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Gavin's Underground

Neon Trees

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2011-10-06 -
Remember when the Big Ass Show first started and it was all awesome, then it got bad weather for a few years, then Everclear and Primus showed up frequently, then they moved it, then moved it again, then canceled it all together? Well ... it's back! X96 dragged their fan-favorite concert back from the dead and into downtown SLC for the 16th installment, bringing the massive two-stage event back to its roots and revitalizing it by featuring current favorites, upcoming names and a sprinkling of locals for several hours on what hopefully will be a somewhat warm day. The show takes place this Saturday at the Gallivan Center starting at 11a.m., with tickets still on sale as of this blog entry.
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To celebrate the return, this blog buries the hatchet with Neon Trees, a band we've given grief to in the past. One of the biggest acts to ever come from the Utah music scene, Neon Trees went from being Velour patron favorites to major-tour supports to Billboard chart toppers in under two years, earning fame, criticism and notoriety along the way with their breakout album Habits. The band returns home briefly this weekend to play the second-to-last spot on the BASh before finishing up the last leg of a lengthy tour. Today, we're chatting with lead singer/keyboardist Tyler Glenn in one of the most extensive interviews he's given to date since becoming one of the biggest bands in the country, discussing the band's early history and rise to fame, success and critiques, opinions and stresses, thoughts on local music and a few other topics -- all with photos from the past and some from the group on tour during 2011.

Tyler Glenn
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Gavin: Hey, Tyler. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Tyler: This is starting out like a simudate! I'm 6', hazel eyes, from California and I have the world's most polarizing haircut. Think you can handle me? You immediately leave the table, giving me my answer. I sit alone and wallow and write a song about it.
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Gavin: How did you take an interest in music, and who were some of your favorite musicians growing up?

Tyler: I know for me it came early on. I was a trained dancer from age 4-10. Ballet, jazz, tap dancing. I think my mother saw me dancing and singing in the living room to whatever she had on. I remember most of the time our household had country artists like Conway Twitty or Randy Travis or Ronnie Milsap, and then a lot of Michael Jackson. MJ music always put me in a trance. The first real guitar band I fell hard for was the Smiths in seventh grade. Before that, it was always Michael Jackson and subsequent pop artists of the time. But the Smiths! In California, a lot of my junior high was Mexican kids, and a group of them called themselves “rebels” and the all wore pompadours and listened to The Smiths and I had to know what it was all about. From there, I was introduced to New York Dolls because Morrissey has such a long-standing love for them, and then it was all over and I got very gloomy but also liberated and started dressing up everyday for school. Seminal goth bands always peaked my interest, but pop music was still always my heart. My father loved for Motown and soul music like the Spinners and the Temptations. They were a big influence. Also, who didn’t love it when Phil Collins came on? And some would call Third Eye Blind a guilty pleasure, or just terrible. I tell them to go away, that first record still defines my 1997. But, then I joined a pop garage punk band, and we were kinda terrible, but I was always this giant performer and always felt so larger than life on the stage. At that point, I just wanted to be in a band. Not famous, not a celebrity, just a guy on a stage channeling everything I felt into a performance. I wanted to be an entertainer. I still wouldn’t say I'm a musician. A songwriter, maybe. An entertainer, yes.
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Gavin: When did you originally break into the Provo music scene, and how would you describe the musical community in Utah County?

