After the last note played on the last song of a marathon set a few years ago, Dan Reynolds, frontman for Las Vegas based rockers Imagine Dragons, realized it was all starting to come together. “We were playing a gig at this place called O’Sheas, which has the cheapest beer on the strip,” Reynolds remembers. “I was basically standing on top of the drums, the stage was so small. We were on our final song of a six-hour set. I got to the end of the song and just fully passed out in the middle of singing. I came to, got up, finished the song, and we got a standing ovation from all these people at this tiny little casino at three am on a weekday in Vegas. Something about that moment bonded us and made us realize that we were building a connection with people from all over the country.”
Since then that connection has only grown. Reynolds and his bandmates – guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Ben McKee, and drummer Daniel Platzman – independently released three EPs, toured extensively, earning a grass roots following. Then, earlier this year, the band made their major label debut with the release of their Continued Silence EP, which included the breakthrough single “It’s Time,” an anthemic foot-stomping track that perfectly encapsulates the band’s unvarnished emotional sound. The song, which reached #3 at Modern Rock radio and #2 at AAA, earned the group a 2012 MTV VMA nomination for “Best Rock Video.”
With the groundswell of energy “It’s Time” generated, Imagine Dragons are now preparing for the release of their full-length debut, Night Visions, available on Grammy award winning producer Alex Da Kid’s (Eminem, Rihanna) label, KIDinaKORNER. “This record has been three years in the making,” Reynolds explains of his excitement in finally getting to share the album with the world. “We feel that we have finally created something we are all truly proud of and that can hopefully inspire others and help them feel a little less alone. That’s what music is about. It’s the greatest communicator I know.”
Emotional struggle is central to Imagine Dragons ethos. From the beginning it’s been the group’s goal to take the pain they've each experienced in life and spin it into something redemptive and uplifting. That transformation – of emotional pain into art – is what drives them as people and it’s also what inspired their first hit. “I wrote ‘It’s Time’ during a very transitional period in my life,” Reynolds recalls. “It seemed like everything was going wrong. I was trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, trying to figure out how seriously to take music. I was making decisions about who I was. I’m a pretty young guy and I’m still trying to figure out the answer to those questions.”
That balance between riding steady and risking it all is the core tension at the heart of Imagine Dragons’ sound and their identity and it’s a reflection of the city they call home. “Our band wouldn’t exist without Las Vegas,” Reynolds says simply. “It’s a great place for an artist to start out.” Sin City isn’t known as a creative hotbed but, weirdly, that works to the advantage of the musicians who live there. “It’s not oversaturated,” he explains. “As a new band you play the casinos - half covers, half your own stuff – and you make ends meet. We were able to rent a band house and support ourselves. Eating ramen, but still.”
Eking out a living as a Vegas rocker might be relatively easy but competition is cutthroat because the city is like boot camp for performers. Unlike in New York or LA where your biggest concern is being the hottest rock act around, in Las Vegas you’ve got to compete with showgirls and roulette and Cher at the Caesars Palace. “You learn to stand out because you’re competing for the attention of people sitting at slot machines,” Reynolds explains. “You have to bring everything you have and learn what grabs people’s attention enough that they look up from the card table and say, hey, let’s check this out!”
For Imagine Dragons that means the brutal honesty and power of straight-ahead rock and roll interwoven with innovative backbeats, basslines, and percussion. “We like making raw natural noises and keeping them raw and natural but transforming them into synthetic noises,” Sermon says. “We are gearheads. We do a lot of experimenting with percussion that’s electric and acoustic on top of each other.” Every band member except Reynolds attended Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, and the technical skill and precision that comes with that education has impacted Imagine Dragons’ sound and process. “I’m a musician that goes by ear. And when you put those two types of people in a room together that’s when the magic happens,” say Reynolds.
With the release of Night Visions, Imagine Dragons finally have a chance to show the world what that magic sounds like. They start off with a big statement in “Radioactive,” which blends a throbbing backbeat with delicate acoustic guitars and deals lyrically with facing the apocalypse. “We want people to hear that song and feel empowered,” Reynolds explains. Meanwhile, the delicacy of tracks like “Demons” balances the album’s expansiveness with a sense of human intimacy. “The album title came together very organically,” Reynolds recalls of the records overall theme. “We all sat in a room and wrote out what the band and sound of the album means to us. We all deal with our own demons and anxieties but we find that nothing calms the mind more than creating. Many of the songs on the album were written late into the night, and some of the lyrical themes came from dreams I've had, even some nightmares. So when the title Night Visions came up, it just seemed to fit perfectly. We hope it inspires other to create, and push through their own struggles.”