Pop Psychology, the frothy third album from retro-hip Utah New Wavers Neon Trees, could not have been more aptly titled. Frontman Tyler Glenn composed it while undergoing cognitive therapy sessions in his hometown of Provo, during which he was regressed back to his childhood to confront serious issues.
"I set out to make a really dark record, but it ended up being more celebratory," he says of coliseum-pleasing anthems like "First Things First," "Teenager in Love," and "Love in the 21st Century." And he's still puzzled at how trauma turned so swiftly to triumph.
Glenn was raised Mormon, and had even undertaken a crusading two-year mission to Nebraska after high school. But he also had a secret, one that was frowned upon in LDS circles.
After returning from his mission, Glenn formed Neon Trees with boyhood chum Chris Allen on guitar. Meanwhile, he was becoming more and more conflicted about his sexuality. In band efforts like 2010's debut Habits and the 2012 follow-up Picture Show, he would reference it, but mostly in veiled metaphors. And he was getting tired of that. Next time around, he swore, things would be different.
It was the singer/keyboardist's mother who — nearly three years ago — found a therapist within walking distance of her son's house, since he didn't drive.
"I just saw it as a cry for help," says Glenn, who had developed a crush on a male member of his crew, and didn't dare broach the subject. "I'd reached a point where I just wasn't a happy person, so I was just happy to talk to somebody about it. I walked there three times a week, and started being able to talk to her, the therapist, without guilt."
The closeted Glenn wanted to confront the elephant in the room right away, but his counselor took him on a more roundabout path, forcing him to deal with his deep-seated anxiety and control problems.
"I realized that it's OK to have freakouts and it's OK to not be in control of the situation all the time. And that led me to talking about my identity. And once I got comfortable with who I was, I was able to start writing music for the record."
When he finished Pop Psychology — and listened back to its personal confessions — he understood that there was one more step he had to take. Quietly, he came out to his friends and family before its release. And then, not so quietly, to the world in Rolling Stone magazine this April.
At first, he was hesitant about what reaction he'd get. "But the world was OK with it," he laughs. "Obviously, there's a lot of growth in acceptance of gay culture out there. But there are still parts of the world — especially where I live in Utah — where it's still a little unknown and not really talked about. So I was glad to have the opportunity to speak up in my state."
As cathartic as he found the writing of Pop Psychology to be, performing the songs live is a different matter. "Actually, it's been a little too painful to play it every night," says Glenn. "There are times when I don't want to be that emotional."