Pop Psychology, Neon Trees' shiny new album of upbeat pop music, was almost never made. After finishing a tour in late 2012, the group's singer-songwriter Tyler Glenn considered giving up on music altogether, finding himself immersed in his personal struggles to the point where he experienced a sort of breakdown. With the band's blessing, Glenn canceled that year's remaining shows and sought help. He learned that a great deal of his pain stemmed from his tendency to keep things bottled up inside. Writing Pop Psychology gave Glenn the opportunity to apply this realization by using Neon Trees as an outlet for releasing the emotions that had been keeping him trapped.
The other members of Neon Trees were grateful for the catharsis, which also allowed them to take a much-needed respite from recording and touring constantly. Drummer Elaine Bradley refers to the band as "a machine." Once each part of the machine had been well-oiled and tediously cared for, Neon Trees were ready to bring Pop Psychology to the masses. Gimme Noise spoke with Bradley about their journey and her particular place in the machine as they gear up for a tour stop here in Minneapolis this evening in the First Avenue mainroom.
You grew up the youngest of seven children. Did that help prepare you to be in a band?
Yeah, I think on several levels it definitely prepared me to be in a band. First of all, naturally, I'm an outgoing ham of a person. Being the youngest, it was always amplified, because it was like, look at me! Pay attention to me! I want to be noticed! I'm younger, and smaller. I definitely don't have stage fright or anything like that, probably thanks to my six older brothers and sisters constantly ribbing me and making fun of me, and having to be resilient through that. Being in front of a bunch of strangers is no big deal.
Dynamically, too, being in a band is much like being in a family, so it helps to have come from a family of multiple people that you can't leave, and must learn to work with. We never considered the fact that we might be able to break up. It was kind of always like, well, we're going to do this, and it's going to happen, so we're going to wade through whatever we have to wade through.
Tyler and Chris grew up together. How did you meet them and become a part of Neon Trees?
Chris and Tyler started playing music together later in life, after high school. Their families lived around the corner from each other but they weren't really friends. So they played music with each other, and then Chris actually ended up going to massage school in Utah. Tyler knew he wanted to play music with Chris so he kind of followed him to Utah. I was there going to BYU, and was in another band in the music scene. We kind of sniffed each other out.
Can you tell us a little about your musical background and how you got started playing drums?
As a small, small kid I used to beat on pots and pans. I always used to like the drums because of the physical nature of them. I never really wanted to be the drummer of a band, ever. I wanted to be the front-person, playing guitar or singing. I actually wound up playing guitar and singing in a band for several years. It really wasn't on my radar, to be a drummer, and I never considered myself a drummer. I was not that good at it.
I had a drum set from when I was little, so kind of as a favor to a friend I said, well, I'll jam with you. It ended up being cool, and that's the band I wound up forming. I kind of got duped and stuck behind the drums. It works out. It's really fun.
Is gender an issue when it comes to being a drummer?
You know, I've never considered myself a woman. That sounds really strange, but it's not what I want to do. Sports-wise and music-wise I just never considered gender an issue, I just did what I wanted to do. Ending up behind the drums it never occurred to me that this was a man's world, it was just what I was doing. I just kind of fell into it and stuck with it. I don't really feel like I'm pushing any barriers but people make it that way, and I'm glad that there are people who want to take inspiration from that. For me, it's a really non-issue.
Have you ever experienced any type of bias or negativity coming from people?
Of course. It's overwhelmingly positive, for the most part, but there are those stories of just ignorant, ridiculous people. I remember when it was very early on playing with Neon Trees, I was behind the drums setting them up, tuning them, sound checking, and a guy came up to me and said, okay, where's your drummer? I was like, really? I'm right here. This is me. It was so far out in left field that it was laughable, but super insulting.
You spent a year and a half in Germany volunteering as a missionary. Can you tell us about that experience?
It was great and terrible at the same time. I mean, it was really nerve-racking going to a foreign country and having to learn the language by speaking it to people. There's a level of embarrassment that comes with not having the mastery of a language and trying to speak to people in it.
Then, also, talking about something that's so near and dear to my heart, like my faith, religion, belief...talking to strangers about that is inherently stressful. I learned to love the people, and I love the language. My husband actually grew up in Germany, so when we met it was a really great happenstance that we both speak German. He's raising our kids in German.
Did that change you?
Oh, I'm sure. A year and a half, whatever you're doing, definitely has an impact on you. If anything it just cemented my personal faith, which definitely affects everything I do.
