“Passive With Desire”
words by joanie wolkoff
Imagine you’re the protagonist in your own 80’s coming-of-age adventure movie. Opening credits roll as you’re shown biking past a cemetery in a trench coat and pegged blue jeans, autumn leaves scattering in your wake. You’re a kid on the edge: crafty, moody, yearning. What’s the themesong of this iconic moment? Easy. Pretty much any song off of Choir Boy’s debut LP, “Passive With Desire“.
On Standout tracks like “Two Lips” and “Angel Dog”, multi instrumentalist, singer-songwriter Adam Klopp’s arrangements shine with tuned-up, subtly delayed Cure-worthy Shechter 6 string bass embellishments. A punchy drum machine is never far from the mix. He’s injected a good deal of synthy New Wave into this project too, which makes for the exact type of scaffolding a voice like Klopp’s calls for.
And what a voice. Aptly compared to a choir boy by a local music critic, Klopp took the moniker on as a nod to his upbringing and vocal properties, which would leave Roy Orbison and Tears for Fears’ Roland Orzaval tugging at their collars. Klopp sings with a timbre so achingly gorgeous that when the world discovers – in addition to his atemporal croon – that he basically looks like a buzz-cut version of Jordan Catalano on 90’s teen drama My So Called Life, they’re going to collectively swoon. That said, there’s a lot more to know about Adam Klopp.
For starters, he grew up Mormon. In Cleveland, Ohio, Klopp’s mom directed the children’s choir program at church, where around fifty people gathered from nearby cities on Sundays. His schooling and home life revolved around the highly regulated of LDS (Latter Day Saint Movement) and when Klopp completed secular high school, he was the only Mormon in his graduating class.
“I was double weird in high school,” he says, puttering around his present-day home in Salt Lake City. “I was the Mormon to my punk friends and the punk to my Mormon friends. My non-Mormon friends were like, ‘Obviously, God is not real, man!‘ They couldn’t have understood where I was coming from and it’s not like there was an option to have a sensitive conversation about it. But then, with my Mormon friends, I would get a fork-in-the-road speech, where someone like my bishop would say, ‘Well, we’ve seen what happens to people who go down that path,’ and it was quite foreboding.”
“I was the Mormon to my punk friends
and the punk to my Mormon friends.”
Klopp’s parents agreed to pay for his college education on the condition that he attend the private LDS affiliated Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He enrolled only to discover that BYU harbored “a bunch of Mormon weirdos in limbo,” just like him. His indoctrination into Mormon counterculture proved revelatory. “If you go to a university with thirty or forty thousand students,” he points out, “obviously there are gonna be fringe feminist liberal Mormons that aren’t square, so to speak.”
From the spate of private Facebook groups for alterna-Mormons, which included LGBT offshoots and everything else but the kitchen sink, Klopp chose to join Young Mormon Feminists and bonded with others ambivalent about their faith’s religeo-cultural norms. While the sense of complicity was a welcome one, he dreaded growing complacent in a secret society unlikely to air its grievances with Mormonism anytime soon. “It’s easier to remain in limbo when you have solidarity with friends who don’t want to forsake their families or ditch this thing that’s a huge part of their lives,” Klopp muses, “but we also didn’t want to oppress minorities or marginalized groups. I thought I could make it work, at first.”
Before long, Klopp was sent on a Mormon mission for six months in Tahiti that was to sever his ties with organized religion once and for all. “In that monoculture, since I had progressive and weird friends who’d already gone through this supposedly beautiful coming-of-age experience, I decided to [go on the mission].” He remembers, shaking his head, “I went to the MTC [Missionary Training Center] for three months, which is basically a crazy brainwashing place in Provo where they give accelerated language courses to thousands of missionaries about to be deployed all over the world.”
Klopp felt a sense of mounting panic the more he considered what it would mean to proselytize to men and women living in developing nations. “I didn’t really feel like it was my thing right then, but my bishop was telling me to go. There’s this weird idea in Mormonism which, in retrospect, is just a brainwashing tactic. They tell you that the way to find out that something is real is to publicly commit to it and say that it’s real.”
