“The guided hand of providence,” as Elaine Bradley called it, moved she and her family from Provo to Germany this past summer. That same hand, it seems, is pulling Bradley in many different directions simultaneously.
Don’t worry, though. She’s flexible.
The musician, best known for her percussion work in Neon Trees, is staying busy in the States while her husband and three children are living more than 5,000 miles away. Neon Trees is ramping up again, and her other band, Noble Bodies, is making a new push after a 10-year hiatus. Bradley spoke with the Daily Herald recently from a hotel room in Los Angeles — she had just arrived for a Neon Trees show at the city’s famed Troubadour nightclub.
Indeed, she’s kicking things into high gear these days. Our conversation covered a range of topics — her move to Germany, reviving Noble Bodies, Neon Trees’ new music, Tyler Glenn’s surprising and divisive solo album — and Bradley seems excited but fairly at ease with most of it.
JUGGLING HER PASSIONS
First, Germany. Leaving Utah and relocating there had been an option for a while: Bradley served an LDS mission in Germany; her husband, Sebastian, is German; and their three kids, ages 5, 3 and 2, all have dual citizenship. Jumping through immigration hoops wasn’t an issue. The opportunity presented itself, and they took it.
“It’s been smooth, except for the inner turmoil,” Bradley said. “The logistics of it aren’t hard. I don’t mind flying. I feel like once you have children, and you know what it’s like to fly with children, if you fly alone again you never curse it. Like, ‘OK, there’s a delay. Well, at least I don’t have my children.’
“So it’s not like our family is in turmoil,” she continued. “It’s hard for me, and it’s hard for them to not have me there, but everything else is great.”
Noble Bodies, which formerly went by the name Another Statistic, garners a lot of Bradley’s excitement. The band was among Provo’s most influential acts a decade ago. And the project predated Neon Trees. While most folks associate Bradley with Neon Trees’ pop-centric sound, Noble Bodies showcases a much different side of her musicianship, and her personality. The songs are complex, dense and somewhat mysterious, channeling the 1990s harcore/indie-emo sound that Bradley has long treasured. And in Noble Bodies, as in everything she does, Bradley is all in.
“It’s not fun, to me at least, to play in a band, to practice, to put forth effort, doing something that doesn’t have a plan or is not going anywhere,” she said. “We’re older, wiser and we just don’t care as much about the stuff that doesn’t matter — and we totally, completely care more about the stuff that does matter. And music is one of those things that totally matters to all of us, so we’re just going for it.”
As for how Bradley juggles Noble Bodies and Neon Trees, it’s yet to be seen. Neon Trees took a break in 2015 after touring for its third album, 2014’s “Pop Psychology.” And it was a real break: Bradley said they stopped practicing during this time and all lived their own lives for a while. Neon Trees released a new single, “Feel Good,” in August, and is now sifting through a bunch of new material for an upcoming album. After the L.A. show, Neon Trees will play an October concert in New York City. They’ve been rehearsing, with a lot of “scheming and writing and refining,” as Bradley called it.
LEARNING TO LET GO
“When stuff happens and things snowball, and you get some amount of success, it’s like you’re go-go-going all the time,” Bradley explained of her Neon Trees experience. “We were go-go-going from 2009 until 2015. And we purposely (took a break), because we knew we needed a moment to recharge and come back fresh. We were going to push this thing into the ground if we didn’t take a moment.”
This time around, Bradley said the band members are approaching things with eyes opened. They’re being a little more mindful, a bit more deliberate, about what they really want. Outside voices or expectations aren’t playing as big a role.
“The music business is inherently just anxious and scary,” she said. “Everyone is just so afraid of not being relevant. Who knows why anybody likes anything or why anything catches on? The moment you start trying to please people in a certain way, you kind of lose it. So I think we’re really trying not to lose it.”
The biggest — and perhaps most unexpected — Neon Trees news during the band’s break was lead singer Tyler Glenn’s solo album, “Excommunication.” Neon Trees’ “Pop Psychology” tour featured Glenn as an advocate for both gay rights and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The band went so far as to release a music video for “First Things First,” a tribute song of sorts to the band’s Mormon background. That video featured pictures of the band members on their LDS missions.
“Excommunication,” by contrast, was the exact opposite: a seething, wounded, often visceral denunciation of Mormonism. Glenn introduced the album in April last year with a video for its lead single, “Trash.” That video shows Glenn drinking alcohol, spitting on a picture of Joseph Smith and mimicking portions of LDS temple rites. That video came out the day Neon Trees performed a fundraising concert for Corey Fox, the owner of Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo.
“I thought the timing was unfortunate for Corey, and for what we were trying to do there,” Bradley said. “I’m not claiming right or wrong, these are just my opinions. But my reaction was that it just made me sad, because I didn’t have any warning. It wasn’t like we knew what he was coming out with; he didn’t tell us. So that was a bit of a startle and a head scratcher, and sad.
“I would have liked some warning, but it’s OK,” she continued. “We’ve talked about it since. All is fair, and all is good, and all is forgiven. I’m not still holding on to it.”
A TALKATIVE LIFESTYLE
Good communication, Bradley said, is at the core of everything she does. If it weren’t for she and Glenn hashing things out in private, she said Neon Trees probably wouldn’t be making another album right now. That communication affords her lots of independence and autonomy — perhaps more than the average mother of three young children.
“Well, first of all, I don’t feel like I have a choice in the matter, as far as whether or not I’m pursuing something,” Bradley said. “It seemed to be ingrained in me since I was a small child. Anything I’ve ever done, I’ve done it pretty seriously, and with an end goal in mind. That’s just kind of the way that I am. So that’s not going to change.”
Putting that mindset into practice is another thing. In that, Bradley said her husband is the ideal counterpart. They’re constantly talking about their plans together, and how they want their life to look.
If she didn’t have such a communicative partner — or even one whose lifestyle and ambitions matched her own — Bradley can’t imagine how it would work.
“It’s really nice that his major aspirations are more about really great, grounded things, like fathering children and being a good husband, and renovating houses. He’s never wanted the spotlight. And I think that is just perfect for me, because I’ve always wanted it. Before I started dating him, I had come to the conclusion that I would always be single, and that I’d have to be OK with it. And I was OK with it. Then I met him and was like, ‘Ah, it does exist.’ Someone can be a human in a relationship and not lie, and have difficult conversations for the betterment of the relationship.
“I feel like humans can make it work if No. 1, all of them want to make it work,” she added. “It’s the same thing in a marriage or a band or a business. Everybody’s got to be on board to try and make the situation workable, or else it will fail.”