We spoke to Klopp about Choir Boy’s sophomore record, Gathering Swans, which sees the Salt Lake City band “trying to overcome cynicism and nihilism in daily life.”
While writing an early version of “Gathering Swans”—the title track of Choir Boy’s sophomore record (out May 8 via Dais)—frontman Adam Klopp turned to two iconic texts for inspiration: the Old Testament and John Carpenter’s 1987 film Escape from New York.
“There was about a year and a half when there were a couple different formations of that song with the concept of gathering swans,” Klopp told AdHoc in a recent interview. “The first one was a little bit more literal—it was actually a story about an angel who was sent down from heaven. It was kind of like an Escape from New York premise, that John Carpenter movie where [Kurt Russell’s character is] sent to New York to rescue the President. This archangel character is sent down from heaven to the ruins of a dead planet to gather the remaining beauty, and the last thing is swans.”
If that last image calls to mind your favorite biblical animal cruise, that’s by design. “It’s supposed to be a Noah’s Ark type thing,” Klopp explains. “The idea is rebuilding a new world out of something beautiful after a crisis.”
But eventually Klopp decided to make the song more personal. “It’s more from my perspective as opposed to the character who was intended to be an extension of me,” he says of the final version, which pairs his darkly angelic vocals with gorgeous, brooding production. Though Choir Boy began as Klopp’s project, the band is now rounded out by Jeff Kleinman on synths and saxophone, Chaz Costello on bass and guitar, and Michael Paulson on guitar.
“The record, overall, is about trying to overcome cynicism and nihilism in daily life,” says Klopp, who chatted with AdHoc from his neighborhood in Salt Lake City’s Granary District. Speaking by phone, he opened up his experience writing and recording Gathering Swans, his recent influences, and his favorite B-52s album. Check out the full interview and listen to the record below.
Gathering Swans is out May 8 via Dais.
AdHoc: Are you currently in Salt Lake City? Where’s home right now?
[My girlfriend and I] live in Salt Lake. Have you ever been to a venue called Kilby Court?
I have never even been to Salt Lake.
It’s a small all-ages venue here. If you’ve toured you’ve probably played here. But it’s in an industrial part of Salt Lake. We live there. It’s been kind of nice lately, we don’t have to worry about seeing people when we walk around since nobody lives in this area really. On our block there are a couple of breweries and like half the buildings are abandoned. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But even without the quarantine it’s a lot of vacant buildings.
When did you write the songs on Gathering Swans? How do you actually compose and edit lyrics when you’re writing?
It really depends. Some of the songs on that record I started a long time ago. The first song on the record, “It’s Over,” was the first song I started writing that ended up on the record. I think I started writing it like three years ago. I scrapped it for a while and then revisited it and finished the lyrics like a day before we started recording.
The songs were written over the span of two years or so. I don’t know how to answer the question about the process for writing because it definitely varies from song to song.
Oftentimes I’ll write down phrases. I’ll have a concept or an idea or a phrase that’s the jumping off point. Sometimes I’ll just have a massive [list of] phrases or ideas that pertain to this one concept and then I’ll try to funnel that into a refined rhythm. Songs are weird. I guess lyrics act kind of act as poetry. Not all poetry or lyrics rhyme, but I think that’s pleasurable for people to hear for whatever reason.
What were some of the phrases that helped you envision the album?
“Gathering swans” was the main one. That was a recurring phrase. I kept trying to write that song in different forms, and that phrase felt really profound to me—the idea of gathering swans for the new world. It’s supposed to be a Noah’s Ark type thing. The idea is rebuilding a new world out of something beautiful after a crisis.
I was going to ask about the meaning of that line in particular—“Gathering swans for a new world.”
That didn’t initially stick out to me as the title track. There was about a year and a half when there were a couple different formations of that song with the concept of gathering swans. The first one was a little bit more literal—it was actually a story about an angel who was sent down from heaven. It was kind of like an Escape from New York premise, that John Carpenter movie where [Kurt Russell’s character is] sent to New York to rescue the President. This archangel character is sent down from heaven to the ruins of a dead planet to gather the remaining beauty and the last thing is swans. This angel is sent down to gather swans for the building of the new world.