Tyler: After I followed Chris from California to Utah, he and I got to playing music right away. This was fall of 2005. He had been kinda playing stuff with a couple guys in Provo, and I remember we all decided to meet up and vibe out with one another, discuss bands we liked, directions in music we’d like to take, band names, etc. We got our first show after we walked into Ozz Billiards in Provo. The owner at the time asked if we were the band. I responded yes before anyone could speak. He realized we weren’t the band playing that night, but we were a band and I said we wanted to play at his venue, which at that time was a 150-cap loft upstairs. He booked us for the following weekend. Considering we hadn’t practiced once together yet, let alone writtten a song together, we got together and wrote six songs, played three songs I had written and demo recorded myself, and covered Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” We brought 75 people on our own to our first show, and from playing coffee shops and bars in southern California, that felt massive. We never stopped playing shows after that. Never. Our second show was the Muse Music Battle of the Bands a few weeks later and we lost to Another Statistic, which had Elaine on drums and vocals. I remember being pretty bummed, but looking back on it now, it made total sense. This was pre-Velour, too, which really changed the whole “scene” when it was born January of 2006. When Velour opened, I remember how it was such a mystique. It was such a goal to play there for us. We headlined a show at Muse in December and sold it out past capacity -- our third show! I knew then something was right. We played wherever and whenever, to a fault. We just wanted people to see us. We played everyone’s apartment-complex party, we headlined our first show at Velour, a month after it opened and without Corey Fox ever seeing us. Yeah, these things sound “sceney” and “inconsequential,” but we were fell in love with Provo’s music scene, and it was such a treat to be a part of it then. I think that era of bands and acts in Provo was really cool and really interesting. You had pre-drug Mathematics Et Cetera and pre-drug Return To Sender; glory days. The New Nervous, Another Statistic, A Film In The Ballroom, The John Whites -- man, could John write a song that stuck with you. Abby Normal, Marcus Bently and the Beat Surrender, Seve vs. Evan, Victim Effect, Love You Long Time -- love them or hate them, these bands were creating a massive stir in our little zone back in the '06-'07 days.

Gavin: So at what point did the four of you originally meet each other and decide to form Neon Trees?

Tyler: Chris and I started playing under the name Neon Trees back in 2002. We grew up in the same neighborhood in Murrieta, California, and just started writing songs on acoustic guitar. We played maybe 15 times as a duo, and then I left on my LDS mission. I remember telling him I wanted to do a pop band; somewhere between The Faint and Hot Hot Heat. Both those bands were just starting to make an impression in music as I was leaving. There was no Killers or Bloc Party or Arcade Fire or Bravery or Interpol. New Wave hadn’t been re-tapped yet in that way. Flash forward to 2005 when I got home and everything was Killers, Arcade Fire, Bloc Party. I was really bummed out because I felt like we’d missed the window. Chris had moved to Utah to go to massage school in Lindon. I thought he was nuts. I started writing and performing under my own name alone in California for seven months and finally called Chris up and said I wanted to play music again and I was going to move up to Provo if I had to. About two weeks later, I packed all of my stuff in the bed of his crappy white truck like a gypsy and moved to Provo. Three weeks later, we played our first show. Flash forward to the end of 2007 and our original lineup was falling apart and everything was strained. We were playing so much and burning out and trying to live this dream. Neon Trees broke up at the park on 5th and 5th in Provo, near the waterslides there. Two days later, Chris and I became Neon Trees again and announced we’d headline the tent stage at the second Sego Festival. The poster had just us two on it and I remember people wondered what we were doing, really. We got Elaine to fill in on drums. Elaine and Chris had been dating and playing in a side band called Less Yes. Simultaneously, my friend Branden Campbell, who played in everyone’s project or band, offered to fill in on bass. So we did the show with us four. There’s a cool video on Vimeo from that night, and I remember there were a lot of doubters that thought it wasn’t going to come together, but it was amazing. It felt really alive again. Eventually it led to the formation of the Neon Trees you hear now.
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Gavin: With each of you coming from different music backgrounds, how was it coming together and creating what's considered a very indie pop-rock sound?

Tyler: We really started as a dance punk band. We wanted to fit somewhere between Bloc Party, Ladytron and The Faint. Our first drummer played on V Drums, an electric kit, and for all of '05-'06 we had another keyboard player and then myself on keys. When our synth player left, we kinda ditched the other keyboard sounds live and I started using two different keyboards live. I remember Brinton Jones and Jake Fish commenting -- and I’m paraphrasing -- that the music was more melodic and you could really feel something distinctly different with the guitar, bass drums and keyboard sound. We got a little darker and angrier for that moment. By the time Branden and Elaine joined, our sound was shaping from a dance rock band to more of a pop rock band. Elaine played on a real kit, so we ditched the V Drums, and Branden was a soulful bassist. Bottom line, though, we were never afraid of being a pop band. We always wanted to have hand claps and singalongs, and we always have.

Gavin: Back in 2006, you released the Becoming Different People EP. What was it like putting that together, and what difficulties did you deal with along the way?

