Artist of the Week: Neon Trees

Utah synth-pop band scores Hot 100 hit and love from the Killers

July 29, 2010 10:54 AM ET

Who: Provo, Utah synth-pop revivalists Neon Trees. The all-Mormon band started up in Southern California in 2004 when frontman Tyler Glenn and guitarist Chris Allen's fathers suggested the two play together. "They both thought we were deadbeats," says Glenn. The band migrated to Utah separately and made fans in the Killers, who helped them score a record deal.

Sounds Like: Their debut Habits is filled with Eighties pop meshed with bombastic alt-rock choruses — like the Killers playing backup for Duran Duran. "Your Surrender" is a U2-style singalong, "1983" is a bratty dose of keyboard-driven pop punk and Hot 100 single "Animal" is an irresistibly catchy lovesick dance tune. The band's is pretty clear about its inspiration: "New Wave is basically all I listen to," says Glenn.

Killer Instinct: After playing clubs for a few years, the band got its break in 2008 when Killers drummer Ronnie Vanucci Jr. dropped in to see a Vegas gig. The drummer was so impressed, he offered the band a few opening slots on the Killers massive Day & Age tour. "We've always played like we play in front of thousands of people anyway," says Glenn. But the band hasn't rested on its connection to Brandon Flowers and Co. "We've made a conscious effort to not always associate with the Killers," says Glenn. "Ronnie even said, "I think you guys can stand on your own.' "

Clean Team: The band doesn't preach their Mormon teachings in their songs, but none of them drink or party. "It's funny how backstage, if you say you're doing it for God or doing it for morals or for health, people say, 'That's stupid' or 'lame.' But if you say you've been sober for 10 years, they respect you because you've been through AA," Glenn says. "Half the people think I'm on drugs anyway, I've always had a drone-y southern California voice and worn sunglasses in an airport when I shouldn't."

Bad Romance: Glenn's favorite track on Habits is "Our War," a heartbreaking plea to a girl he dated for two years. He even prepared for marriage by asking his aunt for a family heirloom ring. The song traces the day things started to fall apart, when the couple were supposed to take a trip to Salt Lake City. "I was at a bus stop waiting in the rain all day," he says. "I walked all day in the rain. Looking back on it, it felt cinematic. But since then it's bottled up and made me not trust. Maybe the whole next Neon Trees album will be more angry."

Get It Now: Watch Neon Trees' exclusive Live at Rolling Stone performance of "Animal," "Your Surrender" and" Sins of My Youth" above.

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Song Stories

“Money For Nothing”

Dire Straits | 1984

Mark Knopfler wrote this song with Sting, and it wasn’t without controversy. The Dire Straits frontman's original lyric used the word “faggot” to describe a singer who got their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Even though the slur was edited out in many versions, the band, and Knopfler, still took plenty of criticism for the term. “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London--he actually said it was below the belt,” Knopfler told Rolling Stone. Still, "Money For Nothing," undoubtedly augmented by its innovative early computer-animated video, stayed at Number One for three weeks.

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