In the story, the angel becomes [disillusioned] with the law of heaven when he sees the abandoned planet. When he understands what happened—the destruction of the Earth—he becomes [disillusioned] with heaven’s law and decides to build something new. That’s a metaphor for when you feel like the world is just too fucked but you have to grab onto new meaning.
[In the final version] there is still that subtext of the previous song. And in my head that character is lived out, but the song became more personal in the end. It’s more from my perspective as opposed to the character who was intended to be an extension of me. But it still references certain ideas. For instance, in the chorus there’s the line “burn down the gallery / god’s greatest gag of suffering,” which is [about] observing the planet as a gallery or god’s prank on humanity.
What’re some other themes or throughlines on the album?
I think there are two main themes that are tied together, but the record, overall, is about trying to overcome cynicism and nihilism in daily life. “Gathering swans” is a dual reference. I feel like there’s a parallel role of romantic love in peoples’ lives as religion, where it becomes part of peoples’ routine and identity and gives them a sense of purpose.
There is this nonlinear romantic narrative from the beginning to end that oscillates between stages of infatuation and disillusionment. On some level it’s proposing the idea that you can find beauty to give you purpose through these things, but there is still that risk when you invest in love that you just are continuing a cycle where you invest yourself in something you might lose.
The album begins with the song “It’s Over” which doesn’t explicitly indicate that it’s about the end of a relationship, but it’s intentionally vague. That is the jumping off point of the record. There are all these existential questions being sarcastically proposed with solutions in varying forms. “Complainer” and “Toxic Eye” and “Eat The Frog” are all sort of cheeky, self-critical songs, proposing ways to overcome cynicism or negativity. “Shatter” as well. In my head there are different ways that themes from songs intersect, but it’s hard for me to articulate that.
I get that. Having listened to the record a few times, I get the sense that what you’re describing comes through in the tracklisting or sequencing of songs.
Yeah—the songs kind of have a call-and-response relationship with one another. The songs that are joke-y self-help songs like “Eat The Frog” and “Shatter” and “Toxic Eye” and “Complainer” mirror each other on the A and the B-side. I think that “Complainer” and “Toxic Eye” [are] more self-critical of my inability to function without my jaded biases taking over. “Toxic Eye” is cautioning against looking at the world through this lens of jaded paranoia.
In terms of recording and production, were there any instruments or techniques that were important for this album’s sound?
Usually I’ll demo all of the songs myself on a home recording and that informs what the song is in its permanent version on the album. So the ability to home record in the demo stages and fine tune certain things by yourself [is important.] The computer is the tool that facilitates your ability to tinker around at home with a sound. I used to use GarageBand actually, but I use Logic now.
You’ve said of your debut LP, Passive with Desire, that “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.” You also said that Against Me!, Paul Baribeau, The Shins, and The Smiths were early influences for you. What are some more recent influences? Can you hear the ghosts of any artists on Gathering Swans?
I think Kate Bush, Scott Walker, and Roy Orbison are still in line. China Crisis might be one that I became more keen on in between these records. Maybe the B-52s. I never really was a fan of B-52s until a couple years ago. I tried to get [one of my friends] into them and he said something to the effect of “Oh, B-52s is circus music” because most people probably only know “Rock Lobster” or “Love Shack.” People don’t really take them seriously but I think they’re actually one of the best art-pop bands of all time.
One record in particular is Bouncing off the Satellites [released in 1985], which a lot of people don’t know because the guitarist [Ricky Wilson] passed away right before the record was released so they didn’t tour it. [Ricky] was the singer Cindy Wilson’s brother. He died of AIDS, so they didn’t tour the record and she actually stepped away from the band for a while. That record didn’t really get a lot of press but in my opinion it’s probably their best.