and the song’s cover feature the band members in leather jackets with bubblegum backdrops and ring pops amidst’s the track’s ironic nature. This contrast is apparent within the song itself and the visuals perfectly speak to the meaning behind the track. 

Speaking of their current singles, besides the formerly mentioned “Sweet Talk,” Poe the Passenger has released quite a number of stand alone songs that, “depending on the show situation [this year], [they] are planning to release the first album” sometime during 2021, Pridgen discusses. “We have written and recorded 75% of it, but it doesn’t seem like the best time” with the unknowns that remain with traditional live performances amidst the current focus on virtual venues due to the pandemic.

Another one of their current songs is Follow Me.” A holistic instrumental collaboration between the trio, Matt emphasized his use of bass and complemented it with inspiration of piano chord progressions from Twenty One Pilots’ songs. “Follow Me” focuses on “mental disorders, something [they] don’t necessarily have but something [they all] can touch on” due to familiarity amongst family and acquaintances. The song itself comes from an empathetic standpoint that is rejecting the hyper-critical nature that comes with a majority of conversations surrounding mental illness. Jeff confessed that while writing he asked himself, “What if we did it from a perspective from the person who has this feeling but doesn’t realize they have this illness and the inner criticisms [that] are pulling them down?” From there, “Follow Me” was composed. It has become the song that “universally [their fans] connect most with” and a “song that reminds us we are not alone,” Jeff explains. 

With this song, among others, the band hit number one twice on 106.7 FM KROQ Locals Only radio station, a Los Angeles located radio show. The best part about these successes was that “It was voter based, so we had people from all over voting for us” Pridgen mentions. As a world famous alternative rock station, their fans from L.A., Illinois, Georgia, Florida, and even abroad in Russia, Pakistan, Brazil, etc., came together to get their song to number one initially and stay at top 5 for a month. Though the radio station isn’t available beyond the United States, those listening internationally had the opportunity to show their support by voting online.

Say It Again and My Own are two of their other popular tracks already on the band’s streaming platforms that were featured on KLOS 95.5’s “STAY OR GO” segment. In this feature, the radio station allows a band to potentially feature two of their songs. First, they must select one song and wait for listeners to call in to decide if they should stay and play another song or go. Initially, the band played “Say It Again,” a summer anthem inspired by Foster the People. 

“My Own” was the second song. It touches on themes of abandonment in relationships and personally was inspired by Jeff’s father’s passing. The song was received phenomenally by listeners and the hosts alike and gained them recognition by the producers listening and fans who began following them across their social media pages. 

Of course, the successes pre-COVID were ultimately stunted, forcing the band to adapt to quarantining and the virtual world. In a way, Jeff shares, “We are thankful for this time and even though it’s unfortunate, it’s formative for [us].” The trio lives together, has written more than ever before, and has “never been so in sync.” They have enjoyed being able to connect virtually with their fans, conducting virtual events when they can and working as much as time amidst the unforeseen future. 

In the future, Jeff Pridgen expands that “we want to continue [to] do lots more virtual shows.” They understand the need to perform and were even going to do a west coast show before the pandemic. “Our biggest thing is we’re in the development phase, developing our band, hav[ing] agencies calls, record label decisions before we hit the road.” 

In tandem with building their name, they are building their community which is evidently the future of their band. Taking inspiration from the social media standards of musicians like Halsey and Yungblud, they are focused on the response but not getting trapped in how many likes or views they might be getting or not. “Developing our foundation as far as [our supporters] go” is essential, beyond receiving the most likes or follows, Pridgen emphasizes. In the end, they get a sense of purpose when a fan reaches out saying “I listened to your music, now I feel [better].”

Offering words of advice for current and graduating Hilltoppers, Jeff shares that he was “in the palace where I was petrified to move [far away],” but “you can do whatever you want with your life. If someone’s reading this and thinking about doing something,” Jeff wants them to know that they “absolutely can do that.”

At West, Jeff gushes that he “went to a great school [where] great people pushed me. [Mr.] Crowley pushed me, [Mr.] Fox pushed me, amazing people pushed me. Surround yourself with good people and good things will happen [to you].” 

The future is looking bright for a former Hilltopper, Jeff Pridgen, and the rest of the members who encompass Poe the Passenger. Heart Strings is the newest single from the band and was released late last month, with an up-and-coming music video filmed in the Glen Ellyn area. Be sure to listen to the alt-rock stylings of Glenbard West’s own Jeff Pridgen and Poe the Passenger on Apple Music, Spotify and most streaming platforms.