“To be honest…” Tyler Glenn begins, following a telling deep breath.
Glenn’s lead-in could serve as the prologue to his new no-holds-barred solo debut album, “Excommunication.” Here, however, it precedes the heavy moment when Glenn, the lead singer of Neon Trees, reveals he’s considered suicide twice this year.
Perhaps that comes as a surprise. The singer seemed vibrant and hopeful when he came out in 2014. At the time, Glenn was looking to reconcile his Mormon faith with being gay, and during our talk that same year he said, “I think that there’s a time and a place to come out, and I don’t know if waiting till I was 30 was the best thing, but it definitely has turned out fine, and I’m a happy person.”
A year later, Glenn received dispiriting news that left him feeling just the opposite: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints enacted a policy that prevents children living with same-sex couples from being baptized until age 18 – also, they must “disavow” same-sex relationships before baptism – and proclaims members in gay marriages subject to excommunication.
The church’s shameful decision had a destructive effect on Glenn’s well-being. “I tried to kill myself,” the singer confesses on the new album’s G.D.M.M.L. GRLS (i.e. “God Didn’t Make Me Like Girls”), “and I’m not the only one.”
During our sobering exchange, the 32-year-old ex-Mormon spoke candidly about his descent into a life-threatening low and how his own fans pulled – and are still pulling – him through.
When were you having these suicidal thoughts and what kept you from taking your life?
(Sighs) To be honest, it was earlier this year. For me, I believed in Mormonism, and I knew I was gay, and then I tried to merge the two together. Then, when the church put out a policy that clearly put same-sex couples in their place and in a marginalized box, it was just clear to me it was a toxic space. I started looking at things that I thought I knew were true my whole life and really began to see that those things weren’t true. I looked deeper and I fell down a rabbit hole. I felt the rug had been pulled out from under me, and I didn’t know what to believe in. It became really dark, and I realized how it feels to want to sort of, you know, leave. And, to be honest, even two months ago I felt this thought and saw my life sort of – I don’t know. It’s been a long road. I totally recognize now what it’s like to be that dark and to think that that might be an option, and it freaked me out.
How would you describe the feeling of being this beacon of light for young queer people, but at the same time experiencing the same struggles they’re going through? Is it conflicting for you?
It is. (Sighs) A month ago I went to Wyoming for a weekend with LGBTQ kids to speak with Matthew Shepard’s mom, to hear my own mom speak about being a mother of a queer kid, and then I just got to hear from kid after kid and adults as well who were pouring their hearts out. But the day before was probably one of the lower points in my life – of this year, at least.
I was on a plane and I was telling the lady next to me that I want to be able to tell all these people that it gets better, but I don’t know that for sure. Then to be able to go and spend a weekend in Wyoming and have my perspective and attitude change – those are the things that keep me from falling completely down that dark hole. So, it’s conflicting. It exhausts me because I’m actually just kind of an introvert. I know that about myself. But I am so in awe of other people’s strength, and I need them as much as maybe they need me sometimes. I need to hear that it’s gonna be good, that there’s a point to all this. So, I feel really bonded to my gayness, I feel really bonded to the community more than I ever have, and I’m really exploring that. That, I think, is one of the most rewarding things about this record so far for me.
What were you feeling during the process of writing and recording the songs for “Excommunication?”
I felt pretty out of my mind when I was writing a lot of it because I just felt compelled every day. I woke up and paced my apartment, manically writing beats so that I could sing the melody in my head. There are a few songs that didn’t make the record that are even more raw and pointed, but what ended up making the record is a body of work that showcases the highs and lows of this transition, as well as this coming to terms with identity. In that way, writing it was really effortless, but exhausting.
Recording it was one of the most creative, joyful experiences so far in my musical career. That’s what makes it worth it. It’s really rewarding. I hate to sound like this guy who’s like, “I don’t care if it’s No. 1,” or, “I don’t care if I have a hit off of it” – those things are important – but what’s driving this record is the real-life crisis that I’ve gone through and shining a light on those who are also going through it. To know I’m not alone is really exciting. So, if the record reaches the audience I made it for, then I’m stoked. To me, that’s success.
You’re sending a lot of messages to a lot of people with this album. But what message do you hope to send to Mormons who’ve condemned you and other LGBT people?
I want them to recognize that it’s not a tantrum, and that there are thousands upon thousands of voiceless LGBT people within even just the Mormon community who feel like they can’t ask questions and can’t have doubts and can’t be themselves. I want to be able to give a microphone to those people.