Choir Boy finds faith in heavenly dream pop

Bittersweet symphony

Choir Boy finds faith in heavenly dream pop
Photo by Cornelia Thonhauser
SOFT KILL with Choir Boy, Volcanist, Ootheca, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 10, Will’s Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave., , $12-$14

Adam Klopp's beginnings as a performer are, appropriately enough, steeped in the sacred. Raised in the Mormon church, the vision and voice behind Salt Lake City-based dream-pop outfit Choir Boy found his introduction to music at an early age in the form of traditional hymns. But even as he sang along with the choir and congregation, doubts began to stir in his mind. "It's hard to say when it started," he says. "I felt like I was a practicing agnostic as a kid."

Fast-forward several years to middle school and he was still raising his voice, this time to the tune of punk covers in his first band. "We covered Dropkick Murphys, we did a Ramones song, an Agnostic Front song," he recalls. "It was all over the place. We just liked punk in general."

It was during this punk phase that Klopp inherited the moniker Choir Boy. Meant as an insult by his peers, the nickname was inadvertently profound. A fitting title for a young man with the voice of a saint, the epithet also served as a clever nod to his upbringing in the church. Always one to find the silver lining, Klopp turned the sour grapes into wine and claimed the name as his own.

After graduating from high school, Klopp left his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, to attend Brigham Young University, a private institution in Provo, Utah, owned and operated by the Latter-day Saints church. In an ironic twist of faith, his pilgrimage to the heart of Mormon country marked the beginning of the end for his spiritual journey. "It's sometimes easier to just coast in limbo than to confront your doubts," he admits.

But coasting didn't last for long, and eventually his doubts came to a head. Following extensive training to become a missionary, Klopp realized organized religion was not for him. "If it doesn't make you happier, your heart's not in it," he says. And he wasn't happy. The strain from trying to resurrect his faith had taken a serious toll on his mental health, leading to a cyclical feeling of being "depressed about being depressed." Frustrated, he began searching for a way out.

Klopp's musical talent provided a means of escape, giving him an outlet to creatively explore the depths of a mind plagued by unanswered questions. His remarkable voice and ability to play multiple instruments enabled him to connect with young folk artists in Provo's ever-growing music community, where "folk and chamber pop are a pretty happening thing."

He performed with several bands along the way, ultimately writing enough songs to start his own with musicians he'd met over the years. One of those musicians was Chaz Costello, who plays bass in Choir Boy (and in Klopp's side project, Human Leather) and also works with Klopp at a "dive of a deli" in Salt Lake City. Shortly after they started working together, "[we] had the idea to pool tips so we could put out cassettes for local bands." In addition to releasing a tape for Chaz's other band, Sculpture Club, the aptly named Deli Boys Records co-released the first pressing of Choir Boy's debut album, Passive With Desire, on cassette with New York-based label Team Love Records in October of 2016.

Often compared to artists like Bronski Beat, Roxy Music and Tears for Fears, Choir Boy is more than a mere pastiche of its new wave predecessors. "I like so many different styles of music, it's hard to say what my main influence is," Klopp reflects, adding that he admires the work of Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac, R. Stevie Moore and prolific guitar-pop legend Martin Newell.

While the music of Choir Boy is rich with nostalgia, it doesn't quite fit in with the current crop of revivalist post-punk and synthpop acts. "We're still kind of an outlier," Klopp notes. "[Our sound] definitely leans in a certain direction, [but] I don't want to pander." If you're not a believer by now, you will be soon. Witness the sacred spectacle for yourself at Will's Pub, when Choir Boy opens for post-punk titans and tourmates Soft Kill this weekend.

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