Tyler: We had played for an entire year as a band with only a handful of demos recorded, but never a proper release. So for us there was pressure. We were always a live/performance band. That EP isn’t the Neon Trees most people know and that you hear on our record Habits. It's almost two different bands with the same name. The guy who engineered the EP was Mike “Wiz” Wisland, who was a sound-engineering teacher at UVSC. With him there were no limits to what we could track, and that’s why you hear stacked vocals up the wazoo and five different “me’s” at one time on certain songs. I think we were trying to track the energy of our live show, to no avail. No one’s fault really, but if there had to be a finger pointed, I’d gladly point it at me. I wanted to experiment on songs that we didn’t need to experiment on. Really, we should have just recorded the band, but all the production ideas got thrown in, and it sometimes sounds like everything and the kitchen sink at times. Our keyboard player quit the band a week before our CD release show. The EP was really keyboard heavy. But we were used to uncertainty already and got Chris’s brother to play extra guitar in place of the keyboards. It worked nicely and the release was a success. I still laugh that there are torrents now for Becoming Different People. I forget about that EP a lot, although I still cherish a few of those songs. “Up Against The Glass” always felt like our first “hit”.
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Gavin: What did you think of the reaction, both from the Provo audience and around the state, when it finally came out and received the kind of buzz it did?

Tyler: I’m not sure how much the recording helped us. I think it made us feel like a “real band” because we had a release to sell at shows. But we were already sounding different by the time we put it out due to lineup changes. But I think that’s the story with a lot of, if not most, local bands. You’re never fully content on your first self-released recording.

Gavin: During that time, you were one of the biggest acts coming out of Utah County when it was starting to solidify itself as a hotspot for local music. What's your take on having that influence and helping melt away the conception of Provo being a place to avoid?

Tyler: I loved the era of Provo bands we came from. It was a great time for the creative scene in general in Provo. It was friendly and sometimes not-so-friendly competition. Battle Of The Bands were taken so seriously. Shows in general were taken seriously. It was a genuine scene that was building. Corey Fox has always been an instrumental part of the building of that scene, but also the bands that really built fanbases there. Bands weren’t afraid to say they were from Provo when they played out. I think that’s important to any music scene. Be proud of the area your from. At that time, there were all sorts of bands making sounds that went beyond singer-songwriter/Americana folk that sometimes gets associated with the Provo music scene. It felt important, it felt budding. I think stuff first started feeling weird was when in the back of Spin Magazine, they wrote two sentences about why you should go see us and The Brobecks play at Velour that month. A national music magazine was taking notice; that was special, and just the beginning.
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Gavin: As the “story” goes, in 2008, one night you were playing a gig in Las Vegas, and the next day you were signed to tour with The Killers. How was it reconnecting with Ronnie Vannucci, and what was that tour like for all of you?

Tyler: Well, Branden had played in a Las Vegas ska band called Attaboy Skip as teenagers with Ronnie. They always remained friends. Branden would always pass along different bands he was playing in, and Ronnie would always be honest with his opinions over the years. In summer of 2008, we were on a little regional self-booked tour and played Las Vegas down at old Fremont Street at Jillian's, upstairs next to the bowling alley. Chris and I had moved back to Murrieta a coupleof months prior to moving back into our parents houses because we were poor from all the money we had been dumping into the band the last three years, and Branden and Elaine agreed to move down to Murrieta,, too. Granted this was when a lot of Provo/SLC people misconstrued this as we were too good for Provo and were moving to L.A. to get famous. Not. The. Case. At. All. The night we played Vegas, about 10 people came to watch, mostly family and I think three actual fans. Ronnie was one of the people there, and pretty much stayed in contact with us after that night. No, we didn’t get a record deal the next day, or the next month, or that year. And no, we didn’t tour with The Killers. We played two high-profile warm-up shows for The Killers before their Day & Age world tour started, one in Las Vegas and one in San Francisco. The shows were about a month and a half apart and in between the shows we started garnering the infamous “blogosphere/industry buzz.”

Gavin: After those performances, you officially got a deal with Mercury. Was there any hesitation in signing with a major label, or did you sign up immediately?

