Neon Trees' Tyler Glenn on Coming Out in Utah
Is it true that clothes make the band?
Photo by Andrew Zaeh
Neon Trees quickly transitioned from a band with one radio hit to a sensation that demands our full attention. As their fan base grows, so does the strength of their songwriting and the frequency of costume changes. And with so many people looking, the little band with a big sound from Provo, Utah, puts the spotlight on a host of issues, including embracing their Mormonism and sticking to their faith while living life as rock stars on the road. Religious beliefs not only serve as a foundation for the band; they also made it especially newsworthy when lead singer Tyler Glenn announced something very personal this April.
Glenn is a figurehead in Provo and the surrounding small, homogeneous Mormon towns. After hitting the airwaves, he quickly emerged as someone the kids there could look up to and say, "Hey, he made it!" So when Glenn came out of the closet, it wasn't simple or expected. He shattered expectations for Mormon musicians and did it with class. There were so many eyeballs on him, he knew that the only way to be a bigger inspiration to his community was by being true to himself.
A recent Rolling Stone story shined a light on his upbringing and on how music gave him solace during confusing times. But the story didn't cover the reaction of his small, conservative town to his big news, so before Neon Trees play Revolution Live, we asked him about it.
New Times: Your first big break was opening for the Killers. How did that happen?
Tyler Glenn: Branden [Campbell, bass] actually went to high school with their drummer, Ronnie [Vanucci], and they remained friends. Branden was in a lot of bands before us, so it wasn't like he used his connection to get us a spot; it was more because Ronnie came to one of our shows in Las Vegas. I think there were about ten people there. He was just really impressed with the way we played even though it was playing for no one. I think he saw the potential, so he invited us out to do some shows, and it got a lot of attention because it was like, "Who is this little band from Utah opening up for the biggest American band at the time?" It was a big deal for us.
You personally are starting to get known for quite the epic wardrobe. What do you go through when putting together another big outfit?
Lately, it has been a lot of color and reflective stuff, because I think it looks cool with the light show that we have. And I think our whole current record is really about the color and celebration of life in general. I want to be the most colorful I have been in a long time. It's hard because I have to plan it out — either get it made or buy something and then get it altered and tailored. It takes a lot of thought. But I have been dressing up since I was 12 years old; it's always been one of my favorite things to do to express how I am feeling, and it's fun to have a career that gives you the opportunity to be outlandish and entertaining.
As a band, you have stuck to your roots and don't drink or do drugs. What is that like when you are on tour — do you separate yourself from that world, or have you found a way to cope and be yourself within it?
We are not the lifestyle police; we have never been that way. I myself have a lot of friends that lead different lifestyles. We aren't freaked out by it. When we can, we have a dry tour where we try to keep the show focused on the music, and after the show, the crew can go do what they want. Everyone can live how they want to live.
I think it helps the band to stay focused. We have crazy hours when we are touring. We are constantly doing promotional things and wanting to be sober for our fans. It just helps us stay grounded. Whether or not everyone does it for their religious beliefs, I think it has just been a nice way to stay fresh and aware of things going on. It's never been too much of an issue.
The Rolling Stone story focused on what you were going through before you came out. Can you tell us about the reaction of your hometown once that news became public?
I got a lot of great respect and great feedback from people locally. That was the group of people that I was the most interested in how they would react. I wasn't worried or anxious, but I was definitely interested in which direction it would go. In Provo and the surrounding cities, it is very conservative and, for lack of a better word, whitewashed.
At the same time, there is culture. I think there is lot more culture than people realize. I think there was an air of people being refreshed that I was open and honest, talking about my story candidly but also talking about my faith candidly and that I was balancing both as gracefully as I could. I think when you are honest and open in general, people can't find fault in it if it is the real deal. There is really nothing left to judge.
I would be interested to see how that inspires other people living in Provo.
Provo actually had its first pride festival last year, and it was really small, but it was really crazy to think that this really Mormon town is having a gay pride day. It's really exciting that the community is open to letting LGBT youth and adults celebrate. I think it's really cool, and I think that now that that one year has happened, it's going to be cool to see it continue to grow.
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