Imagine Dragons Interview Issue 36

Imagine Dragons Issue 36

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Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 6.18.40 PMImagine Dragons “Slow & Steady”

 

Since the release of their first studio album, Imagine Dragons has procured tremendous mainstream success. The popularity of the alternative contemporaries is growing at an exponential rate, but their ever-increasing exposure doesn’t daunt them. If anything, it’s giving them the drive to grow as an entity. All the while, the quartet is continuing to move the emphasis away from the image and towards the music, and their souls are bleeding authenticity back into the popular music scene.  

On surface level, Imagine Dragons is a larger-than-life band. Their music is a 
spirited mix of indie, rock, folk, and electronica. Their singles are plastered all over the radio and in television commercials. Their live show is an immaculate spectacle of energy and excitement. But while that may give the band a reason to identify with the bright lights and big city vibe of their hometown of Las Vegas, they are far from the image-driven success monikers of Sin City. Beneath all of the flash, Imagine Dragons is all about the intimacy and passion rooted in the music that they play.  
The quartet is much smaller than their huge performances and immense sound make them out to be, and that’s because – just like many bands before them – they started small. Ben McKee, bassist, recalls the band playing shows to empty bars and casino lounges when they first began making music in 2008. 

We would be playing for a new crowd every night. It was never people coming because they were our fans, coming back to see us over and over again,” he remembers“They had the opportunity all around them to go to the slot machines, play cards, ogle the bikini blackjack dealers or whatever, so we had to create music that was powerful enough to capture people’s attention above all of that.” 
After playing in and out of the Vegas local scene for a few years, Imagine Dragons was given the opportunity of a lifetime. In 2010, the band performed on a small stage as a part of the Bite of Las Vegas Festival. They captured the attention of a promoter at the festival, and when the lead singer of Train fell ill that same day, the quartet was given the chance to fill in for them. 

 

They called us and we rushed down. It was like half an hour until go time. So we just grabbed our gear and rushed back to the venue. Before we knew it, we were onstage in front of 25,000 people. It was definitely the biggest crowd we had ever played for up to that point,” guitarist Wayne Sermon recalls. The festival was a big break for the band, who went on to win several awards

heralding them as one of the city’s best local acts. While they began independent and preferred to write and record without outside help, Imagine Dragons eventually signed to Interscope Records in 2011. Though not being the ultimate goal of the band, as they had turned down numerous record deals out of fear of losing their sound and identity, they found the perfect opportunity to grow without losing their artistic integrity. 

 

We always really wanted to be an international band. It’s just hard to do that as a young band, but a lot of bands are able to do it independently. But we met someone who didn’t want to change anything about the band artistically and just wanted to bring the resources to the table, just to be able to get out to the East Coast, Europe and beyond,” vocalist Dan Reynolds reveals.  This person was Alex Da Kid, and as executive producer, he helped launch the band from the local and regional spotlight to national and international success with their first studio record, Night Visions

 

Night Visions is the compilation of nearly three years of work. Many of the songs off the band’s original EPs found their way onto the full-length, and the quartet attempted to really configure their identity and solidify the sound they had created over their first few years as a band.  “We really wanted to make sure we were 100% sure of who we were when we released the album. It was a process for us. It took the four EPs before that and a lot of songwriting to actually really decide who we were,” McKee says 

“It’s Time” was one of the band’s early songs that made it onto Night VisionsAccording to McKee, the track “happened to be consistent with the direction that Imagine Dragons continued to pursue.” The song’s dreamy landscape is initiated by a mandolindriven intro. The group attempts to push the boundaries of their sound with instruments like the mandolin, and they find interest in exploring instruments of the world specifically with percussion. Recently, the band received a shipment of Taiko drums from Japan. They learned how to play the instrument at a drum school while touring in Japan, and now it is becoming a part of the band’s live performance.Sermon feels that the wide array of sounds and genres helped prevent Imagine

