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Neon Trees lights up the charts

By Jessica Iavazzi, CNN
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Neon Trees, alternative to mainstream
  • The group Neon Trees has had slow and steady success with their single "Animal"
  • The song made a 32 week climb up charts before breaking into the top 10
  • Band member calls their live show a "roller coaster ride"

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Their song is everywhere.

It's playing on every radio station -- rock, pop, alternative. It made the longest climb up the Billboard Alternative Songs chart (32 weeks) before breaking into the top 10 on the Pop Songs chart. It was even used in a national commercial spot for Las Vegas, which coincidentally is a place they can credit for their quote unquote big break. Whether they admit it or not, many people have probably found themselves singing along to Neon Trees's infectious pop-rock hit "Animal."

The track was released 11 months ago and its success has been of the slow-and-steady kind ever since. It didn't immediately garner attention, but instead worked its way through different genres and markets before fully infiltrating radio waves every where. The band also put in a lot of dedicated work touring the country for months to promote their debut album, "Habits," and currently they are still on the road playing several headlining shows.

CNN caught up with Neon Trees -- lead vocalist/keyboards Tyler Glenn, guitarist Chris Allen, bassist Branden Campbell and drummer/vocalist Elaine Bradley -- before a meet-and-greet and free show they performed at Universal Studio Citywalk.

CNN: You got your start in Provo, Utah -- can you talk about how you started playing music together and your background?

Tyler Glenn: Chris and I grew up in southern California and were introduced by our dads; we were both kind of deadbeat rockers and we wanted to always be in a band. Our dads were like, "They should hang out," so we met up one day and started playing music together, and it was just like instant bond through the music we were writing, and I knew that I wanted to be a band with him.

He decided to go up to Utah to go to school randomly, and I followed up him there not knowing what was going to be in Utah for us but I knew that we needed to continue to play music. We met [bassist Branden Campbell and drummer Elaine Bradley] and they were playing in different bands and we formed kind of like the Provo, Utah, super-group -- maybe you could call it that -- and I think the rest has just been a real wild ride.

CNN: The Killers have had a role in your career so far, how did you first meet them?

Glenn: Ronnie [Vannucci], the drummer of The Killers, has been a great friend and he came out to a show in Las Vegas, 2008, it was a self-booked show and we played for about 10 to 15 people. He was one of them, and I think he just saw something in us and saw a lot of potential and became a friend of the band and kind of helped us along. We played two big shows with [The Killers] before we were signed and I think it just garnered a lot of attention that was necessary ... and luckily the label liked us and we signed with Mercury, and it's been fun.

CNN: You say it's been a long journey to get here with the "big break" with The Killers, when they asked you to play a few shows with them. Was that just a surreal moment?

Branden Campbell: I think it was definitely that. It's no secret that I actually grew up with Ronnie, and so I think it's fair to say that it was really Ronnie that helped us out. We don't really know the other guys that much.

I think it was really just him personally helping out, but I think it's the media that makes it more than it is, because he even would tell us, "Listen, you know I want you guys to be your own band, I know it makes people's jobs easy to lump you guys in with somebody and to say that, you know, 'They're friends with so and so, so here listen to them.'" But he's like, "That's the worst thing that can happen because you guys are good enough to be your own thing and that's what I really want for you."

CNN: When was your song "Animal" written?

Glenn: It was one of the last songs in the catalogue to be written and it came together very quickly. Essentially, it's the demo enhanced with the band, and the first vocal take that we did we used for the final track, and as Branden likes to say a lot, it's the performance that we captured and sometimes you capture that kind of that lightning in a bottle and you want to keep it so there's no use in trying and trying and trying again to capture magic if you've captured it, use it. We're so proud of the song, but we're also so proud of the record we put together and the collection of songs and it's a great pop-rock record and the song-writing I feel is classic and I hope people continue to listen to it.

CNN: "Animal" came out in January, but it's still garnering major attention and radio play, how has it been watching the track get so big?

Glenn: The fact that it's been since January and a slow process, I think is a testament to how good of a song it is because it's been able to last and slowly climb and naturally climb and the fact that it's still reaching people and hasn't fizzled out is really exciting.

Elaine Bradley: I'm loving what seems to be the organic spread of "Animal." It started at alternative radio, which is really where the band started kind of alternative, and then crossed over naturally without really even a heavy push to the hot adult contemporary kind of stations, and then is now crossing into pop as well. It's like this natural organic spread as more people hear it they like it and so they want to play it.

Usually it's very hard to get your song played on the radio, and I think you know the fact that there are so many people in radio telling us "I like playing it because I like listening to it" that to me is very flattering and very surreal and awesome.

CNN: The Neon Trees sound is rather eclectic, what was a big influence for the band when recording "Habits?"

Glenn: I'd say ensemble bands like Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, but great pop music from the early 90's and the early 80's, Billy Ocean, Michael Jackson, Hall & Oates, Duran Duran, 70s glam, Jane's Addiction.

I think there's just a lot and I love that we're all so different and I think even a bigger underlying sound in our sound is doo-wop and Motown and soul so we have a lot more to express and I think sometimes bands can make a hodge podge record or sort of a 'Oh this is what we can do' and it doesn't sound cohesive and I think we're on our way to creating a Neon Trees sound and I don't know if we've fully tapped it yet, but I think "Habits" is definitely the start of what we're going to do.

CNN: How would you describe your live set to someone who's not familiar with you guys?

Campbell: It's like a roller coaster ride really. Maybe we'll gradually start it off and then lots of spins and twirling and then maybe slow it down a bit and then bring the big drop, it's fun.

Glenn: I always say our set is like a "Step Up" movie.

Bradley: I would agree with that.... There's plenty of 3D you know how in "Step Up 3D" there was plenty of the hand dancing, there's like a lot of that.

Chris Allen: I'd say it might even be 4D, like in those attractions were they spit the water at you and they blow air at you...

Bradley: Our shows have smell-a-vision, it's great.