Interview: For Imagine Dragons, going nonstop pays off
December 6, 2012
Written by Roman Gokhman
Dan Reynolds’ family always supported him, even while his seven brothers and one sister were becoming doctors and lawyers, and he was dropping out of Brigham Young University in Utah to start a band.
“Back when we were playing a show to five people in a dirty bar in Vegas, they were there,” the Imagine Dragons singer said two days after Thanksgiving from his home. “I think I chose a bit of a different career path from the rest of my family. I always leaned more toward the creative side.”
In school he took a few advertising and communications classes but wasn’t happy with where he was going, so he moved back to Las Vegas, convincing friend Wayne Sermon, a guitarist, to move with him.
“It was just kind of a learning experience for me in that I learned that school wasn’t for me at the time,” the 25-year-old said.
After Imagine Dragons’ straight-up rock-driven debut album debuted at No. 2 in the Top 200 chart in September, with a certified platinum single, the Reynolds family had something extra to be thankful for during the holidays. In a year of non-stop touring — which includes a performance at Not So Silent Night on Saturday, December 8th — the singer relished a chance to come home and spend time with some of his family members. Although most of his siblings were spread throughout the country with their own families this year, he was still glad for a respite from the road.
“We got together and had a big Thanksgiving meal, you know, like a normal family,” he said. “We’ve been going kind of nonstop the whole year, and we’re really still going nonstop. I fly out tomorrow. It’s wonderful and fun to wake up in a new city every day and meet lots of great people, but at the same time, it’s nice every once in a while to get grounded a little bit to the family, to touch down at the home base.”
Imagine Dragons steadily built a music catalogue and touring experience for three years before signing to Interscope Records and breaking into the mainstream in 2012. Sermon, who had graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, invited former classmates, drummer Dan Platzman and bassist Ben McKee, to join. McKee still had a semester to go before graduation.
“It sounds like the story we’re teaching is ‘drop out of school and start a band,’” Reynolds said. “It’s sort of funny because … (Ben) just got invited back to give a seminar on how the band has done so well. They didn’t even invite the other two guys who actually graduated.”
The band changed its name to Imagine Dragons, from a previous incarnation that the musicians don’t reveal – other than it is an anagram of the current moniker. Only the band members’ wives – Reynolds is married to Aja Volkman, singer of Los Angeles band Nico Vega – and manager know the significance of the previous name, which the four appreciate.
For the curious, no extra letters were taken out, though apostrophes need to be added, Reynolds said.
Imagine Dragons recorded three EPs and performed relentlessly prior to signing to Interscope last year. As the primary lyric writer, Reynolds said all of the songs thus far have come from his personal experiences, whether they are uplifting or dark and introspective due to bouts with depression and anxiety that return every once in a while.
“It’s an ongoing battle for me; I don’t think anyone who struggles with it can ever kick it fully,” he said. “I don’t want it to be some sob story. It’s just dealing with life, and life isn’t always unicorns and green fields.
“I’m probably an overly emotional person and write from an emotional place,” he said. “At the end of the day, I hope to leave a message that betters (a listener’s) life in some way rather than detracts from it, and that it uplifts them. Or, a darker, sad song that they connect with so they don’t feel so alone.”