It was little more than a year ago that Neon Trees front man Tyler Glenn flung open the closet door in an intimate interview with Rolling Stone and revealed that several songs on the band’s then-upcoming album, Pop Psychology, were written from his perspective as a gay man. However, he admits he didn’t fully realize the impact his coming-out could have on others until a fan approached him a few days after the news broke.
“We were in Minneapolis playing at a small show and there was a boy who came up to me at the meet-and-greet,” Glenn recalls. “He started to cry and explained that he had always listened to our band and felt a connection to what I wrote about even before he was aware of my sexuality, but that me declaring who I am meant so much to him. That made me feel so good because it was then I realized I was able to talk about certain feelings in my music and it was positively affecting fans like him.”
He stops and smiles before adding, “Then he introduced his boyfriend and told me they had met at a Neon Trees concert five years ago and we all just sort of had a teary moment together. And moments like that, well, they give purpose to what I’m doing, more than anything else.”
Since Glenn revealed the truth about who he is, the popularity of the New Wave-pop powerhouse has only increased. Pop Psychology is the group’s most successful album to date — silencing fears Glenn once had that coming out publicly would bring rejection from some Neon Trees fans who had followed the band since its early days playing around Utah in the aughts. And the group’s second tour supporting the album kicked off earlier this month, with stops at famed venues like New York's Irving Plaza and Los Angeles's Fonda Theater.
“For me, [the album’s success] is confirmation that what I decided to write about was the right thing, and following my heart has turned out to be the best thing,” says Glenn. “There are times when I’m like, ‘Man, I should’ve come out sooner. I should’ve been more comfortable sooner.’ But at the same time, I know it was just the right time in my life to write about these topics and talk about what the songs are actually about in interviews and things.”
However, Glenn’s coming-out hasn’t been completely free of controversy. The Mormon-raised singer has received some backlash from LGBT people for his insistence that people do not have to choose between their faith and their sexuality. “I consider myself Mormon, I believe in Mormonism, I believe in the Book of Mormon, and I try to follow the teachings,” he told the Associated Press in 2014, and the subject is one he remains passionate about today.
“It’s been interesting because I do have a home in Salt Lake City, where the Mormon Church is very prevalent — and I’m still figuring out how my relationship with religion and my sexuality goes — but I believe staying and fighting for the cause within the state and within the church is way better than leaving and being angry and rallying against it,” he says. “For me, I feel like I’ve been able to mend more relationships and cause a lot more change by doing things like speaking to the state senate and working with groups like Equality Utah. And I’ve noticed over the last year there’s been a lot more statements from people in the church, as well as small things within the state government, that are steps in the right direction.”
He adds, “Obviously it’s not exactly what we need, but it’s changing and that’s a positive thing.”
Despite naysayers, Glenn embraces his continuing evolution both spiritually and as an artist, saying he feels “completely free” for the first time in his life. It’s a change within the singer’s soul that shines through in the music video for the latest single from Neon Trees, “Songs I Can’t Listen To,” in which Glenn plays opposite Academy Award–winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black as a couple going through a devastating breakup.
“The songs I’d written for Pop Psychology were a great release, but I wrote them before I’d officially come out,” he says. “This new single is just the first taste of what writing for this band feels like after being completely honest — and it feels good.”
But while writing songs with a newfound level of authenticity is exciting new ground for the artist, Glenn doesn’t hesitate to admit it’s on stage before a live audience where he’s happiest. “Before I came out, I always felt like I was trying to find an identity, but now I don’t feel weighed down by anything,” he says. “I’m completely unhooked and I think you can see that in the way I perform.”
Watch Neon Trees’ latest music video, “Songs I Can’t Listen To,” below, and for info about the band’s current tour, check out NeonTreesTour.com.