Interview: Neon Trees

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In today’s music scene, alternative artists have branched out from their indie roots and gone on to find commercial success. Bands such as Imagine Dragons, Bastille, and The Neighbourhood have managed to cross over from alt rock stations to the Top 40. Although these bands are incredible musicians with huge followings, it is tough for the average listener to tell them apart. Most of these acts don’t contain a charismatic lead singer or a specific style to represent not just the sound, but also the look and energy of the band.

One band that can be considered the exception is the new wave pop-rock band, Neon Trees. With their ever-changing sound, incredible stage presence, and unique look, they have become one of the most interesting and charismatic rock bands of the last decade. They were first brought together by Tyler Glenn (vocals, keyboards) and Chris Allen (guitar, vocals), who grew up together in Murrieta, California. They later moved to Provo, Utah where they added Branden Campbell (bass, vocals), and Elaine Bradley (drums, vocals).

After being discovered by a member of The Killers, they were invited to open for the band on their 2008 North American Tour. They released their first studio album, Habits, in 2010. Their first single off the album, “Animals,” became an instant hit and propelled the band from opening act to chart topping success. Two years later they released their second studio album, Picture Show. The first single, “Everybody Talks,” became their first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Since 2008 they have toured with Maroon 5, The Offspring, Duran Duran, My Chemical Romance, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and Taylor Swift.

Neon Trees has just released their third studio album, Pop Psychology, which features their latest single, “Sleeping with a Friend.” They are currently on tour and will be playing at the House of Blues in Atlantic City this Friday. In an exclusive interview with Pop-Break, drummer Elaine Bradley spoke about the recording process for the latest album, what her favorite music video was to film, and her dream of being able to move around the stage more.

Press Credit: Andrew Zaeh
Press Credit: Andrew Zaeh

Pop-Break: You started out learning how to play guitar at a young age. What made you decide to switch to the drums?

Elaine Bradley: Well in fact I played the drums first. I was not very good at them at all. Then played the guitar for seven years. Then as a favor to a friend ended up going back, because I had the drum set from when I was little. So I ended up jamming with a friend as a favor…I hate jamming. So it really was a true merciful place savor and it ended up being really cool. So we started this band and that was in college. So that’s how I started playing the drums for real and realized that I could be better then a really bad 12 year old.

PB: Do you ever miss the guitar?

EB: I do! I do. You know what I miss? Not being stuck behind the drums. I miss being at the front of the stage, being able to jump around and interact a little more, but I love the drums. So it would be hard to choose if I had to.

PB: It would be odd to see drummer run back and forth from behind the drums to the front of the stage.

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EB: I always joke about putting a drum set on a track around the stage so I could just migrate like a train through Disneyland.

PB: That would be awesome!

EB: Maybe when we start doing stadiums. When we get to that point where I can roller coaster over the audience. That would be fun.

PB: I would love to see that.

EB: Who wouldn’t?

PB: You are currently headlining your own tour, but over the last few years you have been a supporting act for bands such as The Killers, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and Duran Duran. What was the best piece of advice they gave you and how did you use it to advance your career further?

EB: I’m not sure if I remember any specific advice that they gave us, but I think we learned the most from My Chemical Romance and Maroon 5 because of the way they treated us. I think you always notice the difference between bands that treat you okay or that don’t treat you well, and the bands that truly foster a nice relationship with the opening bands. I don’t even mean personally like as friends though they are really nice people, but as a band. They were just very accommodating and they didn’t treat us like we were small potatoes. They were very respectful and wanted us to put on a good show. I think maybe some of the other times bands didn’t want us to put on a show because maybe they were afraid of the opening band showing them up. Any insecurity like that isn’t very healthy. But I think My Chemical Romance and Maroon 5 were by far the most accommodating and just the nicest most gracious headliners we ever worked with.

PB: You have been a part of creating some of the catchiest songs over the last few years accompanied with some of the most original and outrageous music videos. Which one was your favorite to film?

EB: I have mixed emotions about that. That first viral “Animal” video where we are in the van, which was the first video to catch on or whatever, there’s a charm about that. We did that video in the same three days as two photo-shoots, the “In the Next Room” video, as well as the “1982” video. We also traveled all over the state of Utah. So it was like this insane thing, we barely slept, we were run ragged, and somehow there’s this charm to it that I don’t know if it has been paralleled. At the same time probably one of the most fun experiences was “I Love You, But I Hate Your Friends,” because of how zany and stupid the video is. That’s kind of how we are as people; it’s not much of stretch to get us to act ridiculous. So I think that video really lets out personalities shine through and I think that was most fun to film.

PB: The great thing about Neon Trees is that your sound changes with each new album. What were some of the influences that inspired the latest album?

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EB: I think the circumstances surrounding the album really facilitated the type of album we were able to do. What I mean by that is we kind of did the album in secret and a lot of the demoing that our producer Tim [Pagnotta] and Tyler did was done months and months and months in advanced. So as a band we were able to live with the songs, talk about them, and work them for a long time. Then when we went in the studio we were completely prepared and still no one knew that we were doing an album, so we weren’t tweeting from the studio and there wasn’t this pressure like “when is it coming out?” and “what’s it sounding like?” It was like this wonderful blank canvas. So what that enabled us to do was treat the record by itself. We didn’t think at all about the live show. We consciously said we are not going to think about how this is going to translate live; we want to make the album, and then we will worry about that later. So just kind of isolating ourselves and we would still do shows on occasion so nobody thought, “Oh, Neon Trees just disappeared,” it created this nice bubble for us to work kind of in a vacuum with no outside opinion long enough to make the album that we really wanted to make and we are all really excited about it.

PB: While your first two albums vary in subject, Pop Psychology is about finding love in the digital age. What was it like to create an album with a specific theme?

EB: You know it’s funny because that’s not how we set out to do it that’s just kind of what was the forefront of Tyler’s mind and it kind of just came together that way. Looking back you can encapsulate it topically and say oh that’s what it’s about, but as he was writing the lyrics it wasn’t a concept album at all. I think it is more of a time period album then a concept album.

PB: Do you believe it’s harder for people to find love because of all this technology?

EB: I do. I think at least trying to find somebody decent to date is very difficult. I mean it has always been difficult. All of these dating site, or at least many of them, have become hook-up sites, and if you want to find love that’s not the way to do it. You know? It is like meeting people organically has gone out the window. I think it has to be really difficult. Tyler will tell us that we are all really lucky that found people and have gotten married.

PB: Pop Psychology seems to show a broader range of emotions than your previous albums. Songs like “Voices in the Halls” are much slower and more serious. Do you hope fans will be able to appreciate material that is so different than anything you’ve done before?

EB: Yeah I think so. I think Picture Show had a few more of those moments of the deep valleys as well as the high peaks then this one. I think anyone that has gotten into the actual albums and not just the singles will definitely see that it’s the best of both worlds from the first two albums, while being a step ahead. Hopefully people delve in beyond the singles; hopefully that’s what happens that people who like the singles on the previous albums will now delve into the album and enjoy that as a whole. I think it’s congruent enough; it’s similar enough in feeling to be fitting on the album, so I hope we don’t loose anybody.

Neon Trees perform at the House of Blues on Friday May 16. Click here for tickets.

Al Mannarino is the associate editor and photographer for Pop Break. He is also host of the News Over Brews Podcast, Loot Care Unboxed, Backstage Break, and the producer of Behind the Brews. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino. His photo website is: http://alfredmannarino.com

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