Alt-rockers Neon Trees coming to Del Mar Racetrack, betting on ‘a little more pop’ to please fans


By Rob LeDonne

Neon Trees guitarist Chris Allen is outside a dentist’s office in Lake Elsinore in Riverside County, not far from Murrieta, where he grew up.

“We just finished the first leg of our tour, so I’m back home for a bit,” he said. But Allen won’t be home for long, since the band has an album to promote and the next part of their tour coming up Aug. 1 at the Del Mar Racetrack for the Four O’Clock Friday concert series.

“We’re excited for that show,” Allen said. “We’ve played there once or twice, and I’ve been to the San Diego County Fair a couple times on my own. We’re plenty familiar with everything (in North County).”

For Allen and his bandmates (including vocalist Tyler Glenn), it took a move from Southern California to Provo, Utah, in 2005 to begin a long journey to music stardom. Improbably, Allen moved in order to attend massage school.

“I was a masseuse for about a year, pursuing music with Tyler at the same time,” he said. Five years later their debut single, “Animal,” was a No. 1 smash on alternative rock radio in 2010, although Allen is quick to point out that their “success wasn’t overnight. We went through a period of time where we had absolutely no money. If we broke even performing a show, that was a good night. It’s been a long road.”

Throughout their rise to fame, Allen (who moved back to Murrieta after hitting it big), hasn’t forgotten his Southern California roots — in fact, it’d be impossible to do so, since the band’s name was inspired in part by legendary burger joint In-N-Out.

“When Tyler was in high school, he used to hang out at the In-N-Out burger in Temecula with his friends,” Allen said. “Behind the counter were these neon trees, and that’s where he got the name. Aside from that, growing up I was always hanging out in Oceanside and I would surf at Encinitas. I’d end up down at the beach two to three times a week. One of my favorite places to tour is Sydney, Australia, because it reminds me of San Diego.”

Ever since those early days hanging around North County, Neon Trees has cemented its status as a darling of alternative rock, whether it’s the success of the group’s 2010 debut album, “Habits,” or the 2012 sophomore album “Picture Show” (which spawned the hit “Everybody Talks”). Now, the band is attempting to replicate the success of its past material with “Pop Psychology,” its third album which hit shelves in April.

“At this point, we feel comfortable with our fan base, and as long as we’re happy with the material, we think it will do well,” Allen said of the stress behind finding hits. “You can’t ever just relax and not worry about putting out a good song, but we’ve gotten to a point where we just try to please ourselves. Overall, we have the right team in place.”

It seems their tactic of pleasing themselves is paying off once again, as the group’s latest single, “Sleeping With a Friend,” recently became a top 10 hit on the Billboard Rock and Adult Top 40 Charts.

“(That song) is a little different from our past singles,” Allen notes. “By now, everyone knows that’s what Neon Trees sounds like. This time around, we wanted to hit everybody with a different side of us. We normally take the alternative radio approach first, but this time we’re trying to be a little more pop.”

It’s that push further into the pop realm that propels Neon Trees onto radio stations around the world, including in Lake Elsinore as Allen waits in the car for his wife. “It’s exciting when we hear the new single on the radio,” he says. “Now that I’m home, I need to start listening to the radio more because I wanna hear it. It’s always cool, we crank it up ... that never gets old.”

Neon Trees performs at the Del Mar Racetrack on Aug. 1 after the last race. The concert is free with racetrack admission.

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