From Bumbershoot: Neon Trees' Tyler Glenn on 'Pop Psychology' and more!
There is one major lesson I learned at Bumbershoot this year: just because a band isn't playing the MainStage doesn't mean they can't attract as many people. The audience surrounding the Fisher Green Stage for Neon Trees was so large that it overflowed onto the sidewalk and even up the stairs. Everyone went wild when the band started playing and vocalist Tyler Glenn started belting out some incredible notes. And it just got better and better - people continued to get more and more excited as the show went on!
You'd think that spending every night on tour with an audience full of screaming fans would send the members of Neon Trees' heads out into space, but you might be surprised to know that they are an incredibly down-to-earth band who has worked really hard to get where they are. "I think there have been nice ebbs and flows in our career that I guess the public doesn’t always see. We were a band years before we ever got success," he explained. "Even though it seemed instant to a lot of people - we were a band in a van writing songs for years."
After a wildly successful second album, Neon Trees recently released their third record, Pop Psychology, and it is the purest form of reflection thus far for the band. Tyler continued, "I came out this record so I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time and I think the band is really balanced, whether they got married or started families. Things that have happened in our personal lives are impacting what we are doing creatively, so this has been a fun record to play shows with and be our fullest selves."
You've probably heard the first single from the album, "Sleeping With a Friend," and it's a very accurate reflection of the pop hooks you will hear on Pop Psychology. I had a great time talking to Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees - please enjoy our conversation below!
How excited are you to be here at Bumbershoot?
Tyler: We’re excited! I personally am excited because I’ve wanted to play this festival for a while and, as a band we also have, so I’m stoked. The weather is nice, there’s lots of people outside - it’s cool!
Well I would love to talk about your latest album, did you take a different approach to this record compared to your past records?
Tyler: Yeah, I think just organically you kind of do that on your third record because you’ve made a few other ones. And we did it on our own time, so that provided a space of time where we could take some time with it. I wanted to really use the studio this time so a lot of the songs were written and recorded with the band and then Tim and I broke all of the songs apart and rebuilt them. I always liken it to a Jenga tower - and we tried to make it as solid as possible.
It was cool, we really played with a lot of rhythms and sounds and effects this time, which I think added some freshness to the songs. But I think the songs still sound like our band - a little more slick though.
Neon Trees rose to fame relatively quickly, how has that impacted you and what have you learned from it?
Tyler: I think there have been nice ebbs and flows in our career that I guess the public doesn’t always see. We were a band years before we ever got success. So, I think we were prepared for that. Even though it seemed instant to a lot of people - we were a band in a van writing songs for years.
When it finally came, it was very quick, but I think we’ve slowly gotten into the mode of understanding what our career is and understanding what our band is to our fans. And that’s been fun - to realize our identity. I think we’re finally more confident than we used to be. When you’re thrust into a spotlight like that, sometimes you either have to overcompensate by acting a certain way or looking a certain way in a photo.
I came out this record so I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time and I think the band is really balanced, whether they got married or started families. Things that have happened in our personal lives are impacting what we are doing creatively, so this has been a fun record to play shows with and be our fullest selves.
If you hadn’t been in the public eye, do you think that coming out would’ve been a different experience for you?
Tyler: Maybe. I never thought I had to come out and I never saw the importance. Writing this record, a lot of the songs had to do with my identity. I had gone to therapy, I still talk to her - my therapist - so I’m not totally well adjusted. [laughs] But…
None of us really are…
Tyler: Yeah, I don’t think anyone wants to be fully well-adjusted, that would be boring! Because the music sort of had something to do with my identity, I wanted to serve the album and the music and it gave me some security. I think music has always been - and I know this sounds super cliche - but it’s always been my favorite thing and the thing that I trust the most. Because it had to do with music, I think that’s why I was able to come out publicly that way. But I didn’t see the importance - now I see the importance because of so many people reaching out and saying, “wow, you’re story means a lot to me…the fact that you’ve tried to maintain a spiritual side and a religious side and still do your thing and own who you are…” That stuff has made me realize that no matter who you are or what you look like, your story can be important to somebody if you have a platform. Maybe if I wasn’t in a band it would’ve been a more of a quiet thing that I just told my family and friends but because I was able to do it and it’s come off in a way that it has helped people - I’m stoked on that.
How have your goals for your career and for your life changed from your songwriting in a van days to now?
Tyler: They haven’t changed in the last few months. Creatively, it’s fun to not be as boxed in anymore and to be able to talk about new things. I never want to sound like we made a record on a tour bus - we never want to sound detached from our personal lives. I think that’s why I bring my friends out on tour. I try to maintain a sense of normalcy because when you’re on tour and you’re doing interviews and you’re being photographed, you can get into that bubble where it’s not reality. I think if you keep grounded and still have the friends and family that you’ve had all your life, it reflects and I think people feel that in the music. That’s been the ultimate thing - just maintaining that level of reality and being cool to the people that have liked us for a long time. Not getting a big head or getting too excited, I guess…maintaining a nice human level.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
Tyler: I don’t know if it was ever directly advice - but more observing people that I look up to. There are two that come to mind: Gwen Stefani and Mike Ness from Social Distortion. When I met them, they were very down to earth and very regular. I had actual conversations with them for a while - more than just trying to get a picture or talking about the industry. That spoke to me. It’s rad and it’s okay and it’s possible to be a cool person and still have a ton of success and be idolized by people - you can still be down to earth. I don’t know if it was direct advice, but I definitely learned that from them being my heroes for a long time and then meeting them. I’m scared to meet some people that I look up to - you don’t want the bubble to be burst, you know.
When you write a song, do you keep it close to your heart or do you detach from it once it’s finished and out there?
Tyler: Ahh, I’m an emotional guy. This last tour we did for the <em>Pop Psychology</em> album was like reliving some of the stories every night we played it. I’ve cried on stage a lot on this tour as well. I think there’s been a lot of emotional weight lifted - just proclaiming my identity and seeing that people still show up, seeing that people still want to know more about the band. So, I don’t detach fully. The singer of CHVRCHES, I remember a quote and she said, “Once we put a song out, it’s not our song anymore, it’s theirs.” And I understand that too, where I feel like, if a song means something to someone else, it can become something to them that maybe it isn’t to you. So, I respect that too, but I still try to put as much personality and story into my music even though it’s good catchy pop music - there’s still a story behind it. So I don’t fully detach.
If you had to choose 3 albums or 3 artists that you always go to when you need inspiration or when you need to get out of your head for awhile, what would you choose?
Tyler: It changes a lot. If you asked us when we first started, it would’ve been Arcade Fire or Bloc Party or The Strokes. I think my go to is always The Smiths because they remain as such a unique band to me. David Bowie because he’s such a chameleon and I think you can put any of his records on and it will be a different flavor. I’ve been really inspired by my two favorite bands that are current - one of them being Twin Shadow, who’s playing outside in just a few minutes. But good pop music too, like No Doubt and even a Britney Spears album is fascinating to me sometimes.
Thank you so much Tyler!
Tyler: Absolutely, thanks for the questions, they were cool!