The Neon Trees are one of the most popular bands at the moment, along with Imagine Dragons, they started in Provo Utah, and climbed the ladder to astounding success in a rather short period of time for a rock and roll band. In the middle of the band’s ascension Tyler Glenn the lead singer came out, It might not have seemed like much, but he was raised Mormon (LDS), and like so many other gay Mormons he tried to reconcile his identity with his faith. In the end, his true self won. There is a lot of “Mormon speak” here, so I will explain a few things.
Excommunication: The practice of being kicked out of the church for sinning, and losing all the promised blessings of membership. A sort of spiritual extortion, it no longer holds the terror it once did.
The Holy Ghost: The most used phrase in Mormonism, it is what tells you that which is good, and bad, and stays with you as if he was Jesus himself, and withdraws when you are no longer worthy of its companionship.
November 5th, 2015: The day that the LDS leadership created an exclusionary policy against the LGBTQ community, banning them from any sort of happiness or membership in the church should they marry someone of the same gender. It also prohibited any children of gay parents’ membership in the church unless they disavow their parent’s union. This form of spiritual extortion, the exclusionary policy is now just called “The Policy.”
Tyler Glenn has been through all of these things and managed to still climb to the top. During a short hiatus from the Neon Trees, he wrote an album about the policy, and his faith crisis, and it was painful, deep, and beautiful. It gave me, the straight Mormon guy so much understanding of what my queer brothers and sisters are going through. For that, I have nothing but complete respect for Tyler.
He co-founded the Loveloud foundation with Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, a music festival and platform to help the young queer kids in Mormonism and in Utah to find a way through it all, chose a wonderful life, and avoid suicide.
The Neon Trees have just released a fantastic album called “I Can Feel You Forgetting Me” and I was able to talk to Tyler about it, and the experiences around it. This is a great album, and a great ride, hold on tight.
JH: Thanks for taking the time, it was a task to line it up.
TG: Oh yeah, glad to be here.
JH: I’m not sure if you remember me, I was at the Peter Hook show at Urban Lounge, I did a few high fives with you at Loveloud in 2018, and in 2019 when I was backstage doing interviews, out of all the people in the world, my wife is unimpressed with my musical prowess, and we are talking to the artists, high five with Dan Reynolds, and she really didn’t care, then she saw you and said “Ok, I HAVE to meet Tyler Glenn” so hey, you were the one.
TG: Oh yeah man, “I’m the guy”, that’s awesome, thanks.
JH: Well, I remember the year before when you were out in your “Power Rangers” suit tearing it up, and I told you then at Loveloud 19 that your performance was “Freddie Mercury-esque”, and you just said, “Oh, you’re too kind, but I’ll take it.”
TG: I appreciate that. That performance was to a half-full stadium that day, so it didn’t feel as “Freddie” to me but I appreciate the compliment.
JH: The stadium was full by the end of the evening, but you performed at the hottest time of the day.
TG: Yeah, they put the gay guy out there to fry.
JH: Well, I got some great shots of you that day, and then the “Kinky Boots” bit was hilarious, and I was wondering “How the hell is he dancing in those boots?” I was very impressed with that.
So, the “Utah County” bands are climbing to the top here, you are all doing well, there is Brandon (Flowers) is from Payson, in “The Killers”, and most recently “The Aces” from Provo, and the two sisters just came out as gay in the last few months, and then, of course, Dan Reynolds and Imagine Dragons, and then you, the Neon Trees. It’s a small family compared to like L.A. or Seattle, but you guys as artists are climbing to the top. But its a bummer Loveloud didn’t happen cause I was hoping to see you in some capacity.
TG: Yeah, I think everyone feels like they are missing out on so much right now.
JH: So, I’m going to be heavy on the new album, ’cause it’s so good, not to dismiss the previous efforts, I will have to reference ‘Excommunication’ because it steers into the new album, AND this is an album we could talk for hours over.
TG: Great, that is fine with me.
JH: I have to say, my guts were ripped out halfway into “Sudden Death” it was such a powerful number, and what a way to open it, it hit so hard, it was different from the other Neon Trees albums, during the hiatus, you did your solo album ‘Excommunication’ which was fantastic, but so personal, is that what you needed to happen to make this album the way you did?
TG: Thank you, I don’t know what had to happen because it was such a confluence of events you know that chaotic time in my life, going through the faith crisis, and the identity crisis. I think what happened inside the band was that it shook up our comfort level a bit with each other, and we had to look at each other and ask is this what we want to continue to do, are we on the same page creatively? I think it was necessary when I look back on it because it’s helped us forge forward as a band and wanting to remain Neon Trees. I think at the time when I wrote my solo record I thought perhaps that’s what I could go do, but I never try to turn to a regressive state when I try to make music and I just felt like I wanted to take the energy creatively that I had on my solo record and bring it into this new body of work. And what’s been cool is that the band had been incredibly supportive the last two years writing this record, I am very supportive of them and I think there is this nice mood in the band that has helped us be creative again. And I hope that’s evident in the new album, I’m really proud of it. It’s still about personal things I’m going through, but it still sounds like Neon Trees in 2020 and I am very psyched about it.
