Neon Trees’ Tyler Glenn talks his solo CD, leaving the Mormon Church

Tyler Glenn had a crisis of faith.

The 33-year-old frontman and keyboardist for alt-rockers Neon Trees was raised Mormon and is openly gay — he came out in a March 2014 interview published in Rolling Stone — but he remained steadfast in his faith until last fall. That’s when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a new policy — declaring people in a same-sex marriage to be apostates (traitors or heretics) and prohibiting their children from being blessed or baptized.

The announcement threw Glenn into a spiritual tailspin, but he transformed the experience into the artistic fuel that generated his debut solo CD, titled “Excommunication.” The theme and tone of the collection are captured in songs such as “Shameless” (“It’s the darkest time of the night/God and vodka might save my life/you judge but I don’t give a damn”) and “G.D.M.M.L. GRLS” (“God Didn’t Make Me Like Girls”).

Q Voice News spoke with Glenn, who headlined Long Beach Pride this year with Neon Trees, about “Excommunication,” the years he hid his homosexuality and his decision to leave the church. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

On his first solo CD: “I had been writing songs that were different than Neon Trees. I always wanted to do a solo record. This record has my name on it for a reason We [the band] needed some time off. We have personal lives. We respect each other enough to do other things.”

Tyler Glenn

Flamboyant toy soldier? Lonely Hearts Club Band member? Michael Jackson at the 1984 Grammy Awards? Nope. It’s Tyler Glenn singing with the Band of Merrymakers earlier this month. Photo: Tyler Glenn’s Facebook page.

On living as a gay Mormon: “Up to that point, I was trying to make being gay and Mormon work. It thought it would work. When the policy came out, it was a shock to LGBT Mormons and Mormons as a whole. It didn’t seem Christlike. It put me in a rabbit hole.

“I was living a deeply closeted life in 2008. I wasn’t out to anyone. I had had these thoughts, but didn’t know what they were. I had been compartmentalizing. I was doing a barter system with God, essentially praying the gay away, but it didn’t feel right.

“It had never got into my head that the church was anti-gay. What pushed it over the edge was that kids had to choose between the church and their parents.”

On why it’s ‘a breakup album’: “This album is a breakup album. I used to think my life was to internally battle homosexuality. I don’t have to be a square peg in a round hole.  It’s been very freeing to say what I want. It’s been liberating to find a greater sense of purpose, but it’s not been without its sadness. I wanted this album to feel the way it feels to have a crisis of faith.”

On his faith: “I don’t know what I believe in. I don’t know if I’m atheist. It’s fuzzy. There is some peace in that. Growing up, I was told what to say and what to believe. [Now] I’m taking it as it comes. I’m trying to find that beauty. I grew up thinking I knew the truth, but it’s nice at 33 to forge anew.”

On who these songs are for: “I really think this record is for the LGBTQ community. I write from a gay man’s point of view. It’s an honest, gay record, what it means to be queer in 2016 and 2017.

To summarize: “Pop music is dangerous. It can change minds and hearts.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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