photos / Danielle Ernst
styling / Justin Lynn
grooming / Angelo Rivera
story / Wendy Lu
Tyler Glenn, known as the lead singer of Utah-based rock band Neon Trees, has gone through a lot in recent years. In April 2014, he publicly came out as a gay Mormon in a Rolling Stone interview, perhaps one of very few Mormon stars to do so. Now a former member of the Mormon Church, Glenn has continued to use music as a means for self-expression during this journey to embrace his identity sans religion.
Around the same time that he came out, Glenn began writing solo material and hasn’t stopped since. Today, he releases his first solo album, Excommunication, a musical diary chronicling the past several months of his life. Below, we speak to the artist about his writing rituals, Excommunication album highlights and how coming out has influenced his music.
How is your new album different from other projects you’ve done?
The sound is a little bit more aggressive at times, and then it’s a little more adventurous at times. That probably came from the fact that I just made it myself. Thematically, it’s pretty much about the last 10 months of my life and the highs and lows of a paradigm shift, a transition. There’s different emotions that I’m expressing. As much as it sounds like a personal thing, I think it’s also just a record that sounds cool.
Can you go into more details about the inspiration behind the record?
I was raised a Mormon and I grew up believing in it ‘til about 10 months ago. I came out as gay at 30, and I’m (almost) 33 now. I think a lot of my life was spent always reconciling the fact that I was gay and trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It felt like I had to make this religion work because I thought it was the one true way. And so a lot of my anxiety and identity crisis…has been because I thought I had to fit into this certain plan that I was raised in.
About 10 months ago, the Mormon Church released a policy saying that same-sex couples aren’t welcome in the church, and that drew a line in a sense. The past year of my life has really been [about] asking big questions, exploring how to be happy and how to try to be a happy gay Mormon or happy gay man. There’s a lot of personality in the record and a lot of emotions that I’m covering. I think by the end it sounds hopeful and joyful. There’s also pain in it as well.
This year has been difficult for the LGBT community and other marginalized groups. How did you deal with the Orlando shooting and how have these events affected your journey as a gay man?
I think, in the last year, I’ve really embraced the idea that I’m divinely gay. If I’m gay, it’s because I was born that way…Orlando absolutely shook me, it shook my mother. I go to those types of places to have fun with friends, and I totally understood the pain and sadness because it felt absolutely close to home and it’s devastating. I think it’s contributed to my desire to use music as a platform and, not that this record is pushing ideas down anyone’s throats, but it’s definitely confronting things that I’ve been facing the last little while in my own life, and I think it’s applicable in the larger LGBT community and, I think, anyone’s life.
Did creating this album serve as catharsis for you?
I think it’s absolutely a cathartic album to make. But I had a really positive experience coming out. I felt a lot of support and what’s been exciting is those that have been sort of following my life – that’s even weird to say. To me it’s just weird. But people have been following the story and it’s interesting. I think to them, hearing these songs and seeing me be authentic is really the ultimate reward for them.
What song off the record speaks to you the most?
There’s a song called “Midnight,” and I wouldn’t say it’s the song that showcases the record the best, but I think to me it’s the most… I don’t even know the words. It’s so emotionally expressive and it’s so minimal in its production. I think there’s a certain rawness to the song that people gravitate toward.
You’ve come a long way since Neon Trees released “Animal” from Habits and “Everybody Talks” from Picture Show a few years back. In between, you’ve been featured on Afrojack’s Forget The World, released your single “Trash” and more. Why do a solo album now?
I think I’ve always made records with Neon Trees as snapshots of who I am at that moment. So you know 2009, 2010 when we made Habits, it totally reminds me of being 25…This record that I’ve done, as much as I don’t think it sounds like Neon Trees, there’s still elements that I’ve maybe brought to Neon Trees that I’ve also used on this record. I just think it’s maybe a little more vocal-driven and a little more lyric-driven than some of the Neon Trees records. But I love Neon Trees and I’m excited to make music again with them at some point. This has just been a really cool opportunity to take something real that I’m still living and infuse it into music. Because I think the some of the best music can be made when you’re sort of transitioning and growing and using music as a tool.
How did you come up with the album’s name?
‘Excommunication’ in the religious world is sort of a scary word. So I started having no fear about excommunication more and I like taking that word and kind of reclaiming it. And also, there are themes of betrayal between me and my ex-boyfriend. There are a few songs that address that. So in a sense, it’s a play on words. Excommunication. I just love it. I think it’s just really striking.
What is your creative process like when you’re in the zone?
Sometimes it’s me just walking around my town. I don’t have a license, I’ve never really driven a car, so I’ve always walked everywhere and I think there’s a certain beat and rhythm that you can just hum melodies to yourself. So I wrote a lot just walking around. This last record, it was just a lot of me pacing my apartment and listening to the beat and melody over and over again, and just writing songs that way.
What’s in store for the future?
I’m doing this record and I’m gonna play shows in support of it. I’m super focused on this right now. Yeah, I’m excited to get it out and to keep sharing my story.
Jacke, Levi’s. White Harness, Randall Lynn. T- Shirt, Tylers own. Pants,Resurrection JYL.
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