Tyler: Well, a few months prior to the shows with the Killers, we had signed a publishing deal with Downtown. It wasn’t for a lot of money at all, but it felt like a step, and at that point we were so hungry for any sort of break at all -- any sort of good news we could tell our parents and friends. We thought maybe that would lead to signing a recording contract with Downtown, as well. We were practicing a couple of times everyday at Chris’s house and we would travel up to Los Angeles a few times a month and play our songs in a practice space for different people in the music industry. We wanted to play for anyone at that point who may have an influence on the band’s career. I guess it's called networking. We were also making trips every few months back to Provo to make sure our fanbase we had built still thrived. I never really felt like we had left the Provo scene because we played every two to three months up there anyway. One of the trips, we also had a show booked up in Logan at this tiny 50-cap room. The room was over capacity and an A&R guy from Mercury/Island Def Jam had flown in to Salt Lake City and drove the other hour to get to Logan. We were flattered. Afterwards, we went to Squatters and ate hummus and talked about music, and Elaine and I sang our best version of “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman. I think he thought we were trying to charm him into a record deal. Really, we were just being ourselves. The second Killers show was in December of 2008 in San Francisco, and the president and A&R from Mercury came to the show, as well as a booking agent from ICM interested in us. It all felt really good. But, of course, there was hesitation. We hired a lawyer. We all took a lot of thought into what kind of a band we wanted this to be. It had always been the kind that wrote songs people could sing and dance to. We never cared much for the classification of indie vs. major, rock vs. pop, etc. We got an offer a few weeks later.
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Gavin: A few months later, you won the 2009 CWMAs and put out your last self-released EP, Start A Fire. What was that experience like for you winning that competition and at the same time making the transition from a local act to a national one?

Tyler: We actually didn’t end up officially being signed as an Mercury/Island Def Jam/Universal Music Group act until after the CWMAs. That win was a huge morale-lifting moment. It really felt like a real, genuine accomplishment. We had competed in the Slammys/CWMAs for a couple years, and to make it to the finals was giant. That Depot show was everything. We did not expect at all to win. No offense to The Furs (now Plastic Furs) who also played that night, but we deserved that win. We had put SO much into Neon Trees and Utah music, and I still remember how well we played that night. It was an honor and we were grateful. We were still a marginally successful regional/local band, in no way were we the newly signed national rock band Neon Trees coming in to the City Weekly awards and stealing it. Real national acclaim didn’t even start to come till mid-2010, an entire year later. We didn’t even know if they would release our first record till about eight months into our deal. We didn’t start recording it until summer of 2009. There is so much that hangs in the balance, so much uncertainty that comes when you sign a record deal. Nothing is for sure, and it's terrifying. Getting the release date for an album is the thing you should be celebrating, not signing your name on a piece of paper. The money is not any amount it used to be 10 years ago. When The Used signed out of Orem, they did it when records still sold and checks were still being signed. Don’t sign a deal for money or for instant fame. It will never come on its own.
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Gavin: What was your time like in the studio putting together Habits with a label backing you, and how did that session differ from previous ones?

Tyler: We moved back to Provo in January 2009. Between the time after the first lineup had dissolved to us putting together Habits, there had been a couple of other lineup switches, Elaine and Branden joining officially, our moving to back to Murrieta, The Killers shows, the CWMAs, etc. Basically an entire year plus of writing music that had never been recorded except for demos. The label wanted us to write more. We hated that idea, but in hindsight the record we made would have been a completely different one. The way we made Habits will NEVER be relived again, but it's good we did what we did to get it released. The whole process was very patchwork and spanned about eight months. A lot of anxiety loomed during the process. I think when we wrote "Animal" was when a new outlook was born, and the label seemed to really be excited, more so than just, “Oh, this band has potential.” They started saying, “Oh, this band can write a hit single.” We wrote and demoed “1983” and “In The Next Room” in my room in Orem. We went out to Brooklyn for three weeks and started what we thought was going to be our album with a producer who had come highly recommended by the label. He was great, the studio was great, the city is great, etc. But the recordings were awful. It always came back to the demos we had done -- the less is more, first-attempt energy of a demo. The “Animal” you hear on the final record, that’s the demo. We went back to L.A. and started tracking the record with our friend Tim Pagnotta, who we met opening for his band Sugarcult in St. George once back in 2007. He had always been the guy; it just took us sifting through all the “great ideas” that everyone had and listening to our guts and taking the chance and risk of recording the record the way we wanted to with who we wanted to.

