Provo, Utah isn’t the first place you think of when imagine a rock band’s hometown, but Neon Trees have made it their home for many years. Neon Trees’ debut single “Animal” emerged in 2010, which was received to global acclaim, along with being named the top alternative song at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards. Forceful energy, soulful vocals and foot-tapping melodies that you cannot ger out of your head started it all and continue to be the band’s forte. Lead singer Tyler Glenn’s voice belts just far enough that he isn’t straining, but you can feel the fire behind what he’s singing about, and this is no difference on the band’s new tune “Sleeping With A Friend,” an exhilarating electro-pop cut that is refreshingly more tasteful than taboo.
When they started out, Neon Trees had a gothic, dark, punk image but they have brightened up and so have their songs on the new record “Pop Psychology,” an exploration of oneself and the world through songs that celebrate and uplift the soul and question our existence in terms of mistakes, achievements and desires. Striking songs and comic book-mod fashion sense aside, the album is not just any pop-rock fare; Tyler Glenn along with co-founding member Chris Allen, Brandon Campbell and Elaine Bradley round out the foursome, and though most of the tracks were penned by Glenn and Sugarcult lead singer Tim Pagnotta, the band is unified on a satisfying array of tracks.
On “First Things First,” ironically the final track on the album (and one of the most memorable and liberating) Tyler discusses he and Chris leaving their California hometown for Utah, and starting the band. “Foolish Behavior” offers a carefree 80’s bounce with a passionate vocal that sounds like thoughts that would follow the experience of “Sleeping With A Friend.” Stylistically, songs shift in a subtle manner throughout, including 60’s doo-wop on album opener “Love In The 21st Century” and then on a track like the ballad “Voices In The Hall,” Tyler’s voice emanates through a more orchestral arrangement. “Pop Psychology” offers something for everyone, and Tyler opens up candidly both on the album and during his interview.
YRB: What was the media part of your career like, not to mention life in the public eye when trying to record this record?
Tyler: We had a lot of time to prepare for this record. We recorded it over last summer secretly, not really announcing it to media and fans so there wasn’t pressure to get it out on a set date. We did photoshoots and videos early on so we could have everything ready. It’s been great to go on tour and go out on a media blitz when you put a record out. I think we’re a funny group of people so there was a sense of really wanting to get personal with people as much as possible on this album.
YRB: What has been the biggest career highlight for Neon Trees at this point?
Tyler: I honestly don’t have one answer. I guess hearing “Animal” for the first time on the radio. I was in the car with my mom going to see Christmas lights in 2009 and we heard it on the radio. It was perfect because my mom makes everything more hilarious and more exciting. Having sold-out shows and then not sold-out shows and then sold out shows again. We take some of the really humbling failures along with some of the achievements. I think it’s a way to kind of gauge the barometer of success. You’re not always going to be the hot shit of the moment.
YRB: “Sleeping With A Friend” is your most infectious song yet. It’s such an obvious subject for a song but it’s definitely touchy and crosses the line in a way. How did this one come about?
Tyler: There was an apprehension in writing it because while a lot of my songs deal with sexuality and innuendo this was the first song I was blatantly talking about it. It’s really more introspective and has a sexy quality to it that you wouldn’t find in a club song. There’s a charm to it cause it’s considering what the danger and risk is behind taking something to the next level versus hooking up.
YRB: Why the choice to live in Utah (not the most rockstar of places) instead of LA, New York, or Nashville?
Tyler: I just don’t really have any interest in going home to the mecca or going home to party. I’d rather just go to the quiet strip mall or the place where I can just get my stuff and go home. I can come home and unplug. I’m a California native, but I go back for my career. Where I live is actually very, very small and quiet. It’s a quiet small town. I don’t feel like I need to leave Utah.
YRB: The elephant in the room is no longer an elephant for you, but has there been a change in your life being the frontman of a band now that you are out to the world?
Tyler: The main changes are just the little conversations that I’m able to have. If I see a dude is cute I can now say it instead of keeping it inside. These little adjustments have made all the difference. If anyone’s hiding that part of themselves it eventually weighs on you and it adds up.
YRB: Having 60’s pop song dittys and elements to your music, would you agree that your music is very current but with classic song structure.
Tyler: I totally agree. Songs like “Animal”, “Everybody Talks”, “Teenager In Love” and “Love In The 21st Century” all have a doo-wop mentality. I appreciate that because I think a lot of people think Neon Trees are so 80’s. There’s a sheen and pop element. I’m more inspired by doo-wop, soul and oldies cause that’s what my dad was listening to when I was growing up. I’m more of a soul singer than an 80’s pop singer. Song structure is really important to us.
YRB: “I Love You But I Hate Your Friends” is another hilarious title. Where did this one come from?
Tyler: More and more I find my friends’ friends to be incredibly the last people I want to be around. I have less people in my life but more strong people because I’ve weeded out some hanger-ons.
YRB: “I’m a million different people all the time. But there’s only one of me to get it right” is a great lyric from the closing song “First Things First” on the album. Did you strategically close with this one?
Tyler: I love that it’s called “First Things First” but it’s the last song on the record. I wanted to have a good send-off anthem in a way. I don’t think we’re the type of band that needs to end with something subdued and melancholy. I wanted the biggest song to end the record. I think it’s empowering in a way. I like having an attitude but also being snarky and being frank.
YRB: What is the origin behind “Everybody Talks”?
Tyler: When I wrote that song I had just broken up with a girl at the time who sort of spread a rumor about me that I was gay. She didn’t know that. She had no proof on that. I had never acted on or cheated on her with a guy. It was kind of this excruciating thing because she didn’t know there was any truth to it. I sort of wanted to write a kiss-off. Instead of making an angry song or a revenge song it’s sort of this happy, clap-along song. What I enjoy about some of the songs is that we have a really biting lyric or concept but it’s set against an uplifting sound.
YRB: Neon Trees have always had a noticeable fashion sense, it used to be more punk/gothic and it’s become a bit more colorful and even slightly mod/glam. Why the change?
Tyler: Ever since I was 12 and able to dress myself to go to school I’ve been into everything imaginable. I’ve always used clothing to express what I’m feeling. The band always appreciated the fact that I wanted to be a band that had an aesthetic. I never understood the bands that just got up in a t-shirt and jeans and played. I get how anybody could be that, but at the same time I think when you get to a place where people have come to see you and the culture, it’s fun wear something really cool that expresses what the show is about. I think it’s become more refined on this time around maybe because this record is more colorful.
YRB: If people want to know what Neon Trees even means what would you tell them?
Tyler: I don’t know what it means. It started as an inside joke because in Southern California when In-N-Out Burgers were getting popular, the older ones had neon palm trees. We thought that name was interesting. I think it reflects the idea. The name is really silly to me but I think people have taken it seriously.
Story by Michael Menachem
Photography by Andrew Zaeh