I’ll admit getting my grump on when I have to listen to a regulated-to-death radio station for longer than 10 minutes. Two songs shoehorned between 22 commercials is hardly entertaining, unless of course, one of the songs is by Utah’s Neon Trees. No stranger to supportive airplay, the band’s single, “Animal,” is a fine, catchy example of radio’s (struggling) potential for influence and support. With “Animal” in steady rotation, and tours with bands like My Chemical Romance and Thirty Seconds To Mars checked off of their to do list, Neon Trees have taken quite nicely to their successes. Frontman Tyler Glenn spoke with me about their appointment as opening act for Duran Duran, about their remarkable year, and about radio’s last, fated hoorah.
Congratulations on landing the opening slot for Duran Duran. I’m not even a musician and I’m insanely jealous. How does it feel to open for such a huge, inspirational pop giant?
It’s crazy. It’s exciting. I think we think of ourselves on our own terms and don’t think we’re entitled to anything we do. To be able to tour with a band that we’ve referenced as an influence and as a great pop-rock act is truly inspiring. That they’re even interested in having us come out on tour with them is pretty cool.
How did that interest come about?
I do know that they liked our record. It’s exciting that they like our music and that’s special. I think getting to tour with them as a direct support act on the tour came from nowhere for us and of course we said yes.
Not to keep drooling over Duran Duran, but I wanted to put Neon Trees’ tour with them in the context of the last year. How is the tour the cherry on top and how has the band developed professionally and artistically from 2010 to 2011?
I like the way you said that. It feels like a nice way to end the record cycle. It’ll be almost two years in January since we started working and promoting this record and “Animal” hit the radio. So just to see the climb and to be able to work from the album after almost two years is I think a rare thing these days. I think it shows that good songs and radio can back a band. That’s exciting because I don’t think a lot of people think that way. Artistically we’ve been able to play a lot of live shows and I feel like even my voice and vocal performance has changed. Not in crazy ways, but it’s gotten stronger and more soulful. We’ve been able to tour with Thirty Seconds To Mars as well as My Chemical Romance and I think those are two giant bands in the rock world who don’t hold back regardless of whether people like them or their music or not. They’re good and obviously it’s working. That’s what’s inspired us to take it that much further on our second record. We always just felt like that kind of band and I think, now that we’ve proven ourselves, we can branch out a little more. I don’t think we’ll sabotage what we’ve created so far though.
Is there a tendency to say that, since “Animal” was so commercially successful, future songs should sound like it?
I think “Animal” sounds the least like everything else on our first record. There’s still going to be songs written for the second record that are just as catchy and energetic and pop sounding. You do realize the kind of band you’ve become once you get a fan base and start seeing the demographic you’re playing for. That definitely comes to mind, but that’s not the sole purpose to continue. I think it’s smart that you realize the kind of band that you are and to have that outlet to create is exciting, instead of questioning what kind of band we’d be viewed as; there’s a lot more seriousness going into the creative process because of it. We’re excited to have people that enjoy our music and we’re just going to continue that vibe.
At this time last year I was in the Salt Lake City area. I’ve read that Neon Trees formed in Provo, UT. The music scene there impressed me.
Yeah, there’s an intense scene scattered through Utah. We were booked from the Provo scene about six years ago. I think the thing we noticed the most was, compared to where me and Chris are from in southern California, you just expect more of a music scene but it’s actually the complete opposite. There’s friendly and sometimes unfriendly competition, but a lot of opportunities to create a little more daring and dangerous music. There are a lot of different types of music coming out of that area. I think more bands that are getting a little more notice, like a band called Fictionist, who was just in the Rolling Stone cover competition. Because it’s a college town as well, there’s great music and culture. And even though there aren’t a lot of bars, there are a lot of all-ages clubs and people are just really there for the music and not to have a drink.
Getting back to what you said about radio’s support for the band; it seems people either hate radio or love it these days. How was it vital to the band’s success?
The people that did reach out to help us were either fans in the industry or fans coming out to our shows. It seems like as far as print media we were kind of overlooked. We weren’t written about in Rolling Stone or Spin. We didn’t get a lot of coverage on blogs but we had fans that rallied behind us. We recognize that as a giant, giant thing for us; without that help, “Animal” wouldn’t have become what it did. To make it as far as it did, to win Billboard Music Awards for Best Alternative Song against Mumford & Sons and a lot of those bands who were quite a bit larger, is just another sign that there’s still great music being supported by radio. I think it’s important to support rock ‘n’ roll because I’ve seen two of my favorite alternative rock stations close. Over the last few months they’ve switched formats to classic rock. To be honest, that’s kind of terrifying.
It’s amazing how they can switch formats at the flip of a switch.
It’s scary! I think bands that come from the alternative or pop rock scene need to speak up more or we won’t have those stations anymore. People can continue to whine about Ke$ha and Justin Bieber all they want, but if they’re not supporting the alternative rock ‘n’ roll formats, then that’s what we’re going to be seeing more of. I’m not saying that we’re the most rock ‘n’ roll band—obviously we’re pop-friendly—but I still consider alternative music to be our home.
Neon Trees will play Rumsey Playfield in Central Park on Sept. 1 and Oak Ridge Park in Clark, NJ, on Sept. 17. For more information, visit neontrees.com.