Neon Trees has roots in Las Vegas rock scene

Branden Campbell’s daughter Katie is a second- grade star, thanks to him. A month ago, she wore a Neon Trees T-shirt to class. Older kids gave her high-fives, and a teacher asked, “Where did you get that shirt? … Do you even know who they are?”
“Well,” Katie told the teacher, “my dad is in the band.”

“It’s definitely her calling card on the playground,” Campbell says, and jokes, “I’m gonna find out she’s bootlegging CDs and T-shirts at school.”
Campbell, a Vegas native, plays bass in Neon Trees, the only rock band with a single (“Animal”) in the Billboard Top 20. It’s also a No. 1 alt-rock hit.

Not only that, but “Animal” is the theme song for “Camp Vegas” ads promoting the Strip to the world.

This is all quite a highlight in Campbell’s long musical journey.

In the mid-1990s, there were no real all-ages venues for teen bands. So Campbell and other teens from the high schools Western, Clark and Bonanza (his alma mater) created a “hit-and-run scene” of all-ages venues, such as a Ramada Inn banquet hall, a shuttered Tex-Mex restaurant called T-Mex, and the caves of Red Rock.

It was an “underground free-for-all,” he says.

“We hung out in caves, played music and did other unmentionable things,” he says coyly. “You couldn’t advertise it, because we didn’t want the cops to find out. It was almost like a speakeasy in the desert.”

Back then, teen bands amped up with two gas-powered generators, fortified by an iron-frame stage made of two or three pieces, with plywood on top, set in the back of a van.

“It was a mobile stage. We had some great shows with that over off Sahara (Avenue) and Highland (Drive),” he says.

“We could continue to show up and do these things until, usually, something bad happened,” ranging from getting caught for underage drinking, to eluding “creepy 30-year-old dudes that still liked hanging out with the high schoolers.”
Over time, Campbell strengthened his chops and expanded his musical taste in a series of acts that some locals may remember: Wholes, Sol Gron, Blatant Disregard, Summer’s Eve, Professor Punn and Home Cookin’.

He also played ska in Attaboy Skip, which featured Ronnie Vannucci Jr., who became the drummer in the Killers.

Thus, Vannucci and Campbell are now part of a loose collusion of people I think of as the Vegas music mafia — intertwined Las Vegans who have skills and power. The Vegas music mafia includes but isn’t limited to: the Killers; Franky Perez (who has backed up acts from Slash to ZZ Top); Robert Reynolds (who manages the Killers and works with Neon Trees); sometimes Mark Slaughter (he taught guitar to Scott Kirkland of Crystal Method); on rare occasion Jimmy Kimmel, who hosted Neon Trees on his show in the spring; and insiders in the huge DJ scene; but I’m not sure how much the guys from Panic! at the Disco dip into any of those circles.

Campbell learned a great deal by watching the rise of the Killers. The Killers didn’t perform locally much. But they were business-minded and they networked.

Most importantly, the Killers focused on making good songs, one at a time.

“I don’t care who says you’re good, or who says you’re bad. If you have a good song people can sing along to, that’ll be louder than whatever press you’re getting, or not getting,” Campbell says.
“The Killers tried to help friends along the way — other Vegas bands — but at the end of the day, it comes down to a song.”

Vannucci put Neon Trees in touch with Mercury Records. But that connection would have been useless without Neon Trees’ ready-for-radio songs.

“I’ll be honest,” Campbell says. “Over the years, since things started taking off for Ronnie and the Killers, I floated him lots of projects that I worked on. While they were good, he was like, ‘Hey this is good, but I can’t do anything with this.’

“Songs have to have their own life and be their own thing. I think that’s happened for us. We’re so grateful ‘Animal’ has taken off. Now people will pay attention to our other stuff.”

Musicians usually move to L.A. to make it. But Campbell got into Neon Trees after moving to Provo, Utah, where he lives with his wife (they met when she was Emilie Patterson in high school) and two kids (3 and 7).

“The only reason I moved to Utah for college is UNLV didn’t have a graphic design program at the time,” Campbell says.

There’s a bizarre coincidence in his band. Campbell’s dad Steve crafts neon signs for YESCO in Vegas. Many years ago, Steve made a sign for a California restaurant named Neon Palm Trees. That sign made an impression on singer Tyler Glenn, who then moved to Provo, named his band Neon Trees after Campbell’s dad’s sign — and then Tyler met Campbell.

Neon Trees has talked about relocating to California or Vegas, but they decided to stay in Utah. Provo is “our own, big-little scene now,” Campbell says.

On Wednesday, they’re here to headline the Mirage’s Revolution Lounge to raise money for the charities Music Saves Lives and Picture Healing.

