music / Columns

411 Music Interview: Neon Trees

July 31, 2009 | Posted by Brittany Haskins

I had never heard of the Neon Trees up until about a month ago. Judging a battle of the bands, the panel gets to know one another and of course the subject of music is vital in an atmosphere of this nature. After giving this judge a hard time about his horrible taste in music, he challenged me to check out Neon Trees at Cinespace in Hollywood, California. I accepted his challenge. I’ve heard some of their newly recorded songs and was impressed, but was not sure if they could pull off the performance portion of the job.

Rounding up a couple friends we head to Cinespace to check out the band. Considering it was our first time at the club, we were wandering a bit aimlessly but eventually found our way to the stage which of course with our luck, wasn’t open yet. Of course, in the event of having to wait one must always find the alcohol. After paying for our drinks, we downed them and headed towards the now open room which held another bar, couches and a stage. I had just gotten my next drink when the band started. Now remember, I was very skeptical about the integrity of the Neon Trees getting into this, but was soon knocked on my ass by a wave of humiliation because I was so wrong.

Singer Tyler Glenn was born a star and proves it with the moves of Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger’s love child. While he is bouncing around on stage with a homemade jacket of design genius, Elaine Doty is tearing up the drums as if the Hulk were playing them. During an intense drum sequence I heard someone say, “I can’t believe she’s not a dude!” and “that girl is awesome! Look at her get down on those drums!” Chris Allen on the right side of the stage plays guitar with an eerie stoic manner about him, while Branden Campbell dances around as much as he can in his little area he’s got on the left side of the stage. I was extremely impressed by their live show and was even more surprised to say that I think I liked the live show more than the recordings I’ve heard over the last few weeks.

Lucky for me because I was very curious, I got a chance to sit down with Tyler after the show and ask him a few questions. We were sitting in the “backstage” area where it was filled with cigarette smoke and half empty cocktail glasses scattered all around. We squeeze into a crevice in the corner of the room which we agree is relatively more quiet than anywhere else in the building, I decline his invitation to sit down and then we start to chat.

I don’t know much about the band but am genuinely curious, so I ask him to tell me everything about the band. He looks up at me with this look of innocence or distance but frighteningly charming nonetheless, “what do you want to know most?” I realize that maybe that was a little vague so I ask about where they’re from. “We all met in Utah, not all of us are from Utah though. Two of us are from California then Las Vegas and Chicago. We all met in Utah and kind of started the band and moved to L.A.” They all met each other in Utah while they were all in different bands, but eventually created one big “super group”, if you will, and became the Neon Trees. I was curious if what they say about people from Utah is true so I asked him if they were Mormon and if so, did they drink. “We are all Mormon. None of us party – we all kind of dabbled in our teenage years, but we are all pretty much straight edge now.” Sorry guys, no crazy after parties with the Neon Trees unless you’re bringing a 12 pack of water.

I wonder if it is difficult for straight edge Mormon kids to stay sober living the rock star lifestyle in Hollywood. “I grew up in southern California [Temecula] so I’m pretty cultured as far as that experience…We’re really not from Utah but living there everyone’s played in bands and gone to school there. It’s not a big shock because we all kind of dabbled and did our own thing in the teenage years but we’ve decided we just want to keep things clean. ”

Right when I ask Tyler about the band’s influences, some guy puts together and starts playing a flute right next to us, so not only Is it distracting, it’s even harder to hear. On influences, Tyler’s reply is, “a lot.” Unsatisfied, I keep the tape recorder to his mouth and he continues, “We don’t really listen to the flute.” Unfortunately Flute Master Flash didn’t hear him, but just continued playing. “I am really inspired by the Smiths, David Bowie, and New York Dolls. Branden who is really influenced by Motown and everyone’s got their different genres…a lot of Fleetwood Mac surprisingly, too.” With these legends being his influences, the dancing, fashion sense and powerful lyrics are clear to me. “We wanted to write some good sing-a-long songs and I think the songs really touch a lot of people and stay longer. We aren’t afraid of creating pop, being accessible with still having edge.”

Apparently it’s working because they got the opportunity to play some West Coast tour dates with The Killers. “It helped a lot, they’re drummer saw us in Vegas at a really small show and invited us to play a couple west coast shows. It really opened a lot of doors. A lot of people didn’t understand why this little unsigned band from Utah was opening for a big American band, it shook up a lot of people and they wanted to know who we were.” Never being signed to a label before, they were picked up by Mercury Records and are recording their debut album in Los Angeles that should be out in January or February of next year.
Once we are done talking, we walk out and exchange handshakes. I round up my friends and stay at the venue to dance for a little bit before deciding to hit the nearest fast food joint and go home. Walking to the car we run into Tyler again but this time joined with Branden Campbell and his wife (sorry, ladies). While I’m talking to Branden, my friend stops to ask about Tyler’s choice of jacket where he admits to making it himself, and decided to change into a vest onstage in order to put on a good show.

I ask Branden how they got the name Neon Trees and all he says is, “it’s a secret…It’s a long story, really. We just thought it’d be a cool name.” Again unsatisfied, I keep the recorder to his face as he tries to think of the right way to begin his story. When he gives up he asks Tyler to tell me the story; “It’s funny actually because I don’t even eat meat but I was at an In-N-Out, this was back in high school, and they had those neon palm trees and I thought that was a cool name and thought I’d save it.” Interrupting the story I ask Tyler if he is vegan or vegetarian and he explains he’s been vegan for seven years then Branden chimes in to finish off the story, “Cool thing about the lights, when he told me about the palm trees. My dad lives in Las Vegas and he’s an electrician and does signs. And you’ll totally think I’m lying but 15 years ago he was contracted to do all the In-N-Out’s in California. He built and installed those neon palm trees. We didn’t know each other or anything. Isn’t that really weird? You just got chills didn’t you?”

It was an all around awesome night and I will most definitely be checking out Neon Trees again. They put on an amazing live show that will sure to get you on your feet, clap your hands, and shake your ass. They are playing in Las Vegas on August 19th at The Box Office, in Phoenix, Arizona at The Modified on August 20th, and finally back in Los Angeles at the Troubadour on August 22nd. Be sure to check them out and look for their debut album early next year. They’ve also got a web-series that you can watch on their MySpace that follows them around during the recording process.

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Brittany Haskins
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