Released towards the end of 2016, Choir Boy's Passive with Desire is a haunting, lushly-textured album that sounds like it was torn directly from the dark underbelly of the 1980s. Some of its songs are beautifully bittersweet; others sound downhearted and despondent; still others sound utterly tormented.
It all makes for a rather bewitching listening experience, and it's all pinned together by the gloriously ghostly falsetto of Adam Klopp from Ohio, USA. Adam was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Passive with Desire - read on to find out all about his musical influences, his fondness for vampire imagery, and quite a bit more besides.
photograph from facebook.com/choirboychoirboy
The Album Wall: What does it mean to be 'passive with desire'?
Adam Klopp: The phrase 'passive with desire' is a reference to a conversation I had with a friend near the tail end of the writing process. She brought up how people can be passively suicidal - not necessarily actively trying to die, but hoping the universe might take control and do away with you via car crash or something. I hadn't heard the concept articulated like that before, and it really resonated with me. I think a lot of people get depressed or nihilistic and fantasize about not existing, even if they're not at risk of ending their own lives.
AK: The vampire imagery was inspired by a few different things. First of all, I just really like vampire stories. Even at their silliest, I think they cause viewers to sort of romanticize about death and darkness. Vampires feed off of others to survive and oftentimes literally coerce people into dying for their gain. It can parallel exploitation within personal relationships or even bigger things like capitalism.
Sceondly, the vampire image ties into themes of nostalgia and the idea of a personal timeline: a bunch of moments leading up to the current moment. The photo was intended, in part, to be a recreation of a photo of myself dressed as a vampire as a young child.
The album's themes of mortality and immortality can be tied back to vampire lore too, especially in the context of Christianity. Ultimately, Christians seek to achieve eternal life through righteousness, while vampires are cursed undead who achieve immortality through destruction and indulgence. It's a funny distinction because immortality is sort of a selfish desire regardless. Plants and animals have to die in order for new things to exist. It's part of nature.
TAW: So you wouldn't want to live forever, on Earth or in Heaven?
AK: I wouldn't want that at all, no. I don't know a version of consciously existing forever that would be appealing to me. It doesn't make sense or sound fun. Why is everyone so obsessed with that idea?
TAW: You mentioned nostalgia, and there's certainly a deeply nostalgic side to this album - from its very '80s sound to the lyrics about your childhood. Are you yourself a particularly nostalgic person?
AK: I suppose I'm nostalgic. There is a definite theme of nostalgia throughout the album, alongside the themes of death, depression, etc. Even if I'm reminiscing about a nice memory, it still feels sad somehow - as if I've lost a feeling I can never feel again. I feel sick to my stomach when I go to certain places. I struggle a lot with wanting to feel certain things I used to feel. It's hard to be excited about things as I get older, and that's really upsetting at times. I want the feelings back - even just being excited about liking a song or a color, you know?
Although I'm emulating feelings of nostalgia through lyrics and melody, I'm not necessarily trying to do a nostalgia thing with the 'eighties' sound. Although I do see why people would get that impression given the sound palette I'm drawing from.
TAW: When you were arranging these tracks, how did you decide when to use a synth sound and when to use a live instrumentalist? Obviously this album's sound is largely built on synths, but then there are beautiful organic touches like the violin on Leave Me Be, the trumpet on Sanitarium...
AK: Hmm. It's hard to say. I think synthesizers have opened a lot of doors for musical exploration and new sounds, but I also really love organic classical instruments. I think part of it may have been influenced by my love for the ambitious production on old pop records by folks like Scott Walker, Kate Bush, even Roy Orbison. I wasn't trying to make a record that reflected sounds from one source of influence. My interest in new wave probably shines through greatest on this record, but I'm trying to steer clear of genre paranoia. I think people do a better job of cultivating a voice and an artistic persona when they allow their creativity to be informed by all the sounds that they love.
TAW: What bands and artists did you listen to when you were growing up?
AK: I listened to a lot of different music as a kid. I remember really loving The Beach Boys and the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack as a young child. Once I'd reached middle school, I started listening to some classic rock and punk - my first band was actually a punk band that I started with some middle school friends. We mostly played covers at first. Songs by the Ramones, The Pogues, the Dropkick Murphys, Billy Bragg, The Undertones, Generation X...I was really into the poppier side of Oi! and whatever Hellcat bands were cool at the time.
As I got older, I got really into Against Me!, which was a gateway into listening to stuff like Paul Baribeau, The Shins, and ultimately The Smiths. Not sure if that makes sense entirely, but I think there was some snobbery that came along with listening to punk music that inhibited me from exploring other sounds. Against Me! was a really special band to me in my teenage years and broadened my taste pretty drastically.
AK: The first AM! album that I listened to was called Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy. I haven't revisited it in a while. I got into their stuff when I was 14 (around the same time I was really into rockabilly and psychobilly); they make really political punk with occasional folk-punk vibes depending on the album.
Although they're not a band I listen to much nowadays, Against Me! is still making music and is still super relevant/important. The singer, Laura Jane Grace, came out as trans a few years ago and has been super-outspoken about her experiences with gender stuff. She's amazing!
TAW: I understand that you used to be a member of the LDS Church - do you think you would have made Passive with Desire if you were still a practising Mormon today?
AK: No. But I also wouldn't have made this album if I had never been Mormon. It's not supposed to be an album about Mormonism, but it's impossible to entirely separate that part of my life from my creative projects. Growing up Mormon and then leaving has had a lasting impact on my worldview and my mental health, and in its discussion of death in particular, the album acknowledges my efforts to deconstruct the ideas I was instilled with in my religious upbringing.
AK: Mormons definitely do believe in hell! They believe in a weird tiered version of heaven (terestial, telestial, celestial) and also hell and outer darkness. People don't really focus on the specifics of hell too much in church, but it's definitely a pretty literal part of the doctrine.
TAW: So is that what Hellmouth is about? Do you fear a hell, or some other kind of eternal punishment?
AK: Hellmouth isn't actually a religious song at all - it's a reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In Buffy, the high school in their hometown is built on a hellmouth, which is basically a portal to the dark and supernatural part of world. Since that's where all the monsters/antagonists come from, I use the idea of the hellmouth as a metaphor for the source of all my problems - a scapegoat. In the second verse, though, the lyrics allude to the idea that the narrator of the song (me) is actually the vampire they've been looking for and the cause of all their own problems.
I used to fear judgement/punishment when I believed in religion, but I don't believe in God or magic or anything like that now. Mostly I'm just afraid of reality - Donald Trump, etc.
TAW: You're not a fan of the new president, then. As someone who lives there, how do you feel about the current state of the USA?
AK: It feels really shitty and totally dystopian. The whole election was a mess, starting with the DNC conspiring to block Bernie Sanders from having a shot at the nomination. Trump's win is basically a 'fuck you' to all the social progress our country has made in the last several decades. I think maybe people (myself included) need to reevaluate how we make political discourse, especially over the Internet. I'm scared for the next four years, but hopefully people will realize how absurd he is and we'll elect a human next time.
TAW: Two quick final questions. What's your favourite track on Passive with Desire?
AK: That's a tough one. I think probably Blood Moon or Angel Dog.
TAW: And what's next for Choir Boy? Do you have any plans for the next album?
AK: No definite plans quite yet. I'll probably just keep writing and see where things go.
Huge thanks to Adam for answering my questions. Passive with Desire is out now on Team Love Records - vinyl, cassette tape and digital download all available via Bandcamp.