Neon Trees’ Tyler Glenn :: The Happiest Version Of Himself
Lead singer and songwriter for Neon Trees, Tyler Glenn, didn’t realize when he set out to write the songs for "Pop Psychology" that it would lead to his "coming out" during the process. Glenn knew from an early age he was attracted to men. As he entered his teenage years and through his twenties, he realized inside that he was gay. But being raised in the Mormon faith (and still identifying as Mormon), being gay was not accepted, or even acknowledged. Thus, he chose to hide his sexuality even when the success of his musical talents with Neon Trees took hold on the music scene with songs such as "Animal" and "Everybody Talks."
This personal dilemma, channeled through the creativity of writing songs for the new album enabled him to address his sexuality head on. Sure, the potent combination of pop with a rock edge infused with the musical touches of the 1980s is readily apparent on a lot of the new songs and packed with energy and fun on "Pop Psychology." Yet, there are songs included on the new release that are purely autobiographical, based on his life experiences. There are the difficulties and strengths found in "Living in Another World," the memories of past relationships in "Voices in the Hall" or the angst and longing of love in "Teenage Years."
Glenn stirred up enough of this true self to find the courage to first admit to a friend and producer of the album, Tim Pagnotta, that he was gay. This led to him telling his mom, close friends and band mates. This important step was greeted with total acceptance and love, leading him to address it publicly. Even if these songs began as secret and hidden feelings, when putting his thoughts to music, they came alive as a positive and public outlet for acceptance.
Tyler Glenn spoke with EDGE Media Network to share new thoughts on his coming out process, reflections on creating some of the more personal songs on the album and the utter joy and relief in being true to who he is. Glenn also confesses to a "crush" on Chelsea Handler and elaborates on the excitement of performing the new songs live on their current "Pop Psychology" summer tour.
Neon Trees and Los Angeles rockers Nightmare and the Cat continue their summer tour at the House of Blues in Boston, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. For more details visit the House of Blues/Boston website.
Slick and concise
EDGE: How would you describe the musical progression or direction from your last album "Picture Show" to "Pop Psychology?" I thought "Picture Show" was a lot darker lyrically and a lot more frenetic musically.
Tyler Glenn: Yeah, I think "Pop Psychology"(is) kind of a blend of our first two records. It’s probably the most high-energy album we’ve put out, the slickest and most concise. I think it has elements of both.
EDGE: I definitely thought it was more vibrant and more vividly bright in structure. One song that immediately stuck in my head was "Love in the 21st Century." What motivated you to write this song?
Tyler Glenn: I think I’ve been very, sort of disenchanted with the whole modern technology movement. As far as having to talk to people through Apps and meet people online. I feel like straight or gay, we’re kind of in this boat right now where me and my friends are only meeting people through Apps. That’s about it and our chances are getting slimmer and slimmer. I thought it was an interesting topic that I hadn’t always heard on a song before.
About the timing
EDGE: Right and the song is so lyrically clever as well. Before you came out to your family and friends and told your band mates, describe some of your inner difficulties in making this decision?
Tyler Glenn: I think just timing. I don’t know if I was ever... of course I was aware. Being even six-years old, I was aware that I had an attraction to guys. You know, I think it’s sort of being brought up in a community where it’s not always necessarily glorified or accepted. That sort of led me to hide it. I don’t know... I got to the point where I didn’t feel like I was hiding it and I was in this band and we sort of existed in this community where it was okay.
I had been seeing guys privately. It just became something that had caught up with me and that kind of drove me crazy after awhile. I needed to get to the point where I was honest with my loved ones. You know, I’m glad the band was encouraging and saying ’Yeah, you should come out publicly in the band and we would always support you.’ It’s been really, really refreshing.
EDGE: I bet that’s a tremendous weight off your shoulders.
Tyler Glenn: Totally. I think if your family and friends aren’t going to love it... no one will. I think once I got that out of the way, I wasn’t worried about announcing it more in a public way. The people that matter the most to me and that I saw everyday were accepting and loving.
EDGE: That’s great. In writing the new songs, was there a song that was more challenging to write than the others?
Tyler Glenn: I don’t know if anything was ’challenging.’ I hope I don’t sound like an idiot when I say that.
There was sort of a real finesse and ease to this record that maybe wasn’t always on the last albums. I think because we took our time and I wrote a lot of the record and recorded a lot of the record in different areas, just like in a studio. I went on location. My producer went to Santa Monica and got a beach house. I treated it like a carefree situation so that the songs were easier to bring to the forefront. That’s sort of a long answer for not really saying anything...
Most powerful song
EDGE: No, I totally understand what you’re saying. It was a more relaxed situation. It’s interesting. Do you think getting that weight off your shoulders of hiding your sexuality -- did that have anything to do with how the songwriting process went for you?
Tyler Glenn: Interesting enough, I think the album helped me come out honestly. I hadn’t come out to anyone and it was sort of in the last few weeks of the record and my producer had a question about one of the songs and what it was about. It was a song called "Teenager in Love" and I told him it was about a gay man who is closeted and in love with his straight best friend. He was puzzled but he said, ’That’s an interesting topic to write about.’ I told him, ’Can I share actually a part of me that I haven’t told anyone? A lot of it has to do with some of the topics on the record and that I’m gay.’ He was so overwhelmingly positive and even excited for me. That was the first time I ever associated good things with being gay. It was always something I kind of had to hide you know? That became the catalyst.
