Death And The Penguin: No Prisoners to Conformity

Death and The Penguin are Best Before Records’ latest signing. The Brixton-based four piece have recently released their debut EP Accidents Happen, and will be hosting a free release party in June. They’ve previously featured on the latest Big Scary Monsters compilation, alongside Tobias Hayes’ latest offering Eugene Quell, and are enjoying some recent airplay on BBC Introducing, XFM “Featured Artist” and Amazing Radio.

We spoke to singer and guitarist Tobias Smith about the EP, their influences and books.

So, first things first – why don’t you introduce yourselves? Who you are, what you play.

I’m Tobias, I sing and play guitar. We have Chris Olsen on guitar and keys, Andy Acred on bass, keys and electronics, and Tim on the drums.

How long have you been playing together? Either in this band or earlier endeavors?

This band has been going for about a year now. Chris, Andy, and I had been playing together for many years before that in an outfit called Vetoes.

I’m guessing your name is after the book by Andrey Kurkov. Are you guys big fans of Ukrainian literature? (On a side note, have you read the sequel? I haven’t got round to it, but after hearing about you guys I might have to go get it.)

We’re all fairly literate but we don’t particularly focus on one particular country or culture. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite enjoy the first book enough to pick up the sequel (sorry Andrey).

What I did like about the book, and the title in particular, was the juxtaposition of the absurd and the existential. I think, in that respect, it reflects our music pretty well.

Do you want to tell me a little bit about the EP?

It’s the soundtrack to our quarter-life crises.

Some of your songs (I’m thinking Bitumen especially) are quite riff heavy, whereas others are slower and a bit more melodic. Which songs do you prefer playing and/or writing?

When writing a song, it’s kind of irrelevant whether it’s fast or slow, if it’s a good song, then it’s fun. I think slow songs are the hardest to get right because everything is so much more exposed, and any wrong move can destroy the song, whereas faster songs can power through.

It’s not really a question of preference though. Any band worth their salt needs to explore the range of energies available and balance them in a way that is compelling and true. Hopefully we’ve achieved that on this EP.

Listening to Accidents Happen I can spot similarities between yourselves and quite a few bands, so who would you say your key influences were?

In terms of influences, we see ourselves in the tradition of Radiohead and Queens of the Stone Age. We’re a rock band that has strong melodies, but we also try and experiment in the way we go about being a rock band.

On this record, we’ve taken a lot of influences from those two bands, but also some sonic cues from hardcore punk bands such as Future of the Left and Blood Brothers. Melodically, the recordings made by the musicologist Alan Lomax of songs sung by prisoners in southern USA were a big inspiration. They have a simplicity and a purity that is undeniably powerful.

And how does that affect your song writing? Do you have a much of a song writing process? Is it collaborative or does one person take the reins?

The Alan Lomax recordings inspired me personally to work on melodies in isolation, before even a thought had gone into the overall sound of the song. “Strange Times” for example could have ended up a ballad had we been in a different mood when writing the rest of the song.

Process wise, we are a bit all over the place. We all will take the lead on certain songs. Some songs will require more collaboration than others.

What other albums/bands are you guys listening to now?

I’m officially addicted to the Talking Head’s Remain in Light; it’s just so funky, joyful, and hooky. I’ve also been listening to the new Tune-Yards track, for much the same reasons!

Finally, have you got many plans for the rest of 2014?

We’re headed back into the studio in June, working on some new tunes. We’ll be releasing a video for Space 1998, and we’ll be doing a UK tour in July.

So we have all the plans! We’ll be holding our EP release party on June 10th at the Islington in London. That will be an awesome gig, and free too. So no excuse!

– Alex Ryan

To keep track of the band’s latest news, check out

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2 Responses to Death And The Penguin: No Prisoners to Conformity

  1. Anthony says:

    June 10th at The Islington for the EP release party, not July 10th. 😉

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