In today’s music climate, Imagine Dragons’ success story is a rare one. In an era where mammoth arena rock acts are a dying breed, the Las Vegas-based band, purveyors of electro-squelching riffs and anthemic choruses, instantly skyrocketed to mainstream domination. A relative unknown at the time, in September, 2012 the band released its debut album, Night Visions, which went on to become the highest charting debut for a rock album since 2006.
The band’s breakout singles “Radioactive” and “Demons” dominated the pop-radio airwaves for over a year, broke Billboard Hot 100 chart records, and earned them a Grammy nomination and a much-talked-about performance at the awards show with rapper Kendrick Lamar. Yes, to say the previous few years for Imagine Dragons have been a whirlwind hardly does them justice.
With the band releasing its second album Smoke + Mirrors this week, Cuepoint’s Dan Hyman spoke with Imagine Dragons’ lead singer Dan Reynolds and guitarist Wayne Sermon to find out what life has been like amid their band’s meteoric rise.
Dan Reynolds: You can never really prepare yourself for what’s happened to our band in the last couple years. It’s like winning the lottery to have this kind of success. Honestly we never could have ever hoped to accomplish all this. The whole thing is a little overwhelming and it’s been a little hard to take in. It just seems so wild. I still don’t feel like when I walk into a room people should listen to me sing. In my head I’m still used to going to the open mic night and being a nobody. There were a couple pivotal moments though when I was really taken aback. The Grammys for one were an incredible experience. That moment of being on stage, right before we were about to perform looking over at Kendrick, it was a first for both of us. That whole night was a magical, incredible night. From meeting a lot of people I’ve listened to my whole life to talking with Jay Z and Beyoncé who are two icons I’ve listened to since I was young, that was a pretty amazing moment. When I found out that Weird Al was covering “Radioactive” that was a huge moment for me as well because who doesn’t love Weird Al? I grew up listening to him my whole life and to think we had a song that was big enough for him to take a hack at it?
But performing at the Beatles tribute and getting asked to go to that and meeting Paul and Ringo and getting to perform a cover of “Revolution” in front of them… that honestly might be the moment that I was the most nervous. I felt like I was just going to throw up onstage. It was incredibly nerve-wracking. You know you’re never going to do the song justice at all. No matter what you say or do there’s instant regret. Ringo came up after and he went in for the huge hug. I was like “Whoa! Ringo’s going for the hug!” And then he kissed me on the cheek and told me he had our album and that he enjoyed it. I think everything just stopped in time. That was such a huge thing for me. I grew up listening to the Beatles with my dad. Just to meet them and to know that they’ve listened to something we’ve done… that was the greatest. And then Paul wrote us a letter saying that he enjoyed the cover. We hung it up on the wall in our studio. Even now my head is spinning.
Wayne Sermon: The first indicator for all of us of our unexpected success was when we released Night Visions. We talked as a band and tried to psyche ourselves up in case things didn’t go great. If we could sell 5,000 or even 10,000 copies the first week as a really unknown band then that would be a success. And then the first-week numbers came back at 83,000 copies. That was definitely the first “What?” moment. Since then it’s just been a series of those. Hence the craziness and the whirlwind and the losing of perspective. I think there’s definitely some sort of denial that goes on with every band when this happens. Frankly it could all be pulled away very quickly. So we’re all just pretending that we’re still a tiny band that still has a lot to prove. Because really we are.
Believe it or not, the best advice we ever got was the first time we did a late night talk show. It was The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Charlie Sheen was on the show; we were just starting to get some mainstream success. He leaned over to us after and said, “Welcome to the party. It’s about to get really weird” [laughs]. And strangely he was very much right. Take for example a show we played in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We had never been down there so we didn’t know what to expect or if anyone would even know who we were. We played and there was 800,000 people going absolutely insane for the music. That was sort of the first time we were able to sort of understand the scope of what we were doing. As a band you very much live in a bubble. When you’re in the eye of the hurricane you have the worst perspective of what’s happening around you. It’s these types of moments that punch you in the face and say, “Enjoy this, you idiot! Look at what’s going on around you!”
No matter what happens though I’m not sure if the feeling of anything will ever match the feeling of meeting Paul McCartney. During rehearsals for the Grammys he was rehearsing right after us. When we came offstage we were covered in red gunk. He was very curious what the hell was going on. I was able to shake his hand and talk to him for a little bit. He was confused but very gracious. For me, he’s not even a person—he’s a musical god. So to actually see him in person and know he’s an actual human being… it was insane. I’m not the kind of guy who gets super affected by the whole rock ‘n’ roll fame thing, but not that. I was very much a giddy schoolboy meeting his idol. I probably embarrassed myself a little bit. Honestly though, I didn’t even care.
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