In 2010, Provo, Utah-based band Neon Trees, which includes vocalist Tyler Glenn, guitarist Chris Allen, bassist Branden Campbell and drummer Elaine Bradley, released its debut album, Habits, in which the world was introduced to the memorable, melodious song “Animal.” The year 2012 brought Picture Show, where “Everybody Talks” showed the band’s ability to craft frenetic yet controlled creations.
Today, “Animal” continues to be habitually played, while “Everybody Talks” has become forever engraved in listeners, remaining a permanently picturesque pattern of euphony. And Neon Trees continues to light up the world with their latest album, Pop Psychology.
The Pop Psychology journey embarks with “Love in the 21st Century,” a heart-thumping song about the difficulties with love in modern times. The lyrics and musicianship create a buzzing and bouncing balance, leaving the creation both catchy and subtle.
“Sleeping With A Friend” is a polished, intimate ode about friends with benefits. The gently penetrating vocals, delicately pulsating guitar and lightly exploding drums combine to create an old-school yet modern sound.
“Voices In The Halls” darkly shines and brightly haunts as Glenn sings, “I can taste your lemonade. Bittersweet like every summer fling.” Neon Trees creates a mysterious, ghost-like aura with an eerily flowing rhythm combined with a pleasant and smooth synth-driven melody.
The album concludes with “First Things First,” a lyrical photo album. With a solid beat and raw reminiscing, the band’s story and its members’ individual narratives are the underlying forefront. This piece lightly touches upon the subject of how each member of Neon Trees has truly grown not only creatively with their music, but also personally in their lives.
Glenn, originally from Temecula, Ca., grew up listening to Michael Jackson and Morrissey, and in high school knew music was his passion. But Glenn was also considered “different” to those in his hometown, in both appearance and behavior, as he created extravagant outfits and took ballet classes. In April, Glenn opened up about his homosexuality and the torment he faced on whether to make it public or keep it private. With Pop Psychology, the serious yet quirky Glenn shows that his true soul mate has been and always will be music.
As a child, Allen was neighbors with Glenn in Murrieta, Ca., and when Allen moved to Provo, Utah for college, Glenn also decided to make the move. Allen, who also had a deep passion for music growing up, enriches Neon Trees and brings out the spirit of the guitar with his fun, engaging and tenacious talent.
Campbell is Neon Trees’ brilliant and beaming bassist. On Twitter he states, “I live. I love. I bass it up & write songs in Neon Trees!” Not only is he a rock star in Neon Trees, but Campbell is also a rock-star husband and father. Campbell’s son, Connor, suffers from epilepsy and is on the autism spectrum, yet Campbell continues to remain a strong, solid force in both his band and for his family.
Bradley is Neon Trees’ devoted drummer. From making songs on the playground and playing with pots and lids as a child, today Bradley gleams in Neon Trees with her dynamic drumming and her zesty, passionate personality.
Together, each member of Neon Trees combines their talents to produce creations that gently glow deep within listeners through the good, the bad and everything in between. And with their latest album, Pop Psychology, Neon Trees is sonically inspirational and powerfully captures just how healing and freeing music can be.
Neon Trees is currently on tour with Nightmare and the Cat and Smallpools until July. It was a pleasure speaking with guitarist Chris Allen via phone. Allen discussed everything from the formation of Neon Trees and the band’s interests outside of music, to his own dream musical collaboration and personal fashion sense.
Benazir Wehelie: How did all the band members come together to form Neon Trees?
Chris Allen: Myself and Tyler, we were neighbors in Southern California and our dads actually worked at the same office. They knew we were both really into music, so they were the ones that got us together. So, Tyler and I started playing for a bit and then I moved up to Utah to go to massage school. And so Tyler wanted to keep playing music with me so he moved up there just to play music. And then we met with the other band members while we were up in Utah, and they were playing with different bands. We hit it off and at the time, their schedules we freeing up and we were needing a bassist and a drummer, so they joined up with us.
BW: What inspired your latest album, Pop Psychology?
CA: Last year, Tyler was having a hard time emotionally and we took a little bit of a break. He saw a psychologist and it really helped with how he was feeling and it really made him think about a lot of things. He was kind of in a dark place and he wanted to talk about a lot of things that were weighing on him, but he wanted to do it in an upbeat and kind of positive way. He feels better now and kind of wanted to deliver it in a fun way. And that’s kind of the sound of the album — it’s real upbeat and exciting. I think that’s where a lot of the inspiration for the feel of the album came, Tyler seeing a psychologist and kind of sorting out his life and being happy with who he was and with what he was doing.
BW: What would you say you are most proud of from the album?
CA: I really love the song “Living In Another World.” It’s very simple sounding, but it just has a nice groove to it and I really like the words. [Tyler] says at one point, “Four chords and a beat keep me alive.” I think for a lot of our fans, music is just such an important part in their lives and it is what gets them through tough times and inspires them to get out of bed and go about their day.
BW: The music videos are all really creative and fun. What was the creative process when coming up with the concept for the music videos for songs from Pop Psychology?
CA: Tyler works with the directors on that, mostly, and then sends us the ideas and will try to get our feedback or if there’s anything we want to add to it. Actually, a couple of the videos we self-produced and directed. Tyler and his brother were very involved. Tyler’s brother is going to film school and so he shoots the videos and Tyler directs them. It’s cool because we’re really happy with the “I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)” video and the “First Things First” video and those cost us a fraction of what a full-budget, professional video costs. So, we tend to have a DIY approach. We’ve always liked to be involved in every aspect of what we do and our videos are no exception. I think in a lot of ways, some of our favorite things to do are the videos. It’s really fun to get in costumes and act and just let loose. It can be really fun to shoot those videos.
BW: You have toured with many bands. Are there any musicians and bands you would like to collaborate with?
CA: A musician I’ve always really wanted to collaborate with, but I doubt will ever happen, is David Byrne from the Talking Heads. I’ve always really liked him. And Cyndi Lauper would be a really fun collaboration. We all really love her music and we actually met her at the AMA awards last year. She was really sweet. So who knows, maybe that could happen sometime down the road.
BW: You were the special guests opening for Taylor Swift’s RED Tour. What was that experience like?
CA: That was so much fun. Of course, it was in Australia and New Zealand and I’ll take any chance I get to go to those places. So that was fun. There was only seven shows, I think, and we were there for a month so there was a lot of down time. We got to see the sights. She was just a real pleasure to work with and just very nice. Those shows were just amazing, being able to play full stadiums every night was just really cool. Because that’s not really something we’re used to. Every now and then we’ll play a show that’s that big, but it will be for a special event or something, but actually doing a tour where every night is like that is kind of crazy. And especially when people are singing along to your songs, it’s very surreal.
BW: Is there any stadium in particular you’ve always wanted to play at?
CA: The Hollywood Bowl is a venue I’ve really wanted to play. I don’t know what the capacity is, but it’s pretty big and I think it would be considered a stadium. The Hollywood Bowl would be really cool. We all went to see REM a few years back, right before they broke up. They played with Modest Mouse and the National and we saw them at the Hollywood Bowl and that was really cool.
BW: The whole band has a unique fashion sense. How would you describe your style, specifically?
CA: I think Saturday morning cartoons is how I would describe it. Pee-wee Herman. Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
BW: Do you have a favorite costume?
CA: I just recently had a bunch of shirts made. Me and my wife went and bought a fabric and buttons and had this lady that we know make a bunch of shirts. And I think that’s going to be my favorite thing to wear. Also, I just had a custom guitar made. The entire thing is painted blue. The body and the neck and the headstock, just the whole thing, so it kind of looks like it’s made out of a chunk of plastic. I kind of just wanted to make it look like a toy. Yeah, I guess we can consider that as a kind of accessory, kind of a piece of fashion.
BW: When not working on music, what does the band enjoy doing outside of that?
CA: Well, we all love movies, our last album being Picture Show and all the videos we had done on that were movie-related. Whenever we get a day off we like to watch movies. Individually, we have our own things that we really like. Elaine really likes working out and playing sports. And I really like a bunch of different things. I like motorcycles, working on things, remodeling houses. We just all have a lot of interests. I don’t know what other common other stuff besides like movies. We love being busy.
BW: How long have you been playing guitar?
CA: I started playing guitar in eighth grade. I guess about 21 years or something like that, 21, 22 years. So, most of my life.
BW: Do you play any other instruments?
CA: Not well. I play a little bit of drums and a little bit of bass. Not really piano, but I mess around a little bit. But yeah, pretty much just guitar.
BW: Your tour has officially begun and will continue until July. What do you enjoy most about touring?
CA: I like having a routine. I like it when we’re able to get on a bus and have a full set of dates ahead of us. And you know, we play a show, hop on the bus, go to the next place to play another show. You just get real comfortable, the music gets tighter and tighter and you can just see the shows get better and better. I definitely prefer that kind of touring to flying from one city to the other side of the country and just playing a few shows here and there. I like when it’s just kind of packed full.
BW: What should fans look forward to most from this tour?
CA: This tour, there’s going to be a lot more visually going on, on stage. We’ve really invested a lot into making our live show more exciting because we feel like that’s a big focus of our band — actually coming out to the shows. I feel like you don’t fully get the message if you don’t come to the live show to see it. It’s one thing on an iPod, but the songs sound different and there’s a different energy to them and there’s an interaction between us and the crowd that’s just really fun. I think that’s going to be the biggest change, is the visuals. We really put a lot into it this time around.
– Benazir Wehelie