The suburbs surrounding Salt Lake City, Utah are much like any sprawling outcropping around a major metropolis. What makes these communities of self-replicating conformity different, however, is a unique strain of religiosity. More than half of SLC County residents belong to The Church of the Latter Day Saints, the mysterious religion known for clean cut door-knockers secretly wearing special underwear.
Amid all the identical smiles, however, Salt Lake City proper stands as an oasis of culture in Utah, a home to artists, musicians, and many church defectors. It was in this thriving community where electro-punk band Muzzle Tung's K. Parker and Geoffrey Leonard met and fell in love. They traded the Mormon Temple for the communion of a the punk venue and haven't looked back since. Having found each other—and themselves—through the scene, they've since become noteworthy figures in SLC for their compelling and catchy performances in the last couple years.
Their recently released debut record, Administration, is run through with an anti-conformist subversion. While driving and dance-y electronic beats generally keep things moving, unusual key changes or scuzzed up productions often devolve into boozy psych trances veering towards prog. Melodies have a tendency to turn sour, belaying a sense of anxious agitation that dissipates into spacey synths but never truly resolves. Though the music is often gloomy, there's always a playfulness, as seen on the campy wolf-like howling at the opening of graveyard waltz "Ghoulie." Meanwhile, "Take Me Down State Street" heightens the theatricality, playing out like a gothic sound collage shot up with notes of acid jazz. The album turns back toward pop salvation with the coy "Pony," in which Leonard warns, protectively, "Lordy, you ain't gonna fuck my pony."
I caught up with Parker and Leonard to discuss album single "Kishin Pop!" It comes to life in the video (premiering below) like an unearthed relic of 1980s church propaganda produced by Tom Goes to The Mayor-era Tim and Eric. While the video is a fabrication, the secret Mormon marriage rituals detailed within are 100 percent real.
Noisey: What made you guys want to make a video about Mormon rituals?
Geoff Leonard: Growing up I felt like there were too many things that were hidden behind gates of commitment. You know like after you've already invested and set yourself down this path then they really start to pull out the bizarre and sexist.
K. Parker: I feel like it's something that needed to be put out there to show the discrepancy in how women are treated in the temple. I've always had a problem with women's "roles" in Mormonism.
Parker: I had a seminary teacher tell me that a woman's role in life was to make babies. I was 16 years old. Suffice to say it was the last time I went to seminary.
That's so fucked. Tell me about your experiences in seminary.
Leonard: Here in Utah all of the junior and senior highs have a portion of land that isn't technically on school grounds but pretty much is. So according to the public school, you are "released" for a period to go to church school. There, church officials teach the book of Mormon. And these people that aren't scrutinized the same way other school teachers are, they teach you Latter Day Saints doctrine.
Parker: There's very sexist roles that are taught from a young age that men need to go on a mission, go to school, and provide for their families. For women it's more of a you can go on a mission, you can go to school, but really you should be looking for a husband and making babies.
"There's a term, 'EC Material,' that I would hear a lot referring to a guy being eternal companion material."
Wow! But I understand seminary is not exactly mandatory to graduate, right? It doesn't affect your GPA or anything?
Leonard: Yeah. I stuck with seminary because it was a great nap period. Puff puff.
Parker: My mom was OK for me to stop going because I took AP history instead. (Laughs) Salt Lake City is like 99 percent Mormon, though, and there's tons of familial and cultural pressure to go to seminary.
Leonard: It can be very alienating for non-Mormon kids or kids who choose not to go.
Parker: I knew a kid who converted junior year to fit in. It was so sad. He was already pretty popular but got more so when he became Mormon. Girls we're excited that he was going on a mission. It was really fucking weird. There's a term, "EC Material," that I would hear a lot referring to a guy being eternal companion material. (Editor's note: the Mormon religion describes married men and women as being companions together in eternity.)
Leonard: Probably got more "Levi Lovin" too. That's Utah slang for dry humping.
Ha! Like Levi's jeans?
Parker: Yeah, I lived in Provo the summer after high school, and it was on a list of apartment rules: "No Levi lovin'"! Haha! Mostly because it was BYU approved housing. It was $88 a month, so I put up with it.
