We caught up with Neon Trees right before their second night playing at the Bowery Ballroom. As the rest of the band sat around the greenroom eating whole wheat bread, peanut butter and cupcakes, Elaine Bradley and I discussed everything from her drumming history, skateboarding, their new album Picture Show and her view on being a role model for aspiring drummers. Decked out in amazing leopard print wedge booties and a single statement earring, Elaine looked ready to rock. Sitting on the couches, we dove right into the interview. I started off with a basic question “How long have you been drumming?” “Brace yourself,” she says, “It’s a long answer.”
“When I was younger I never thought to myself ‘I want to be a drummer.’” Yet here she is, drummer for Neon Trees, a post-punk-soul-pop band from Provo, Utah. Her road to becoming a drummer was a long one. Attracted to drums as a kid (“Probably because they were so physical, and I liked all things physical,” she says), she begged and pleaded her parents for a drum kit. She started with wooden spoons and pots and pans, moving on to a drum set she had coveted from the Sears catalog for so long. The drum set barely lasted a year as she beat the thing to crap. Once her parents realized she was serious about the drums they invested in a Tama Rockstar DX for her 13th birthday.
In high school she started her first band with some friends. She always wanted to be the front person and sing, so she only took on the drumming while they looked for someone better. Bradley claims she wasn’t all that good at being a drummer anyway. “I always had rhythm, but that does not a good drummer make.” Once she made her way up to the guitarist’s spot, she started observing the band’s new drummer, finally understanding what it was that a drummer did. “I started thinking about it in a more logical, musical way.” Watching her band mate play made her realize that a drummer is an equal member of the band, the drummer can accent vocals as well. It wasn’t until 2004, after her band broke up and she came back from a church mission to Germany, that she finally considered herself a drummer. Three years later she joined Neon Trees and the rest is history.
Picture Show is the latest effort of Neon Trees, following 2010’s Habits. Already making waves with the lead single “Everybody Talks,” the band is excited to see where this album will go. It showcases a new side of Neon Trees without alienating their previous fan base. “There’s a distinct segue from Habits to Picture Show, the album shows so much more of what we’re capable of.” The album is very different yet still in line with Habits, there are more valleys and peaks, harder and softer tracks, others more intense and relaxed. In essence Picture Show is a much more varied album, bound to appeal to their fan base without creating Habits 2.0. Indeed songs like “Teenage Sounds” and “Close to You” are haunting, yet upbeat, highlighting lead singer Tyler Glenn’s impressive vocal abilities.
In terms of musical influences, Elaine lists everyone from John Bonham to Depeche Mode and Patty Schemel. Don’t expect to find more women on her list though. “I didn’t care, never have, and still don’t if a drummer is a girl.” She has yet to play in a band with other women, not because she doesn’t want to, but because she has not encountered any girl who was better than the guys available to her. Concerned solely with talent and not gender, she has an interesting perspective on being a woman in music. “I’ve just never thought as myself as a girl… never thought of myself as a guy either, just never thought of myself in those terms.” It isn’t that she is not a supporter of female musicians; she just has yet to personally encounter anyone that has made an impression on her. She’s a firm believer of if you want to do something, just go out and do it. While pleased that she is having a positive effect on aspiring drummers, she’s perplexed as to why she’s even needed. “I sincerely don’t get why I have to exist for girls to open their minds to drumming.”
Though she may be tough and not overly concerned about the fact that she’s a girl, Elaine does have a fun, edgy style. “Being a drummer affects the way you can be stylish. You have to think about functionality,” she laments. When it comes to performing there is so much drummers can’t wear lest they restrict their movement. She has tried drumming in heels and flats but ended up hitting her knees and bruising the balls of her feet. Her solution to looking cute but still being able to play the way she wants to? “Sparkly Tom’s shoes,” she says, “they have a thick enough sole to protect my feet.” For the red carpet and press on the other hand she’s all about a flashy heel. “First of all because it’s slenderizing…second because it’s fun to act out since I can’t for gigs.” Her style is ultimately all about balance. “I like symmetry in asymmetrical ways,” she says as she shows me her one dangly earring to balance her hair which is styled on the other side. “Stylists never understand how I get my hair to do this… they always try it themselves…then they watch me stand with my head upside down and a can of hairspray and go aaaaaaaahhh.” If only we could all do that, and still look that good!
By Joanna Gutierrez
Photos by Jensen Faye