”Camaraderie is essential” – Professor Penguin Interview

16 Jan

Professor Penguin

While it may not have been too widely heard, Professor Penguin’s debut album, Planes was an understated masterpiece about which we said; ”Melody is King of this soundscape and the horns, strings, keys, drums, vocals etc merely subjects sworn to its allegiance. With each listen more and more of the depth and beauty is revealed, the subtly and emotion of the lyrics unfold before you, drawing you still deeper into its warm and inviting embrace”.

It also presented us with the most unusual track-listing of the year with all 10 tracks, as well as the album title and indeed the band name, starting with the letter ‘P’. Clearly this was a band after our Alphabet hearts though we could find no explanation for this apparent obsession with the letter. Despite the brain fuddling nature of the ‘P’ enigma, Planes deservedly placed on our end of year albums list and we were keen to meet the men responsible, all seven of them.

We say seven; it was seven when we met with them (though we spoke only with three, Jonny, John and Toby) though the number is usually ten and even reached 13 at one point. The guys are all in good spirits when we meet just before a sold out show in support of Public Service Broadcasting, but it must be hard to keep them all happy. ”Camaraderie is essential”, laughs Jonny, and it is in evidence throughout our chat with the three of them laughing and joking. Such is the scale of the band that when they joke a nearby Henry vacuum cleaner is also a member, it doesn’t sound that far-fetched.

They are playing XOYO that night and the stage there is not the largest but at least they can all fit on it with some room to move, it hasn’t always been the case. At their own album launch gig at the Social they had to have the keyboard player practically in the crowd on a concrete bench and it wasn’t just the band who was mildly inconvenienced, ”we blocked off the only route to the toilet, no-one could go to the toilet, they laugh. “We had to order them all to go before”.

Band members have not always been legion though, in the beginning it was pretty much just Jonny and, unusually it was the album that came before the band. “The first day of Professor Penguin was an album”, says Toby, ”so like that’s quite strange isn’t it?” As a result they have been on an interesting journey since Planes was recorded as the music has evolved with the growth of the band.” We put the band together afterwards” Jonny explains, ”It was quite strange to put it (Planes) out then, what people were listening to wasn’t really what we had become as a band”. John agrees and explains that the effect has been positive, ”A lot of people were surprised by how different it sounds live to how it is on the CD, which I think is a good thing”. Certainly there have been no complaints and their set that evening goes down well with the crowd.

The reaction to Planes was very positive and while we may have loved it more than most, it was unquestionably loved by those who heard it. The expansion of the band and the way in which their sound has developed recently has led the Professor Penguin boys to forgo any laurels and just crack on with the next album, one they will actually write and record as one. Jonny is still the driving force behind the writing but the process has become much more democratic and it’s starting to feel more cohesive for the others, like it is the group’s music. ”I demo them” Jonny explains ”and then we record something afterwards or we play something afterwards. We’ve all got our own thing with the song”.

Professor Penguin2

Is it really like that though? It must be hard for someone who was used to writing and recording without the input of others to open up like that, but the others agree with Jonny when we ask, and their laughter isn’t nervous when it is suggested they pretend he isn’t in the room. The process, as John explains, is quite simple with Jonny providing more of an outline of a tune which the guys take away to listen to and work with. ”It’s just the skeleton on the demos”, he tell us. ”We can mess around with it, play around with it, we can do our own little bits to it”.

It’s not just Jonny getting used to working this way though, its new to them all and they have been experimenting and finding a way to make it work. With seven of them all having a creative input it has seen songs change a fair bit, which can occasionally be problematic. ”Everyone changes stuff”, says Jonny. ”I still change stuff, and when you come out the other side, if you’ve changed something and someone else hasn’t? That doesn’t work with what they do any more. And if they change something, and someone else has as well, then those things can clash…” ”That’s the fun part”, smiles John. Thankfully that camaraderie is there and no-one has come to blows over any changes.

It’s clear that the guys are having fun and genuinely like working with one another. Conversation comes easily to them as they happily talk, reminisce and joke. With everyone in such a good mood we decide to chance it and ask the big question. Why do all the songs start with the letter ‘P’?

Jonny smiles as he explains, “It just kept all of the songs in the same place on my computer. That was why”. Unsurprisingly we don’t believe him and his grin grows as he elucidates further. ”They were in a nice bundle”.

Now we know he is joking and he soon confesses, ”there is a different answer every time someone asks me so…” So we’ll never know. Still, ‘P’ or no ‘P’, it is a bloody good album.

One Response to “”Camaraderie is essential” – Professor Penguin Interview”

  1. name not supplied March 10, 2013 at 23:30 #

    pleasing popular post! probably pathetic pretending….Proper Poet plus Proper Pop…produced Proper Prose.

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