Dragons from “pigeonholing themselves too much” with their debut. He hopes this will allow the band to further define themselves as they continue to grow and progress as artists.  “We’re trying to create music for ourselves. We’re out there experimenting with different genres, different sounds, just trying to do what inspires us and keeping ourselves inspired with the creative process,” McKee admitsThe band uses a similar imaginative approach with their music videos. The video

for “Radioactive” portrays Muppet-looking characters boxing in an underground fight club. Sermon references the Foo Fighters as a band that is capable of making music videos that range in seriousness, and Imagine Dragons uses a mix of heavy and light to create the overall essence of the video  something that portrays the song’s message in a wild, unexpected way. The band wanted to use this off-the-wall approach to portray the theme of the

song. According to Reynolds, the song is “about becoming self-empowered and battling your own human frailty, human weakness and rising above it.” Not only does “Radioactive” stress the theme of struggle, but many of the other songs on the record do as well. Reynolds explains the message of “Demons” to represent “the constant struggle of life in trying to find happiness in yourself.” The front man has had his own struggles with depression and strives to bring hope through the band’s positive message and

impassioned tone.  
Following the release of their debut in September of 2012, the band’s popularity 
grew across the globe. While at first the growth was slow, by the end of the year the band found their popularity booming at an exponential rate. Before they knew it, Imagine Dragons had multiple chart-topping singles. Of these singles, “Radioactive” peaked within the charts of twelve countries internationally, and was certified triple platinum in the United States earlier this year.  
With the domineering success of the track, which was released as a single in May of this year, Reynolds has no fear of the band succumbing to the exceeding notoriety of the one single alone. Although many bands struggle to jump over the mountain created by a popular single, this doesn’t faze Imagine Dragons. In fact, drummer Dan Platzman joked that the band has their “one-hit-wonder insurance.”   Our goal at the beginning was to create an album that you can listen to from beginning to end, and one that told the story of the band. I think the only reason we’re experiencing the success that we are is not based on single success, but upon the album being platinum in the states. It’s about the album to us,” Reynolds says 
Imagine Dragons’ rise to mainstream success has been a steady climb. “Radioactive” was on the Billboard charts for 42 weeks before reaching the top five, the longest ascension in history. Fortunately for the quartet, they rose slow enough to maintain their composure as an entity and prevent the album from excusing the four members of the band from the hard work that got them there in the first place.  “People think you sign and it makes you big,” reveals Reynolds, “but that’s not how it works. You’ve got to build one thing at a time. The reason we were fortunate is that we had done that before the record had even come out.”  
Much of the band’s hard work began with their time in Las Vegas playing and developing their live show. Just like every other element of Imagine Dragons’ music, it gradually molded into the energetic thrill ride that it is today. But the quartet doesn’t let the immensity of their performances take away from the intimate environment that keeps the band’s set a very personal, very emotional one. “Performing for people is extremely personal,” opines Platzman. “You’re up there bearing your soul, giving everything you’ve got in every performance.”  
At a recent show in Kansas City, Reynolds nearly broke down as he became overwhelmed by the high amount of fan support that erupted over the last year. Between songs, he said, with a tear in his eye, “We never thought we’d play in a venue this big,” as he referred to the sold-out, 6,000-seat Starlight Theatre.  
Most of the time, Reynolds likes to keep his mind distracted from the enormity of the band’s ever-growing fan base and outbreak of exposure. This is because he and the rest of the band use the stage the same way they use the music and video mediums: as a method of expression. To the band, their huge energy and unrestrained presence aid in making their larger-than-life ambiance feel like a one-on-one connection.  “Every time before we go on stage, we all get together and get ourselves in the right mindset. We really open our minds to just completely be free onstage, to get lost in the music, and kind of free ourselves from any stresses or thoughts. We just get on stage and express ourselves. At the end of the day, as long as we do that, the show retains that genuine feeling to it.”  
2013 has been a huge year for Imagine Dragons. Apart from the wide exposure and airwave success of “Radioactive,” the chance to headline festivals and tours across the world, and a recent appearance on Good Morning America, the band has been just as busy as they were before Night Visions brought the band international success. However, just like the bright lights of Vegas, the band won’t let the idea of fame or fortune blind them from the reality of their potential, and this potential is lurking deep within the honest tone and heart found within the musical ventures of the four members.  
McKee concludes our interview with this thought: “We’re just going to keep on doing what we do. We’re going to keep creating music that we’re proud of, and hopefully people keep relating to it.” 
By Tim Dodderidge
Photography by Sam San Roman
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