An Interview with Imagine Dragons: More Than Smoke And Mirrors

Imagine Dragons are exactly who you think they are. Not much has changed for the Vegas foursome since their debut album, Night Visions, launched them into fame in 2012. At every show they are still putting their proverbial blood, sweat and tears into each song and for every person in the audience.

The band—vocalist Dan Reynolds, guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Ben McKee, and drummer Daniel Platzman—has kept the mindset of their humble and dedicated beginning even in the face of winning the 2014 Grammy for “Best Rock Performance,” and having their 2015 sophomore album, Smoke +Mirrors, peak at number one on the Billboard 200. Now as they embark on a stadium world tour, Wayne takes some time to discuss Imagine Dragons’ rise to fame and unrelenting passion for what they do.

You guys got to play with REO Speedwagon on Jimmy Kimmel Live. What was that like?

Honestly, those guys are really, really nice dudes. They were super giving, down to collaborate and make it something special. You know, we didn’t want it to be REO plays a song and we’re on cowbell or something. We wanted it to be a collaboration and they were totally down too. That’s what they wanted so it was cool. We showed up that day and rehearsed once or twice and then we filmed. It was just one of those things that happened naturally.

How do you get into the mindset of jumping from performances on things like the Billboard Music Awards to immediately prepping for a tour?

Really the whole vibe of the band has been to not say no to anything. In the early days that’s how we ended up playing for birthday parties and stuff, and it’s been kind of a hard habit to shake. If an opportunity comes we want to take advantage. We can’t say, “Oh no, another opportunity is going to come down the line.” We’re still kind of jumping at every option that we get. It definitely means we’re busy but we still spend time at home. Usually when this happens it means something suffers, usually in the personal life, but we just deal with it. That’s how it’s been for a while.

How have things changed since Imagine Dragons have become more widely known?

It happened in an interesting way that I think is kind of unique. We’ve been a band for seven years now, or just about seven years, and we only had the one album and we had this huge kind of rise. Things happened very quickly, certainly in the public perception of us. We had kind of been working away for seven years. The first three years we had a bunch of EPs that we released and we were kind of honing in on what our sound was and what we wanted to accomplish as a band.

It was kind of a wild process to make that first album. It was received so well, and ever since then…I don’t know. We haven’t really been trying to change our mindset or do anything too drastic. It’s really kind of always been the same for us. We started in June seven years ago and we all moved to Vegas; well, Dan is from Vegas, and we got on route to Vegas. Our first rehearsal was on, I think, the second of June and our first show was on the sixth. So our foot’s pretty much been on the gas since day one.

You guys didn’t waste any time! What were you doing prior to the band’s conception?

I was in Boston. I was going to school at Berklee College of Music studying jazz actually: a lot of composition, a lot of arranging and orchestration. Obviously classic rock and guitar and popular music were things that I grew up with that I loved, but for whatever reason I sort of fell in love with jazz and its composition, composing and scoring. So I was doing that, and that’s where I met most of these dudes. I met Platzman and Ben because we actually had a jazz class together. So we were all studying jazz but we all had our roots in popular music together and still loved that.

I met Dan when I came back home and kind of hit it off. He was like, “Yeah, I’m from Vegas. Let’s start a band in Vegas.” Not many bands do that. It’s like, “Let’s start a band in L.A. or New York.” And as big and as cool as those cities are, it was kind of innovative what Dan thought of. There’s all these bands kind of scratching at trying to get a gig at 50 bucks, or even worse you have to pay them to play. Vegas was kind of a cool place for us to start.

Do you think being in Vegas influenced the course the group took?

Absolutely! There’s no doubt in my mind that we would not be the band that we are if we were from any other city. Vegas is so unique in itself. As a band you can spend four hours on stage if you’re willing to play the most glamorous things, in a lounge or Monte Carlo. If you’re willing to do that then you can have experience on stage for hours and hours, and you just can’t get that any other city.

You’re trying to win over crowds that certainly weren’t there for you. They’re there for bikini blackjack dealers, or you know the dollar beers and other drinks, or the slot machines that are dinging away. There are millions of distractions keeping everyone from listening to music. It’s like, “Okay, how are we going to get people’s attention in such a distraction-filled environment?” So I think that played a really big part in us as a band and in our identity.

Aside from audience size, do you feel like performing has changed since Imagine Dragons began?

I always feel like we have something to prove. We’re pretty bad at celebrating things and recognizing the situation. We’re always like, “What can we do to improve this?” Our mentality hasn’t changed a whole lot from playing for 50 people to 15,000 people. Your goal is the same, which is to connect with each person somehow. It’s more of a challenge now because there are so many feet that separate you from the person in the back.

But I feel like for us we get on stage and we give out energy and then it’s up to the crowd to take that energy and reciprocate it back. It very much depends on the crowd and us and that exchange of energy is what makes our show special. We have to be there first to bring the energy but we can definitely feel how a crowd is feeling. Playing as much as we have and playing different kinds of shows like lounges, we can kind of gauge a crowd.

That’s something we’re good at. Like, “Okay, am I about to have a beer bottle thrown at my head now?” We’re pretty good at knowing what to do, adjusting things and moving songs around or songs we weren’t planning on playing. Anything we have to do, we’ll do.


You can catch Imagine Dragons performing at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on June 27, at Prudential Center in Newark on June 29, and at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on June 30. Their latest record, Smoke + Mirrors, is available now through Interscope Records. For more information, visit their website