JH: I’m going to say this, it is by far the finest work of the Neon Trees.
TG: Wow, thank you.
JH: Again, I am not dissing the earlier work, it is very good. And ‘Excommunication’ was in a different direction, but this new material is still very deep, and yes dark for the subject matter, it’s still the Neon Trees. I’m going to bounce back and forth here, “Gods and Monsters”, and the lyrics “Players only love you when they’re playing”, man you have this habit of leaving NOTHING out, and then you throw out the reference to “November 6th”*. I don’t want to bring up the point that you are this disjointed Ex-Mormon, that’s me too. But, that one was so personal, talk about “God’s and Monsters”, you can do this stuff, just in your face. It’s like when you came out you were saying “I have nothing to hide and I’m going to give this to you with brass knuckles”, as was the content in your videos. *(In reference to the crash of the LGBTQ community the day after the policy was leaked.)
TG: Yeah for that record the November 5th policy was a terrible weekend for the LGBTQ community within the LDS church, so that whole weekend was what set me onto the subject matter for this record.
JH: So many people were trying to still believe and stay in then the whole fiasco, the policy was what set many of us on the same road as you. From that experience to now, with the new album and lyrics, “Where did you go my Holy Ghost, from all the shit you said out loud, now you follow me around”, so, obviously things are coming full circle, with all the Mormon imagery.
TG: Yeah I have played with religious visuals in previous records, and this one, for the idea of being “Ghosted” in modern romance culture and technology is a topic on this record and being forgotten by someone that you spent so much time with. I thought of the “Holy Ghost” in the Mormon faith, is this thing that if you are doing good, and obeying the rules, and feeling the spirit and it’s hanging out with you, it will be a constant companion that will never let you down. All of a sudden if you are not doing those things, then it vanishes according to the Mormon folklore. For me, it was playing with that idea of a spiritual death along with the death of a love relationship and that frustration when someone disappears from your life, and you can’t get to them anymore.
JH: I got that a lot of the album is about bad relationships?
TG: Just one actually (laughing).
JH: You mentioned in “Sudden Death” that the traffic was going to kill you, but then you said later on the album “The traffic is bad but I think I’m getting to like it”, are you getting to like it now?
TG: HAHA, I have been getting to like it actually. I have been spending a lot of time in the back of Ubers and Lyfts and there was something kind of soothing about it all of a sudden, and I would be humming bars, and writing lyrics. So for a year and a half working on this record, I feel like half of my life was spent in the back of a car. So it was “Break” time, thanks for noticing that traffic reference, I tried to find a way to connect those points.
JH: Well, I know ‘Excommunication’ through and through, I just haven’t had enough time to “experience” the new album the same way. Moving on to “Skeleton Boy”, I don’t know if you know the band Inspiral Carpets, it sounded like a modern version of those guys.
TG: Oh yeah, I know those guys, they’re great.
JH: Well, “Skeleton Boy” was sounding like them, then you pulled a “New Order” on us, a nice happy upbeat song, with just brutal lyrics, I mean the Jesus & Mary Chain said the exact same thing when they did “Nine Million Rainy Days” which makes you want to slash your wrists, and “Skeleton Boy” is fun and you feel like saying “Hey, I wanna dance”.
TG: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate it. That song is one of my favorite songs that I have written in the last several years, for me when I even heard the demo, it just felt really urgent. I don’t even think half my band saw it right away, but I saw it through and it felt like there was something unique and special about it. I like that the verses feel like you are on a night drive, then the choruses BAM into this hyper-synth space very much into what I am. I wanted it to sound like “I have had enough” and I was going bonkers, it’s a very “Emo” melodramatic lyric, just getting down to the hard things thinking about a former love. I leaned into that hard. I wanted those visuals in it.
JH: Oh it most definitely was melodramatic, but I have noticed about your lyrics and performing, you don’t hold anything back, on everything across the board. SO, “Everything is Killing Me” is your best song in a long time, that one stands out above the rest of what I would call a phenomenal album, this rises above them all. Are you joking around about toking up? Or “I need to forget people, internet friends” musically was fantastic, and some early U2 like guitar work, that is the winner.
TG: That makes me feel good because that one felt like an outlier to some of the people involved in making the record. From minute one I felt like it was one to include. I think it sounds like a Neon Trees, if we have a “sound”, it quintessentially sounds like us, there is something dark and electronic and pop about the verses, but the chorus is that big anthemic sound. For me, it’s the point in the record, and the point in my life where I wrote it I was thinking everything I do has the possibility of being bad or having a bad influence or dragging me down, and I have to just get through it. I think 3 or 4 years ago when I was writing ‘Excommunication’, I didn’t have the tools to know that I could get through this. It felt very hopeless in a dead-end sort of way. But for me this song is that I do have the tools now, there are still going to be bad days and bad vibes and bad experiences, but I know that I can get through it. And a bit of apathy, my biggest hero in songwriting is Morrissey, and I always try to sneak in a bit of melancholy sort of apathetic view into an upbeat pop song.
