In preparation for this Friday’s Nat Geo Live (BUY TICKETS NOW! WE’RE CLOSE TO SOLD-OUT), we sat down with Chris Glover, the man behind Penguin Prison, and talked about science fiction, what it means to be an explorer, and his upcoming album. Check out his music here before you see him live.
First off, are you psyched for Nat Geo?
Yeah, definitely. I looked at the pictures from the previous years and they looked really cool. So I’m excited about that and I also always like playing in DC. There’s always a really good crowd there.
Yeah, in past interviews you’ve mentioned that you like rowdier/more intense crowds and that you’ve had good experiences with crowds like that in DC. Do you think that’s still the same? Are we still as rowdy?
Yeah, I mean, I don’t know why certain cities are different than others, but every time I play in DC the crowd seems really good. I think I’ve played here more than any city, other than New York, which is where I’m from.
Why is that?
I have no idea. I really don’t. For some reason Washington DC seems really good for Penguin Prison.
Awesome. So we’re doing Nat Geo and we just finished Pride and both are basically space themed… So what’s your favorite science fiction movie?
I mean, growing up I watched Star Wars a lot, like everyone. I really liked it. I’ve been watching that documentary Cosmos lately. I really like that, I’m into science fiction.
Really? Are you more into SF literature or movies?
Movies. I think Star Wars is the ultimate.
Yeah, I’m big into SF too. Do you have a favorite SF book?
No, I don’t really read science fiction. In terms of reading books, I usually read non-fiction. I don’t know why, but for some reason when I feel like reading I just want to read about history or how things work in reality.
That’s cool. When I read non-fiction I usually just read about murders. What’s your favorite history book?
I like books that talk about history in general. I don’t remember, but there’s one of those books that’s just the complete history of the world, or something like that. It’s a huge book and just goes through the entire history of civilization. I don’t know, I guess it’s really boring for some people… it is really dry. Some people are like “How can you read that?” I don’t know, that’s just what I liked to read.
You don’t have a particular time period you’re interested in? I know some people are only interested in the Civil War or the Dark Ages or whatever.
I don’t know. I think it’s all interesting. It just really seems like a different planet almost when you read about the past. Even just a hundred years… it seems insane. It seems like a different world to me. So, it’s all interesting to me.
That’s interesting because if you’re thinking of history as a different world then that’s almost like science fiction. Like it’s an alternate universe.
Yeah, it definitely seems like that. I get bogged down trying to imagine how some of it even happened. It just doesn’t even seem like it really happened.
History… it’s a mystery. Anyway, back to Nat Geo, do you think you’re going to come in costume? It’s highly recommended.
Okay, well then I have to figure that out.
I think we have some recommendations on the site.
Okay. I’ll have to think about it. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. Is everyone there going to be in costume?
At the very least the interns will probably be in costume. Anyway, There’s going to be a couple of different ‘explorers’ at the event. Do you consider yourself an explorer at all?
[Laughter] I mean… I guess.
Like an aural explorer or a musical explorer?
Oh yeah. So what do you mean when you say there’s going to be National Geographic explorers there?
We’re having a couple of people there who are different kinds of explorers. One’s a marine biologist. This other guy is a dinosaur hunter or something like that, and there are environmentalists and that kind of stuff.
That’s cool. If I weren’t playing music that would definitely be one of the fields I’m interested in.
I feel like a lot of those jobs are the kind you imagine yourself being when you’re a kid. Like an astronaut or an archeologist.
Yeah, and some people actually do those things.
I’m always impressed by them.
Yeah, that’s crazy.
Did you have any crazy job expectations when you were a kid?
I’ve always wanted to do music.
Yeah, ever since I was little. But I’ve always liked exploring in the woods. My dad would take me on long walks in the woods. I’ve always liked to go off the trail and look around and explore.
Do you still do that?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I always like to go on different trails wherever I am.
Cool. I know you played a lot of different genres when you were a kid, like gospel and punk rock. Did you see yourself doing gospel for the rest of your life?
