Search form

Scroll To Top
Out Exclusives

Hour of Reckoning: Tyler Glenn Finds Faith & Song Outside The Church

Tyler Glenn

The Neon Trees frontman has struck out on his own—and abandoned the Mormon Church that condemns him.

Photography by Ramona Rosales. T-shirt by Tony Ward available at Church's Boutique. Pants available at Church's Boutique.

Two years ago, Tyler Glenn jostled the foundation he'd built as the frontman for the Mormon pop group Neon Trees. The quartet had always adhered to the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Utah, where 62% of the population are church members. But just before the release of their third album, Pop Psychology, which debuted at the top of the Billboard Alternative Albums and Rock Albums charts in May 2014, the then-platinum-blond singer dropped a bombshell: He was gay, which slotted him in a category that the LDS Church has denounced.

"I always had trouble with the fact that I was gay and couldn't act on it," says Glenn, sitting in a Los Angeles eatery in the thick of summer. He is now scruffed with a beard that matches his jet-black hair, a far cry from his whistle-clean Neon Trees visage. "It was always a compartmentalizing thing," he continues. "When I started acting on my gayness, I knew that it was who I was, and it complicated a lot of things. Once I came out, my whole goal was to make a space for gay Mormons."

Initially, Glenn interpreted the church's response to his coming out as positive. It even developed a gay-Mormon Web site in its wake. Then, last November, church officials released a pamphlet that upturned its progressive, if somewhat backwards, narrative: The church decreed that married same-sex couples were apostates and that their children couldn't be baptized until they were 18 years old. Reevaluating his commitment to an institution that he had publicly claimed allegiance to in the face of discrimination, the singer finally saw the church for what it was.

"It completely rocked my world that the same God that I believed in through the LDS Church also told me I wasn't accepted, and, in fact, all of my attempts to live a happy life weren't enough," Glenn says. The 29-year-old, who had been a member of the church his whole life, pivoted.

This reversal is half of the focus of his upcoming debut solo album, Ex-Communication, a blend of synth-heavy electro jams and ballads that are equal parts Depeche Mode and Peter Gabriel. The other half of the record examines a different sort of separation, parsing the aftermath of a relationship with a man Glenn discovered had cheated on him.

Glenn is still technically a member of the church, but these new tracks are sure to nullify his guest pass. Ex-Communication is audacious and confrontational, a project that finds its creator drunk on freedom and on booze. On "Midnight," a dulcet, piano-driven number, he speaks directly to God: "Faith, please have a little in me / Hey, I know you hate it when I stray, but I tried everything / I drank the wine and stained the sheets." This is one of several references to drinking (others include "vodka saved my life" and "another shot of rum"), something forbidden by the church. In the video for the teaser single "Trash," Glenn swigs from a bottle of wine and faces off with a distorted portrait of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, an artistic interpretation of his real-life vices, Malbec and marijuana.

The clip, released in April, proved divisive. On Facebook, fans praised it for being "powerful" and "honest." Glenn's mother, a devout Mormon, tweeted that she found it "sacrilegious" and "upsetting" but that she still loved her son. Glenn and his Neon Trees band mates haven't spoken since the video premiered. (One member left the church a few years back, while the other two are still allegiant.)

"I'm not mad at them," Glenn says. "It's a really delicate conversation, so I think we've just been giving each other space." He is careful about how he addresses his standing with the collective. "There's still life in Neon Trees and a lot of things we can do as a band," he says. "I think I don't have space for it right now, but I don't think it will end, and I only say that because we've been through so many dramatic spells. We're such a unit. I think time does heal. I [already] feel different from that angry Tyler in the 'Trash' video."

The musician is considering moving to California, where he was raised, but he currently lives by himself in Utah. He's using his platform to speak out about the high rate of LGBT suicides related to the LDS Church there. In Utah, suicide is the number one cause of death for youth ages 10 to 17. He admits he's still coming to terms with his newfound liberation.

"I learn shit every hour," Glenn says. "I used to feel like I was closed off and knew what I believed and that was fine. Now, I'm really open. I'm open to the idea that we could survive this, and I think we will."

Ex-Communication is out November 11.

Like what you see here? Subscribe and be the first to receive the latest issue of Out. Subscribe to print here and receive a complimentary digital subscription.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Steven J. Horowitz