If there was ever any doubt whether or not Imagine Dragons would make it in the music industry, like really make it, one listen to their brand new album, Night Visions, will settle that quick. A project that spanned over two years in the making, the band’s heart and soul is poured into the album and it shows. Not your typical, run-of-the-mill alt rock record, Night Visions is rock infused with dubstep influences, 80s synthesizers, backdrops of clapping and stomping, and more.
Chatting with Dan Reynolds (lead vocals) and D Wayne Sermon (Guitar) the morning before their sold out Vancouver show, these guys are so clearly through and through musicians. They live and breathe music. They are the kind of guys we want so badly to pull for, to see sell out stadiums because the music is just that damn good. Imagine Dragons is soaring high in our books and we predict that it won’t be long before the rest of the world notices too.
Finally releasing your album, Night Visions this year, what does this represent for the band?
Wayne: It’s been a long time coming for us. We released three EPs on our own, another one with our label and we were very conscious about our first album – what we wanted it to be, what it represents because the first album defines a band in so many ways. A lot of bands, the first album is your favourite. We grew up listening to albums so we knew this. We wanted it to be amazing so we tried to put as much time into it. There are songs like “It’s Time” that was written two years ago and there are songs we’d written just a couple of week before. It ran a gamut of what we felt was our best material, our best songs put together in a way we felt the most true.
The making of the album spanned a lengthy period of time. How much time ended up being allocated to the writing versus the recording, mixing and mastering?
Dan: The writing process, oh man. Both me and Wayne are religious songwriters. We write everyday, not so much by necessity, but by choice. That’s how we communicate. It’s how we survive. That is what keeps us happy and feeling human. Literally we had hundreds of demos that we had written, that we had on the table for Night Visions. We took those hundreds of demos and narrowed them down to fifty by a process of all of us sitting in a room for hours and hours. We narrowed that down to twenty and then we recorded twenty songs in the studio. After that we narrowed it down to what ones would make the album and what would be kept for the next album. It was three weeks for the recording and the mixing took a week and mastering took a few days.
Wayne: But Dan gets into these spells where like for three days he sits in his apartment and does nothing. He might eat some cereal and then he writes. There are three or four songs off the album, which came from that session of him being locked away and just writing.
Dan: Wayne’s an insomniac actually. He really is since he was twelve-years-old. Sometimes he’ll be awake for like a week without sleeping. No joke. A lot of the best work that he does has been after he’s been awake for a week. He’ll send me these crazy guitar things he wrote at 3 AM after being up for five days. That ended up being “Hear Me”. That’s where the album title comes from, Night Visions, because a lot of the songs were written in the middle of the night. Some songs written were based on dreams I’ve had or nightmares I had, so a lot went into the title.
How did the use of Alex Da Kid, a producer mainly rooted in hip-hop, help develop your sound?
Dan: Alex has been great. Somebody just happen to put our CD in one day, while he was driving. It was his assistant I think. [The assistant] was like, “there’s this band that people are talking about. I want to show you.”
Alex liked what he heard and reached out to us. He sent like six words. It was like, “I like Imagine Dragon. Wanna write?” Our name was spelled wrong, everything. But we were like, “It’s Alex Da Kid.”
We were very familiar with his work. We grew up listening to a lot of urban radio and we thought, let’s at least get in a room with him and see what he’s like, vibe it out…Alex is not a hands-on producer where he’s telling you what to do. More like, you do your thing and I’ll bring my experience to the table and give you my thoughts and you could do with it what you want. That worked really well for us because we’ve always been self-produced. We felt a little scared about working with a producer. But he was very giving and just helped us be a better version of ourselves. That to me is a sign of a really great producer.
Right from the get-go, there are so many sounds in the album that elevates it beyond just a rock album. “Radioactive” has the intensity of a dubstep track, “Tiptoe” has that 80s feel. How did you develop all these different sound?
