Buffered by support from labels and the strength of the internet's borderless capacity, the musical undergrounds in otherwise overlooked cities are now more visible than ever before. For example, despite its reputation as a conservative stronghold, Salt Lake City's growing contributions to post-punk and synth-pop are making themselves known on a broad scale. Comprised of members from popular acts Choir Boy and Sculpture Club, the smooth electronic pop of Human Leather is likely to stand as a lightning rod for discussion. With songs that remind of bubbly Vince Clarke-era Depeche Mode melding with the poignant drama of Eurythmics, Human Leather's debut, Lazy Karaoke, is timeless and passionate in its delivery.
The duo's capacity to collaborate in such a seamless, unified fashion is something that many established acts struggle to achieve over lengthy careers. This testament to friendship and shared creative sensibility speaks to both their skills as songwriters and as communicative individuals working closely together. Each of Lazy Karaoke's nine tracks flows into the next with a nostalgic haze that holds equal parts sadness, regret, and delicate beauty. The youthful innocence of these emotions and the sounds that carry them on strikes a chord that many modern pop acts tend to polish away, yet Human Leather leaves it raw and digs in deeper to really immerse the listener in pure feeling.
We're streaming the album, which is currently available for pre-order from Cercle Social Records, in full below. Read on for a full conversation with members Chaz and Adam about love, capitalism, and John Hughes.
Noisey: Most of the world seems to have relatively little familiarity with Salt Lake as anything other than the lone major city in a conservative state. What is your experience like as members of the local underground scene?
Chaz: I feel like the Salt Lake City art and music scene gets kind of a bad rap. I think that our community is incredibly strong, but it's often overshadowed by our state and its reputation. I'm not from here originally but I felt welcome right away. It's the same as anywhere else.
Adam: I think our underground is pretty similar to communities in most other big cities across the country, it's just smaller. Even in more liberal climates, counter culture communities seem to grow out of necessity. If anything, I think the far right culture that surrounds us might cause people in our community to be more radical at times. I think Salt Lake is a great place to be at the moment. All of our bands play a lot at the local record shop Diabolical Records. They host tons of touring bands and do donation-based shows. Even though they generally collect money from the audience to help touring bands with gas, it doesn't feel like the same type of capitalist exchange as might occur at a conventional venue with a cover charge. I think people are a little more comfortable getting weird or taking risks when they're not thinking about that stuff. It's also a great place to connect with other likeminded musicians from other places.
You two seem to have been prolific lately, with albums by Choir Boy, Sculpture Club, and Human Leather all dropping in a short time frame. To what do you attribute this streak?
Adam: I think Chaz is really prolific, but I usually take forever to finish songs. Sometimes I sit on a song for a year or two before I record it. Human Leather helps us work faster because we record ourselves at home on GarageBand, where we can just record ideas as they come up. A few fragments of initial demos will end up in the final track. Still, I think the timing of these releases might give the wrong impression of our productivity.
Chaz: Yeah, the timing is a little deceptive. I'm constantly writing for all my bands. Music just makes me feel like me, so it's something I have to do.
The world is growing increasingly scary. Why are songs about personal pain and heartbreak still so vital in times like these?
Chaz: I think pop music is easily relatable to most of us. There are elements of pop in every genre, with the exception of noise, I guess. I feel it can be used as a form of escapism. It's easy to shut off your brain and listen to some universal feelings like pain and heartbreak. With the way the world is now, and where it's headed, it's nice to have something that is basic, relatable, and comforting.
Adam: Sometimes I feel almost petty focusing so inward on when Trump is in the White House fulfilling dystopian prophesy. But like Chaz said, it's maybe important to for people to hear music with simple ideas that they relate to. I guess in a sense, although it's not explicit, songs about depression can be political. I think a lot of people are sad living with capitalism. Maybe I'm not singing, "Capitalism sucks the feeling out of life," but the sentiment is there.
