Neon Trees new album Pop Psychology is an upbeat collection of sleek, modern alternative pop songs powered by singer-songwriter Tyler Glenn’s bright melodies, huge choruses, and witty lyrics about the challenges of finding love in the digital age. With disarming honesty, songs like “Love In the 21st Century,” “Text Me In The Morning,” “I Love You, But I Hate Your Friends,” and first single “Sleeping With A Friend” cleverly capture the millennial concerns referenced in the titles and deliver them in impeccably shiny sonic packages, thanks to the band’s performances and production by Glenn’s long-time friend and songwriting collaborator Tim Pagnotta.
Style-wise, Glenn feels that Pop Psychology blends sounds from the Provo, Utah-based quartet’s previous two albums, 2010’s guitar-pop-driven Habits and 2012’s electro-fueled New Wave-inspired Picture Show. “I think this is the first record where we combine both and really sound like Neon Trees throughout the entire album,” he says.
But Pop Psychology almost didn’t happen. After Neon Trees wrapped a support tour with The Offspring in the fall of 2012, Glenn found himself deeply unhappy personally and ready to give up on music altogether. “We hadn’t really slowed down since we put out our first record,” Glenn says of the heady time that followed his forming Neon Trees with guitarist Chris Allen in 2005. (The two were soon joined by bassist Branden Campbell and drummer Elaine Bradley.) “I was discovering who I was on stage, but I had to do it in front of audiences. I realized that I’m pretty outgoing as a performer, but am this really quiet guy off stage. It was like I had to flip a switch. I would tell people from the stage, ‘Be yourself, be happy with who you are,’ which was an honest statement, but I also felt like, ‘How can I say this and look into fans’ eyes and mean it?'”
After experiencing something of a breakdown, Glenn decided, with the band’s blessing, to cancel all of Neon Trees’ activities for the remainder of 2012 and see a therapist for the first time. “I began to realize that I’ve always bottled things up,” he says, “and that it’s okay to have freak-outs and moments of anxiety. That it’s better to deal with it and move on. So when I started writing music for the album, all my feelings were coming out in the songs. It felt really good to be honest and open about what I was going through personally, but have the songs still feel very Neon Trees.”
In January 2013, Glenn and Pagnotta decamped to Mexico and wrote several songs, including the raucous “Text Me In The Morning,” “I Love You, But I Hate Your Friends,” and “Foolish Behavior.” Neon Trees then hit the road for a North American tour with Maroon 5, during which Glenn came up with the album’s title. “I wasn’t sure I’d have much to write about, because I was dealing with my own shit, but turns out I did, and most of it was directly related to my breakthroughs and climb toward happiness,” he says. “I also like the way the title reflects the colorful visual aesthetic of the album. To me it feels like pop art.”
When the Maroon 5 tour wrapped, Glenn and Pagnotta went to Montecito, Calif., for another writing session that resulted in “Sleeping With A Friend” (“it’s the sex song I know how to write, because I don’t know how to write S&M club bangers”), “Teenager In Love,” and the anthemic album opener “Love In the 21st Century,” in which Glenn yearns for a pre-social media connection when he sings, “I don’t believe making out is a dead romance / I miss the days being kids simply holding hands / I’m sick of wondering if you would ever call me back / I check my four different accounts just to end up mad.” “You can hear my frustration with turning 30 and not being totally excited that I’m still single, but also realizing that I had to first own who I am and what I want before I can truly find someone,” he says.
Songwriting has always been an emotional outlet for Glenn, who grew up next door to Chris Allen in Murrieta, Calif., and followed him to Provo when Allen moved there for college. Neon Trees honed their New Wave-tinged sound locally before being chosen to open for The Killers in 2008. Shortly after, they signed to Mercury Records and released Habits, which spawned the platinum-selling breakthrough single “Animal.” The track peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart, No. 2 on the Rock Songs chart, and was featured on Glee. Its success led to multiple high-profile TV appearances, and tours with Thirty Seconds To Mars, Panic! At The Disco, My Chemical Romance, and Duran Duran. The band’s ascending profile smoothed the way for their next album, Picture Show, which debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart and featured the platinum-selling Top 10 single “Everybody Talks,” which cemented Neon Trees as modern rock contenders.
“I love the fact that a 40-year-old soccer mom can be as passionate about our music as a 15-year-old Goth kid,” Glenn says. “I want people to feel the album’s hopeful energy and be able to escape for the 35 minutes that they’re listening to it. I want them to have fun, but I also want them to realize that the songs aren’t throwaway pop tunes. Because for me, as much as it is a fun pop record, I think there’s a real sense of inspiration and spirit in the album that I’m thrilled to have captured.”