Interview: How Mental Illness & Sex Inspired Neon Trees’ New Album
By Shannon Carlin
Since 2009, when Neon Trees released their debut single “Animal,” the band—and more specifically that song—have been nearly impossible to avoid. At its height, “Animal” was not only being played nearly every hour on both alternative and Top 40 radio, but was all over the TV with synchs in Chevy and Vegas commercials. The Top 15 hit would go on to be covered by Glee and Taylor Swift — and was even translated into Simlish for The Sims 3.
Two years later, the band returned to the charts with “Everybody Talks,”off 2012’s Picture Show. It, too, did well on the charts (No. 6 on the Hot 100), and earned more Glee love. They did another commercial, this time for Buick Verano, which not only featured “Everybody Talks” but the band itself.
It was all very exciting for the Provo, Utah band, but success started to take a toll on Glenn. “I always felt like we were playing catch-up,” the singer told Radio.com. “And I always felt mentally, even like physically, I was figuring out who I was on stage… and that was a weird sort of thing for me to struggle with while gaining more popularity.”
At some point, Glenn says, he started having an unhealthy outlook on life and told his bandmates—guitarist Christopher Allen, bassist Branden Campbell and drummer Elaine Bradley—that he wanted a break. The foursome canceled their tour and Glenn started seeing a therapist who helped him feel happy again. “It took a little while,” Glenn admits. “And there’s a lot of things I’m still working on.”
The band’s upcoming record, Pop Psychology (out April 22), is the result of Glenn’s therapy sessions. “At moments there’s a cry for help and sadness,” he said of his band’s third album. “But I think it’s a real fun pop record at the heart of it and something with a message too.”
Glenn admitted that he has always been a “strangely honest” person who often shares too much with his friends and family. So when it came to writing this album, he never felt like he had to hide the demons he was facing. If anything, he felt it would be a disservice to keep his mental issues a secret.
“There are some people that really come to our shows kind of clinging on to something, and I didn’t want to stand up in the front of the stage and say, ‘Be yourself and be happy with who you are’ if I wasn’t,” Glenn explained. “I felt like it was lie.”
There’s a lot of stigma attached to the term “mental illness,” something Glenn was well aware of. “Mental illness, I think, sounds kind of scary to some people, but I think it’s something a lot of us go through, whether we want to label it as a condition or not,” he said. Glenn then noted a line in one of his songs: “I found out I’m stronger than the pills.” He said the lyric is about his own realization that he can get happy just sitting down with someone and talking about what’s bothering him. “That’s not a knock to people who do have to have that in their lives,” Glenn said. “But I was really excited to see actual steps for the first time in a decade. It seemed like I hadn’t made a lot of progression in my life, other than career things.”
The singer, who just turned 30, said the new album is definitely more grown-up, dealing with his own emotions and relationships. Even those of a sexual kind. The album’s first single, “Sleeping With a Friend,” tells the cautionary tale of hooking up with someone you’re close with—something Glenn experienced, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend.
While Glenn knew that a song about his sex life certainly invited questions, he wasn’t sure how his Mormon parents would react to the song. And while the song is sexy (Glenn thinks it’s got a “Prince quality” to it), he’s leaving the rauchy S&M club-bangers to the likes of Rihanna and Robin Thicke. “I’m an awkward guy and so it’s not about me trying to desperately hook up,” Glenn explains. “It’s more about…the danger involved and the risk. So it’s very dorky. It’s a dorky song.”
“Dorky” is Glenn’s word of choice when it comes to describing the sexier songs on the new album, including “Text Me in the Morning.” The song, Glenn is quick to say, should not be interpreted as a sequel to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” It’s more about him evading a girl who’s trying a little too hard to bed him.
The subject matter on Pop Psychology is definitely a little more risqué, as is the sound. For their third album, Glenn and his bandmates chose to take a page from Peter Gabriel’s 1986 album, So, and the way the ex-Genesis member approached pop music. “[Gabriel] was such an experimental abstract guy, prior to that, and then he really dialed into that pop thing,” Glenn said of Gabriel’s fifth studio album, which in his opinion helped make “pop less dirty.”
The Trees wanted to make this one a bit more lush than their previous two albums and this focus on rhythmic patterns, gave the band’s drummer a chance to finally show her stuff. “Elaine was always kind of underused on our records and then people come to see us live and are like, ‘Wow, she’s like her own thing. This is incredible!'” Glenn said. “And then I’d get jealous and be like, ‘No, watch me!'”
Glenn’s just joking around, but he’s not quite so jocular on the band’s upcoming single “I Love You, But I Hate Your Friends.” The song, which Glenn says the band will release around Valentine’s Day, is a revenge song for all those bitter lovers out there to dance to. “I think there’s a lot of people that can relate to that feeling so I decided to be straightforward with it,” Glenn said.
The band plans to release a new song every month until the album is released, focusing on tracks that Glenn says aren’t as radio friendly, but will show their scope. This includes his favorite song on the album, closing track “First Things First,” which includes the hook, “You are never gonna get everything you want in this world, first thing’s first, get what you deserve.” The song tells the story of him and Allen leaving California to start a band in Utah, of all places.
“There was so much uncertainty to that, but there was like this real zest of like anything’s possible,” Glenn said. The track’s message is a simple one: never give up on your dreams. “I know that’s cheesy,” Glenn said with a smile. “But I’m a cheesy guy at 30, and I’m happy.”