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January, 2013 Issue

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Neon Trees

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ARE THEY THE BEST ALTERNATIVE ROCK BAND ON THE PLANET?

There's little doubt that Neon Trees is one of the hottest tickets in town (any town). This act is SO hot in fact, I had my doubts as editor whether they would even be able to take the time to give us the interview to get a cover story done. But in fact, thanks to their agents at CAA and the PR department at Island Def Jam Records, CampusActMag has landed an exclusive for our readers with lead singer and frontman Tyler Glenn.

It's easy to imagine an act this hot having ego get away with them. In my almost 10 years of experience as an interviewer and writer, the young, hip and cutting edge rock bands tend to be duds in two departments critical for a great story: timeliness and responsiveness. Getting them nailed down for an interview can be tough, getting them to respond with content rich, fully structured sentences is even tougher. We got the interview set surprisingly quickly (thanks Max), a 1:30PM phoner. Even more surprising was how off guard I was when my phone rang at 1:29:59.

"Hello?"
"Hi, Ian? This is Tyler Glenn, from Neon Trees."
"Wow...you are punctual."

Yes, that was actually the first thing I said to the singer of "Everybody Talks." http://bit.ly/everybodytalks Before I could recover from that first quick jab, he hits me with a looping right that completely knocks down my guard put up by guilt by association typical rocker may have cast on my opinion of this guy. "We find it important to be attentive, respectful and punctual," he says. "It's just the way we do business and live our lives in general." Am I in the right place here? Is this the same dashingly sly looking "Tyler Trash" from the "Everybody Talks" video?

So these guys are grounded. Having recovered a bit, I talk to Tyler some more about how this work ethic and good business practice haven't been stamped onto them by some PR machine, nor is it something they had to learn to become a successful band. Rather than being changed by success (or changing to succeed...same thing?) it seems Tyler and company have had "it" all along. Not just talent, but wit, sociability and intelligence. In other words, not just a pretty face or hot name, but an act you actually want to work with. They haven't changed for success, and they haven't become desensitized by it either. "I think if we became used to it, we would become monsters. We would be that person no one can look in the eye. My friends probably wouldn't hang out with me any more. If you get used to it, one should probably reconsider what they are doing in life. I for one think I will never get used to it, because every day is such an eye opener. When we get to a show in a town we have only been in a few times (or maybe never before) and there are masses of people waiting there for us to come and sing our songs...that's profound. I don't think we are the biggest band in the world or the newest band in the world, so I think that reaction is a testament to hard work and writing good songs that reach a lot of people."

The band's success with their most recent hit, "Everybody Talks," has been monumental; featured in a Rolling Stone web stream, a Buick commercial, an opening slot for Flaming Lips, an "America's Got Talent" live results show performance, and even a place for Tyler on the Ninja Turtles float in the 2012 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Whew.

Cover art of Neon Trees' Animal CDWith this level of exposure, it's little wonder Neon Trees is the name on the tip of everyone's tongue, finding new ground in their fan base every day. However, they haven't just come out of nowhere. Many of you may remember their first hit "Animal," even if you didn't realize they did it. 17,000,000 hits on this version: http://bit.ly/neontreesanimal

This is where the hard work intersects with NT's career path; they were terrified of the curse of the one-hit wonder, and worked their tails off to make sure it didn't happen to them. "There was a sort of innate fear within us when we had our first commercial hit with 'Animal,'" Tyler says. "We thought that maybe everything would just go away as suddenly as it had come. At the same time, I think we were also content to have a hit song and at least have accomplished that. 'Everybody Talks' seems to have broken that tension and now we are in a place that is much more comfortable and we are really excited to continue to write music. We owe it all to the people who show up to our shows, buy (and steal) our music," he laughs.

The commercial success of the last 2-3 years since the release of their album Habits is not the entirety of this band's history. This wasn't a dream team assembled in an L.A. executive suite, this is band with a long history of paying dues and unique struggles. "Chris, our guitarist and I have known each other for a long time," he explains. "We played under the name Neon Trees back then, so that name has haunted me since I was 17," he jokes. "But seriously building the name and repertoire of the band has been a real priority since about 2005. We modeled our rock band after the great American tradition of booking our own tours, posting fliers, piling in a van and playing until we dropped. Way before any label signing or release we worked incredibly hard and I think we still have that mind set. We have to be involved in everything, maybe to a fault."

Like my initial surprise at his punctuality, articulation and detailed answers, Tyler is conscious that they are not what people typically expect when working with a "rock" band. "I think when a lot of people look at us, hear our pop rock songs and see our image as shiny and showy as it is, it comes to their surprise that we are so involved with everything we do and every aspect of our careers, as a band and individually. I have never equated the entertainment business as anything fake or phony. Of course those elements can be present; I think show business has been around a lot longer than is thought by a lot of the posers that think integrity and authenticity come from wearing a flannel shirt. I think there is a lot more authenticity in the business if you look for it, and I hope we are an example of it that people can find."

I wouldn't normally expose the most tired, cliché question in the "rock band interviewer's handbook, "Uh, hey man, where'd you get the name?" but, it definitely is a memorable one with dynamic imagery called to mind. "It was a stupid inside joke amongst my friends and I in high school," he says laughing. "None of those people are related to the band today, but we were just dorks who loved music, much of it stuff that wasn't popular at the time (but maybe now is). It sounded like a cool name more than anything though. When Chris (Allen) and I started this project really going, I think that was the name he liked the best so it stuck."

Tyler, clearly a little abashed at the simplicity of it, finally coughs up the simple truth on their name. "It was named after the fluorescent palm trees at the In-N-Out Burger. I get embarrassed by it because it's such a silly name and back story. In all fairness, I think a lot of band names probably start that way though and by then, you're stuck with it (laughs). But I think it sounds nice, it has a nice ring."