JH: Oh, this is funny here, tangent… a few days ago, my wife and I were watching that show “Homeland”, knowing I was going to do this interview, and they played “Everybody Talks” in the car chase scene. I mean, you know you have made it if they play your song as the “Mandatory Token song on the car radio” on a huge tv series like that, everyone wants that slot in a soundtrack.
TG: YEAH, that was such a weird placement for that song too, I got a kick out of it.
JH: I look at your history, and that you guys have worked your way to the top. You toured with Flaming Lips, and Duran Duran, so you have outdone My Chemical Romance by now. I see that you were opening for Duran Duran and the supergroups, that’s pretty amazing, and now you guys are at the top of the ladder.
TG: It’s weird because I live my life from my perspective, so I have to deal with my own shit, troubles, my own brain telling me whatever dark things. Then I realize that people look to me and the band as what you just said, to me it always feels weird ’cause I’m always the one who feels like I have to fight to feel bigger. Especially in this situation, we are in, in a year like this with so much uncertainty, even uncertainty in the career that I’m in, and putting out this record that I have spent 2 years. It’s a weird feeling being at the top of your game, releasing a record, connecting with people, and there is not much to do other than just continue to press on, it feels very exciting. But it’s weird being in my apartment celebrating in quarantine, celebrating online, and it’s not like I’m on a tour like I normally would be. It is interesting, it’s a mind fuck that way.
JH: So totally into the strange flow of this, at Loveloud, Dan is talking about being the same mission as you, that was the best laugh of that day man, you guys broke the rules. But when the two of you sang “I will walk with you”, I mean, it was crazy, that was the song that every kid who made it through primary (LDS children’s Sunday school), and Dan was dancing, that just looked out of place, but you guys tore it up that night. That very moment you had all of us in tears. Talk about that moment Loveloud 2019.
TG: I always felt a connection to that song since I was little, something is still very digestible about that song even though I don’t believe in the LDS church anymore, and I have felt so much trauma from it. But when I hear that song, I still feel something moving from it. I think knowing the background of the writing of that song came from a pure place. It’s almost not even something religious, but something just kind and very human. I think what I love about it too is that it’s a children’s song and sometimes we as humans have to go back to the very beginning and realize how simple understanding someone is, and walking with someone, and showing grace to someone. And that fit with Loveloud so well because Dan is a straight ally, and I am a gay man, and we came together to create this festival that speaks to the families that need the message of hope, the message that you don’t have to throw out your queer kids, you don’t have to change who you are naturally. I think that message is so important especially in the Mormon community, and I think it is so powerful that we were able to do something so grand scale as Loveloud within a niche community. And getting big celebrities to speak with big names, it is powerful. But that was a really cool moment thank you for bringing it up.
JH: Well, that was just beautiful, it was funny cause you just took the lead and sang it so, and Dan had to just hand it to you, you upstaged him for those few minutes, and you deserved it. So, here is my final question, I ask everyone this, and its because of the suicide epidemic with the LGBTQ community in Utah. You speaking to the young gay kid out there who is in the closet, afraid, ashamed, and in that vulnerable state, especially the kids in Utah, who you were all those years ago, what would you say to that kid?
TG: I used to subscribe to the idea that it was no one else’s business, and I realized that was a very dangerous precedent. I think it’s important to live openly and out loud, and it takes a lot of courage. There a lot of people who can walk through life without announcing who they are or what they are going through because this world was made for them. I think when you have to push against the norm and the status quo it takes a lot. I came out when I was 30 years old and a lot of people thought it was late, but my message would be to be patient with yourself, and not always have to look outward for the answers. We are taught so much to look towards this imaginary thing that may not even really exist, but there is the powerful power that I think we have as humans within us. I have learned a lot more about who I am, what I feel, how I want to live my life, where I want to go, my inner core, my intuition, my soul. I think you should be patient, show yourself love, and surround yourself with people that affirm you and don’t tear you down or tear at who you are. It’s a very important thing to be okay with who you are, it’s a long journey, be patient.
JH: Well, Tyler, I hope to see you on the road, and I wish you all the success with the new record. Next time you roll through town I hope, best of luck.
The multi-platinum alternative quartet Neon Trees release their long awaited fourth studio album, ‘I Can Feel You Forgetting Me,’ – AVAILABLE NOW ON ALL PLATFORMS HERE – via Thrill Forever. With over 750 million streams and preceded by Alternative Radio hit ‘Used to Like’ and followed up by the infectious ‘New Best Friend’ with most recently, the heartbreak anthem ‘Nights’, the album explores a myriad of introspective themes across isolation, personal relationships, self-discovery and fulfillment set to the band’s signature sound cast in synth soul and rooted in robust guitars with unforgettable danceable beats.