Q&A with Chris Glover of Penguin Prison

photo courtesy of Penguin Prison

We Love DC’s guest writer Jonathan Druy had a chance to talk to Chris Glover, who records under the name Penguin Prison. Check out his interview below!

While multi-instrumentalist Chris Glover has been remixing under the name Penguin Prison for a few years now, playing with the music of Lana Del Rey, Kylie Minogue, Kimbra, Marina and the Diamonds, and Goldfrapp, it is also the name of his electronic-pop outfit, hailing from the Brooklyn that gave us LCD Soundsystem, DFA records, bands like Holy Ghost!, Light Asylum and a host of others. Glover sings catchy, infectious, and lyrical pop songs over his own production, which draws inspiration from classic and Nu Disco as well as the French House of the last ten years. It falls squarely into the kind of indie-dance territory fans of Friendly Fires, Miike Snow, LCD, Hot Chip, Cut Copy, and Junior Boys are going to immediately recognize.

Penguin Prison is sort of a next phase in this realm, flirting with mainstream, and not in a bad way. The music is not compromised by its catchiness, because the hooks are good and the grooves are deep. Glover’s a straightforward and stylish vocalist and a sometimes expressionistic lyricist, but has the looks and charisma to pull off a kind of indie-dance Timberlake vibe. The video for one of his album’s several great singles, “Don’t Fuck With My Money”, shot in gritty black and white last year, shows Glover singing against the backdrop of New York City’s Occupy protest. It’s an odd juxtaposition – pretty-boy crooner, electro-pop, citizen activism – he pulls it off with a coolness and unique spirit.

Although he says his remixing days are definitely not over with, Glover now tours with a full band, and brings Penguin Prison to Rock & Roll Hotel on Saturday night, along with fellow Brooklynites Class Actress.

Jonathan Druy: How do you like playing DC?

Chris Glover: I’ve played DC many times. I think DC is one of the best places to play actually, yeah some of our best shows we’ve played have been in DC, like at U Street Music Hall a couple times, and 930 club a couple times, other places as well.

JD: While you’re mainly an electronic artist, you play with a full band, right?

CG: Yeah, I play guitar and sing, we have a bass player, a keyboard player, and a drummer. We were always a full band, I never wanted to play without a full band, because if I go to a show, and it’s just like a guy on stage with a keyboard or drum machine, it doesn’t really move me, I never wanted to do that. Especially without a live drummer, I think the audience doesn’t know what to do exactly, there’s like tracks playing, there’s no drummer, no anything, there’s like one or two people, the audience is kind of confused, even if it’s music that’s loud and dancey they still aren’t gonna dance because they’re confused about where the sounds are coming from, they don’t see human beings making things on stage.

JD: Where have been some of your best shows?

CG: My favorite crowds are the ones that are really rowdy, and the rowdiest crowds were actually at U St Music Hall, in Brooklyn, Austin, Los Angeles, places like that.

JD: Are there any particular songs that get a surprising reaction?

CG: Honestly, standup comedians will say that everywhere they go, no matter who the audience is, if a joke is good, people will laugh, it doesn’t even matter – the audience could be from completely different backgrounds, but the material should be hitting the same way everywhere they go. If it’s not, it’s not a good joke.

So it’s the same thing with music, whenever we play the same song, pretty much universally the audience reacts kind of similarly, like “Don’t Fuck With My Money”, that one live elicits one of the bigger responses from the audience no matter where we are.

JD: Do you have any bands you consider your colleagues, contemporaries, or maybe competition?

CG: I’m friends with Holy Ghost!, and I was kind of inspired by them, influenced by them, and I made a song with Alex Frankel from Holy Ghost! called “Golden Train”, which is on my album, Penguin Prison, and we finished it, and then I decided I wanted to make more songs like that – that was the first song I made as Penguin Prison, and then from there I wanted to make a whole album that would fit together with that song.

I don’t see other people as competition really, I like to collaborate with a lot of people, I’m friends with lots of musicians, I don’t know if anyone really sees other people as competition, you know it just feels good to become friends with other people that make music that is similar, in the same world.

JD: You just finished shooting a video for the song “Hollywood”, which you did in collaboration with a guy called RAC…

CG: He is someone that I met through the internet, really, I didn’t even meet him in person for a very long time, after we had just been corresponding through email, and he made a couple remixes of my songs, then we were talking about collaborating, and we wrote that song together through the internet.

JD: How has the online world affected what you do?

CG: You can see someone that you like on the internet, and be like “I wonder if I should write to them”, and you write to them, and you’ll be surprised by how they respond to you and they’re like “oh yeah I really like your music too”, and then you’re like “oh ok we should try to make something together”, and then you send each other files, and you work on stuff and send it back to them, and after awhile you’ve made a song together, and you haven’t even met each other.

Sometimes on Twitter, someone will write something about me, and I’m like “what? I really like your music too, we should collaborate!”

