This past March, Neon Trees vocalist Tyler Glenn was on a plane when, out of nowhere, he began to sob uncontrollably — but not from fear of flying, or even any particular sadness.
Glenn’s sudden tears were joyful, propelled by a massive weight about to be lifted.
In just days, a Rolling Stone story about him would hit the stands, alerting the world to his secret: This devout Mormon pop star, who had once gone on a two-year mission to spread the word of God’s love, was gay — a state of being his religion had worked tirelessly and publicly to suppress.
“I think it was out of real joy, and just kind of an excitement,” Glenn says of his meltdown.
The Provo, Utah-based Neon Trees, who will perform at Central Park SummerStage Monday night, play a catchy brand of pop-rock that’s earned them two platinum singles: 2010’s “Animal” and 2012’s “Everybody Talks.”
The band’s third album — April’s “Pop Psychology” — is their first to crack the Top 10.
Glenn, 30, has known he’s gay since childhood, but the only exposure he had to anything homosexuality-related in the Mormon community was when he heard bullies call their victims, including him, “f*gs.”
When Glenn was 18, he began a two-year mission, as young Mormons do, and wound up proselytizing in Nebraska.
It was around the end of this time, he says, that the Mormon church began prominently supporting California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage.
“I was in the process of figuring out who I was,” he says. “That’s when I got that people around me didn’t think this was good — that society didn’t like gay people.”
As Neon Trees evolved, Glenn dated women and hid his attractions to men or saw them on the sly.
“I started to hide behind the ambiguity of being onstage,” he says. “You can do that in rock music. I felt like maybe I didn’t ever have to come out — maybe [faking a desire for women] was just something I could do, or maybe I would be alone. It was very self-sabotaging.”
While the band’s career exploded, hiding who he was began to wear on him. By 2012, Glenn felt himself coming apart, even occasionally berating audiences onstage.
“I was one identity [as a famous singer], and then another one when I was alone,” he explains, “and it really started to catch up with me.”
He took the band off tour and went into therapy. When he began writing songs for “Pop Psychology,” he included a few about relationships or liaisons he’d had with men.
Glenn didn’t plan on coming out, but when the album’s producer, Tim Pagnotta, asked about the origins to some of the songs last October, the truth came pouring out.
“His reaction was so cool and congratulatory,” says Glenn, “and that really blew my mind, because I had never associated being gay with good things.”
Glenn told his band and his family over the following months, and the Rolling Stone piece informed the music world.
“I thought it was great that he was going to be able to be himself,” says band guitarist Chris Allen, who left the Mormon church five years ago due to its stance on Proposition 8.
Neon Trees are hometown heroes in Provo, and Glenn says their fans have been supportive, showing that the younger generation of Mormons is developing a sense of tolerance.
“I’ve heard from Mormon people [whom] I don’t know that continue to be fans. I had wondered if people were going to stop coming to our shows.”
As for his faith, Glenn says it’s stronger than ever.
“I have a new appreciation for things like prayer,” he says. “There’s a sense of peace.”