St. Lenox is the project of Andrew Choi, whose new album “Ten Songs Of Worship And Praise For Our Tumultuous Times” has made it into the stratosphere of thought presented with music. He sounds like a rambling preacher that you just want to keep listening to, and he keeps it coming.
What comes out of this is all the enjoyable praise music, without the guilt. Here are some of the highlights of the interview, the full podcast episode link is below.
JH: Thanks for joining us. I would describe your music as “If Tom Waits was a Preacher, with some melodramatic Nick Cave in there.”
SL: Oh, wow, my husband would appreciate the Tom Waits reference.
JH: I loved the album, how it was telling a story, with great details, you know, the church with the orange cushions, then you would eat the extra bread, drink the wine, and then sometimes go to Red Lobster on Sundays. I mean, just a story about church, without any real message of the church.
SL: I think the record in general was broadly about religion, and what made me want to write about that was that I did have a lot of fond memories of going to church when I was younger. I had written that song about 10 years ago actually, I guess it just includes everything. I enjoyed my time there, I don’t think I am a super religious person, but that gave me an entryway into positively talking about religion. But going back on those memories, I was thinking about the King James Bible,
JH: Which you would NEVER hear in a Lutheran Church.
SL: EXACTLY!!!! But I remember when the pastor wanted to emphasize how beautiful this passage was. I remember looking back, thinking, that doesn’t look right.
JH: Ok, here is the tagline that says it all “A progressive, queer, spiritual record tracking the great American religious drift of the 21st century— from religious hope to religious doubt.” It was a breath of fresh air, this anti-pasta buffet of neat ideas in the stories. It just kept coming at me and I didn’t care where it was gonna take me. What about your song “Arthur”, that was a different approach to death. Was that someone you knew?
SL: Yes, all my songs are based on real-life, a co-worker of mine came late to a party, had just come back from the Shiva. It was right after the event was that the gears started turning in my head and that it didn’t bother him at all. Somebody else later said “In the chorus, you are saying “Don’t look dismayed” and I wrote it trying to console myself, but then maybe I rewrote it and wanted to phrase it in a way that I was consoling anyone else. I think the theme that put all of it together was that peoples’ confrontation with death was not super painful, and it was a positive experience.
JH: So, your song “You Don’t Call Me Anymore”, great song, and I loved the video, that was a classic. But it had some great measures from American Pie in there.
SL: Yeah, there were some REM references in there too, “Flowers of Guatemala”, I learned later that it was a protest song about US involvement in South America, it was a lot more complicated than I thought it was when I was listening to it.
JH: So, Hashtag Brooklyn, the science of love. There is no mistaking it, especially in the video, who was the guy in that video?
SL: Yeah, that was my husband, not sure if we were married at that time.
JH: Well, it was neat to see, I saw the connection, and you were in love, and to be honest, I think it is wonderful to see that as real between anyone.
SL: I think some of the songs on that record, “Ten Fables” were about “Passion” and “Love” as standard themes in most indie-pop. So those songs were variations on those subjects, and I wanted to explore that territory with a different take and give some different life to it.
JH: I do believe it was all your experience, even in the video for “You Don’t Call Me” when you were there busking, and that guy shows up. Can you tell me about the album cover, it’s a clash, Buddhist Pagoda, Christian Chapel. It was beautiful, and fit the motif.
SL: After I got married, we had our honeymoon, in South Dakota, it was an accidental honeymoon, and we said maybe a year from now we would go to Paris. Which was March of 2020, so that didn’t happen. So it was beautiful there, and in Rapid City South Dakota, there is a Lutheran Church, they are called “Stave” churches, they must have used them in Scandinavia, and I knew I was going to be making an album about religion. And it was a beautiful chapel, so I got that picture with this album in mind. But it was a small chapel, with maybe 5 small pews on each side.
JH: Well, I did my Mormon time in Hamburg Germany, I’ll tell ya, that is about all you would be able to fill in a Lutheran Church in North Germany. But the whole thing gives me these visuals of you, a first-generation Korean American, going around having this pure Americana experience.
SL: In some of my experiences, the thought was being out and in love and the wilderness is a religious experience. I think the fact that I’m with my husband, it’s about gay relationships, and in a religious context. Like my song “The Great Blue Harem” I was thinking about the “Songs of Solomon” because it was about two lovers.
JH: Songs of Solomon was just crazy X-Rated sex. But, when I listened to your album, I felt the same euphoria that I used to experience when I was a devout Mormon getting into praise music. This one was a more mature spiritual musical experience.
SL: I’m still not sure what my relationship with religion is, but there is a lot of music about religion written by people who have moved away, which can be very snarky which I enjoy. I think it’s a good time because part of what’s moved people away is that a lot of the focus on religion has been pretty negative and people will give lip service to the idea that religion is a loving positive thing, and I think because it becomes less of that, it is what has driven people away. I wanted to write something not directly “Praise the lord.”
The Full audio of this interview available here