And everywhere they go, they play their hit that was picked up for the “Camp Vegas” ad campaign. Campbell, whose family still lives here (as does his wife’s), is happy about that.

“For me it did feel special, doing something for the hometown,” he says.

However, predictably, now he finds himself defending both Vegas and Utah against clichés.

“People think people in Utah just go to church day and night. But it’s not like that. And when people go to Vegas, they think it’s just the Strip, like showgirls vs. Wayne Newton and magic shows.

“But there are galleries, musicians, poets, writers — people who work hard at that stuff.”

One of those hard workers moved to Provo, Utah, and became a rock star.

Doug Elfman’s column appears on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. E-mail delfman@reviewjournal. com. He also blogs at

Nye County detectives pursue suspects
A swarm of Nye County deputies, at the request of Las Vegas police, surrounded a hotel room in Pahrump last week to take two fugitives into custody. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Taxpayer-funded LVCVA boss negotiating exit pay despite criminal investigation
CEO Rossi Ralenkotter is the third-highest-paid public official in the state He has a pay and benefits package valued at $863,000 annually. Ralenkotter does not have an employment contract He announced his retirement in mid June, amid a scandal over airline gift cards LVCVA bought $90,000 in Southwest Airline gift cards between 2012 and 2017. Now auditors can’t account for more than $50,000 of the cards. Ralenkotter and his family used $16,207 in gift cards on 56 trips. Brig Lawson, the senior director of business partnerships, was responsible for buying and distributing the cards. He recently resigned. Ralenkotter's retirement settlement package could cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Bicyclists ride empty Interstate 11 before it opens Aug. 9
Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition sponsored a 25-mile ride on the yet-to-be-opened Interstate 11 to highlight bicycle and motorist safety. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul Fronczak on his search for truth
Paul Fronczak, man mistaken for stolen baby in 1964, talks about the long search for his twin sister and the real Paul. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
1 dead after shooting near Sahara and the Strip in Las Vegas
Lt. Ray Spencer briefs the news media on a shooting at Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South that left one dead. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Family remembers deceased mother
Family members of Adriann Gallegos remember her. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
2 in custody after chase
Two people were in custody after a chase involving Nevada Highway Patrol and Nye County Sheriff"s office deputies ended in southwest Las Vegas. Las Vegas police blocked off Rainbow Boulevard north of Tropicana Avenue around 1 a.m. Wednesday. Law enforcement personnel prepared to tow a black sedan as part of their investigation. It's not certain what precipitated the chase or where and when it started. Check back for updates.
Police Officer's Vehicle Was Taken During Shooting
Video from body worn camera footage released by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Wednesday shows an officer realizing his police vehicle has been taken during the chaos of the Route 91 shooting. It was later recovered at Sunrise hospital with the keys in the ignition and nothing removed. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
See Kitty Hawk’s flying car cruise over Lake Las Vegas
Kitty Hawk takes their flying car for a ride in the company’s hidden test facility in Lake Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Las Vegas police wild pursuit through busy Las Vegas streets
An intense chase near Downtown Las Vegas ends after gunfire is exchanged as the suspect flees on busy streets and ends up near an elementary school. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Man shot strolling through park
A man was hospitalized early Tuesday morning after being shot while walking in a central Las Vegas park. Las Vegas police say the man and a woman were in Molasky Park just after midnight when the man was shot. The pair ran to a nearby supermarket where a security guard called for help. The man was hospitalized and as of 3 a.m. was in stable condition. Police have yet to identify the shooter and no suspects are in custody.
Police investigating shooting at east valley apartment complex
No one was injured late Monday night after someone fired shots at a vehicle at an east valley apartment complex. Police responded just before midnight to the Hamptons Apartments, 3070 S. Nellis Blvd. Someone fired shots at a vehicle that was leaving the complex, and struck the vehicle. Another bullet struck a nearby apartment building. The shooter or shooters remain at-large.
Suspect fires at Las Vegas police before officers shoot, end wild pursuit
An intense chase near Downtown Las Vegas ends after gunfire is exchanged as the suspect flees on busy streets and ends up near an elementary school. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Hundreds Attend Slides, Rides and Rock and Roll in North Las Vegas
Hundreds attended the inaugural slides, rides and rock and roll event in North Las Vegas Saturday. The event featured a car show, water slide park and live music. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It's All Rainbows At The Center's New Cafe
The Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada (The Center) introduced its new coffeeshop, Little Rainbow Cafe, in June. Rainbows are everywhere, even in the lattes and toast, and employees wear t-shirts with the quote "Be a rainbow in someone's cloud." Owner Ben Sabouri said the concept is "built around the idea of, you know, be kind and treat everybody the same." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get a Rainbow Latte at the The Center's Little Rainbow Cafe
