After a decade laboring on ‘Roses & Thorns,’ Seldom Seen is ready for his close-up

The musician’s new album, which bridges the worlds of Caribbean hip-hop and neo-soul, is out digitally today

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Seldom Seen the Poet and singer Chrissy T.

Seldom Seen the Poet started work on new album Roses & Thorns nearly a decade ago while living in Los Angeles, its completion delayed by what the musician termed “a series of roadblocks” that included a career change and the death of his sister, which he references on album track “The Way It Goes,” a song to which he still has difficulty returning.

Throughout that time, Seldom Seen, born Glenn Pettway in Urbancrest, Ohio, never doubted the music would one day find its way to the surface, though, since the songs had long exhibited a way of embedding themselves within his consciousness. “As the recording happened, and things progressed, it moved from a passion to something where it was like, ‘I can’t sleep at night until this song is written,’” said Seldom Seen, who celebrates the digital release of Roses & Thorns today (Wednesday, March 24). “I would wake up, I would go to sleep, and the songs would stay with me.”

This included the stretch of time when he pursued a career in film production, a venture Seldom Seen said temporarily “distracted” him from the music. “So I made this career move, changed things, and then the music, here it goes,” he said. “It’s knocking on the door again.”

The musician’s time in the film world did have a pronounced influence on how he approached the project, however, giving additional weight to the visual appeal of the music, with song he can now envision soundtracking everything from documentaries (“Conspiracy Theory”) to dramatic theatrical releases (title track “Roses & Thorns,” which includes a vocal assist from singer Chrissy T.).

As the years passed, the album’s songs steadily evolved, with the musician recording some tracks as many as 50 to 100 times. “That growth comes from maturing, meeting new musicians, things like that along the way,” said Seldom Seen, who recorded the earliest songs in Glendale, California, experimenting with a sound that blurred the lines between Caribbean-spiked hip-hop and neo-soul, finishing the album in his Downtown studio after moving back to Columbus in 2016. “There’s been a lot of growth for me, and you can hear it in the music. There’s a progression.”

But even as the music started to shift, taking on some of the weight of a life lived, Seldom Seen said he wanted the tracks to remain uplifting, allowing listeners to find refuge from their problems, particularly as 2020 ushered in a global pandemic. “I think what people need in music during these times is to get away from their problems for a little bit,” he said. “So you might hear about a couple of my problems, but really I want to help you get away from yours.”

An exception arrives in the form of the rhythmic, album-closing “The Way It Goes,” a patient, conversational track on which the musician unpacks everything from his perceived missteps (“I ignored God’s plan”) to the death of his sister and the grief that settled into his family in its aftermath.

“Everyone tells me they love that song, but I don’t because I have to hear that part,” said Seldom Seen, who was raised by a high school art teacher father and a mother who pursued a career in modeling. “That was actually a really therapeutic moment for me, where I was able to release [those feelings]. But now it’s like I have to go back and listen to those therapy sessions, which can make those feelings come back. 

“Becoming vulnerable in that way, sharing something that came from the heart, it was therapy, and now I hope it can be therapeutic for somebody else. But for me, I just have to accept it was a piece of art I made and presented to the world, and I need to kind of let it be and walk on forward from it."