Did someone say Neon Trees? Oh, yeah, THEY’RE BACK. After a brief hiatus that started around 2016, the band is now making their official return with the release of their latest single, “Used to Like.” They teased us all with the release of “Feel Good” in 2017, but this time, it’s for real. I swear.
After opening for The Killers in 2008, Neon Trees blew up in 2010 with their first (and breakthrough!) single, “Animal.” Which, in case you were wondering, still slaps. The band has been churning out bops ever since, including hits like “Sleeping with a Friend” and “Everybody Talks.”
In honor of the release of their new single, Neon Trees lead singer Tyler Glenn talked with L’Officiel USA about his solo album, creative freedom, and "turning the lights back on in the band."
Photo credit: Jen Rosenstein
Tell me a little about your background and how Neon Trees got together.
We met in Provo, Utah years ago, when I was 23. We started the band locally and then started writing and touring regionally. We got a couple of shows with The Killers at the beginning of our career, got a deal, and started putting out records professionally in 2010. Our first single, "Animal," was actually our breakthrough, which was very unexpected. Then it was a wild ride, honestly. Three records later and a couple of hits, it's like we got chewed up and spit out on the other end. A lot of it has been really nice to look back on in the rearview, but the process of going through it was kind of a whirlwind.
We took a bit of a break in 2016 and I did a solo record. That was thematically about me coming out, coming to terms with my sexuality, embracing it, and also leaving my Mormon faith. It was a very empowering record and creatively, it helped me bust through a ceiling. I did the show Kinky Boots on Broadway last summer for 13 weeks and then started writing our fourth record last fall. And...here we are.
Let’s talk a bit about your solo record, Excommunication.
The band was supportive of me doing a solo project and the label that we’re on is very supportive, but in the midst of it, I began to have a bit of a faith crisis. There was a bit of doubling down on some anti-homosexual/LGBT rhetoric from the church, and I began to really analyze it for the first time. I had always just accepted that I was less than because I believed in that faith. But at the end of 2015, I started to spiral. I needed to find my footing. I poured myself into writing songs dealing with losing faith in God and embracing living a life shame-free. It was very authentic, and kind of a blur, because I was so enveloped with all of the emotions that I was going through. Releasing it was very important, but a part of me had to put it on the shelf after I'd put it out and played some shows on it.
2017 for me was very much trying all the things that I didn't try because I let myself self-edit all the time. I was given the gift of an audition for Kinky Boots on Broadway and got the role. That came at a perfect time. It took me out of what I was living in and what I was feeling; it was a bit of tunnel vision. I moved to New York and got to pour myself into a character eight times a week, a completely new creative experience. It naturally led to me wanting to come back and do the band. I hadn't really wanted to genuinely write in the band for a bit because I didn't want to go backward; I always wanted to move forward, especially creatively. The solo record really helped me do that. Since then, I've felt more organic and more my voice in Neon Trees than ever. It's been the first time since our first album 10 years ago that I’ve felt that rush again for the band specifically. It all feels really good.
Tell me about the band in this “new era.” What’s new/different?
The four of us were very much those kids that loved bands since they were little, who went to shows when we could, had posters on our walls. Very much music geeks. Ideally, we always wanted to just be in a band that played shows and put out records. I think when you have success and you don't expect it, you're forced to deal with it in real-time. And then so much of life is going on, and I'm trying to find out who I am, but the stages are getting bigger and the stakes are getting higher.
For me, what I notice with the band now is we're very much in our bodies and very human about how we deal with each other, very ego-less about it. I feel support that I never really felt before, and maybe that was just because of the way I perceived things. I don't feel like have to self-edit. Beyond creatively and sound-wise, what's different and pushing us forward is all of us meeting each other where we're at, which is invaluable, especially when you're in a family like we are at this point.
You’ve said you want to “draw a line in the sand” from Neon Trees’ first era to this one. Can you talk about why that is?
