Even if you don’t believe in reincarnation, Penguin Prison’s Chris Glover will make a believer out of you. His endeavors include faux boy band pop, a Q-Tip-produced hip hop album, and the synth-pop, happy dance music that he makes today under the Penguin Prison moniker – and all this from a singer who got his start in a choir with a young Alicia Keys. In short, Glover has been musically reborn over and over again.
When he’s not writing songs and touring, he’s picking up DJ acts and remixing popular artists such as Marina and The Diamonds, Kylie Minogue, and Passion Pit. How did he evolve into his current genre? Like any artist with a sense of play, he fell into it while messing around with a Mattel beat machine, creating a song that eventually became “Golden Train.” It’s a beat-heavy song that sounds like the love child of the Knight Rider theme song and Prince falsetto. With all his changing and adapting, he’s tapped into something both nostalgic and modern.
Your musical history has taken you everywhere from hip hop fame to currently touring with Jamiroquai. How did you end up with the synth-pop sound that typifies Penguin Prison songs?
I am into all kinds of music and have been ever since I was a kid. That means that I never thought that there were certain kinds of music I couldn’t make, so I tried to make any and all kinds of music. Right now I am focused on a certain path, [but] maybe later at some point I will make another kind of music. But for now I am trying to make music that makes people have fun, dance, laugh, and just go crazy.
Where does the name Penguin Prison come from?
I had a list of 300 names and had been trying to decide on one for a couple months. I finally decided one day that I needed to make a decision, so I just pointed at the list and it landed on Penguin Prison.
Do you always write the lyrics of your songs yourself? Is there a topic you particularly like writing about?
I write some songs with different friends of mine. I like to collaborate because it is sometimes not so fun to make music all alone. I like to write about people and how they act in society and what it feels like to be a human being in the modern world.
If you had to switch musical directions again, what would you like to try next?
Country music. The good kind. Like old country music. Johnny Cash. Patsy Cline. That kind. I probably won’t make that kind of music for a while. Maybe in 10 years. I made a song called “Hootin & a’ Hollerin” that I think is the best song I have ever made.
I heard that you were in school with Alicia Keys…
I was in the choir with her. I didn’t know her that well. She was older than me. It was a cool choir though. Shout out to Ms. Aziza.
How did you begin working with Alex Frankel of Holy Ghost, and how much has that influenced your music?
I have known Alex and Nick from Holy Ghost since I was 14 years old or so. They definitely influence me, as do a bunch of my friends. I am very influenced by people I am in contact with who make music because I can see them making it and talk to them about it and collaborate with them, and it affects what I do.
It seems atypical to have a DJ act to open with a live performance; how was the tour with Girl Talk?
That tour was great. Everyone on his team was very nice and Gregg [Gillis] is one of the nicest people I have ever met. I have known him ever since 2003 or so when he came to Bard College and played a show there at Bard Hall. We started talking; I gave him some vocals to use on one of his songs, and we kept in touch. Girl Talk’s audience comes to have a good time. It was a good audience to play for because we make fun dance music.
When it comes to electronic music, do you begin with the lyrics, the melodies and loops, or the beat? Describe your process a bit for us.
It is always different every time I make a song. Sometimes an idea just comes to me out of nowhere and it could be a melody with a lyric attached or just a melody. Sometimes I bang out some music just from nothing and then come up with the melody and lyrics to fit with it.
What is on your playlist currently?
Twin Shadow, Carly Simon’s Why, Holy Ghost!, RAC, The Strokes’ “Taken for a Fool,” Shalamar’s “There It Is,” and Social Disco Club.