For all the ways that Tyler Glenn exemplifies an equipped and unabashed rock star—be it the ripcord vocals swooping through unmistakable singles “Animal” or more recently “Everybody Talks,” or his no-tomorrow stagecraft—the Neon Trees frontman gives most, it would seem, in casual conversation. On a recent call from the road, the singer and songwriter rarely mentions the new music without a quick consideration of his band mates, or their fans.
1. You’ve been touring the new album, Picture Show, for several months now. How has it been different from last year?
There are more people, and more people singing along to more of the songs. With “Animal,” it was pretty inescapable. We figured people knew who we were, but it’s cool when a lot of people don’t, and they’re still finding out about you for the first time with the new music.
2. You’ve worked the road so long—can you pick a favorite place to play?
There have been magical moments when we play The Rave in Milwaukee. I would say that’s the one that usually comes to mind. There’s a handful. I also like playing the House of Blues because they all have a similar feel but they’re different sizes. I’ve gotten used to how their stages feel.
New York City is always great to see shows. We got to play in Madison Square Garden, opening for Duran Duran. I don’t ever want to play a place that size until we have that amount screaming our songs [laughs], but it still a privilege to play places like that. I love seeing a show at the Bowery Ballroom and playing at the Bowery too; it’s small but it feels big. And I’m kind of a spitter onstage so I definitely need to warn the splash zone down there when there’s no barricade—it happens.
3. Next to the first Neon Trees record, Picture Show appears more a commentary—on fame, the relationships it can create. How do you consider the new songs? Are they different in theme or scope?
I think it’s half and half on our new album. I wanted to explore writing songs about fictional people or my friends, or things I have observed. But there are songs like “Close To You” that are even more personal than Habits. I try to always make sure that it’s applicable to the listener. I never want it to sound too particular to my experience. I’d rather be able to share my feelings and have a person be able to experience it themself.
4. In an interview at SXSW in 2011 you mentioned you’d begun writing new songs immediately after Habits was released, while on the road. Is that true of this record too?
Yeah I have been writing again. It’s funny, in Buffalo, New York, we played a show and during the show an idea for a song came. I had to keep it in one part of my mind while we were finishing. Which, I don’t want it to sound like I was cheating the audience, or not giving it my all, but sometimes melodies and lyric ideas come at the worst possible time. Right after, I ran and wrote out a song. I love that I’m already wanting a new Neon Trees record; I think it’s a good feeling.
5. Is writing everyday a recent routine for you, or something you’ve always found to be beneficial?
I write because I like to do it anyway. I’ve always been that way. I guess it’s an asset now—I don’t know, right after we released Habits I think I knew that if this thing was any amount of success that our label would want another record out, we would want another record out. And I’d been listening to music from a very young age, and even more: studying the bands’ careers and realizing that a lot of bands falter on their second record. I wanted it to sound like we had something to prove, to feel like it was a next step in the sound. I wanted it to have a fearless quality to it while still maintaining the heart of what we do best, or what we think we do best.
6. About that sound: Was there anything with your first record that you were looking to do differently or leave behind with the follow-up?
Habits was a breakthrough because we found some of the balance between being expressive and emotional but still writing songs that made us feel good, and the listeners feel good. We started to find the sound that we wanted. Promoting it, we would always talk about our influences, and maybe they wouldn’t be as obvious when you listened to the album but you’d see it at the live show. With Picture Show we just wanted to put in those influences: There was that period of time in the ’80s where if you were a rock band, a pop band, an R&B singer, it didn’t matter, because all of the production kind of sounded the same. I think that was a cool era; the production was interesting and layered.
7. Who stands out for you as an influential songwriter, or vocalist?
Ryan Adams was a huge songwriter to me—he still is; Bruce Springsteen was a huge core-shaker, really made me change; even Stephan Jenkins, of Third Eye Blind, was a great pop-rock songwriter in his time. Those are people that really made me look at how I was writing songs and melodies. And they’re all very different.
In the last five years I’ve gotten more into the songwriters of the late ’70s early ’80s, like Queen, Phil Collins. One of my biggest influences now is Daryl Hall; I think he’s a very underappreciated songwriter. The melodies and ways he phrased things are fantastic.
8. What was it about those artists that spoke to you or informed what you do now, as a frontman?
Pop music in general spoke to me. The energy that it created, it was such a new thing for me; the oldies, growing up, that was always the station that was on in the car. So I loved that kind of vocalist and sound— The Temptations, Diana Ross, Little Richard— even when I started getting my own tastes: Prince, Freddie Mercury, artists that were real singers with real big voices, but they used them in a rock or pop setting.
9. What’s most important for a budding songwriter or band to keep in mind?
If you are a songwriter: own it. I try to never call myself a musician because that takes away from my band mates, who are fantastic musicians. I feel like I’m more of a songwriter, more a performer and entertainer—those are my things. Find out what your strengths are. I continually expand what I’m listening to. I got into listening to older bands a lot, and I used to be so current and make sure I was listening to what was new. I think it’s important that you find a balance, see what’s working.
Don’t be afraid to write bad songs as well—get those out. Continually writing, just flexing that muscle, has really helped me. I listen to old demos from 2004 and I laugh, like, “What was I thinking?” I think that’s a great sign when you can make those strides and realize: “Wow, what I wrote in 2004 is vastly different. This is so much better.” Also, don’t be afraid to write with other people at times and don’t worry so much about all the splits and weird ego things that can happen in co-writing. It’s important sometimes to get out of your comfort zone to be inspired.
10. Why did you choose BMI?
Samantha Cox has always been a real advocate of ours, and we just stuck with it because we always felt very at home. It’s always felt good to me.