So it seems like you both were raised in the church but were alienated pretty early on. Can you tell me how you went from practicing Mormonism to playing music in Salt Lake City
Parker: I spent all of my teen years going to shows in Salt Lake, so when Muzzle Tung started playing shows here it felt very natural.
Leonard: The music scene in Salt Lake is very open. It's quite friendly and easy to line up a show. A bunch of my friends play music, and one day I just started participating.
It sounds like an oasis of open-minded cool. I hear there are a lot of UFOs as well?
Leonard: Mmmhmm. Our drummer is very interested in observing "the other." There are light patterns, comparable native stories, proximity to military bases, repeated observations of strange things. The sky looks really big when it's boxed in by the mountains.
Do you think there's a relation between the religious nature of SLC and the skywatchers?
Leonard: I've never thought of it. Could be! The Salt Lake Valley is nestled between two mountain ranges. Its super easy to get a deep nature experience—less light pollution spots.
Does the church have an opinion on extraterrestrials?
Leonard: Yeah, a bit. In the Book of Abraham, which is described as being translated from an Egyptian text, it says that a physical planet called Kolob is the closest to God. So the physicality of it being a planet with a location kind of places the inhabitants as being extraterrestrial.
I suppose most religions ask you to believe some extraordinary things, but Mormonism sounds particularly weird. What made you want to address it head on in this video?
Leonard: In the LDS religion you are brought to Sunday School from an early age. At eight—which they consider the age of responsibility—you are baptized and become an official member. They throw you a party for making the "right" decision. Entering into a potentially lifelong agreement at the age of eight!? What other institution besides religion has such young people making these kinds of decisions? Insanity.
"The blatant sexism is so clear to me, but is harder for those deep in it to see."
Anyway, after you are baptized, a few years later they send you into the Temple to perform a junior ceremony called "Baptism for the Dead." In this ceremony your body is used as conduit for dead people to receive a baptism. They set you up at an early age on a path, and at each gate you aren't really sure what to expect. The magnitude of the bizarre things that take place really isn't evident until you've taken the steps and are committed to participate. I don't think that you should be able to join a religious organization—or corporation, which the LDS group is—until you are an adult. Adults should join whatever cult they want. The point of this video is to reveal things that I wish I would have known earlier in my upbringing. I ducked out of the church way before the rituals of this video, but I'd assume many a past and present youth would like to know what they are heading toward.
Parker: When you get baptized at eight years old you're not really exposed to deeper church issues, which includes what goes on in the temple. I can still remember lyrics to primary hymns I sang as a kid that constantly talk about the temple and teach you that it is where you want to go while not really understanding what that meant. I think the video is a way to simply instruct people what goes on inside. This information takes some digging to find online or knowing someone that has gone through the temple themselves so the video is a way to give a glimpse of how ceremonies are performed.
How do you think sexism in the church has informed the video?
Parker: The church believes that women can only speak to God and go to the celestial kingdom (highest level of heaven) through their husband, and in the temple ceremony they take a vow to obey them. This has made me view Mormon couples I know in a different light because they both agreed to those stipulations. The blatant sexism is so clear to me, but is harder for those deep in it to see.
What do you hope people take away after watching the video for "Kishin Pop!"?
Parker: I hope people are prompted to watch it a few times to get all the information that is given and are a bit freaked out by what they see. I think it's easy to blindly follow, justify and pick what aspects you want to believe in the church but would hope that the video could possibly provide an opportunity for reflection if any members watch it.
Leonard: If you are a young member of this church then I'd hope you dig a little deeper than what they are trying to sell you at Sunday School. For people who aren't a member of the LDS corporation, then I'd hope that you would become intrigued and learn a bit about this sad, fascinating, and bizarre culture.
This video isn't a fuck you. We are exposing just one of the elements of patriarchy in the religious culture we were raised in. Take a look at your own upbringing, religious affiliations, and culture. Identify what isn't adding up, who is being marginalized, and expose the shit out of it!
Josh Schneider is a Pisces living in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter.