Out performer, and former Mormon, discusses coming out, Neon Trees latest album, and COVID-19
At a mere 36 years old, Tyler Glenn has lived a life worthy of being made into a major motion picture. From growing up as a conservative Mormon to hitting it big as the lead of rock band Neon Trees, to coming out as gay in Rolling Stone, to starring in Kinky Boots on Broadway (and everything in between).
Known for hits like “Animal,” “Everybody Talks,” and “Sleeping With A Friend”—after a six years hiatus in which Tyler Glenn released his solo record “Excommunication”—Neon Trees is back with their highly anticipated fourth studio album, I Can Feel You Forgetting Me. Upon release, Tyler sat down with me to spill all the tea.
Congratulations on the new album! Compared to your previous albums, how did the recording process differ this time around?
Tyler Glenn: With Habits, we had forever to make it because it was our first record. However, once you start getting into the groove of touring, as with Picture Show and Pop Psychology, you have a shorter time span to build a body of work due to the schedules involved. This time around, we wanted to come back at a time when we were all ready as well as had the body of work prepared to push. With this new album, we had a lot more space to experiment. And I got to write approximately 40 songs. I had the time to analyze what story I wanted to convey and how I wanted to tell it. I felt very supported by the band on this record, as the pressure was very low, which ultimately helped foster a more creative environment.
How does I Can Feel You Forgetting Me compare to your last album (Pop Psychology)?
TG: In terms of content, production, themes or the recording process?
All around especially being as it has been six years since the band released a studio album, and having done solo work in between, was it a new experience?
TG: There are a few factors I can point to being different. When I wrote Pop Psychology I was still in the closet. At the time I was writing about themes of identity and definitely hiding messages more than I had in previous records. The difference this time around is that I have been out of the closet for six years. I have also been out of the Mormon Church I was raised in for close to four years now. Going into this album, I was writing from a level playing field without limitations. I attributed much of that to coming out, being secure in who I am and leaving behind trappings which limited me in the past. At the same time, that is not to throw shade on previous records, because I have always been as honest as I could in the moment. You only can know what you know. I have also done a lot of soul searching between Pop Psychology and I Can Feel You Forgetting Me.
Since coming out in Rolling Stone you’ve starred in Kinky Boots on Broadway, collaborated with Imagine Dragon’s Dan Reynolds on HBO’s Believer documentary, and now contributed to the Love Victor soundtrack. Are you happy to see LGBTQ themes receiving more recognition within the mainstream media?
TG: I am over the moon about it! Although we are not even there yet in terms of representation. I still recall being closeted in my twenties—only the previous decade—and there was barely any relatable material out there. You really had to dig deep to find queer themes, films, documentaries, etc. I see a lot of mainstream access which LGBT people did not have going back only ten years ago. I think this has a lot to do with the internet and streaming platforms being able to produce a broader range of content. If I had a movie like Love Simon or television series like Love Victor when I was a teenager, I probably would have felt more at peace with who I was by being able to identify with that character. It brings me a ton of joy to be a part of these projects, and moreover, that these stories are finally being told.
Do you have any similar projects lined up?
TG: I am writing a book, more of a capsule memoir, which I would eventually like to option for television or film. I would love to have a larger role in the visual storytelling community. I have been able to do that to some degree through music videos and HBO’s Believer. I have my sights set on that direction and essentially making more than albums.
You sang the theme song, “Somebody to Tell Me,” for the Hulu series Love Victor. Was this track intended for your album or was it written for the show?
TG: The song was actually written for the show. My friend, Leland, was sort of the music supervisor for the first season of Love Victor. He has written for Troye Sivan, Selena Gomez and RuPaul’s Drag Race. It was a very natural and effortless collaboration. We recorded in January not knowing when the show was going to premiere. I am grateful that Love Victor premiered during quarantine, when many felt isolated, and it coincided with Pride month. Quarantine resulted in many Pride festivities being cancelled. The fact that Love Victor premiered in June made Pride meaningful being as quarantine changed the outward expression of Pride this year. I also loved how well received the song was. I did not expect such a strong response!
What was more difficult: coming out of the Mormon Church or coming out as gay?
TG: I don’t want to minimize the experience of coming out because it took me until I was 30-years-old to come out which I consider partially late. Nevertheless, when I came out I received so much warmth that the fear dissipated once the secret was out. However, leaving the Mormon faith is a different animal because it is so imbedded within your culture, lifestyle, family and even my band mates to some degree. It is a weird period of your life when you decide those principles don’t serve you anymore. I also handled it in a public and forward manner with my solo record. It made the process very difficult. It truly is a crisis of faith because for a while I felt truly alone and uncertain. I grew up thinking one way only to realize my belief system completely changed. At the end of the day, I am grateful for that journey however it has been far more difficult than declaring who I am and living my truth. I have been on a good path, so I am happy I made those decisions.
Your solo album awfully differs from your new album with the band. How do you balance being a solo artist and headlining Neon Trees?
TG: I only recorded one true solo record under my name outside of the theme song for the Love Victor series. I do not consider the sound of my solo record to be definitive of what I sound like with the band. At that time, I was making a detailed record about specific situations I was experiencing. I sought to use sonics that did not make sense in the traditional way we create music as a band. Ultimately, Excommunication helped me grow as a writer as made evident in this new album with Neon Trees. There were certain messages, lyrics, tones and sounds I was able to express on my solo album and later bring into this new record with the band. I also don’t feel obligated to make my next solo record sound anything like Excommunication.
How has the COVID–19 pandemic affected the music industry, and more specifically, you and the band this year?
TG: I am cognizant that it has affected every industry. This isn’t a woe-is-me issue however; it is truly heartbreaking to witness how many artists are trapped. Many artists, outside of those within the top tier, rely on live concerts and touring schedules to get their music heard and survive. We have been fortunate to have an established career for a decade, however, we were still affected in that we had a hefty calendar planned out to promote the new record. As an artist, it is frightening to observe the industry in such a flux state. It is even sadder to see the crew we hired for touring have their jobs completely taken away from them as well as these music venues, who sustain on bands playing every night, shut down. As an artist I always have the ability to create, yet it is daunting to keep waiting on when we can tour again.
In closing, what song on this record is most meaningful to you?
TG: The record as a whole is meaningful (laughs). There is a song, “Mess Me Up,” I am proud of as a writer and producer. As Neon Trees, we never had a wide array of midtempo ballads, and I think we did well with this one. The melody is interesting, the lyrics are heartbreaking, and I think it checks all the boxes across the board.
- Download “I Can Feel You Forgetting Me” on Apple Music or Google Play
- Stream “I Can Feel You Forgetting Me” on Spotify or Pandora
- Purchase merch on NeonTrees.com