Q&A: Branden Campbell, Neon Trees
Neon Trees have been a steady pop-rock presence both on the radio and on tour for nearly six years now. Bassist Branden Campbell discussed “Pop Psychology” (both the album and the tour), the intersection of pop and rock and what makes a rock star with The Eagle’s Tam Sackman.
The Eagle: Neon Trees is described as a pop-rock band. What influences from both genres contribute to your sound?
Branden Campbell: I’d say on the rock side stuff like Springsteen, The Clash… on the pop side…. I’d throw Depeche Mode onto the pop side. But also Michael Jackson, Duran Duran.
E: You guys have been a band since 2005 and released your first songs in 2006. How have you and your sound changed since the EP “Becoming Different People?”
BC: We’ve become more focused on songwriting and finding songs that we’d enjoy as listeners. I think we were crafting songs that we knew how to create with songs that we would listen to, with songs that pulled us in from time to time. I think tuning into that sound and kind of getting to the point. Tom Petty has a saying that we would use, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” So following that advice was really helpful.
E: Your accessibility to both the pop and rock worlds has allowed you to open for acts like Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift, but also The Offspring and 30 Seconds to Mars. Who’s your dream tour outside of the genres of pop and rock?
BC: For us, we’re constantly striving to do our own thing. So our dream tour would be us being able to play stadiums on our own. Inviting some of the other bands that we’ve appreciated along the way for a wonderful all-day event. Kind of leading our own festival would be ideal.
E: How is “Pop Psychology” different than your previous two studio albums?
BC: I think the way that we went about doing it on the last couple of records is that we recorded everything in a room together. And this time we actually recorded everything separate[ly]. I mean we worked on the songs together and we produced them and everything. But we tracked everything separate and gave it to our producer to piece together, almost like we were making a hip-hop record. Just more stepping out of our boundaries and making something that four years ago we never would have agreed to do. We just knew it was time for us to stretch out, try something different. And it came back as something we really enjoy.
E: What’s your favorite song to perform live?
BC: “Living in Another World.”
E: What constitutes a ‘rock star’ in your opinion?
BC: I think when people think about a rock star, it’s someone with swagger and attitude. But I think what it really comes down to is a confidence in what you’re doing. It doesn’t mean saying the right words or playing the right line of guitar. Having confidence in what you’re doing [and] that what you’re sharing means something to someone.
E: If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
BC: Well, I would be fishing in southern Utah. That’s what I’ve been doing right now.
E: A lot of the songs on “Pop Psychology” revolve around technology and modern relationships. Was this an intentional theme, and if so, why did you choose it?
BC: Yeah. I think these things impact modern society. The way we approach a modern relationship. For me, I have a wife and two kids, and being on the road and away from them, technology serves me in a way that I can keep in touch with them better than ever before. And that we can share things with each other. But at the same time, I can see people that struggle to find a way to foster relationships. It’s not the same interaction that people used to have. It’s very technologically based in the fact that it’s not real, personal interaction and that can be tough for people to really foster relationships.
E: Despite this looking to the future and the present in your music, a lot of the band’s look and feel is pretty retro, especially in your music videos. Why did you choose this kind of persona?
BC: I think it’s something that we’ve always been attached to — the songs with the classic appeal. One time we did try to make a video based in the future and we never released it. It ended up feeling too serious. There’s something about the classic appeal. For example, in the video for “Sleeping With a Friend,” more so than ever we tapped into something that’s really 2014. But the things that are classic are that way for a reason I guess.
E: What’s been your favorite stop on this tour so far and what stop are you most looking forward to?
BC: Well, D.C. is going to be bittersweet because it’s D.C., but it’s also the last show of the tour. But it’s going to be a great way to end it, because the show’s already sold out. It’s gonna be super cool. But last night we played in Milwaukee at Summer Fest for the fourth time in a row and it just gets bigger and bigger and last night was probably the greatest night we’ve ever had in Milwaukee. It was the most people we’ve ever had there. We’ve had a great time so far in London, Chicago, Seattle. But Milwaukee! Dude, the heartland rocks.
Neon Trees and Smallpools play the 9:30 Club on July 13. The show is sold out. The album “Pop Psychology” is available now.