Wayne: Our band is a collection of what we’ve listened to our whole lives. Whatever that is ends up being what our sound is, but I think in a more defined way, growing up in Las Vegas and being a band in Las Vegas is a very unique experience. We were always an original band, but to make ends meet we’d do covers. Playing at Mandalay Bay or Caesar’s Palace, we’d do half originals and half covers. We’d learn songs by everyone. Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Cure, Stones, Cars, Third Eye Blind, MGMT, everything that interested us, we would learn. And so, that was the formative years of our band so I think that helped form our sound – learning from these masters of songwriting was interesting to us. We felt like that was exciting. To be just one thing would drive us crazy. To have just one sound, like ten tracks on a variation of one sound, that to us isn’t fun, isn’t exciting or fun to listen to.
We try to write the best songs we can and we feel like it can be dressed in different ways. You can throw different things at it like dubstep or handclaps, stomps. You could throw different things at it and certain things will stick. At the end of the day, if you can’t play the song on an acoustic guitar and have it be a good song then you don’t really have anything.
To quote from your first single off Night Visions, “It’s Time”, “I’m never changing who I am.” Have you encountered people who have asked you to change?
Dan: Yeah, but more indirectly. Everyone in their life have tons of people or outside sources that persuade you to change your way for lots of reasons. They might think you’re not good enough or wrong or extreme or boring. It’s definitely a topic that resonated with me and had particular meaning to me especially at the time I wrote that song. I feel like it’s an empowering thing, to stand up and say, “this is who I am and I’m not going to change that.”
As long as you’re not hurting other people, it’s a good way to live. It’s a message, really in some ways, defines our overall message as a band – that we believe in being self-empowered.
Having your training ground in Vegas is reminiscent of The Beatles and their training ground in Hamburg, Germany. They played over 1,200 shows there to perfect their craft. There’s a notion popularized by Malcolm Gladwell that if you commit 10,000 hours of practice to your craft, you become an expert. How true do you find that for musicians?
Dan: Absolutely true. It’s funny because we’ve talked about that exact quote many times before from the very beginning. Not to take away from musicians as a whole, not musicians, let’s say people. A lot of people that want to be in a band see it as an opportunity for fame and for popularity, to get girls, whatever reason. A lot of people join bands for the wrong reasons. It’s hard work. If you don’t treat it as a job, you don’t want to put in the hours of practice, then you really shouldn’t be a musician. Don’t be a musician if you want to be a musician. Be a musician because you have to be a musician. It’s not an easy lifestyle…but don’t get me wrong. It can be an incredible career. We love it. We’re really happy. There are way more pros than cons, but it’s not necessarily the most lucrative time to be a musician so people really need to think about whether they need to be a musician before going into it.
Wayne: Back when we started this band, we wanted to be successful, but three months into it, we didn’t deserve it. If we were to be successful six months into it, it would have been the wrong path for us. And there are bands where that happens and that’s great. It’s their path. Obviously they’re doing something right, but for us, we weren’t ready at that time. We had not spent enough time on couches, playing for two people, one person being the bartender. He’s not really into music. I guess the term is paying your dues, which is cliché at this point, but I think it’s important.
What thrills you most about being on stage now?
Dan: I just feel like it’s where we feel most free. All of us are a little bit of awkward characters, always have been, except for Ben. Ben was homecoming king and student body president. For me, the only time I feel completely comfortable and like I can do anything is when I’m on stage. It’s a very freeing feeling, getting on stage and expressing yourself. Every song that we perform has real meaning to us and every time we perform, we go back to where we were when we wrote that song. I definitely take myself to that spot lyrically. Every concert is a bit of an awakening for us. We experience things and try to connect to the crowd. Love playing live.
Wayne: The coolest thing lately playing live shows is that people know the lyrics, especially places we’ve never been. We see a crowd full of people singing the break to “Demons”. Dan would put a mic out and everyone would know the lyrics to that part. That’s never happened before so that particular thing is really cool.