Not in any sort of, "We're never playing those songs," or "We're not like reverent of our past and what it's brought us to," but for me, I sometimes don't ultimately recognize that Tyler, that person. I began to appreciate the fact that I've been able to make records the last 12 years of my life and each record is a snapshot of where I was emotionally or where I was in my life, and that's really kind of rad. I came out on our last proper album, but I still wrote it mostly in the closet, and then when I wrote my solo record, it was very much specifically about those feelings. I still wasn't free. This last year, writing for this next phase and this next record has been definitively the freest I've felt creatively. In that way, I want to draw a line in the sand.
Visually I feel like there's a lot more space, and maybe that's also the way the music industry has changed in the last few years. As much as there's so much more content to digest, there's also a lot of real adventure and a lot of excitement, especially in pop music. I think it's really cool. We're very much a band and this feels like we're very much a band again. It's been weirdly positive, whereas the last couple of records, it’s always felt pretty fraught getting to the end with them.
Can you tell me a bit about your new single, “Used to Like”?
Last fall, I went right from New York to LA and started just writing. There's this thread in my life the last few years of this particular person that I developed a really codependent relationship with and the day I was going in to write, which ended up being the session for "Used to Like," we were texting back and forth. I was really frustrated going over to the studio that day, and he said something to the effect of some critique and I texted him, "That was what you used to like about me." Then I was like, wait, that's like really, really, making me feel a way. I took all that and the song was just so immediate. The demo wasn't even finished and I listened to it like a hundred times. Those songs that I've been obsessed with from the incarnation have always meant something really meaningful to me; I don't always do that.
Really the song is just about that last-ditch effort to try to get back to that bliss period in relationship where—I don't know if you've ever felt the same—but there's that initial sort of obsession, and it starts healthy and exciting and then for me, this particular one got really rocky but we held on beyond the expiration date. Like, years beyond. Being out of that has been really exciting and being able to write while I was in that and then write while I was out of that, it's made a really interesting body of work. But that song in particular is, to me, the right way to start this new era.
What is your creative process? has it changed since you first got started?
It's definitely changed. I've been a writer since I was really little. I think it's just technology and the way it advances—a long time ago, I'd probably felt inclined to have to write on a guitar or in voice notes or with the band in the room—what's been really exciting is getting better and better at software and just always writing demos. I had been doing that since after my solo record and it's cool to go and look at ideas that I had in 2016 or 2017, and there is a lyric or a line or a melody that ended up in this body of work that always stuck around.
Now, I'm always continually allowing myself to finish an idea, and whether it's going to make a record or ultimately turn into something else, that's up to whatever. My process has been very much taking the reins and feeling more confident when I do collaborate with people. That probably comes with time. I am a decade into my recording career, or whatever you want to call it, I still feel like I haven't reached a ceiling. Genuinely, I'm not bored with it. I know intrinsically that I still have more to say and experiment with.
If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be?
It's weird because I immediately thought I would love to collaborate with Charli XCX, but I also would love to collaborate with Bruce Springsteen and maybe all three of us should get into a room and it could be the wildest song. I have no idea. But that's kind of like the range that comes to mind. That'd be wild, actually.
What are your hobbies as a group outside of making music, if any?
I always struggle with this, because music to me is not just my job. In my downtime, I like to listen to really long-form conversations. That's why I eat up the fact that podcasts are in...I don't really watch TV or movies. I like to dance; I like to party with my friends. I don't know, I sound very uninteresting. I love clothing, I've loved dressing myself since I could. My downtime is a lot of absorbing creative things. I like weed too, but that's not really a hobby or a personality.
I do really embrace LGBT things and I like specifically listening and going to LGBT events that are affirming because, for me, it's been really important to surround myself with queer people specifically because I tend to keep very insular or go to where I'm comfortable. But again, I don't know if that's a hobby or not. I don't play like tennis, I guess is what I'm saying
What are you most excited about for the future?
I've been very jonesing to be a part of this new musical landscape. Even though we've had songs that have sort of stuck around, and that's such a gift, it's really nice to feel "in it" again and be releasing things; turning the lights back on in the band. It feels like a genuine new day. Maybe I'm making too much of it because I didn't get sleep last night, but I feel very excited about the future. The last few years have felt very in limbo; I feel back in the driver's seat again. Whether or not it succeeds in a monetary way or a chart way or a connection way, I think for me, the output is very important. It just feels really exciting.
You can listen to Neon Trees' new single, "Used to Like," below.