The psychology of pop: Neon Tree’s Tyler Glenn talks about coming out as a gay Mormon, new release

Last October, Tyler Glenn, lead singer for the Neon Trees, had plans to celebrate his birthday by getting his driver’s license (for the first time in his life). Instead, he came out as a gay man to his family and friends. Five months later, Rolling Stone published his coming-out interview and the rest of the world got to know Tyler Glenn in his authentic glory.

The buzz surrounding Neon Trees is partially about Glenn’s coming out, but also about their new release, “Pop Psychology,” just released last month. Neon Trees have been on television nearly every week since the release and will be playing Friday, May 23, at the Tabernacle in Atlanta.

The GA Voice spoke to Tyler Glenn about coming out as a gay Mormon when you’re a rock star. Here’s what he had to say:

GA Voice: The interview you did a few weeks ago with Chelsea Handler was interesting. She was sharing with you her own ideas about what it means to be a Mormon and you told her that it didn’t sound like your Mormon faith at all. I think it took her aback for a gay man not to jump on the anti-Mormon bandwagon.

Tyler: Yeah, we could have really explored that but that show isn’t the best platform to discuss those deep things.

You said that you were loved by the Mormon community when you came out and received more hatred from gay atheists. Tell me about that.
As a lifelong Mormon, I have come to expect that if someone is going to give me grief, it’s going to be a conservative, religious person. I expected it. But I got a very loving response from the people who were Mormon. There were others who tweeted very negatively to me—they seemed to be part of an atheist LGBT group. It was bizarre because if anyone should be rallying with you, it should be the gay community.

What was the problem?
(California’s) Proposition 8 (banning same sex marriage) was the thing that really started the division between Mormons and gays. My family and friends and conservative people that my parents associate with – I wasn’t sure how they’d react but I was definitely curious. But I didn’t think they would shun me. And they didn’t. I’ve always felt comfortable in the Mormon Church. I’ve felt more uncomfortable when I’ve chosen to do other things that were not … it wasn’t being gay that made me feel uncomfortable. It was other life choices that made me uncomfortable.

You were having some issues prior to your coming out and your mom intervened and set you up with a therapist. Do you think she had any idea about what you were struggling with?
I’ve known I was gay since I was 6. It was something that I learned when I started school that I had to hide. I don’t think my parents expected me to say that I was gay when I told them I had something to tell them. They almost didn’t believe me.

I have always been a unique kid and a bit different. When I went to therapy, it was more of me trying to figure out why I was one version of myself while I was on stage and why I was another version of myself with certain friends. It was a lot about finding a balance and not acting so isolating and alienating when I was on the road. I knew deep down a lot of it had to do with my iden- tity and being comfortable with who I liked.

Wasn’t it a relief? Just not having to hide who you were anymore?
The first person I came out to was my producer who I was intensely working with on this record. He knew me for years and I just wanted to share with him what the songs were about because I was writing songs that were obviously about someone and he knew me well enough to know I didn’t have a girlfriend.

I finally just told him. What flipped everything for me is when he reacted with such love and even excitement, which I could have never before associated with coming out as gay. Someone being happy for you? Being excited for you? That went so well that I then I told my parents and family. It’s been since October that I came out and I’m a really happy guy. It’s been great.

The first single on your new album, “Pop Psychology,” is called “Sleeping with a Friend” about hooking up with a straight guy …
That was me, for the first time, talking openly about my sex life so there was a little bit of curiosity about how people would react. Again, my close friends and family circle knew me well enough to know I wasn’t seeing anyone so would they wonder, ‘Who is he talking about in this song?’

The general response to your coming out has been positive?
I venture to say overwhelmingly positive. Ellen DeGeneres was the big celebrity that I remember coming out and I remember how it destroyed her career at the time. I love that it’s not like that anymore. You can just say it and move along.

The Neon Trees are going to be in Atlanta on May 23. What do you want to say to your Atlanta fans?
I’m excited to tour. Being able to love and accept myself with a real fullness has given me a new energy and the band a new energy. We can’t wait to connect with our fans in Atlanta.
Neon Trees band members from left: Chris Allen, Elaine Bradley, Tyler Glenn and Branden Campbell. (Photo via band)

8 p.m. Friday, May 23
The Tabernacle
152 Luckie St NW, Atlanta, GA 30303 404-659-9022