Any conversation with Neon Trees’ Tyler Glenn is likely to be heavy on the word “fascinated.” He’s fascinated by pop culture, the talent of his band mates, authenticity in an inauthentic world and the power of imagination.
The fact that Tyler writes killer songs isn’t any kind of news. “Animal,” from Neon Trees 2010 debut, Habits, was a double-platinum single. A wide ranging group of artists from Taylor Swift to Train to upcoming pop boys The Wanted have all covered the song, it was named the Top Alternative Song of 2011 by Billboard, and it even showed up on a Glee episode. As #1 hit, “Animal” was practically everywhere. The two other singles from Habits, “1983” and “Surrender,” were nearly as huge. So “Habits” was indeed a success, but it wasn’t the kind of success Neon Trees originally had had in mind.
“When we made the last record, we tried to endear ourselves to the blogosphere,” Tyler says. “We took these fantastic songs and we produced them in a way that we thought would attract the critics and the hip kids, and that’s not what happened. Instead, we ended up being embraced by a completely different crowd of people – people who like us because we’re entertaining. We played a show not long after the record came out, and afterwards a fan thanked me for making music fun again. That’s much cooler than a five-star review in Pitchfork.”
The music may be full-on fun, but the lyrics? In addition to other less-than-trifling topics, Tyler writes about longing, masochism, vanity, the reality of reality, and the politics of gender. “I love juxtaposition,” Tyler explains. “I love to wrap heavy themes in effervescence. When we started working on Picture Show I discovered I’d become fearless,” Tyler continues ... “I love who our audience is; we don’t need to be anything other than who we are. That was an incredible realization. It freed us up. We’re unconstrained. We’re bolder.”
“Picture Show”, which will be released in April, was produced by Justin Meldal-Johnson, who’s worked with Nine Inch Nails, Beck, and M83, amongst others. “It was a great experience. We really connected,” Tyler says. “Justin’s from the same world, musically. I’d be talking about the feeling of a Teenage Fanclub song that came out in 1992 or a moment in a Pulp song and he’d know exactly what I meant.”
Neon Trees have SoCal roots, but the band came together eight years ago when Tyler and his neighbor, guitarist Chris Allen, relocated to Provo, Utah, and hooked up with Elaine Bradley (drums) and bassist Branden Campbell. They still live in Provo, although Tyler describes Neon Trees as “citizens of the world.” They’ve been traveling so much that home has become a foreign concept.
In addition to doing time in New York and Los Angeles, Neon Trees have done more than 220 shows in the United States, Europe, Canada, and the UK. They’ve supported shows and tours with the Killers, My Chemical Romance, 30 Seconds to Mars, and, most recently, Neon Trees did an arena tour with Duran Duran. They’ve also performed on Jimmy Kimmel, Conan, Letterman and Leno.
Tyler sums up Neon Trees best by saying, “There’s an idea that rock and roll is about debauchery and drugs but that’s not the spirit of rock and roll. That’s acting rock and roll. That’s lifestyle. The spirit of rock and roll is in the music, the emotional weight of the melodies and lyrics, the show and the performance, and with all of that, Neon Trees is rock and roll.”