Tyler Glenn


One of the most powerful moments on Excommunication, Tyler Glenn’s debut solo album, comes during the final song, “Devil,” when Glenn sings: “I found myself when I lost my faith,” as four gospel singers provide soaring background vocals. “To me, the whole album culminates thematically in that one lyric,” says Glenn, who is also the lead vocalist and keyboardist for multi-platinum pop-rock band Neon Trees. “It’s a rollercoaster ride to leave what you’ve known your whole life. It’s full of twists and turns and it can be an ugly ride. But I think where I’ve arrived, while I’m not yet whole, I have the opportunity to lead a life that I feel will be worth living, versus a life I felt I had to live.”

Glenn is referring to what he calls a “faith crisis” that occurred when he left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) after it announced a new policy last November that identified those in a same-sex marriage as apostates and prohibited their children from being blessed or baptized. Mormonism had been the foundation of his entire life (he served a two-year mission in Nebraska when he was 19) and the announcement was deeply hurtful to Glenn, who came out as gay in 2014, and to his parents, who were supportive when he revealed his orientation.

“The announcement was almost a moment of disbelief for me,” says Glenn, who had hoped to remain a Mormon and be an ambassador for the church on behalf of progressive views. “And it came out the day before I planned to go to my nephew’s baptism, and to be at church to watch my other brother bless his baby and confirm them as a member. So it was jarring. I was forced to process, in the most visceral way, that because I’m gay, I’m never going to be able to do this.”

Glenn began to look deeper at the religion and at what he believed in. “Not only did I discover it was a lot of untruth that I not only taught as a missionary and believed in my whole life, but I also saw the damage it did to people who were marginalized,” he says. “There’s a lot of compartmentalizing involved when you’re trying to make your life work in a system that isn’t set up for you.”

Thus the thematic seeds were planted for Excommunication, which he describes as a break-up album. “I’m breaking up with religion, and I’m also breaking up with a person in my life,” says Glenn, whose first public gay relationship came to a painful end around the same time he began examining his religious beliefs, and prior to his beginning the songwriting process with his long-time collaborator and co-producer Tim Pagnotta. “I started writing about that paradigm shift, about believing in things that aren’t true, and about my ex-relationship. I’ve channeled so much of my experiences into this record, and it represents where I was and where I am now or am hoping to be.”

In April, Glenn released the first single “Trash,” a bitter song about his struggles with the church and his cheating ex, with an accompanying video that showed Glenn engaging in acts the church would consider blasphemous, like swigging from a bottle of wine, and spitting on an altered portrait of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith. On second single “Shameless,” Glenn realizes that it’s going to take a lot to unwire the shame and guilt his religion taught him to feel about his sexual orientation. “I wanted to write an anthem that spoke to that and that was also unabashedly sexual and proud and raw,” he says. Written after he released the video for “Trash,” “Gates” conjures a moment of nostalgia for a simpler time before controversy enveloped his life. “I view it as a hopeful song, like if it’s true that I did lose my way, then I’ll find out in the afterlife. But for me, the hope is in not knowing. That’s more exciting to me now than knowing absolutes.”

Glenn says that though the album is front-loaded with sad, angry tracks like “G.D.M.M.L. GRLS,” “Trash,” and “Gods + Monsters” (a reflection of mistakes), it expands into hopefulness on “Gates,” Shameless,” “Midnight,” and “First Vision,” which dispels some of his grief and frustration as Glenn starts to see a light at the end of the tunnel. “I wrote it one night in New York City,” he says. “I was sitting at a bar and was on my third glass of Malbec. I was texting someone I was in love with who wasn’t able to love me back and was seeing this side of my life. It’s about how I finally see what I need to do, which is to break a lot of these cycles and habits, and this is my first vision of what’s to come.”

In bringing his themes to life sonically, Glenn was inspired by his love for dark wave ’80s synth-pop and industrial music (artists like Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode), as well as hip-hop and R&B. “Tim and I discussed the album feeling like something you put on at the beginning of your night and then it ends when the sun rises,” he says. “So it’s almost a night-drive record. It’s a reflective album and we wanted it to feel like that in its sonics and tones. I wanted the vocals to be the center point because the story and the lyrics are so important, so instrumentally and musically the mood needed to fit.”

Overall, Glenn says his goal was for the listener to relate to the way he felt during this emotional, tumultuous time in his life. “I want people to feel the rejection,” he says. “I want them to feel the anger. I want them to feel the confusion. And then I want them to feel the joy, the excitement, and the eventual hopefulness that can come from taking a leap into the unknown and not adhering to what you thought was the only way. Ultimately I want them to feel that entire feeling.”


[September 2016]