Gavin: A couple of local music writers, including myself, gave you grief for skipping out on dates while recording the album, which included a spot on SLUG's Localized series. And in turn came the perception that you'd “gone mainstream” and didn't care about Utah anymore. What happened with the cancellations, and what's your take on that criticism?

Tyler: That was an awkward situation for us and obviously for the publication and the Localized series. I ultimately blame our recording sessions having so many question marks and delays surrounding them. Like I said, we didn’t even have a release date until a week before we wrapped recording. We hadn’t even begun the final sessions for the record when I did the interview for SLUG. Of course, we thought by the time the show came around we would be finished recording, but that wasn’t the case. We were still knee-deep in the process, and our producer was having to put money into the album himself because the label stalled on budget for the record. We were broke, we had an album half done, and we had so many factors that were bigger than us weighing us down. We had no way to be in two places at once. What aggravated me about the whole situation was the sincerity and acknowledgment I myself and the band put into our apology and our efforts to try and make it all work, and the fact that no one brought up their grievances or the problems it caused for the event. As far as we knew it was fine, our apology had been accepted and our situation was more than understood. SLUG posted our interview along with my apology letter. It felt like it was all understood. It was to my surprise when I read your article almost a year later slamming us for how terrible we had become as people and how “anti-Utah” we seemed to be. Ultimately, it turned into an us vs. them, a me vs. you. It sucked. The whole situation was awkward. Never would we purposefully sabotage or neglect an event for our own selfish accord, not after all the hard work and effort we had put into building what we did in Utah -- especially then, when Utah was all we had to measure success. National acclaim, even a record release, that was all yet to be seen. We hadn’t “made it,” “sold out” or “gone mainstream” yet. You gotta at least sell a record or two and have a radio station play you first.
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Gavin: Before the album was released there was a lot of buildup, including live spots and the music video and promotional interviews. How much of that did you choose to do, and how much of that is the label and management at work? And what did you think of building up the hype?

Tyler: Everything in this whole ride has come down to our choices as a band. So many bands get signed every year that the public NEVER hears a note from. It's THE most fickle industry on the planet. A lot of that comes down to what you want as a band and how hard you are going to work to get it. That doesn’t mean what you're going to do to get it. I think we are proof that hard work and still maintaining a sense of moral awareness -- not just being rock' n' roll because you play rock 'n' roll -- can work. So many bands have even come and gone in the last two years we’ve had Habits out. The new bands we were apparently competing against in the new-band market kept changing every few months. Somehow, we were staying afloat while other new bands were sinking. We have an amazing team that we all are friends with that we have that works for us. We don’t have a nameless label guy/girl doing stuff for us. I know each person on our team and what they do, and I'm extremely hands-on. The biggest mistake is when you put your record out and start drinking the free Jack Daniel's or Jagermeister that starts flowing and stop doing the interviews and going to the radio stations and treating it as a grassroots thing. Regardless of our major-label affiliations, we have done this on a shoestring budget in a hands-on, face-to-face networking way this whole record cycle. The money we made went back into the band. Not until recently have we started to see bits and pieces of the money over the last year and a half of working this record. It's a lot like starting a small business. I can see why some bands fizzle -- it's way harder work than it ever looks, and no one can prepare you for it. If you are passionate and hardworking and at the end of the day still love answering the same questions and playing the same songs, then you’re in it for the right reasons.

Gavin: When Habits came out, it went to #13 on Billboard and took #1 on the Alternative charts. What was your reaction to the news and knowing you had officially made it?

Tyler: A bit of shock mixed with a bit of “finally” mixed with a lot of gratitude. That didn’t make me feel like I had made it yet. I think playing in Korea for 6,000-plus people all going nuts and getting to play in China this summer -- that made me feel like we made it more than a spot on a charts. At the same time, you can't help but think, “We're on the Billboard chart?! Where’s the millions for the hits we just made?” Ha. Growing up watching bands get big in the '90s sets you up for a shock when you're a band that gets big in the year 2010. I’m glad I play with the people I play with and have the outlook I do and that we spent so many years prior to all of this hustling and yet we still hustle the same way we always did. Oh, and don’t forget we won the Billboard Music Award for Alternative Song of The Year! Suck it, Mumford and Sons!
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Gavin: At some point last year, the song “Animal” was everywhere, and not just on radio where it was playing once an hour. It was in TV shows, commercials, movie trailers -- it was even an automatic track that played when people tested out an iPod at the Apple Store. You essentially received what some call “big American fame.” What was it like for each of you going from being unknown one minute to instantly known the next, and how did you deal with that fame?

