Karl Strange, singer and guitarist of Provo's The LoveStrange, is strange. He's not shy about it. In fact, when answering an email interview with City Weekly, he added a question: "What are some of the strange things that happened to you? How is your life strange?" His answer, of course, is strange. "When I was in kindergarten, I found out there is no Santa Clause [sic]. I was not devastated, and didn't find it surprising." At show-and-tell the next day, he blew it for everyone.
The experience, he says, is an early indicator of how he'd turn out. Even right now, as I write, Strange is texting strange things. Like the non-answer to an attempt to clarify the meaning of his song "Hey Now, People." The song's first choruses go, "Hey now, people/ look past your steeples/ if one soul feels controlled/ let that soul unload." Later choruses are different. "Hey now, people/ let there be steeples/ if one soul feels consoled/ let that soul alone." It sounds like a "live and let live" tune aimed at Mormons and non-Mormons.
Strange won't say it is or isn't about that. He won't even tell Nate Pyfer, his producer and close friend—and Pyfer asks repeatedly. "I told him I'd answer his question in 20+ years," Strange says. "He later grabbed my bare ass during a recording session. I still wouldn't tell him." Wait—what? "I was mooning him," Strange explains. "Did I mention I don't act my age?"
Strange is 50. In his suit and shades, he looks like a compact Ric Ocasek, frontman of The Cars. True to his age, Strange is into new wave and power pop from the late '70s and early '80s, including The Cars. He also digs Cheap Trick, Bowie, McCartney, Billy Joel and, more recently, hyper-poetic, hyperkinetic Robert Pollard and his band, Guided by Voices—"He's a strange man with strange songs that have hooks and flaws."
Strange is a patent and trademark law attorney (hence, "Clause"). He's a rock star, too. Okay, maybe not yet—but he has the goods to become one. A musician before college, he abandoned it for a family and career. That is, until 2010, when he learned about Neon Trees—not from a local show, but Rolling Stone. "I couldn't believe it," Strange says. He went to Provo to "investigate the Velour scene." Inspired, he dug into his old demos from the early '80s, as well as his old record collection. He started to play again, hitting open mics.
At one of those gigs, Strange met Velour owner Corey Fox, "who believed in me as a frontman before I did." Soon, Strange formed The LoveStrange, writing with Pyfer, who liked the early demos. Now a four-piece, rounded out by bassist Chad Reynolds, lead guitarist Devin Powell and drummer Russell Carroll, The LoveStrange is built around Strange's appealing strange-itude. For their sound, the band and Pyfer landed on an updated version of the Cars/Cheap Trick aesthetic: big guitars, big choruses, big-but-weird vocals.
The band's debut album I Liked It, No I Didn't came out last year, to overwhelmingly positive reviews—and a second-place finish for "Album of the Year" in City Weekly's 2016 Best of Utah Music. Its eight songs are short, grabby and energetic. They're also deeply preachy, but not pedantic, in how they all seem to be about one thing. Strange likes to say it's open to interpretation, being evasive, at first, then direct.
Strange says the philosophy dates back to his childhood. "I have felt, from my earliest of days, that I was viewed as odd, and as having a strange life because of the things I was doing." Looking back, he realized most people felt alienated and weird. Strange's songs, just like Ocasek's and Pollard's, articulate that universal sensibility well. The songs are about "flaws and acceptance," Strange says. "Don't we all need a little more love and a little less judgment?" That way, people can be who they are, which is "invariably strange in some way—but, often, endearing."