Penguin Prison Talks Vinyl, ‘Lost in New York’ + Remixes
On May 4, Penguin Prison celebrated the release of his sophomore LP, Lost in New York, via Downtown Records. The new album follows his self-titled debut and finds him working more with "real drums, real bass," as opposed to focusing only on synthesizers.
While Lost in New York still has those elements, it proudly highlights Penguin Prison's ever-evolving and organic approach to his craft. Following the release of the record, we caught up with Penguin Prison to chat about how it feels to have it out, what role vinyl plays in his life, and how he gets involved in remixing songs by the likes of Imagine Dragons and Lana Del Rey. Check out our exclusive conversation below:
How does it feel to have Lost in New York out?
It feels really good. I worked on it for a couple of years and a lot of my fans are always asking when a new album is coming out. When it finally did come out, they felt really satisfied. They wanted a new batch of songs from me.
Do you feel satisfied with hit?
Yeah, definitely. I wanted to make this album so that the people that liked my first album would like it, but also create new fans who didn't know about it. I think I succeeded in doing that.
Definitely. Did two years in-between albums feel like a long time?
When I made the first album, I toured a lot with my band. Then I toured a lot as a DJ; I worked on a lot of remixes for a lot of artists.It takes a little bit of time to create enough material for an entire album, I think that's really all it amounted to.
Did you approach this album differently than the self-titled debut?
I definitely wanted this album to be a little bit different since it was a more organic. A lot of these songs, well pretty much all of them, have real drums, real bass. I had that on the first album, too, but there was a lot more synthetic sounds like drum machines and synthesizers. That's also on this album, but used in context -- a sound that I thought could better be duplicated in a live setting with human beings playing drums, bass, guitars and synthesizers on a stage. When I go see a band live, I want to feel that the humans on stage are making the sound that I'm hearing. Of course, it had to make sense, what I was thinking, when I was making this album.
Is there a story behind the cover art for the new disc?
When I was trying to figure out who was going to make the art for the album cover and the cover of the singles, I was just looking around on the internet and I saw a DJ, the Magician. I looked at his art and I liked it. So I asked the person who made his art to work on mine and he said yes. His name is Baptiste Alchourroun, he's from France. He made the art for "Calling Out," "Never Gets Old" and the album cover. Once I told him the album was called Lost in New York, I gave him some references of art that I liked and he came up with that design and I liked it. I thought it made sense with the title.
It's cool. It's simple, but when you look at it and listen to the music, it seems to connect. That connection makes me think of vinyl, and I know you released this on wax. Obviously on a 12", the art looks even better than on an iPhone screen. How important is vinyl to you?
I have a lot of vinyl. I think people are still into vinyl. Some people were always into it and never stopped liking it. Some people used to be, then stopped and are getting into it again and other people -- younger people -- are still discovering it. There's a lot of disconnect when you just have an album, or you're streaming it, or you download it and you don't actually hold anything. It used to be, you go to the store and buy a physical object and play it on a device that allowed you to hear the sound. I think that still has a place in the world today.
Things like sequencing matter with vinyl, too; when you close out side A with "Cotton of Days," then you flip it over and put on side B. I think that whole process gets lost when you stream.
Yeah, I mean, when you come up with the side A tracklisting and then the tracklisting for side B, that's for a different mindset. You have half of the album, it's split in half. It's the first half of the album, then a pause, then you flip it over and you start over. That makes more sense in that context then just going from the last song on side A straight into the next song. It makes more sense that there's a pause, 20 seconds or whatever that you need to turn the record over.
Is vinyl something that you incorporate into your set when you DJ?
I buy stuff on vinyl to DJ, because a lot of the music I use to DJ is only available on vinyl because they are edits that people make that are kind of illegal, sort of. [Laughs] I think they can only release it on vinyl -- white label vinyl where they come up with a funny name for what it is and mask the song they're sampling. But, I use USB thumb drives so a lot of the time I have to buy the vinyl and then I have to put it onto my USB. It's crazy to carry around so much vinyl. I go to record stores in New York, or wherever I am, and sample stuff from old disco records, old soul records to get all my drums. I have a lot of drum samples just on my computer that I've taken from records that I can go to when I'm making beats.
In the last few years you've been touring, but you've also been working on a lot of remixes. I know you've remixed a bunch of artists -- we cover Imagine Dragons, Lana Del Rey. Do these artists come to you? Do you feel drawn to certain songs and you take it upon yourself to remix them?
A lot of the time it's people approaching me about getting me to do their remix, then I listen and see if it's something I feel like I can do. I'm mainly looking at the vocals, seeing if it's something I can create music around. A few times, I've done it the other way and seek out things to remix. I recently did a remix for this girl Verite, her song "Weekends," which is one of my favorite recent remixes I've made. That came about because I worked with her in my studio. We had a day where we were working on stuff and we kind of just got friendly, so I wanted to do a remix of one of her songs.
Do you have an artist that you haven't remixed that you'd like to?
[Laughs] I'd love to do a remix for Lykke Li. I think that'd be cool -- her voice is amazing. That's the type of voice I can do a good remix for.
What's on the horizon for you now that this album is out?
I'm going to be touring a lot with my band, which I just put together again. We hadn't played in a while because I was DJing. So I have my band back together and we're going to be playing a lot and doing more remixes. I want to get into working with other artists -- singing and writing for other artists as well.