Immediately afterward, Utley began working on Runaway, a 2005 solo record influenced by his two years playing in Christian rock band. Though Utley says he best expresses himself with folky acoustic rock, it’s unfortunate he’s so married to it’s conventions. Far from catharsis, his songs end up sounding the same with vague lyrics that never specifically mention his personal experiences. For example, in “Let Me Go” he sings, “I was never yours and you were never mine… I gave you my reasons, and I gave you my heart. I guess you never understood that part.” He could be speaking about the Mormon church, a parent, or ex-lover. Even his most revealing song, “Shades of Gray” (a song he wrote while still at Evergreen), has angry and heart-aching lyrics that his voice fails to match.
“They say, ‘Ex-Mormons can leave the church, but they can never leave it alone.’ But I think it’s the church that doesn’t leave ex-Mormons alone … especially with things like Prop 8,” Utley says.
He moved to New York City in 2005, and that’s where the activism kicked in. The Prop 8 ballot in California energized him to start making phone calls against the amendment, volunteering for AIDS walks, and playing guitar at PRIDE festivals nationwide. He’s currently developing his second album and rehearsing to play the lead in Our Country, a Hedwig-style musical comedy about an outed country rock star (based on Kenny Chesney).
“Trying to change the Mormon Church from inside of Utah is like trying to take on the Catholic Church from Rome,” Utley said. “The [federal] government had to force Utah to stop practicing polygamy. The government had to pass laws to allow interracial marriage. [In Utah,] the force of change always comes from outside. Instead of trying to change Utah from within, I’m trying to change the world around it.”