JD: Is there anyone else that you’ve done that with?

CG: Yeah this guy Goldroom, he’s got a song called “Fifteen”, and he made a remix of one of my songs. I’ve been talking to him about collaborating. I’m friends with Classixxx, and these people Oliver. Holy Ghost! I’ve collaborated with. It’s hard with peoples schedules and people living in different parts of the country or parts of the world, so the internet helps.

JD: Are you still doing remixes when you find the time?

CG: Whenever I’m not touring and I’m home, I’m usually doing a remix or two. I really like doing remixes for female voices, I like working with female singers more-so than male singers. If I got to choose who to remix, I would really like to remix Lykke Li. I like her voice a lot, and there’s a remix of her by the Magicians, for “I Follow Rivers”, which is, I think, one of the best remixes of the past couple years.

JD: Do you have a way to describe your aesthetic, what you think of when you’re making music? Is it retro-80s? Indie-dance-pop? Nu Disco-influenced pop?

CG: I think my music is essentially pop music, I’m trying to write pop songs that have good melodies. In terms of the production, I don’t really think of it as 80s, I don’t, like, listen to 80s music all day long, or ever really. I’m influenced by the whole Nu Disco movement, which I guess LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy is a big part of. I’m really into disco edits, and the whole DJ culture of editing old obscure disco songs, and adding stuff to them, and the whole DFA kind of sound. I also like to use different influences, different genres of music and try and come up with something new.

JD: I’ve seen you talk elsewhere about Prince and Michael Jackson. How have they played into your music, and your life?

CG: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was the first album that I had, the vinyl, on a Fisher Price record player, and I had a Michael Jackson doll, the little action figure. I think a lot of people like Michael Jackson – it’s just something you don’t really understand, even people that might dislike him as a person or think he’s crazy, they definitely like his music, especially the heyday, “Thriller”, all those hits, it’s hard to not like that music. I just use it as the ultimate template for what are the ultimate pop songs. “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” is one of the best songs ever made, it doesn’t feel cheesy, like a lot of the mainstream disco at the time. So him and Prince, the best songs that they made in their prime, in the 80s, those to me are the ultimate pop music that I use to judge what I’m doing.

JD: What do you think of the music Prince has been doing in the last few years?

CG: Well obviously he’s a good musician, and he likes to show off his skills, and he likes to surround himself which a huge band, where everyone is a really good musician, I guess I can appreciate that, but I’m really more into his minimalist kind of stuff, like now he’s kind of going crazy showing off and throwing in too much stuff.

JD: The other day was Brian Eno’s birthday, is he particularly important to you?

CG: Brian Eno must be one of the best producers ever, because Coldplay – I’m not much of a fan, and he produced one of their albums, and he did a good job with a band that I don’t really like; he must know what he’s doing.

JD: Do you pay attention to mainstream pop? Justin Bieber has a new song out…

CG: I heard that song and I didn’t really think much of it, and it didn’t get stuck in my head, and I don’t have any desire to listen to it again. I guess some people like that, but I don’t have any interest.

JD: Is there any mainstream pop songs that you do like?

CG: There’s certain songs that come out, there’s that one Miley Cyrus song I like, what’s it called? [JD: “Party in the USA”?] Yeah, that’s a great song. I don’t like Miley Cyrus, but there’s just certain songs where I really say I like that song, it doesn’t matter who makes it. “Toxic” by Britney Spears – it’s a great song. The guys from Miike Snow actually produced that song.

JD: For your own songs, do you sort of know it when you get it, does it come pretty quickly, or do you work pretty hard to arrive at something?

CG: Yeah the best things happen naturally, and then you have to work from there. Like with my song “Don’t Fuck With My Money”, all of a sudden – I was just saying that, out of nowhere, it had that melody, and that lyric. That just came out of nowhere, and then I just had to figure out what to do with it. I sleep with a tape recorder next to my bed, and sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and have a melody in my head and I sing it into the tape recorder and fall asleep, and wake up in the morning and listen to it, and try to make a song out of it.  There’s an art that goes into making a good pop song, and when it happens it’s pretty clear.


See Penguin Prison live this weekend at Rock & Roll Hotel.

Penguin Prison

w/Class Actress, Outputmessage

Doors 8:30/Show 9:30/$15

Saturday, May 19

Rock & Roll Hotel

Alexia Kauffman

Alexia was born and raised in Arlington, VA. She has been a cellist since age four, and a lover of rock & roll soon after. The first tape she owned was “Make It Big” by Wham, and the first tape she bought was Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and she still loves both. She was a member of local synth-rock outfit Soft Complex for several years, and has recorded with bands including Engine Down and Two if By Sea. By day she works for a non-profit distributing royalties to musicians and labels. She currently plays cello, lap-steel guitar and tambourine in the DC post-folk/Americana band The Torches.

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