Released last month, Choir Boy‘s Gathering Swans is a superlative artful pop album that wrestles with the ghosts of the past both musical and personal. Singer and songwriter Adam Klopp’s lyrics balance effortlessly between earnest and heartfelt, his angelic voice is both affecting yet playful, diving into the depths of love, conflict, loss, and regret, and a devotion, stemming from Klopp’s experiences growing up within a religion he ultimately left behind.
Like Prefab Sprout there’s a duality and depth to Gathering Swans that reveals itself over multiple listens. An audacious suite of meticulously crafted, sophisticated electro-pop songs that skirts the lines of obsessive love and witty, slightly camp surrealism, tapping into the bold pop of the 1980s, exploring their love of the sound of China Crisis‘s Flaunt the Imperfection, Cocteau Twins Heaven or Las Vegas and Roxy Music‘s Avalon, this is reflected in its imperious sound. These gleaming suites ripple with basslines, new wave riffs and glowing synths underpinned by a mechanical beat. Eschewing accusations of pastiche by lacing this sound with enough heart and imagination to make it their own.
Half of the tracks are lyrically about self-admonishment or mockery as a way of puncturing serious situations or disarming self disgust (‘Toxic Eye’, ‘Eat The Frog’, ‘Complainer’); others plug into lovelorn heartbreak or existential questioning (‘Nites Like This’, ‘Gathering Swans’) in that way writing or singing these songs is Klopp’s release. “Similar to religion, romantic love can be a remedy for hopelessness, but can also become so intertwined with routine and identity, it’s hard to give up when you know it’s wrong” says Klopp on the charming ‘Happy To Be Bad,’ where he sings about being “nailed to the cross of your affection.”
“Choir Boy”, initially intended as an insult, was what the kids called singer/songwriter Adam Klopp in his early teens when he fronted bands in Cleveland, Ohio. The label seemed fair and fitting in a way given Klopp’s religious upbringing and angelic voice. After high school he left Ohio for college in Utah. While there his career as a student would prove short-lived; he integrated into Provo and Salt Lake City’s underground music and art scenes, left religion behind and called his new band Choir Boy.
Choir Boy debuted with the warmly received album Passive With Desire in 2016. For the new record Klopp is joined on bass by Chaz Costello (also a member of Choir Boy adjacent act, Human Leather), saxophonist and keyboardist Jeff Kleinman plus guitarist Michael Paulsen.
“We all met through “the scene.” Just going to shows, seeing each other’s bands, etc. We were all friends before we ever played music together.” Klopp tells me.
“Chaz was actually an original member and then quit at some point and then rejoined. Jeff and Michael joined two weeks before a six week long tour. And yes, they’ve all brought their own flavors to the table, so to speak! You can hear it!”
Building upon motifs, melodies or a beat Choir Boy songs are sometimes long in their gestation, others come quickly. “It varies from song to song! Usually starts with a vocal line! A catchy melody or a lyric idea and then we jam and demo and build over time. Some times the songs come quick, other times I’ll sit on an idea for over a year before it feels fully realized.”
‘Nites Like This’ is imbued with a glistening yet mournful quality of wandering around the late night city, with serious echoes of Blue Nile and a saxophone in the distance; there’s a reflective fading romantic quality to its longing soundscape. It “contemplates the impermanence of romantic love and is meant to simulate a dream in which you’re dancing with your lover, but they are slowly pulled away by an invisible force” explains Klopp. “I think it was one of the earlier songs I started writing for the album. It’s about the moment you realize the “spark” is gone from a long relationship. Trying to hold onto one as things fade away.”
There’s a non-linear narrative of love that runs through album speaks to the almost religious devotion of love as something that we can become a little too reliant upon which means when/if it’s gone we can be a little lost. “I think that can be true. Love gives people purpose. Which is part of why it’s so hard to admit when things have run their course. Your identity gets wrapped up in the situation and then it’s all just gone.”
Klopp talks lovingly of China Crisis and how sophisti-pop is a genre that’s being examined by new generations. “I think it’s their casual delivery. The rhythms and melodies are clever yet effortless. It’s really unique. They also have a good range of styles while maintaining cohesion from song to song. On “Working With Fire And Steel,” for instance, you have “Animals In Jungles” (which lands stylistically between Steely Dan and Devo) back to back with ‘Here Comes A Raincloud’ (a down tempo track with woodwind arrangements).” Klopp enthuses “I do think “sophisti-pop” is making a comeback. It seems like people have had enough space from the era of cheese to appreciate it again. Prefab Sprout seems particularly beloved nowadays.”
‘Sweet Candy’ meanwhile is an addictive romp with its singalong retorts and infectious beat, offering a playful sound that harks back to bubble gum new wave moments “I was imagining a very vivid scene when we recorded that song. “Bubble gum” is a good way of describing it. A similar simplicity and sugary pop sensibility as the Ramones (with a little Fleetwood Mac).”
In a similar vein of self-deprecating wit, ‘Complainer‘ is a self-effacing track about those moments where you catch yourself being a bit of a moaner and have to check your privilege. Surfing an electro-pop wave somewhere between Perfume Genius, Future Islands and Talk Talk. The VHS video with its B-movie look and S&M chains, nods towards the work of Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Klopp explains “While many of our earlier songs serve as flowery lamentations of loss and grief, ‘Complainer’ snarkily examines the self-absorption of sadness. The opening line ‘Oh my life’ was something I privately uttered while stewing over daily anxieties. It became comical to me that I would express my self-pity like that, in earnest, when my struggles seemed so relatively tame. The song continues,” It’s a phrase so funny when it’s spoken so sincere. But it’s not that bad, I’ve never really had it worse. I’m just a complainer.” ‘Complainer’ multi-tasks as a pop song and a reminder to keep my privilege in check.”
‘Toxic Eye‘ is a dreamy yet tongue-in-cheek pop song; a feast of languid hooks laced with irony, Klopp tenderly convey his wish to gouge his toxic eye. “What can be done when paranoia and negativity pervade every aspect of your life?” Klopp questions. “You feel burdensome to loved ones and the planet is clearly doomed. Toxic Eye provides a simple solution: Gouge your toxic eye”.
Touring with Cold Cave, Ceremony, The Faint and Snail Mail, but what’s been the best live experience for Choir Boy? “All of those bands were really amazing to tour with. Ceremony in particular was really fun to see what every night. Lots of amazing animal energy at those shows. In terms of a best live sets for Choir Boy, my recent favorite was at the Casbah in San Diego. Our friend Mario booked a killer lineup and everyone there was dancing like a maniac. It was amazing.”
Originally imagined as a Noah’s Ark parable, angelic yet mournful title track ‘Gathering Swans’ is a really reflective, enveloping and majestic closer that retains a light of hope in its breast. Klopp says of the concept “I liked the story as a metaphor for building something beautiful and new amidst the horrible things going on in the world, but the concept felt a little over-ambitious.”
Here Klopp attempts to envisage a better world than the one we live in. There’s a restless philosophical, almost existential questioning that runs through the record throughout..“I’d like to talk about overcoming negativity. Is positivity an unrealistic world view? Are we fooling ourselves with love? Why do anything?” The idea behind Gathering Swans is to build a better world from the ruins of what you’ve left behind. It’s simultaneously foreboding and hopeful. Hoping for a brighter future while acknowledging the endless cycle of loss and pain. ”