Tyler: I mean, I kind of answered that previously, but we still feel like the same people, which I'm relieved. I love coming back to Provo after a tour for a few days in between the next tour and still seeing my friends and still eating at Guru's and still buying makeup and random stuff at Taylormade. Going to Velour is a little hard because everyone wants to talk about the band, and I just wanna talk about stuff unrelated. My life has become this band. I guess it always has been. If you’re not careful, success can eat you up. By the same token, I still have a room I rent in Provo at my friend's house, we still have to work every day of our lives, we’ve only written one successful first record. I wanna write a second and a third successful record, I want to grow, and we will -- it's not even been two years into this whole “fame” thing. And fame is dead, anyway.

Gavin: On the flipside of that, was there any worry on your part before “1983” was released, that because “Animal” got so much exposure it might overshadow the album and become a one-hit wonder?

Tyler: I never ever worry about those things because I am not the chart guy in the band. I stopped looking into all of that a couple of months after Habits was released because that stuff will keep you up at night if you let it worry you. I only listen to opinions from people I respect, and I never write a song solely based on where it will fall on the charts. More so, I pay attention to what's happening at the shows -- how we're growing the attendance, how we're making sure we're making new fans, what they’re reacting to live, what I'm feeling, what creative ways we can take this whole thing. "1983" didn't become "Animal" because "Animal" didn't let it. Why sabotage that, though? It's such a rare thing to be doing what we are doing on our first record these days, anyway, and it's such a different music industry now than the music industry we grew up in. We cherish the relationship we’ve fostered at radio, but it’s not the absolute anymore. Sales aren't the absolute. The show is the absolute; the entertainment.
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Gavin: There's a line from the film Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World where a character says, “The first album is much better than the first album” --in essence making fun of how labels don't acknowledge a band's history before their first major release. Does it feel odd being in that position, where Mercury doesn't acknowledge anything prior to Habits?

Tyler: With our EP Start A Fire, it does. I mean, Becoming Different People is essentially an entirely different band. I'm a much better singer than I was back then, especially on record. We're all better players, if not entirely different players. The music has sonically progressed. Yet all of that was integral to where we are today. But with Start A Fire, we recorded that in the few months between finishing Habits and putting it out. We wanted something to sell at shows, and we were doing a national club tour supporting a band called Nico Vega, and we wanted to have music to sell at the table. We still play the Start A Fire songs at most of our shows. I think it will get released when it's the right time. It's exciting to see the mystique it has built within our fanbase. We only sold 250 copies of it. I had five copies left this last year. I started throwing them out into the crowd at random shows. Now I only have one copy left.

Gavin: The past year and a half, you've spent most of it touring as a headlining act. How has it been for you working with other national bands and dealing with the grind that is touring.

Tyler: It's been amazing to be launched into this whole lifestyle. We go from touring self-booked shows in a van for years to supporting national tours with Mute Math, 30 Seconds To Mars, Angels & Airwaves and My Chemical Romance, to name a few. That’s the kind of touring a rock band only dreams of. Somehow in between those tours, we’ve headlined three of our own North American tours, toured Europe and the UK, all of Asia and Australia. It doesn’t make any sense, and yet it does. And then we finish the year supporting Duran Duran on their US run. It's weird to see it all typed out. In 2006, we’d sit at the Provo library paying for Internet time to book shows in Idaho and southern Utah. It feels good to see growth over a timeline. Some bands are amazing, down-to-earth people. Some are complete tools, but nice to your face. I will never name names -- until the tell-all when I'm 65 years old and I'm overcoming my seventh stint in rehab.
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Gavin: The last track you released of Habits was “Your Surrender” back in May, which has been projected as the last song you'll put out from the album. With that in mind, what are your plans from here when this tour is finished?

