"I wanna shake up your system/I wanna rattle your bones/I wanna take you to the stars/And then I'll leave you alone." "Farther Down"
Like their name, Neon Trees are a combination of slick pop hooks and sturdy organic rock, both melodic and hard-hitting, their anthems of adolescent angst, longing, love lost and found, delivered with the kind of heart-on-the-sleeve passion that only comes from hard work and commitment.
Their Mercury/Island Def Jam debut, Habits, produced by old friend, Sugarcult singer/guitarist Tim Pagnotta, is a refreshing blast of timeless rock energy and spirit that wouldn't sound out of place at any point from '60s garage-rock to 2010 emo-dance, with the first single, "Animal," taking off from a Strokes-like intro into a song equally at home in the arena as on the dance floor, a paean to sexual longing in which singer/keyboardist/ lyricist/front man extraordinaire Tyler Glenn wails, "Take a bite out of my heart tonight.," and you have no reason to doubt his sincerity.
Take the hook-happy '80s new wave of the Smiths, Depeche Mode, the Cure and U2, add to it the classic-rock story-telling humanity of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bryan Adams and leaven with the other-worldly charisma of Michael Jackson, and you begin to understand the palette Neon Trees are working from.
"I have this weird, obsessive nature of wanting to be a superhero," admits Glenn, who cites his two favorite performers as the Boss and the King of Pop. "I just want to help my friends and the people I love by saving them, only to realize they're really saving me by listenint. It's all about forgiveness, love and passion, which basically sums up the whole vibe of what we're about as a band, professionally and spiritually."
In the opening "Sins of my Youth," Tyler reminisces about a childhood of trial, error and eventual self-discovery. "I've got these habits I cannot break... Call me crazy/I was born to make a mess." "Your Surrender" takes Roy Orbison's romantic plaint and sets it up against Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, while "Girls and Boys in School" is just that, with a playground chant over a bubbly, sing-along synth-pop chorus. "Love and Affection" and "Farther Down" spotlight Chris Allen's quirky, edgy Johnny Marrr-meets-The Edge guitar riffs, while drummer Elaine Doty's tom-tom drums and John Bonham intensity add the heartbeat to the sensual "In the Next Room."
"We're all about songs which relate the human experience," says Las Vegas native, bassist Branden Campbell. "The emotion is very important to us. Our logo is a human heart with wings. We try to keep it real, but we're not afraid to dream, either, work hard and admit we want success."
"We approach the songs from a classic perspective," adds guitarist Chris Allen, who formed the initial group in San Diego with childhood friend Tyler, who lived around the corner. "Even from the start, it was all about the music for us.
We didn't even talk, just practice."
"I've always tried to keep my feet on the ground with my songwriting," adds Tyler, a self-taught musician who began composing when he was six. "I try to focus on getting out what I'm thinking and feeling. It's a tool to help me cope with all the weird things that come into my mind. I'm just happy to have found that outlet."
When Allen moved to Provo, UT, to attend massage school, he convinced Glenn to accompany him.
"That was a real awkward trip," laughs Chris. "We drove all the way out there and hardly said a word to each other. All we knew was we wanted to play music together."
Once there, they were soon joined by Campbell on bass and drummer Doty, a Midwestern Led Zeppelin/Depeche Mode fan, a combination that clicked despite the fact the individual members eventually discovered they ahd absolutely nothing in common.
"We are all so fascinatingly different," explains Doty, who has been playing in bands since she was 14, first as a guitarist then as a drummer, but never in an all-girl group. "Tyler's the quirky serious type who is really a goofball. Branden's the musical history encyclopedia. Chris is the manual labor and I'm the assertive, responsible one who takes care of the finances. Being in this band is like a business where you didn't necessarily get a chance to choose your co-workers, or an arranged marriage where divorce is not an option."
Campbell's Sin City connections-and their own talent, of course-helped the band get a coveted opening slot on the Killers' 2008 North American tour, which gave the group a glimpse at the big time, but being signed to a major label hasn't changed Neon Trees one bit.
"Our goal and how we play are still the same," insists Tyler. "We've always tried to evoke a larger-than-life feel, even if we're playing to 10 people in a garage. We're just trying to keep our feet on the ground and remember why we started doing this in the first place."
"I just don't understand/Why my love isn't good enough for you/I want you to show me/Love and affection." "Love and Affection"
"Music is a sacred act of communion for me, offering hope and love," says Tyler. "That's the heart of this band. Just like in life, though, you need to have fun, too, you have to laugh and dance and sing. The songs that last and get people to feel something are the ones they can sing along to and really feel."
"There's so much breadth to what we do," adds Elaine. "Every song represents a different aspect of our sound. We don't stick to a single formula. And we have the goods to back it up live."
"Our favorite thing is playing live shows, traveling, seeing new places, meeting new people," adds Chris. "We just want to share that feeling we got from the bands that inspired us. We want to pass the torch."
With their major label debut, Habits, Neon Trees light the fire.