Interview: Seeing the World Through the Lens of Choir Boy

Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Photo by Karen Judith Davis

“Part of the sadness of adulthood is that things become dull for people. Nothing feels new or exciting anymore and I think people can get jaded and disillusioned with life," says Choir Boy frontman Adam Klopp.

A few weeks ago, amongst the uncertainty, Salt Lake City band Choir Boy shared their bold and fascinating sophomore record Gathering Swans (via Dais Records). The album provides listeners with an unforgettable listening experience — leaving them wholeheartedly enchanted by the passionate and nostalgic tracks. Gathering Swans also possesses the ability to invite listeners to evaluate life through a different lens.

The band first gained attention with their debut record Passive With Desire — which was originally released in 2016 before getting re-released by Dais Records in 2018. Their emotional and stirring debut was praised for its cinematic quality, introspective lyrics and Klopp’s sincere vocals.

Over the years, the lineup led by Klopp has changed — Choir Boy's current lineup features bassist and longtime collaborator Chaz Costello, saxophonist and keyboardist Jeff Kleinman, and guitarist Michael Paulson.

In-between albums, the band had a busy touring schedule, which made it difficult to find time to work on their sophomore release. Klopp also worked on a dark electro-pop project with Costello under the moniker Human Leather. Inevitable after an album as impressive as their debut, there was also a looming sense of pressure that was beginning to leave Klopp feeling apprehensive about the band's new music — he knew they could make an emotional pop song after their debut offering, but he wanted to expand on that and try something different. “When you go into the studio to create the imaginary thing that you’ve thought of, it’s hard when those things don’t match up exactly.”

Some songs on the album resulted in four or five different versions, and ultimately he had to learn how to accept something was done instead of making iterations of the tracks. “Part of the problem was that I sat on things for too long. I think there was a feeling of apprehension where I could sense that things were done. It occurred to me that you can’t be overly precious about everything. Maybe it’s not everything you dreamed it would be and that’s okay.”

Passive With Desire, which Klopp describes as more “flowery and verbose” than Gathering Swans, was written during a difficult time. “Some of the songs reference a prior state of mind — just the self-soaking in depression. I was really depressed while writing Passive With Desire”. Though the new album touches on all-consuming emotions such as disillusionment and heartache, Klopp does so in a tone that’s much lighter than Passive With Desire. There are tracks like ‘Complainer’ where Klopp takes a step back and analyses his own feelings of self-pity. He sings on the track, “But it's not that bad / I never really had it worse, no no / I'm just a complainer.” The new album still has the gloomy atmosphere of their previous album, but his words aren't as inward-looking.

“I still struggle with some emotional setbacks, some that were present in my life during the writing of the new record, but I think Gathering Swans is a bit more external and reflective on life in a broader sense. Having a laugh at yourself is a little more effective than just soaking in sadness.”

For Klopp, the album is intended to depict the feeling of seeing the world as if you were encountering it for the first time. “To me, a lot of the songs feel like they’re expressing varying feelings of wanting to feel things in vibrance. That’s the overarching theme of the record, to feel purpose and feel vibrant things.”

Despite the departure of his much darker lyrical tone, the ability to see vibrance in the middle of a difficult circumstance displays a different type of self-awareness and reflection. "I probably sound less articulate on the new songs, but to me, it feels like the more mature record in that sense."

Gathering Swans has been intricately and cleverly designed in a way that features love songs for one-half of the record and “existentialist self-help songs in varying levels of comedy” for the other half, with the tracks mirrored in a way that has a call-and-response effect. For instance, the record opens up with a protagonist overcome with feelings of hopelessness, and the B-side for it is ‘Sweet Candy’, which Klopp describes as a “story of someone who would really love to participate in a romantic experience, but they're denied that.”

“I really like the tradition where people would format a record where the A-side was the singles and the B-side you get to screw around a bit. I like that tradition of having a different feel on different sides of the record. Since we're consciously trying to make pop music, it makes sense for us to do little nods to certain traditions.”

The band have taken the reins of the visuals for this album, with Klopp playing a major part in the creative process. For the videos released so far, including ‘Complainer’ and ‘Toxic Eye’, the band has self-directed them and Klopp has edited them. He cites LA-based songwriter, musician and visual artist Geneva Jacuzzi as an artist he's particularly inspired by.

Not only is it much more cost inhibitive for the band to create their own visuals, but it also means that they can be in control of the way they’re portrayed. “You have this idea of what a video should look like and then when you get other people involved, you risk being completely misrepresented in the video.”

Klopp is particularly interested in creating comic book-style characters for the videos that are grotesque yet picturesque. For the ‘Complainer’ video, he is shown wearing heavy layers of chains around his neck. In another interview for Altvenger, he said that they wanted the video to be reminiscent of a back alley fight. They filmed a big portion of it in front of a dumpster amidst cold conditions — he committed fully to the role, with the intention that he should be suffering whilst he performs in the clip. Then there’s the video for ‘Toxic Eye’, which depicts Klopp in gory costume makeup and his bandmates appearing vampire-like.

“When you’re making something yourself, you don’t have anyone to blame when you have a shortcoming. If we’re just fucking around with a broken VHS camera at our practice space and it looks like shit, we made it and it’s an honest portrayal of us.”

The world has been a different place since finishing their album and awaiting its release during the last few months. Their touring plans, which included a number of shows in the US, a UK and Europe tour and talk of potentially visiting Asia and Australia were put on hold. In the meantime, they’ve been working on a weekly show on Twitch called Choir Boy Karaoke, where they invite their friends on, conduct interviews and have some fun. However, Klopp and the band are missing live shows more than ever — especially the human connection element that the live experience can bring.

“It’s occurred to me that touring is the only real valid way to really show our record’s work. There’s something special about a live show where you’re actually in the same space. It’s [virtual shows] a good placeholder, but I don’t see it having the same impact when you’re hearing something through an internet stream.”

if you've had any questions about the toll cancellations and lockdowns has had on artists, Klopp's words will leave you pondering the future of music. “If things are forever different, I don’t know if I want to do this. I don’t want to be an online musician forever. I would rather do something different.” Let's hope things change soon, the world needs bands like Choir Boy.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)

Listen to Gathering Swans by Choir Boy below:

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