Tyler: I'm excited to wrap up Habits. I'm excited to start a new phase in this band. I’m excited for people to see and hear the new phase of this band. It's different the second time around, and yet it's the same. There will always be the wonderment and the anxiety and the desire to be great and the desire to make something great and play bigger shows, and work harder and evolve while maintaining what you’ve built and still take risks and dabble in gambles. But what’s exciting is we get to make a second record and we've written half of it and I’m in love with it and we get to start it all over again, exactly two years after Habits got released.

Gavin: Speaking of this tour, you'll be playing the Big Ass Show coming up here this week. What made you decide to sign on, and what are your thoughts on coming back to play what will be your biggest local gig yet?

Tyler: We played the Big Ass Show in 2006! We did the X96 competition to play on the main stage, and a day before the winner was announced, Portia, from the station, called us and told us we’d won, and we silently celebrated. And then The Playdead Movement went in all Kimbo Slice-style and got their middle school to vote. Power move! We ended up playing last on the local stage, but we promoted and flyered our set time the whole day at the show and ended up having a larger crowd than we would have had at the Main Stage at 11 a.m! So again, hard work wins! Also, our slot was against Soul Asylum. We had a pull in the demographic there. I'ts an honor to play as a headliner at the show this year. We're pulling out all the stops. It's been a while since we played a long set in Utah, too, so it's exciting. Also, our friend Dallon from The Brobecks plays in Panic At The Disco now, who is also playing the show, which just makes for that hometown feel-good spirit in the air.
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Gavin: Moving onto statewide stuff, what are your thoughts on the local music scene right now, both good and bad?

Tyler: I can only speak for the Utah county stuff, and even then I have been gone about 17 of the last 20 months, so I get to experience it in small, sporadic doses. Sometimes it feels as though it's in a rut and everyone is a singer-songwriter of the same rehashed Americana-folk sound. Then there are times I see that actual hip-hop shows go on, and there’s a lot of great underground to the underground stuff going on. Which is both good and bad to a scene if you want it to thrive. Variety is essential, while division will be the death of a scene.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Tyler: Sometimes I wish all the bands would stop doing so many drugs and get back into music and making it brilliant again. Folk is labored. I’m not saying start a rock band, but I am saying that Provo could use a band that comes out playing a fresh version of something, maybe dressed in something a little different, maybe writing songs with a bpm faster than 90-100 and maybe not cramming every sad thing that ever happened to them into one six-minute song, and maybe do this all while only having one purple light shining on you on stage. Or maybe there isn’t even a stage. I dunno, you take it from there. If there is this happening, then I apologize, as I can only go off of my up-to-the-minute news blasts from friends on Twitter and the fact that I live in the past and I'm almost too nostalgic. I also know for a fact someone is going to have a problem with this whole answer, which I say to them ... a tip of my flattened mohawk to you.
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Gavin: Who are your favorite acts coming out of Utah right now, and what acts should people keep an eye on?

Tyler: I’ve loved every band Bret Meisenbach has been in, and I think Joey Mayes and I would be good friends but he probably hates me. I love the creativity and all those bands. I guess you’d say we're affiliated with The Compound that has the best band names. I respect the music and the aesthetic they create. I love Apt, this budding MC white guy that dresses in gingham like he sings in the band Hurts with a David Lynch haircut but actually raps emotively over really creative beats made by his friend Chance Lewis. It's exciting. I just saw a band called Back Chat; I think it has potential to do something great in the scene. I’ve always liked JR Boyce’s songs. I loved his rock band. I still think Nate Pyfer is the most gifted songwriter of the bunch. I still think Scott Shepard is the most gifted singer. Emily Brown is brilliant; everyone should own her album. Then there's Desert Noises! Also, I want Chad Reynolds to start another band and take it seriously. Return To Sender was that massive at one point for me. Marcus Bently! I'm bummed Shark Speed broke up. I'm bummed Elizabethan Report keeps changing their name; they’re great. I'm really happy to hear bands like Fictionist and The Young Electric, who used to be The Trademark, got signed to labels and making the jump to the national music scene. They couldn’t be more different. Fictionist is a band that myself and Chris saw when they were called Maxwell back in 2006. They’ve really put in a lot. Some could bag on them and say they don’t deserve it because they were on some Rolling Stone cover contest and that's basically American Idol for a rock band, which I again would say, “A tip of the tip of my red-velvet hipstered-out glam-rock boot to you.” The Trademark also have been gnarling away as a band for forever! They signed with a super independent label, and that is rad for them. As I said, I think getting signed shouldn’t be the celebration point. Unfortunately, there’s the opinion -- sometimes fact -- that “that could be the beginning of the end, and it's 2012 and you’re a band with guitars and rock is dead and it's a singles industry and blah blah blah”. But one of the biggest and scariest and craziest and most freeing things I have learned: Nobody really knows the answer and there isn’t just one way of going about it.