The band has a unique back story in that they were not formed in one of the U.S.'s music meccas like New York, L.A., Nashville or Atlanta. And, you probably wouldn't nail it in 50 guesses. About an hour south of Salt Lake City, Neon Trees were sprouted in Provo, Utah. It might seem like a place with a remote chance of being "discovered" where a band gets going and then heads west to sunny L.A., but that's the likely story. It can be much easier to drown in the sea of artists. So these players decided on the inverse. "Chris and I actually came from Southern California, having played in L.A., San Diego and other cities where you'd think there would be more opportunities for musicians but we were always kind of discouraged because there was so much other entertainment there. It was a bit of an overload, where people became desensitized, bored and uninterested to a point."

The move east was more than geographic, Neon Trees found electric soil in the fertile and less jaded minds of Utah. "Chris was going to school in Provo, so I just followed him. It wasn't a conscious decision to pick a small town and start a band there, it just sort of happened. He was going to school and I had some interest in it myself, but more than anything I just wanted to stay with Chris to play music; luckily we found a really tight knit community of musicians and artists there. Most of the kids there are Mormon, so they are kind of either repressed for a lot of their life, or they learn music in church and express themselves through music naturally. It is a very interesting and different community than anywhere else in the world. We found a lot of life, and a lot of respect there."

Despite not being on the boulevard with major agencies and record labels, they still found a vibrant and active scene to envelope them, and a bit of exclusivity to boot. "We definitely were the only band of our type around there...there were many other artists in the area, there were a lot of singing competitions and people took music very seriously. I think it had a lot to do with our success early on. There are a lot of all ages, places there where you can't drink, so a lot of the focus for the audience is on the bands and the music, and the focus for the artists is on being as entertaining as possible to hold a sober audience."

Sound familiar? If this isn't a mold that fits right into the campus market, well...it is so whatever let's just forget the complicated analogy. The fact is this is a highly professional band with a lot of experience and a huge profile. "Animal" really put them on the map, smashing into Billboard with a peak at #1 on the Alternative list, #2 on Adult Pop, #2 on Rock, #7 on Pop not to mention several others, including many international charts.

"Everybody Talks" has killed the curse of the one hit wonder, not just bringing them back to the surface, but the forefront of the mainstream, leapfrogging even the success of "Animal." The song has hit #1 on the Pop charts, and number 6 on the Hot 100, the most widely sought after chart positions. It has been certified platinum, selling over 2 million downloads in just about 10 months. "It is refreshing that 'Everybody Talks' has done so well, because for almost two solid years 'Animal' was the only song that the general public would know. It felt like for a while we were stuck with 'Animal.' It was like 'Okay, we have that song, and it came really early in our career, so a lot of people will look at us as a one trick pony. Of course our fans knew we had a great catalog, but it can get discouraging for a bit, because we knew we had more to offer the public and more fans to win over. For me, 'Everybody Talks' has been like a second chance, it proves we still have more to offer and continue to, which is nice. It's fun now to have a handful of songs that are becoming big moments in our show, instead of just 'Animal.' It has continued to open doors for us and the recognition of us as people and a band continues to grow. It's really, really exciting and we are incredibly grateful for it."

If you haven't seen or heard of AEP (Association of Entertainment Professionals), you should check them out. It's an interesting amalgam of entertainment buyers and representatives from every active market. In any event, one of the sessions of this year's conference was "Entertainment: What's Hot?" The audience was polled on acts they've heard buzzing and would like to book. And when it came to bands, Neon Trees and fun. came up over and over (see our October cover story of fun.). This coming from an audience of buyers representing audiences ages 8-80. "That's the thing that I love the most; I love that we perform for more than just young people, or the people only on the inside of the concert crowd. It's great to entertain children or teenagers, or folks that have teenagers. Obviously the youths in the audience are typically the most passionate, but we just played at Austin City Limits on Wednesday (which was a great opportunity I must say), and looking out and seeing that we appeal now to men my father's age and women my mother's age and their entire family...I don't know, I think a lot of people might look at that and say 'Oh, that's not very Rock N' Roll' but we set out to create something everyone could get in to. We are not from some idealistic hipster scene with allegiance to a certain genre or appearance. We just want to write songs that...I don't want to be cliche, but songs that make the world sing. It's the songs everyone are naturally attracted to."

Neon Trees don't just sway the direction of any old breeze, and they never have. They maintain a level of decorum that makes them attractive to all buyers because they are true to their roots. I love puns. "I think we try to maintain a level of integrity that reflects how we were raised and the types of people we are in general. We never subscribed to the Rock N' Roll lifestyle; even before we were successful we decided we wanted to be able to get up at 4AM to do a radio show promo or drive 12 hours to an event. Not to degrade anyone's lifestyle choice or say that we don't have any fun ourselves when we are off tour. That is anyone's personal choice, but when it comes to our band and our profession, we focus. It has done us a world of good."

Like many songwriters, poets and authors, Tyler is himself an avid reader, of a genre which particularly makes him not want to become another casualty of success. "I get really tired of the Rock N' Roll cliches...I have read thousands of biographies and autobiographies. Since I was eight music has been my passion, so I've spent my life reading about the people who have encountered the same pitfalls over and over again. I'm not interested in mimicking someone's career - I want to have my own story. It's not surprising or original all the time, but it works for me and the people in my band."

Let Neon Trees work for you to get a massive crowd and crazy energy going for one of the HOTTEST acts out there. Contact David Klein at CAA at DKlein@caa.com or 424-288-2000.