The Center, a community center for the LGBTQ community of Southern Nevada, has a new cafe. Little Rainbow Cafe serves up a pride-inspired signature "Rainbow Latte." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed trying to cross Sahara
A pedestrian was killed Friday trying to cross Sahara Avenue near Maryland Parkway about 5 a.m. A sedan struck the pedestrian while the person was outside the crosswalk between Maryland Parkway and Pardee Place, according to Las Vegas police. Police also said the driver of the sedan remained at the site of the crash. The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene. This is the 75th fatal crash that Las Vegas police have investigated in 2018.
Man shot multiple times
Las Vegas police are investigating after a man was shot multiple times early Friday morning. The shooting was called in about 3:20 a.m. at the Harbor Island Apartments, 370 E. Harmon Ave., near Koval Lane. The man was hospitalized and is expected to survive, but police are still searching for the shooter.
Former Military Police Corps Officer Celebrates 100th Birthday
Summerlin resident Gene Stephens, who served as a military policeman in WWII and escorted then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and President Roosevelt during the war, turned 100 on July 13, 2018. He credits his longevity to living a normal life, exercising regularly and eating three square meals a day. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Motorcyclist suffers serious injuries
A motorcycle rider was seriously injured Tuesday night after a crash on Charleston Boulevard. The crash was reported just before 10 p.m. near Durango Drive, according to Las Vegas police. The motorcyclist was hospitalized with unknown injuries but is expected to survive. Las Vegas police are investigating the cause of the accident.
CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara Has Lunch With Students
New Clark County School District superintendent Jesus Jara continued his listening tour by having lunch with students at Red Rock Elementary School as part of the district's summer lunch program. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children under the age of 18 can find a free lunch at 104 different locations across the valley through the summer months. Jara highlighted the free program and the importance of eating healthy during his visit. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Timeline Leading Up to Scott Dozier's Execution
Scott Dozier is set to be executed by lethal injection the night of July 11 at Ely State Prison. Dozier was convicted of the April 2002 killing of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller and was given the death penalty in Oct. 2007. In 2016 Dozier asked in a letter to District Judge Jennifer Togliatti requesting that he “be put to death.” A three-drug cocktail of midazolam, a sedative; the painkiller fentanyl; and cisatracurium, a paralytic, is expected to end his life. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Program Helps Mothers Battling Addiction
Jennifer Stanert has battled drug addiction on and off for the last 21 years. It caused her to lose custody of one of her children, Alec, after she gave birth while high. A new program at Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospitals aims to connect mothers like Stanert with community resources and provide case management services while still pregnant to get connected to lactation and parenting classes, group peer support and education on neonatal abstinence syndrome. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Felon caught with guns in Mandalay Bay room 3 years before Las Vegas shooting
A felon was caught with guns in a Mandalay Bay hotel room three years before the October 1st mass shooting. Six weapons were found inside Kye Aaron Dunbar’s 24th floor room in November 2014. Four were semi-automatic. One was a scoped rifle pointing toward the Strip, according to court documents. Dunbar was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for unlawful possession. The case just came to light in a lawsuit accusing Mandalay Bay of negligence in connection with the Oct. 1st shooting.
Illegal fireworks in the Las Vegas area garner complaints
Clark County received nearly 25,000 complaints over the Independence Day holiday on a new illegal fireworks site. Reports from the site led to at least 10 illegal fireworks busts across the valley overnight. As of Thursday morning, the county is still compiling the total number of citations issued.
House fire displaces 2 people
Two people were displaced after a house fire early Thursday morning. The fire, at 963 Temple Drive in east Las Vegas, was reported just after midnight, according to a battalion chief from the Clark County Fire Department. Crews from the North Las Vegas and Las Vegas fire departments also were called in to help. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"Red White and Boom" July 4 Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Full video of the Fourth of July "Red White and Boom" fireworks show at the Stratosphere as seen from the 8th floor Elation Pool. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite. (7-04-18) (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Crowds Enjoy Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Revelers enjoyed watching fireworks displays from the Stratosphere's 8th floor Elation pool on July 4. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed in Henderson
A pedestrian trying to cross St. Rose Parkway at Bermuda was hit by a vehicle on Tuesday night and later died. The crash was reported around 11:30 p.m. Las Vegas police responded initially, but handed over the investigation to Henderson police once it was determined the accident happened in their jurisdiction. Las Vegas police did respond to a report of a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle on the Strip. The person, who was hit by a BMW near Fashion Show mall, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like