Does your involvement in the church ever affect your music career, and vice-versa?
Yeah, I think they impact each other. I'm conscious of what I do or how I portray myself when it comes to that stuff, because I don't want to be anybody's excuse for acting a certain way, or thinking something about the Mormon Church because of me that isn't true because I'm acting a certain way.
The thing I think that is interesting is, as much as it affects me on a personal level and affects the way that I am, I think it's almost just as vital to kind of keep that out of Neon Trees. We're all in such different places and have such different beliefs. Not all of us are actively Mormon, so I think it would be really inconsiderate of me to barge into our business and say, well, because I believe this, then this is how Neon Trees is going to be. It's a delicate balance -- trying to personally live my faith and then also for all of us to be respectful of each other and to do something that we're all happy with and feel comfortable with.
Conversations constantly happen about, well, what do we feel comfortable with? Is this too much? Should we be doing this? Moral issues of what we do as a band versus what our personal preference is. It would be foolish to think that the two live in vacuums separate from each other.[page]
Do you remember one particular moment you experienced where you felt like as a band, you guys had made it? Like, this is it, we did it, we're here!
I don't think there's been one moment over all other moments, but there have definitely been those lynch pin moments. Obviously the first thing was getting to open for the Killers twice. That was the first ray of sunshine into a pretty bleak existence as a band at that point. After that, it was signing a record deal, but it's almost like you celebrate that in the moment and then realize that there's a whole other process. You sign a record deal and then your record doesn't come out for a year.
Then, when our record came out of course, and when the single did well. There's this series of little things that help us to see when we look back that we're in a place that we really appreciate and like to be. As we go along, though, it's harder to tell.
It seems like Neon Trees are almost constantly releasing new projects. What does your creative process look like in terms of building material from the ground up?
It looks different every time. Obviously Tyler is the singer-songwriter, for the most part, but even with this album, some of the songs were demos that he had kind of made and then given to us to finish and add upon. Some of the stuff we wrote in a room together. It's kind of different. Generally, the melody or the progression starts with Tyler, and if not with Tyler then it still goes to Tyler as far as most lyrics go.
Do you write while you're on the road?
We have ideas. I'm constantly writing down ideas, or even in Garageband there could be a progression that gets stuck in my head. I know Tyler does the same thing, but we're not actively sharing those yet. There will come a time further on into this album cycle when we'll start to think about it and start exchanging ideas and formulating what the next record's going to be. We're in such promotional and show mode, though, that there really isn't a lot of time for anything else right now.
About the single "I Love You But I Hate Your Friends." Is there a specific story behind the concept of that song that you could share with us?
It's certainly based off of Tyler's personal experiences, but I think everyone can identify with that concept. You find this person that you totally click with, and you talk really well together, and you share, and you get each other on this level. Then they have a friend or some friends where you're like, if you're so cool, then how do you have these other friends that I don't even like at all? We pick our friends, but we can't always pick our friends' friends, and that kind of sucks.
Tyler has been very open about where the inspiration for the album comes from. What was the experience like for the rest of the band when Tyler decided to cancel a string of shows and take some time to himself?
We had all been working pretty much nonstop since before the first album. We were all kind of worn. I had just had a baby. When he said, like, guys, I'm not in a good place, and I need to take a break, we were all like, hey, good that you told us. Good on you, and you take the time you need. We're in this for the long haul, always have been. We've never thought shortsightedly. We've always talked like, well, on our fifth record...
We've all got the end game in mind, even though we're really hard workers in the present. I think it helped us to take a step back and remember that even though the machine Neon Trees keeps moving and chugging along and it's really important, the individuals that make up that machine need to be cared for. It was a really nice reminder for all of us to pay attention to each other and ourselves, and keep that in mind.
Do you have anything that you want to add about the album?
I hope that everybody gives the album a listen. We do have good singles, I'll give you that, but we also pay a lot of attention to our albums and really feel strongly that each song on our album could be a single in some world. I want people to just even sample it in the free sample thing on iTunes. Just go through each song and give it a shot.
What are you bringing along for your performance here?
High-energy. We really upped the production. We have a lot of stage pieces, lights and outfit changes. Expect a good time. It's kind of like a Vegas variety show.
Neon Trees play the First Avenue mainroom tonight, June 23, with Smallpools and Nightmare and the Cat. 5:30 PM, $22, All AgesGIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
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