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, and racked up numerous best-of-Vegas awards. Then, earlier this year, the band made their major label debut with the release of their Continued Silence EP available on Grammy award winning producer Alex Da Kid’s (Eminem, Rihanna) label, KIDinaKORNER. From the epic slow-burn throb of “Radioactive” to the upbeat percussive intimacy of “On Top of the World” to the delicate blend of acoustic guitar and synthetic pop on “Round and Round,” the collection showcases Imagine Dragons’ signature diversity of sound and sentiment. “It’s Time,” the EP’s anthemic, emotionally bare, foot-stomping lead single has become Imagine Dragon’s calling card. And it’s the song that sets the tone for what’s to come as the band prepares to enter the studio this summer to record their full-length debut with Alex Da Kid.
“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. But I wrote that song just standing my kitchen stomping my feet and clapping my hands. I wasn’t thinking about writing a great song, I was thinking about what was important to me—about wanting to stay true to your roots but also not be afraid to go outside your boundaries.”
That balance between riding steady and risking it all is the core tension at the heart of Imagine Dragons’ sound and 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 buy 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 a blend of hip-hop influenced backbeats layered under thrillingly direct guitar, bass, and drums. “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.
In a world where any teenager with a webcam can become a rock star then a has-been all in the space of a few months, Imagine Dragons are a refreshing return to the tried-and-true traditions of great rock and roll. They’ve learned how to be a band the old fashioned way, by writing great songs and playing them live to an increasingly large audience. But their secret weapon is the one element we’ve truly lost in this exhibitionistic post-internet music culture: mystery. “The name of the band is an anagram,” Wayne says. “We had this phrase but it was something we didn’t really want to call the band so we agreed to switch the letters around and came up with Imagine Dragons. We haven’t even told our own mothers what the phrase was. As an artist you put so much of yourself out there it’s fun to have something you keep to yourself.”