Adam, you've brought up capitalism a couple times. What do you feel your role, as an artist, is in fighting this system or in offering new solutions?
Adam: I'm not really sure. Even if we hate capitalism, we're inherently participants on some level. The idea isn't to make money, but we sell our music and get paid at certain shows. I guess maybe it's different when the goal is sustainability instead of wealth. This may be dramatic, but I think capitalism invalidates people's desire to create. I don't know that I feel a particular role in changing things, but perhaps playing music and setting up shows for other bands is something that fights that invalidation.
While all the songs in Lazy Karaoke seem personal and evocative, "This Family" is especially intriguing. Is there a story behind it?
Chaz: I wrote "This Family" around the point when I became estranged from my family. It's a long story and I'm not fully comfortable going into the details. I had been driven to a breaking point with my family life. I took a step back and saw that I was being manipulated and taken advantage of by them. I wrote that song as a defeated person at the end of my rope. I was trying to figure out my feelings. I'd never planned to use it for anything, but Adam heard it and re-recorded an instrumental. It sounded so great that we added it into our set.
You're each involved in projects outside of Human Leather which have more members. How does the experience of playing as a duo differ from your time in larger bands?
Chaz: It felt pretty natural to me. Most of the songs on Lazy Karaoke were leftovers that we had that didn't work for our other projects. We sent song ideas back and forth, adding things here and there, until we were happy about it. I don't think we've sat down to write a song together. It felt like there wasn't as much pressure on us with any songs. That was part of the idea when we started putting this together, just to try every silly or stupid idea with no remorse.
Adam: For me, Human Leather feels simultaneously more and less collaborative than other projects. This album has been the most DIY project I've ever been involved with. We recorded and mixed all the songs from start to finish without anyone else touching it until the mastering phase. Similarly, with the visual aesthetic of the band, we have been very hands on. It feels super collaborative compared to my other band, Choir Boy, because although there are more instrumentalists on the album and in the live band, I'm sort of a control freak with song writing and arrangements. It's new for me to share that responsibility with someone else. Also, I should mention Chaz is my favorite song writer in Salt Lake City, so it's fun and motivating for me to work on stuff when he sends me his demos. He is my dream band mate. We love each other a lot.
You speak of love, yet the album itself feels like teenage heartbreak. Do you remember your first heartbreak?
Adam: I haven't really reflected on adolescent heartbreak in songwriting until recently. I remember the first significant love I ever felt. I was too young to really understand it or pursue anything. It was never fully addressed or reciprocated. It was a quiet thing I didn't tell people about. I thought I was too young for it to be valid, but in hindsight the feelings were so vibrant and real.
Chaz: I remember a lot of heartbreak. My first, or maybe the first formative one, was in middle school. My family couldn't afford to send me on a school trip that most of my friends went on. My girlfriend and best friend (who looked like Patrick Swayze) both went and I found out that they kissed and started dating, whatever that means when you're in the seventh grade. I was completely crushed. I became physically ill and was sent home from school when I found out.
Finally, there are so many shades of innocence, drama, and tenderness to Human Leather that it feels like a musical companion to a John Hughes film. Are you fans? What are your favorite John Hughes films?
Adam: I'm a casual fan, but nothing as much as Chaz! I definitely get the vibe from "This Family." My favorite John Hughes movie as a kid was Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but my current favorite of his classics is The Breakfast Club. Overall, though, I think his magnum opus is Flubber.
Chaz: I love John Hughes! I'm actually reading a book on him right now. It's funny you say that, because I've had my songs compared to him before and I feel completely flattered by it. He was truly prolific. My first love was The Breakfast Club. I bought it in freshman year and I think I must've watched it almost every night for that entire year. It's hard to pick a favorite. It depends on the time of year for me. Christmastime is all about Home Alone. Thanksgiving is for Planes, Trains and Automobiles. My partner and I have a New Year's tradition of watching Pretty in Pink. If I had to pick just one at this moment, it'd be Planes, Trains and Automobiles.