It is a vulnerable, if not slightly awkward, thing to find yourself chanting in a silent room beside a total stranger. But on this dewy June morning inside MNDFL, an intimate New York studio space dedicated to meditation, Tyler Glenn is doing exactly that. “Ommm,” he says as he exhales, steadily filling the room with his voice. This guttural vocalization, which is considered sacred in Dharmic faiths, is the very last step in what has been the Neon Trees frontman’s first sound bath.
During the 50 minutes leading up to this moment, sound-therapy practitioner Sara Auster has sat perched atop a pillow behind him, playing a series of instruments that create transcendental tones intended to bring the body into harmony with the vibrations. Among them: crystal singing bowls infused with elements like smoky quartz, charcoal and carnelian; a bellowing shruti box that derives its name from the Hindi word for “angel;” and a half-dozen steel tuning forks that hold a singular pitch when struck with a mallet. They are adaptations of tools used for centuries in some Eastern practices, and they are experiencing a renaissance as meditation becomes more mainstream.
Upon entering the sunlit room at MNDFL, where group classes start at $10, Glenn lays flat on a pillow, closes his eyes and is instructed to “not be afraid to adjust or shift the body, cough or sneeze if needed.” The goal, he is told, isn’t perfect form but rather profound relaxation and connectedness.
“The practice of meditation is about becoming an observer of your thoughts and becoming more present, but many people struggle with finding focus,” says Auster, who was a musician and yoga instructor before combining both interests. “Sound baths offer an access point. Sound is ephemeral; it is only happening now. So if you can actually connect with it, you are here in this moment.”
And in this moment, Glenn is healing.
It has been seven months since he disavowed the Mormon faith, which had served as the foundation and framework for his life while growing up the second of four children in California. “It was all I knew,” says Glenn, 32, who served a mission in Nebraska when he was 19. “It’s a religion where you have to believe it is the one true church — that’s the only way to get back to God.” He pauses. “As modern and cultured as I feel — being in a band and traveling the world — whenever people got to the subject of religion I would almost tune out and think, ‘I know the truth.’ “
Coming out as gay two years ago had been difficult — homosexuality is not accepted in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) — but it hadn’t severed his commitment to the faith. Instead, says Glenn, “I felt like I had this responsibility to be the poster child for how to make being gay work with the faith. To prove that I could be gay but still be Mormon.”
?Things took a painful turn in November 2015 when LDS implemented a new policy barring the baptisms of children from gay parents until the age of 18. “At that point I had taken the person I was dating to the temple in Salt Lake City and told him that if I had kids I wanted to raise them to be Mormon,” he recalls. “It felt evil in a way. I abandoned spirituality completely. I began drinking.”
In April he put his feelings on display with a music video for “Trash,” the first single off his forthcoming solo debut on Island Records. In the clip, altered portraits of LDS founder Joseph Smith can be seen while Glenn sings, “Maybe I’ll see you in hell.”
Though his parents have been supportive and have begun questioning their own faith, his brother and Mormon members of Neon Trees aren’t on speaking terms with Glenn.
Inner peace, though, seems to arise at the end of today’s sound bath. When the room falls silent and Auster asks Glenn how he feels, he whispers a singular word: “calm.” The sentiment is one he will work to hold onto while re-entering a world far noisier and more convoluted than MNDFL’s cocoon. “As much damage as I feel like I’m working through, it’s one of the most exciting times of my life. I still feel young enough to reclaim things. Here I am drinking iced coffee!” Glenn jokes. (Mormons cannot consume coffee.)
Before departing for Los Angeles, where he now lives, he examines a small wooden box with a USB drive, a gift from Auster. “I think part of the reason I’m gravitating to these things is because I don’t want to find some new dogma or deity,” he says. “If that comes later, that’s exciting. But right now I want to focus on mindfulness, I want to find my way.” Auster’s soundscapes, he adds, will travel with him during this journey.
This article originally appeared in the July 30 issue of Billboard.