Interview: Penguin Prison

Alas, SXSW was only a few short weeks ago. Upon returning to Madison, life decided to unleash a torrent of everything that’s delayed some of the content coming to you all. Regardless, it begins today with an interview with Chris Glover, aka Penguin Prison. At first fleeting listen, he could be rooted in electro-dance but as his music comes into focus, you find live instruments influenced by Prince and Michael Jackson. Despite the pop, he’s dabbled in all sorts of genres and doesn’t limit himself. A rising talent coming from the same New York/London tastemakers that gave the world “Sleepyhead”, flood stage is about to be reached on this talent overflowing this spring. He is currently touring with Jamiroquai. We spoke Thursday during SXSW 2011, here are the words.

You’re from New York, and Professional Performing Arts School…

Chris Glover: I went there for sixth, seventh and eight grade. It’s mainly made for kids who are on Broadway and who were going to miss a lot of school. They were lenient on kids missing a lot of school. Everyone had a major and my major was vocal. I was in this choir, and Alicia Keys was in it. Drop the Lime was in it. He’s a drum and bass guy now. It was in this gospel choir and we performed all over the city at museums and hotels.

I assume there’s many performing arts schools in New York.

There’s that, Professional Performing Arts School, where I went. It’s a public school. There’s LaGuardia and PCS.

Are your parents artists? Where did it come from?

Nah, neither of them are artists. I started singing Beatles songs and got an agent when I was really little. I did jingles. I was just starting down that path and then decided to go to a school for it.

Was there any dissonance between kids who go to a normal school, and those who went to a performing arts school?

Probably, I’m sure. All the kids in the school that I went to were trying to make it. They all wanted to be famous. I just really liked singing. I was really shy, and I just wanted to sing because it was this big thing that I could let out all these emotions. A lot of performers are really shy. It’s just you have to overcome it or flip a switch and do it.

Is it kind of just jumping into it?

Yeah, I used to get really nervous before performing. A lot of performers are like that. Jimi Hendrix, he threw up before every performance. But I don’t get nervous anymore because I just think, “What’s the big deal?”

I saw that you were part of a punk band circuit?

I got into punk, and was in a band in high school. We played all over New York. That was a phase I went through. I like all kinds of music, so I definitely have been in lots of different kinds of bands. Rap, punk, and now I’m doing pop-electronic.

So would you switch genres again later on?

I don’t know. I mean, I’ll probably try different things. I sort of see doing something like what Beck does. Make an album that’s a certain kind of thing, then make another album that’s maybe different.

Like Sea Change?

I can definitely see happening.

Did you hear his album that he produced with Charlotte Gainsbourg?

I heard some of it. It’s cool. It just seems like he just kind of did everything. He could have sung himself, but had her do it. It’s like a Beck album, but he’s not singing. But he’s doing a lot of background vocals so it’s pretty much like a Beck album. [laughs]

So tell me how you got in touch with Neon Gold?

They just contacted me. I’m not sure how that happened. They wrote to me, and I met with them at a Starbucks in New York. They said they wanted to release some music of mine. So they did and they wrote about me on their blog. Then other people wrote about me because of that. It’s been cool to be associated with them. I just played a Neon Gold Showcase last night at Bat Bar. It was cool. Ellie Goulding played. We went on after her. I don’t know why, we should have gone on before her. It was a strange experience to go on after her. It was a tough assignment, but the crowd was into it. Do you know those guys, Neon Gold?

I’ve been following them for a few years. I just love the taste that they have; Passion Pit, Marina & the Diamonds

Yeah, they pick up on a lot of cool people early on it seems like. Marina’s from the UK. I did a remix for her. That was the first remix I ever did. That came about because of Neon Gold. Now I’ve done about twenty remixes.

How did the Sébastien Tellier one come about?

Yeah, that was the second one I did. They just asked me to do it. I did the Marina & The Diamonds one and since then people just ask me to do it.

I played the “White Knuckle Ride” remix of Jamiroquai the other day and everyone was saying, “This is really good!”

Yeah, we’re going to go on tour with them. We’re going to open for them in Europe starting soon, March 26th to April 20th. It’s crazy. We’re going to play arenas, like 20,000 people. I don’t know how that happened but, it’s starting soon. I have to get ready.

I was surprised. You have that pop, more European-style beats going up against Jamiroquai.

Yeah, I don’t know much about Jamiroquai. They sent me the files to that song. I just took the vocals and made a completely new song underneath it. When I do a remix, I don’t listen to the original song at all. They send me everything, but I throw everything away except the vocals. I figure out the tempo and then just make a new song underneath it. After I’m done, I listen to the original. It was a little treat.

What did you think when you heard the original? It’s probably the best way to do a remix too.

It was cool. I’m always amazed that what I come up with is so different because it’s the same melody. I don’t want to get influenced by how the original was. So that’s my formula. You play any instruments?

Yea. I play bass guitar. I started with a fretless jazz, then switched to a five-string because I wanted to play like Flea. So I would obsess over Blood Sugar Sex Magick trying to learn every song.

That’s a crazy album. Does he play a five-string?

He plays a four string, I believe. Five-string came from the fact I was listening to a lot of heavier music at the time. But then I found out the strings are a lot closer than a four-string. So slapping and pulling off strings are harder.

I don’t know about five-strings. They confused me. I’ve never tried it.

The neck feels heavier, so you feel like you have more control than a four-string.

Yeah, I have a small bass, a Gibson EB-3. it’s a short scale, so it’s smaller than most basses. It’s cool. It’s from 1967, I got it on eBay. I started with guitar. I had a guitar teacher, took guitar lessons and he taught me Led Zeppelin songs. Then he moved on to teaching me jazz. I got the Real Book.

What’s the Real Book?

It’s this illegal book that you have to go into a music store and whisper, “Can I have the Real Book?” Then they go in the back and sell it to you off the books. It has every jazz standard and how to play it. They’re not supposed to sell it, so everyone who gets into jazz gets the Real Book. So I was trying to learn jazz for a while. But then I taught myself bass, piano, keyboards and drums. I just took guitar lessons. At Professional Performing Arts School, we had a teacher who taught us [vocal].

After Jamiroquai, what’s next?

Next, my album will come out and I’ll just keep doing. I don’t have the next thing lined up yet, but I’m sure it will get lined up. It all seems to be working out. Everything’s always at the last minute. I found out about the Girl Talk tour a week before we went. The same thing with the Jamiroquai tour. I guess that’s the way the music business works.

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