INTERVIEW & PREVIEW: Penguin Prison’s Chris Glover
Penguin Prison is not your average pop act. Comprised of Chris Glover, PP was formed in 2009, after Glover decided to change up his genre style — which is really nothing new for him. He’s done everything, from singing in the gospel choir in school alongside greats like Alicia Keys, to thrashing around New York City in a punk band, to starting a fake boy band in college. Glover has tried it all out and has found his electro-pop niche with Penguin Prison. He recently spoke with us about his musical past, and the future of Penguin Prison.
[9:30] Tell me how you came up with the name Penguin Prison.
[CG] It’s kind of a funny image to think of, penguins in a prison. I don’t really know how I came up with it, but people seem to remember it and like it. (laughs)
[9:30] That’s a good strategy, just put something with wild imagery out there so people won’t forget.
[9:30] Was that one of the first names you came up with when you decided to start this project?
[CG] I had actually been trying to think of a name for a long time. I was writing all these ideas down and one day I just decided to…point down at the list, and that’s what I pointed to.
[9:30] Did you have any other projects before Penguin Prison? Because I read that you’ve been making music for a really long time, so was there something else before Penguin Prison was solidified?
[CG] Yeah, I’ve been making music my whole life. I went to a professional performing arts school in New York City, where I was in the gospel choir alongside Alicia Keys and all these people that are on Broadway. We would perform all over New York. Then, I was in a punk band in high school and we performed in all these clubs all over New York like CBGB and places like that. And [when] I went to Bard, I was in a fake boy band there called The Smartest People at Bard. We were making fun of Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC basically.
[9:30] Good stuff!
[CG] (laughs) Yeah. And then I graduated and started making music under my own name. I sent a demo to Q-Tip and he met with me and he wanted to sign me. That led to me getting signed to Interscope Records, and I made an album under my own name. I was making different music at that time, and [later on] I was hanging out with friends of mine and being inspired and influenced [by their music]. That naturally kind of changed the music that I was making into what it is now — Penguin Prison.
[9:30] Would you now call it pop, or electro-pop?
[CG] Yeah, I mean it’s pop music that’s intended for people to dance to. I was inspired by the whole ‘new disco’ thing in New York. That’s kind of where my head was at when I started Penguin Prison.
[9:30] I really like your vocals and I was wondering who some of your favorite singers are?
[CG] In terms of singing, Michael Jackson and James Brown. I mean, I’m influenced by a lot of singers, but I’m definitely into a soulful, kind of fun approach…screaming like James Brown and Prince. They can sing high, low, and they have a sense of humor about their vocals. I like to do grunts and just make weird noises with my voice.
[9:30] Not to make you go all the way back to the album (released last October), but what’s your process for sitting down and making a whole album as Penguin Prison?
[CG] I sleep with a tape recorder next to my bed and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and sing stuff into it and fall back asleep, and then the next day wake up and listen to it and try to turn that into a song. Like with “Don’t Fuck With My Money.”
[9:30] Yeah! I love that song.
[CG] Thanks. That lyric and that melody popped into my head and I just put it down and then didn’t really know what to do with it for a while. I was asking all my friends ‘What do you think about this idea?’ and they thought it was crazy. I was just so confused about what to do with it and then I decided to just make it a song.
[9:30] So does that work most of the time? Is that a good percent of how you write your stuff, you just let it sort of come to you naturally like that?
[CG] Well, no, I mean there’s lots of different ways to do things. And sometimes I do listen to things [from my recorder] later and they’re not good — they’re just bad (laughs). Sometimes they’re good, and sometimes you don’t get any ideas. You have to sit down and tell yourself to come up with an idea. There’s just many different ways to write things, but that’s the best way, obviously, to just have something come to you out of nowhere — it’s kind of like you didn’t have to do anything (laughs).
[9:30] Recently you’ve done a lot of remixes and you’ve gotten involved with Remix Artist Collective. How did that come about?
[CG] RAC, I’ve actually known him for a couple of years. He actually remixed one of my songs and it’s kind of one of the more popular remixes he did. A lot of people heard about me through that remix actually. We’ve been talking about working more on stuff together and he said that he was making his first album of original songs where he’s going to be working with a lot of different singers, and he asked me to be one of them.
[9:30] So do you have a new album that you’re going to work on after touring?
[CG] Yeah, I’m going to be working on a new album for Penguin Prison, and I’m excited about that, but we have been doing a lot of touring over the past year. Touring is really fun and I really like playing live; it’s completely different from recording. Live performance is definitely one of the most important things when being in a band.
[9:30] Tell me about the tour with Neon Trees. How did you get in touch with them? Did they just ask you if you wanted to get involved, or did you know them beforehand?
[CG] I’ve never met them, I don’t know them. They just asked if we wanted to go on tour with them. And it seems like it’s going to be a cool tour.
[9:30] So, I take it that you’re really lively onstage and you like to move around, so I was wondering if you have an inspiration for how you do your live show, or if you just go out there an let the music take you over?
[CG] I like to get the audience involved. I like to go into the audience. I like to try to make people feel comfortable, like making them dance, because sometimes people are a little shy and feel a little embarrassed about dancing. Sometimes…I don’t have to do that at all with the audience and it’s crazy and they’re into it.
[9:30] Has there ever been a show where you’ve gone ‘I can’t believe that just happened’?
CG: Well sometimes people try to go onstage. We played in Minneapolis recently and I think there was someone who was probably a little too drunk. He was trying to hit our drums and yelling crazy stuff, so he got kicked out.
[9:30] So do you have any traditions before a live show?
[CG] I have something that I should do, but I don’t do it. Just like vocal warm-ups and jumping jacks, or pushups to warm up my body. I haven’t been doing that, but I should.
Purchase Penguin Prison’s self-titled album here.
See Penguin Prison live at 9:30 Club opening up for Neon Trees on Wednesday, July 11th. Tickets are on sale now.