“Passive With Desire“
By the time Klopp set out for Tahiti, he’d pretty much mentally checked out. Having shirked his Tahitian-learning duties, he was going to have to get by on basic French skills. His segue into Tahitian life as a Mormon further deterred him from participating in what felt like a depressing masquerade. “When you’re on a mission,” he remarks, “you’re trying to convert as many people as possible. There’s a routine of what you’re supposed to teach them and ultimately, you’re supposed to baptize them. I was supposed to meet people and change their lives but I needed to know a hundred percent whether it was really right to tell them, ‘You need to stop working on Sundays and you need to give ten percent of your income as tithing and you need to get baptized as soon as possible.’ That kinda wore on me. At a certain point, I just knew it wasn’t true.’
He decided it was time to come clean with his family. It took a Klopp upwards of two hours to successfully place a phone call from Tahiti to Ohio. “That’s when I really went cuckoo bananas and kinda had a meltdown,” he laughs. “I was not into it. I kind of let loose. I might not’ve handled it the best way, but I told my parents that I was going nuts and wanted to come home.” However, Klopp was denied funding for an immediate passage back to America and continued to pay his dues in a tropical paradise under hellish psychological conditions for months. In adherence to strict orders, he wore a white shirt and dress pants every day, swore off cavorting on the beaches and kept company with his assigned companion at all times- even on trips to the bathroom. In fact, Klopp had little more than the affection of stray local dogs to comfort him. He recalls, “There were times when a bus would drive past my while I was riding my bike and I would think, ‘That’d be easy, just to be zapped into nothingness by a bus in a second.’ The only memory of being on a beach that I have is when I started walking out into the ocean with the idea that maybe I could swim to another island. My companion stopped me.”
When he did set foot on American soil again, Klopp’s mother initially tried to remind him that when he had prayed long and hard to find a lost toy as a little kid, he’d found it after all. She urged him, by the same logic, to restore his faith with prayer. “I don’t blame her for it,” he admits. “She thought it was the right thing to do. But I was like, how about when I’m an adult and I pray really hard for six months to have God tell me that his religion is true and that doesn’t happen?”
Klopp’s parents quickly decided to put their son’s emotional well being first and backed off so that he could come to terms with his changing values. He reasons, “The claim of religion is that it can answer your questions, but for me it just created more of them. There was this dissonance. If God exists, for example, why would he hate queer people? Apart from that there was a whole pile of questions I had, but they fell away when I finally looked at Mormonism through a lens of disbelief. It makes you feel like you can’t believe in yourself. I’m not trying to say I had the ultimate traumatic experience. I was still a straight, white dude being ‘oppressed’ in a culture which favors that group. A lot of artists have trauma. Most people do. But growing up, I had a template for how my life was supposed to be- go to religious college, go on a mission, get married young, have kids, a family, believe in Mormonism forever and die really happy. Now, even though I don’t want it, it still feels like I lost something.”
“It’s super terrible sometimes, actually.
But it’s exploratory…”
And here is where Choir Boy’s music comes into play. Passive With Desire is an album which finds Klopp handing himself over – mind, body and soul – to creating secular music in the name of art alone. “The name Choir Boy is a response to formative things I’ve experienced,” he shrugs, “but it’s also just a pop project. Sure, being raised LDS impacted my life and music thematically. I don’t know how to explain to people how I remained Mormon for so long, if that makes sense. Growing up in a super dogmatic culture where everything you do is examined through a microscope, they really commit you emotionally, early on. It consumed all parts of my life. Now, it’s super fulfilling to create music and see the finished product. It’s not always fun while it’s going on. It’s super terrible sometimes, actually. But it’s exploratory.”
Adam Klopp is now sitting on his front porch. He’s spent most of our conversation drifting in and out of his house. At one point he politely nodded mid-sentence to his polygamist neighbors, whose twenty children screamed “stranger danger” in unison back when they first saw him moving in. Throughout this interview, his gaze has traveled from the trees in his yard to passers-by. As dusk falls, he paces a little. Suddenly, an expression of joy illuminates those glowing, fringed eyes.
Barely able to contain his joy, Klop giggles, “There’s a dog running past my house that’s not on a leash, and I realized he’s just a well-behaved dog that doesn’t need a leash.”
The beauty of his laughter pretty much kills me.
“Passive With Desire” is released on October 28th, via Team Love Records
Pre-order it now via Bandcamp