Emperor Penguin is back with a new album Soak up the Gravy. It will be released on January 17th on CD via Kool Kat Musik and is available now to stream and downloadfrom all the usual online outlets.
The album comprises 14 original tracks and the new songs are as eclectic as ever, with inspiration ranging from Japanese kids’ cartoons to the philosopher Thomas Aquinas. There are noisy guitars, catchy tunes and some more elaborate arrangements and productions than on previous EP releases. The album opens with art rocking pop tune ‘Hello Picasso’, features a live brass section on the anthemic ‘Hole in Your Soul’, has a guest lead vocal from ‘Queen of Power Pop’ Lisa Mychols on the jazzy ‘Speedwell Blue’ and closes with curry-flavored psych-pop epic ‘The Burning Man’. It’s a selection box of delights with something for everyone.
Neil Christie explains.
What was the moment you knew you were on to something?
We’re still waiting for that moment…
How did this record come together?
Same way as usual: we work independently on the idea for a song. The writer usually shares a rough Garageband home demo with the rest of the band, who make suggestions for amendments, edits, and additions to music and lyrics. Usually, we do this by making changes to that original demo and then sharing them around. A song can evolve through various versions over a few months before ending up in its final form. Or sometimes, as with Nigel’s original demo for Brand New Yesterday, the first time we hear it we all just say, ‘Yeah, that one’s done.’
For the latest album Soak Up The Gravy, we wrote the songs over a period of about six months and then spent another few months recording and fiddling with them in spare time over evenings and weekends. Neil did a home mix in Pro Logic of all the demo’d tracks and then we took the tracks to Bill Sherrington at Crown Lane Studios in Morden for final mix and mastering.
When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?
The only opinion we seek when working on new songs is each other’s. If one of us comes up with something the rest of the band likes, then together we try to turn it into a song. Sometimes, like a cat setting before its owner a mangled bird, one of us submits something that displeases the others. In that case, we delicately flush the rejected song down the toilet.
As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?
Completely comfortable: the world is equally indifferent to our sentimental displays as are we ignorant of its opinion.
Any ideas about how to turn this one into a million-seller?
Haha haha. No. All suggestions welcome.
You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?
Lyrics are tricky. So, I’m going to go for John Donne, Philip Larkin, and W.H. Auden. They each have a wonderful way with words.
What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?
Prince, at Koko in Camden. An amazing performance and he made it all look like effortless fun. Genius.
When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?
If we thought that, we were dreaming! But we’re not really thinking about writing hits. We’re just trying to write songs that, when finished, seem… not ugly and awkward and wrong. A good song sounds unexpected yet somehow inevitable and correct. If you can hear the effort that went into nailing it together, then something’s not right.
Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?
If a song drops in the middle of the internet and no-one hears it, does it make a sound?
Which five records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?
Here’s today’s list. Tomorrow’s will be different. When do we actually depart for Mars?
The Beatles – Revolver
Joni Mitchell – Blue
Television – Marquee Moon
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Al Green – Greatest Hits
Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?
It’s simultaneously terrifying and difficult and – when it goes well – exhilarating.
You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?
If our songs are in any way distinctive, it’s because of the things that we couldn’t change even if we wanted to. In the same way that it’s hard to disguise your handwriting or your accent, the way we play is just who we are. Lyrically, we do try to write about subjects that are a bit less well-worn than genre clichés. So, there are songs on the new album inspired by everything from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to government public information films of the 1970s, to the philosopher and Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Vinyl is back, Spotify is ruling, tickets for concerts are becoming more and more expensive, everybody can record songs, social media is the marketing tool, Coldplay stops touring … how will the music industry look like in 5 years?
Who can say what changes will be brought in the next five years by technology? But let’s hope that the current grim political climate will provoke a culture of musical revolt. The Thatcher years gave us punk. Let’s hope a musical upheaval that is equally exciting and provocative comes out of the Trump / Boris mess.