Though I don’t exactly remember the first time I saw Neon Trees, I’ll never forget how I felt. It was a few years ago when Provo seemed to have more rock bands, but I still hadn’t seen anything quite like the them (with the important exception of Midwives Crisis, who were also amazing). Though I’m typically too shy to be much more than a wallflower at concerts, Neon Trees made me want to dance. A lot. In fact, the impulse wasn’t so much a desire as it was a need. It was spectacle on the rocks, and I was completely intoxicated.
Since then the band has evolved, undergone at least one lineup change, and signed to Mercury Records. Though I love the music of Joshua James and Isaac Russell, I make no apologies for my belief that Neon Trees are currently Provo’s best nationally recognizable rising stars. Compared to other, newer acts in the area, they are also proof local music can be successful by being garish, over-the-top and deliciously dark.
But of course, this is “Video Dose” and not a discussion on how Utah County needs less wimpy, acoustic-boy “folk” music. (Sorry, everyone else at Rhombus.)
Indeed, as part of Neon Trees’ ascent in the world, they recently released a video for their first single, “Animal.” As music videos go, it’s firmly in the “band-playing-out-in-the-desert” genre; they’re surrounded by scrubby brush, they’ve got their tour van, they goof around a bit. It’s the kind of video that, if not earth-shatteringly original, is designed to capture the ethos of an up-and-coming rock band that aims to entertain.
The video was directed by Zach Rogers and was shot on a shoe-string budget over two days. The band got up early to capture the sunrise and, according to lead singer Tyler Glenn, it wasn’t as easy as it looks.
“It was so cold, so cold,” Glenn told me. “It looks sunny and warm in the video, but all of those desert scenes were ridiculously cold.” He also said one of the other big challenges was getting approval to shoot on land owned by the Navajo Nation, which apparently turned out to be relatively expensive.
The video’s concept evolved out of collaborations between Glenn and Rogers. The band wanted to create something that could go viral and, as Glenn recounts, “Zach’s idea was to make it almost a documentary, where he’d film a lot and the vibe would be following the band around their first video shoot.”
What surprises me most about the video is just how charming it is. Typically at Neon Trees shows, I see a band invested in hyperreal swagger and larger-than-life bravado, but in “Animal” the band is deeply humanized. Sure, they’re playing and looking cool, but then suddenly they’re moving gear around (without roadies) and throwing feathers in the van. Guitarist Chris Allen shares an intimate moment on the side of the road and nearly gets left behind.
Overall, everyone just smiles a lot. All of these things really surprised me, but also make the band feel much more approachable. They give the sense the band doesn’t take themselves too seriously and that they actually enjoy what they’re doing. It’s a refreshing approach to rock music and probably an expedient one for the band if they’re going to continue to grow a non-local fan base.
Though it should be apparent I’m partial to Neon Trees, the video is also significant for what it represents for local music. Most obviously, simply having a talented band with a quality music video out in the world raises the scene’s profile and lends it legitimacy. Though there are a few other musicians from the area getting national recognition, most of them are the creme de la creme of the acoustic and folk scenes. The prominence of Neon Trees, as exemplified by their “Animal” video, proves that not everyone in Provo is a folkie, cowboy or indie. (Though the Neon Trees may be indie in temperament, their aesthetics are more glam-punk.)
More significantly however, the video for “Animal” also represents a rock band taking ownership of their home turf. Though seemingly innumerable other bands have gone out to the salt flats or some anonymous ex-urban California desert for their videos, few of them actually originated in those locales. Neon Trees, on the other hand, are from Utah and “Animal” displays that in full force. It’s a distinction that many viewers — especially those not from Utah — may miss, but it is nonetheless significant that they have appropriated a setting more commonly associated with alt-country. In other words, the band isn’t just playing in the desert because it’s cool, they’re playing there because it’s a representation of real-life experience.
Jim Dalrymple is a regular correspondent for Rhombus.
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