Gavin: With the addition of places like recently shut down Deathstar, The Rooftop Concert Series and Black Pyramid Records, what are your thoughts on the Provo scene at the moment?

Tyler: Music scenes need all-ages clubs as much as they need a yearly festival and special-event shows and a cafe where bands play and a dive concrete room with a crappy PA where punks hang out. It makes it healthy, diverse and interesting. I hear the Rooftop Concert Series brings in over 3,000 people on its nights. That’s fantastic.
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Gavin: Now that you've become a national artist, what's your take on file sharing these days, both as a musician and a music lover?

Tyler: We’ve sold almost half a million copies of our album Habits, and over two million singles of “Animal.” That’s what is tracked. Now think about how many more albums and singles have been downloaded via Torrents or YouTube or other file-sharing sites. It's gnarly. I don’t love that big-name artists like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and Lady Gaga give away their music or sell their albums for a dollar because, on one hand, it has completely devalued the idea of an “album” and the worth of “an album.” But they can do that because they don’t rely on album sales to generate money. Smaller bands, baby bands, buzz bands, new bands, artists, etc. --we all need to change and adapt and get creative. Instead of fighting the file sharing, we’ve treated it as a flyer to get people out to our shows. The shows are where we make our revenue, and so it's all about pushing people to see you live. I had a girl yesterday at our show come up to me at our meet-and-greet table and tell me she has seen us three times and finally thinks she’ll go home and download the album legally off iTunes. That’s an example of where things are at in the music business.

Gavin: What can we expect from you guys over the rest of this year?

Tyler: We’ve begun pre-production and some recording of our new record. We’re heading out for five weeks as direct support for Duran Duran, which is absolutely insane. After that, we’ll dive back into the second record and that’s the rest of our 2011. It's been an amazing ride so far. I can’t really make sense of how quick it all has gone the last while.
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Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Tyler: I’ve recently become involved with the Creative Coalition for a campaign to stop bullying in schools. I am passionate about this cause and it's probably the most “political” or super-serious I get during our shows. But it’s something that I’ve been deeply wounded by since my stint in high school. It's a really violating thing to be the victim of bullying, and I hear from so many young people at our shows about what they have to deal with. It's pathetic and has to stop. I don’t speak on behalf of a race or religion or sexual orientation. But much of the bullying around our nation has to do with homosexuals being threatened and mistreated because of their orientation. I recently heard that in Salt Lake City a young man was beaten to a pulp resulting in teeth missing and brain damage because he was gay. How horrifying. I am a sarcastic guy who tries to find the humor in everything, but flat-out bullying and violence toward another human being is atrocious, and if I can use any sort of “status” or pedestal or the microphone I have on a stage to declare that sort of thing, I am down for the cause. In closing, in regard to music and art and creativity: Let's listen to music, let's create good art and things that motivate all of us to be positive. Let's all also be ridiculous when there’s a place for it. Let's not be so serious all the time, and if we are, let's be serious about our passion and what drives us individually. Bottom line: I guess "It's only rock and roll, but I like it."


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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // October 8,2011 at 09:53 Excellent article/interview. Its great to see that he is so involved still with the scene in Utah. It would be interesting to hear more from Utah musicians that have made it to the "big time". Fictionist, Dallin Weeks, etc...

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // October 6,2011 at 13:25 Good questions, good answers. Hopefully true.

 

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Posted // October 6,2011 at 07:57 Mathematics Et Cetera was better when they were on drugs! Chad Reynolds has a band called Father Time. He also plays in Tom Perry's band, Old Smith. They're AMAZING!

 

 
 
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