Tyler Glenn is the lead vocalist and keyboardist for Neon Trees, a band whose musical roots lay in Provo, Utah. Along with Chris Allen [guitars], Branden Campbell [bass], and Elaine Bradley [drums and backing vocals], Tyler has taken the industry by storm, with recent appearances at SXSW [South by Southwest] and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live. The band’s first single, “Animal,” has also been featured on VH1’s Secrets of Aspen and CW’s Melrose Place.
On April 10, 2010, Neon Trees embarked on a 25-city tour with 30 Seconds to Mars and MUTEMATH. [The complete tour schedule has been appended at the end of this feature.] In support of the tour, as well as the release of the band’s debut album, Habits, Tyler Glenn managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on the band’s Webisodes, “musical agenda,” and penchant for practical jokes.
After watching the music video for “Animal,” as well as the band’s Webisodes, I get the sense that all of you are practical jokesters to a certain degree. Who is the wildest out of the bunch? And what is the craziest moment all of you have shared together?
The wildest? I don’t know, man. I think we all share that pretty well. We kind of pass it around like a disease! [laughing] We’re pretty wild! [laughing continues] The only thing that comes to my mind, right now, is one time we were all in the van and Brandon dared me to run into a Chinese restaurant, take off my shirt and scream, and then run back into the van. He said he’d give me $5.00 for it. And I totally did it. Everyone was stunned. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind.
I have to be really up-front, when I look at your band, and tell you that I think it’s really, really cool that you have a female drummer. Elaine is a beast, and she slays the drums! I know that she started off as a guitarist and then transitioned into the drums. Do you know what inspired the change?
Well, Elaine is multi-talented. She is a guitar player, a drummer, and a singer, and she’d love people to know that. She could totally front the band! [laughing] In the band before Neon Trees, she did half-duty on drums and guitar and singing. And she’s been in other bands where she’s been the front woman. With this particular set-up, we needed a drummer and she’s fantastic. It was never a thing of like we need a girl drummer to make it cool. She’s kind of a sexless drummer, in a way, and she plays like the best of them.
Yeah, she is awesome!
Yeah! [laughing] Seeing her live is definitely something in and of itself.
Before signing with Mercury, I know you had the opportunity to open with The Killers. When you look back on that particular touring experience, and then examine the way you have developed your live show over the years, in what ways has your showmanship or stage presence improved? What particular elements have really gone up a notch?
I’ve noticed that we play tighter, that we execute better. I mean, that happens with time, with any band, I would hope. With us, I think we’ve always played like we were playing for a giant crowd because we wanted to evoke that kind of energy. And so, even when we didn’t know how to play our songs very well, we were just putting on a show. It was important to us. Our musicality is up there with our showmanship, now.
After watching all of your current Webisodes, it became obvious and apparent that the band has a do-it-yourself, hands-on approach to its career, even though you’re signed with a label. In one Websiodes, the following quote rolled across the screen: “Sometimes when no one is hearing a thing you’re saying, you’ve gotta make them listen.” What has been the most creative guerrilla marketing tool that you have used to get people to listen to your music?
I would say just being ourselves. I think creating that Web series is a cool way to make a window into the way we are in the inner workings of the band. I think something that maybe some artists don’t do well is just being honest with themselves and honest with their fans. We’ve always created a mystique by just being very bold and out there. I think that has just created the buzz around town and, now, across the nation as our song get more airplay. So, I think our level of honesty contributes more than any need for us to be creative.
At the beginning of almost every video, “Young Meteors” is mentioned. Who or what is that?
It’s something that I would like to use as an imprint later. It’s a name that I’ve always thought of for young people creating something. It’s kind of a slang that me and my friends had in high school. I just wanted to put that on there and maybe it would eventually become something in a couple of years.
I also noticed that when the band’s name is mentioned, there is also a logo that has a heart with wings. What is the inspiration behind this imagery?
The human heart and wings symbolize the human experience and a heart taking flight. I think the album, the songs, the band, the show; it’s all about the human experience and the natural energy that we go through in life. I think that just encompassed the whole agenda of the band.
Out of the band’s catalog, I really gravitated to “Calling My Name.” In the video for that song, I noticed that you stood in front of a background that said, “Start A Fire,” which was also the name of the EP. When you think about those words, “Start A Fire,” what kind of impact do you hope the band has in the current music landscape?
I don’t know a lot of bands’ agendas. I just know with us, we want to bring songs back to music and timeless pieces that people can sing along to. And so, the whole record is about that singing, and the anthem; and singing in your car and singing at the show. We just want to bring that energy and have people not be afraid of pop music and great pop music; but we also rock, as well.
The title of your debut album is Habits. How do the songs on the album relate to the title? And without being too self-deprecating, what is your most interesting habit?
With the record, we wanted to talk about the habits that we obtain in relationship to our friends, families, and significant others: how we take those habits onto something else, how we treat each other, how we communicate and how we talk to each other. And so, those are the habits we’re talking about. I think that just summed up the record nicely. It’s also a nod to a lyric in the opening track, “Sins of My Youth.” I think it really speaks for the record. As far as a personal habit of mine… [laughing] I don’t want to be too self-deprecating! [laughing continues] I have a habit of not being very nice to myself; so, maybe that’s a habit of mine. I need to be nicer to myself. I’m a lot nicer to everyone else.
