Penguin Prison transforms Trump-trauma into danceable electropop rock


Fantastically named Penguin Prison is the unexpected pop rock poster-band for the emotionally repressed and election-traumatized.

Sometimes imprisoned penguins need to make their own medicine.

Or, to put it more sanely, when the 2016 election left Penguin Prison (a.k.a Chris Glover) devastated, he turned to music and wrote the most danceable protest-album of the year. Not to protest specific policies per se, but the feeling of giving up when the going gets rough. A sentiment so deliberately universal, even a red-hatted MAGA fan could accidentally empathize (though Glover might not like that so much).

So Turn it Up was born. It is an unexpected pop-rock response to a post-Trump feeling of total discouragement. It is a fantastically danceable distraction to anyone exhausted by the current political climate. It is also a subtle call to arms. It can mean turn up the music just as easily speak up for what you believe in, with a megaphone on full blast.

We spoke with the former prodigious two-year-old drummer raised on country music in New York City, now self-admitted, slightly emotionally repressed, electropop renaissance man and renowned remixer, at his sold-out show in Brooklyn.

Penguin Prison. Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez.

For some musicians, music is a catharsis, a way for them to get something out and process it. Is that something you choose to do?

I feel like I’m not in touch with my emotions very well. If something happens that would make someone else sad; I’m just like (shrugs) “I think I’m sad now.” But I’m not sure. With music, I feel like I get my emotions through that.

I’ve always had an aversion to being really personal. Or I would think it was icky when I’d hear someone else say “this is my most personal album ever.” I would be like… that’s weird. I like universal themes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that… you can still be emotional and express a theme or opinion or some message that’s universal. You can be emotional about that and try to impart something to the world that’s not like “I’m sad, something happened to me.” There’s something in the world that I think we should talk about — that’s not just about me. I’m still emotional and passionate about it. I just have a natural proclivity for trying to impart more universal messages.

Like you’re going more after the feeling, rather than the experience?

Yeah, totally. I mean, I was wanting to make music that was kind of bittersweet in a way. I know that it definitely has catchy melodies, but there’s always something. I try to have it like you’re having fun, but with one tear running down your face (laughs).

You’ve been talking a little bit about the 2016 election recently. Is that an example of you processing through music?

When that first happened, I literally couldn’t understand it or process it. I actually thought ‘Why would you make music or art anymore?’ I almost felt like it was the end of art. Sometimes, I think it’s silly… One day I felt like it was pointless. The next day I thought, no, this is still worthwhile.

Why do you think some people’s election-inspired music — the most dramatic example being Katy Perry — is not as well received as others, including yours?

People don’t like being preached to. I want to make songs that give you a feeling in that moment, and I know what I’m saying, what it means to me. If you pick up on it, that’s cool.

You were born and raised in New York. How much of an influence did that have on your music?
I think growing up in New York, the biggest thing about it is that you start to feel like things are possible. Like some people that grow up in the middle of nowhere, sometimes they have an attitude like not everything is possible. I went to professional performing arts school. I was in sixth grade, just looking around to my left and my right. Kids are already on Broadway or in movies. That’s possible. You can achieve things.

Noel Gallagher has often mentioned that he doesn’t always know what some of his biggest songs mean. But he does see people’s reactions and knows that it means something special to them, but sometimes very different from what he thinks. Do you have a song like that?

I have a song called “Golden Train,” which is from my first album, and it’s about the industrial revolution, Native Americans, European colonization, committing genocide. But it’s also a disco-dance song. It’s kind of weird. I guess most people don’t even know what it’s about, but if you listen closely to the lyrics, you can probably tell.

Do you ever feel that there are too many voices in your head? As musicians progress in their career, get bigger, more people get involved, and it can feel like too many cooks in the kitchen.

When I wrote this on “Don’t F*** with My Money,” before I finished, I was asking different friends, “Hey, like I have an idea for this. Is it crazy? Should I do that?” And everyone was like, don’t do that. It’s stupid. (Writers note: it’s one of his most loved songs.) I feel like the best stuff, in general, when you look at a one-hit wonder, [it’s] the weird songs, unlike all the others. They can’t replicate it. They never liked it. 

Why do you think you have that habit of pairing not necessarily happy lyrics with optimistic, energetic, happy-sounding songs?

I want to make fun music, but I also have an aversion to a song that’s just fun. Like, that’s it? I want it to be more than that.

After interviewing and seeing his electric show in New York City, I can safely say that it is much more. Which makes me regret the fact that I forgot to ask why he’s called Penguin Prison even more.

Lightning round of completely random questions

Musician you wish was still with us?

Tom Petty

Favorite fandom?

Is boxing a fandom? Maybe Game of Thrones too.

Noel or Liam Gallagher?


Best musical festival to play?

Any festival in Mexico.

Dream festival lineup, pick three headliners.

The Beatles, Nina Simone, Led Zepplin.

An issue that you’re passionate about?

There’s so many. Maybe polluting the ocean and atmosphere.

Musical pet peeve?

(After I share my disdain for Taylor Swift leaving voicemails mid-song.) Taylor Swift, overall.

Binge-watch of choice?

Game of Thrones

Song or artist you’re dying to remix?

(Swedish singer) Lykke Li

Favorite musician, we wouldn’t expect you to like?

Probably almost everyone I like. Johnny Cash.

Lastly, favorite superhero?


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Penguin Prison is currently on tour. You can find an upcoming show near you here.