EDGE: Yeah, there are so many elements of Neon Trees that harken back to the 1980s with a modern energy because of the band and you. Your voice is like a hybrid of Billy Idol, Michael Hutchinson and Bryan Adams. Neon Trees still has it going on which is a remarkable accomplishment these days in the music industry.
Tyler Glenn: Oh wow. Thank you, that’s so nice. Thank you.
EDGE: The new song "Living in Another World" is truly open and of course, autobiographical. Will you share the process of writing this song and what it means to you in doing it? It’s positive, but at times there are aspects of the lyrics where it really is ’living in another world’ where you’re faced with being gay and having to deal with all that stuff, but at the same time, it rings as a positive as well.
Tyler Glenn: Yeah, I think I was always so good at compartmentalizing. I felt like most of my twenties I led a double life in a way, not in a way where I felt like I was being deceiving, but I definitely felt like I was living in another world. I love that song sometimes the most because it is the most powerful to sing live for me. It is the most expressive about where I was and where I am now. I love the line, ’I guess I’ve always been this way, it’s been hard for me to say’ which is completely about accepting my sexuality. But, I love that I kept it open enough where I’ve heard now that fans have adopted it as their own sort of song that they love for other reasons. Whether it’s something about them that they don’t love that they’ve chosen to accept, that has nothing to do with sexuality.
Yeah, I love that song. It’s really anthemic but in a different way than "First Things First" which is an obvious anthem but this one is special and subtle in its power I guess.
slug>EDGE: Definitely and the pacing has to that tempo to it.
Tyler Glenn: Yeah, it’s still got energy but it’s weirdly open. Yeah, I know what you mean.
EDGE: Let’s talk about another one "Voices in the Hall." What a melancholy, sad ballad. It was so wonderful to hear such a stripped down element in your voice with that.
Tyler Glenn: It’s the last song that we did for the record. The record was almost done and I felt like the pacing was too... it was like an ’eleven’ the whole time. The arrangements were very tight and everything was very high energy and to the point. I wanted a moment on the record to give the ears a little bit of relaxation. I wrote "Voices in the Hall" sort of in a pattern the way Bruce Springsteen’s "I’m on Fire" is where it’s this lullaby and this repetitive, simple structure.
Yeah, singing it live now on tour, it’s a cool moment in the show. It’s the quietest moment in the show as well. I get to just sit and tell the audience where I was and where I am now. It’s a cool moment because I’ve actually almost broken up a little bit while singing it live the last couple of nights. It does take me back to these relationships that I had that I wasn’t able to tell anyone about. And now, they are long gone and kind of non-existent. They were really special, and to me they do feel like ghosts. That was the whole point of the song really.
EDGE: You made me think of Judy Garland sitting on the edge of the stage singing "Over the Rainbow." It’s one of those special moments.
Tyler Glenn: Yeah, that’s awesome. Maybe I’ll sit at the edge of the stage tonight and sing it. That’s a good idea. I like that.
EDGE: You’re right at the beginning of this major summer tour. How has the experience been playing the new songs live?
Tyler Glenn: It’s super. I feel like we’ve been playing the same set for so long. Now, with this new tour, we’ve taken some of the older songs that we really didn’t pay much attention to live as much and got to implement them and restructure all the songs. But I think it’s all been due to the new record kind of dictating this new energy. It’s cool that we can get away with playing so many new songs off an album. Sometimes fans need to get use to it before they come to your show. We just put the record out a little over a month ago. We’ve been able to get away with it and there hasn’t been a lag in the show, when you play new material. Sometimes, you can feel that when you play something new that someone doesn’t know. I think it’s a testament to the songs being able to translate live in an energetic way. They’re fun and they’re catchy and some of those quiet moments go over really well too. I think a lot of people expect a Neon Trees show to be really fun...but we do try and sneak some of that serious stuff in and that art creed in as well.
EDGE: How was it appearing on "Chelsea Lately" for you? That was in and out real fast huh?
Tyler Glenn: Yeah, she’s my favorite comedian. I’ve watched her show since it premiered in probably 2007. I’ve watched her show every night, every episode, if I have to download it, then I will. It was something that I just wanted to be able to check off. It was like, ’Can we do this?’ She actually is a fan of the music, so it just worked. I know she definitely likes gay people and she also has this weird love for Mormons because her sister and her mom are Mormons. It was an interesting connection right off the bat. It was like a funny, fun interview. I didn’t let her get away with treating me like... uh, shit. (laughter) Or sometimes, she does bully her guests a little bit. I just thought it was really fun. I was glad I got to do it.
EDGE: Excellent. Will you finish this sentence for me, ’Tyler Glenn is...?’
Tyler Glenn: The happiest version of himself.
EDGE: Ahhh, thanks so much.
Tyler Glenn: I appreciate it.
Neon Trees’s "Pop Psychology" is available at Amazon.com
The 2014 Neon Trees Tour continues throughout the summer. For a complete list of the band’s tour dates, visit visit the Neon Trees website.