Most definitely! I fall into that trap from time to time as well. But at least your heart is in the right place! [laughing] I came across a quote where Elaine said that being in this band is like an arranged marriage where divorce is not an option. How so?
It’s true. Especially with us, we put aside the fact that we weren’t all best friends from high school starting a band in our parents’ garage. We had lived some of our lives. We all had backgrounds and stories to tell. We all came from different places. But we all realized how we needed to play together because it made the band and made what we were going for. Yeah, it is kind of arranged, but there isn’t an out because we don’t choose to have an out! [laughing]
Even though you are the front man for the group, I know all of you have interesting personalities. If you had to describe all of the members, what would you say?
Elaine is the authority figure in the group. I think she brings and expects a certain level of respect; maybe because she’s the only girl, but I don’t necessarily think that. I think it’s more that she just has always wanted to get things done in an orderly way and to a certain level. That brings a lot to the band because she makes sure that we’re as timely as we can be, as much as she can hope. And I think she also does a lot of good things with the finances. It keeps a lot of those things that a lot of people don’t see when they are watching our video or listening to our album.
Chris is extremely funny in his own way. I think he helps a lot with getting gear onstage and being kind to the sound man; being kind to the people at the show. I think he brings that humanistic quality to the band. Brandon, he brings another level of comedy. He’s always putting on great music and he’s always providing great facts about things. We’re always learning from him because he knows so much and is such a student of music and of the history of music. It brings a spirit to the band where we want to reflect, in our band, the things that the history of music also has.
Myself? I definitely think about the band all the time. I eat, sleep and breathe it. I’m always thinking of ways to visualize that and I think I help a lot with that.
As I reflect on the Webisodes, your descriptions are very on-target. I almost fell out of my chair – [from laughter] – when Elaine made a quip to someone off-camera, saying: “Get sure, because we don’t pay you to be pretty sure!” [laughing] Man, she means business! [laughing continues] At the end of the day, even though music is your passion, it is a business. At what point did you make that realization?
I think when it began to get real. When we opened for The Killers and started getting label interest, we were like: “Wait, I think we need to get a manager to handle our finances and figures all of this stuff out.” And so, the business side became very real when the band started to become more real. I mean, it was always real in our minds; but when people started treating it as something real, that was when it was apparent. And I think it was hard at first, because all of a sudden you have all these different hands, now, trying to guide you. I think it’s about keeping it true; keeping what you started as, always, and keeping that in mind, but not being closed off to accepting opinions.
When you look at the band’s evolution, from your opening act with The Killers to the present, what do you think has been the band’s biggest accomplishment?
It probably is staying together and staying sane, honestly. That’s not something a lot of people may see by just coming to our show. It’s a stressful, trying, draining time to get a band to where you want it to be. And, of course, we’re at the very, very beginning of our career. So yeah, I think we give each other pats on the back for wanting to see each other every day.
Is there a particular obstacle that all of you are proud to have overcome?
I think making sure that our creative agenda is always heard. I think that’s always a constant obstacle because when you’re working with a label you have to listen; but you are also the artist. Luckily, Mercury is a fantastic group of people working for the artists. And so, at the end of the day, it’s very apparent that we are still the artists and still behind the music and the projects and the artistry of the band.
For more information on Neon Trees, visit the group’s official website.
North American Tour
Date — City — Venue
04/10 — Mesa, AZ — Mesa Amphitheatre
04/11 — Tucson, AZ — Prima County Fair
04/13 — Tulsa, OK — Brady Theatre
04/15 — Milwaukee, WI — Eagles Ballroom
04/16 — Chicago, IL — Aragon Ballroom
04/17 — Detroit, MI — The Fillmore Detroit
04/18 — Toronto, ON — Sound Academy
04/20 — Boston, MA — House of Blues
04/21 — New York, NY — Roseland Ballroom
04/24 — Philadelphia, PA — Electric Factory
04/25 — Charlotte, NC — The Uptown Amphitheater
04/27 — Miami Beach. FL — The Fillmore Beach @ Jackie Gleason
04/28 — Lake Buena Vista, FL — House of Blues
04/29 — Atlanta, GA — The Tabernacle
04/30 — Memphis, TN — Beale Street Music Fest
05/01 — Frisco, TX — Pizza Hut Park
05/04 — St. Louis, MO — The Pageant
05/06 — Omaha, NE — Sokol Auditorium
05/07 — Denver, CO — Filmore Auditorium
05/08 — Salt Lake City, UT — The Rail Event Center
05/10 — Seattle, WA — Showbox SoDO
05/11 — Portland, OR — Roseland Theater
05/13 — Oakland, CA — Fox Theater
05/14 — Santa Barbara, CA — Santa Barbara Bowl
05/15 — Los Angeles, CA — Greek Theater