In Conversation with The Black Atlas, Part I

The Black Atlas is the alias of Peter Koronios, a solo artist who creates a mesmerising blend of ambient and grunge rock. He’s recently released a brilliant cover of Florence and the Machine’s What the Water Gave Me,” as a follow-up to his latest EP, The Other. Koronios spent 8 months teaching himself guitar, bass, and piano, and performed most of the EP’s performances himself. The EP is deliciously rich and redolent of the dark forces lurking in rock history, and in “What the Water Gave Me” Koronios’s vocal contribution forms an authentic expression of the sentiments and mood of the song, making his version a significant musical event in its own right. The Other will be followed by more EPs as part of a series called The Equinox.

“There’s a place that I can see?it comes to me in dreams?
But I can’t recall its name.
I don’t know why, or what the hell it seems to be.
It has got me down on my knees.
And how those ghosts, how they dig their graves, how they dig their graves and fade …”
– Peter Koronios, from “Rivers” on EP The Other

Which elements in your childhood and early years pointed you toward music?
I didn’t really know that I wanted to pursue music seriously until I was in my teens. There were a lot of other interests I had that would end up influencing the music I make and which elements I ended up gravitating toward in the music I listen to.

Toward ambient and grunge in particular?
World music was always something that was being played when I was young, and It’s something I still listen to. There are a lot of ambient elements in that. Film scores influence me quite a bit. Johnny Greenwood’s collaborations with P. T. Anderson are something I really enjoyed. I was more into metal than grunge when I was younger. I think the whole association with grunge is more a product of the distorted guitar tones and slower tempos I’m playing.

What elements in your past lead you to the kind of dark reflections manifested in your songs?
Loneliness and isolation. Trying to make sense of that, and somehow learn from things that fall apart. Extracting an inherent universal pattern, which is perpetual decay and rebirth, and just allowing it to happen instead of allowing it to completely crush you.

How did you manage to spend eight months learning the instruments for this EP?
I didn’t start from absolute zero. I had noodled around on guitar, bass, and piano for years, but I decided at the beginning of those eight months that I would take them more seriously and apply practice techniques I used in drumming to each of the other instruments. I’m still miles away from where I’d like to be in terms of proficiency. It’s just about committing to getting better, literally locking yourself away for a few months and going inward. That’s a foreign and frightening idea to many people.

Describe that process. How did you make it work?
I had my practice pad set up on one side of my bedroom, a keyboard on the other, a friend’s bass guitar in the corner, and my guitar in the living room. I had my laptop open and a few instructional books I picked up at a music store. I’d go around the room for about six hours just going through exercises with everything. Then when I’d feel burned out or tired I’d eat, lie on my couch, and write on guitar until I fell asleep.

What was your most beneficial educational experience? What or who in your training had the most?and best?influence on you, as a musician, a composer, and a human being?
There are a host of incredible human beings that made music, as an activity and a way of life, something really powerful for me, especially my early teachers throughout middle school and high school. I took many private drum lessons over the years with a lot of teachers, trying to learn from different perspectives. Dom Famularo was and still is someone I admire very much, whose philosophy of life and music really kind of saved me from giving up on everything for good. I’ll always be a student of his.

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.