No, that was just the school that I went to… the Professional Performing Arts School. You had to have a major, like some people majored in theater or dance, etc, and I majored in vocal. Our teacher wrote original songs and they were gospel so that’s what we sang. We performed all over the city in different places.
Did you even like gospel?
I don’t know. That’s just what we sang because that’s what the teacher told us to sing. I liked it at the time, but I didn’t really put much thought into it. I was just following instructions, but I liked it. I had a good time.
When you were playing punk rock, did you see yourself doing that for longer?
Probably? I don’t remember. I’d have to get into my mindset as a 13 year old. I don’t know if I was thinking that far ahead, but I was definitely really into it at the time.
Anyway, the “Don’t Fuck With My Money” music video has a lot of Occupy Wall Street stuff and DC is a very activist-y city. Do you consider yourself an activist at all?
I’m not sure if I’m an activist right now, but I can definitely see myself getting into that. I like to talk about actual serious things in music and outside of music as well. I do think the number one issue is campaign finance reform. I think if we get limits on the amount of money that corporations can give to campaigns then that’s the first step. After we do that then other things can follow, but that’s the number one thing.
Are you working with any sort of group or non-profit?
I haven’t been doing that yet, I mean, I’m just focusing on trying to get myself going. I have to focus on myself first before I can help other people.
What do you mean when you say, “focus on yourself”? Is there anything personal that you’re working on right now?
I’ve been working on a new album and just doing that non-stop.
How’s that going?
It’s good. It’s going to come out later this year. It’s almost done. So I’ll release that and go on tour with my band again.
Do you miss going on tour?
Yes. I’ve been DJ-ing for the past year and a half, but I haven’t played with my band. But when the album comes out, I’ll play with my band again and that will be cool. I miss doing that.
Are you excited about the new album? Does it have a similar vibe or sound as the first one, or is it more of a departure?
It’s kind of both. It’s similar, but it’s also a departure at the same time. I don’t know what that means, but it still sounds like Penguin Prison and people who liked the first album will like it… but it’s also a little bit different as well.
Was it hard to break away from the sound on your first album? Or was it easy?
I don’t know if it’s ever really easy to make music. When you’re making music there’s days where it’s easy and there’s days where it’s hard. There’s sudden bursts of creativity and then long stretches where you’re kind of forcing something to come out and it’s really hard. It’s kind of half and half.
Like writers block?
I don’t really know if it is writers block, it’s just like, you have to set aside time and go in a room and say “I’m going to work on something” and then something will happen. Whether it’s a lot of stuff that you come out with or it’s just some, something will happen.
Do you have a daily or weekly goal for the amount of recording/writing you have to get done?
I make a schedule, but I don’t really stick to it. It’s kind of like a rough guideline. As long as I’m coming up with something then that makes me feel okay.
I know in past interviews you’ve said that, because inspiration will come so suddenly, you used to sleep with a tape recorder beside your bed. Do you still do that?
Yeah. Like I said, I go through stages where I’ll be doing that almost every night for a month and then I’ll go months without coming up with anything. While I was making my album, I was coming up with lots of stuff. I don’t know why that is. I think you tell your brain that you have to come up with something, so you do. I think you if you just force yourself to do things then something will happen. You have to open up your brain, you have to open something inside of it, and when it’s open you can come up with things.
Like getting yourself into the right frame of mind. Have you used anything from your tape recorder on the album?
Of course. It’s hard to sometimes decipher what it is. In the middle of the night you think that you’re saying things louder than you actually are and while you’re doing it you think that you’re going to understand what it is tomorrow. Then you listen to it and it’s very quiet, gravely mumbling and you have to try to figure out what it is you were saying. It’s kind of hard sometimes, but then I turn that into something. It’s just an idea and then you have to do a lot of work to turn it into something.
Have you ever recorded something really weird?
Yeah, really crazy. Like “what does that mean?” I like those kinds of things. Sometimes those are the best.
It’s always nice to have some weird stuff thrown in.