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Indie rockers Imagine Dragons’ debut album showcases diversity of sound and sentiment
ROCKERS Imagine Dragons, a breakout indie band, is not about to tell you what the title of the band means any time soon.
“I think we understand people’s curiosity,” says guitarist and backup vocalist Wayne Sermon. “It’s funny, people are always asking us and sometimes — actually for years now — fans have come up after shows with this folded piece of paper that’s been in their purse for like, three years, and it has all these scribbles on it and scratched-out parts and you can see where they’ve moved the letters around to try to figure out exactly what it was. They always ask us and we say, ‘You know, maybe so ... You might be on to something ...’ but we never reveal it,” he says.
“The name of the band is an anagram. We haven’t even told our own mothers what the phrase means. As an artiste you put so much of yourself out there it’s fun to have something you keep to yourself.”
Wayne and his bandmates — drummer-vocalist Dan Reynolds, bassist Ben McKee, and drummer Daniel Platzman — independently released three EPs, have toured extensively, and racked up numerous best-of-Vegas awards.
US Billboard Magazine listed the band as one of “2012’s Brightest New Stars”.
The idea of Imagine Dragons started over three years ago. “Our band wouldn’t exist without Las Vegas,” Dan says simply. “It’s a great place for an artiste to start out. It’s not oversaturated. 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,” Dan explains. “You have to learn what grabs people’s attention enough that they look up from the card table and say ‘hey, let’s check this out!’.”
Wayne says: “I think that we are very resistant during the early years of the band to sign to a label.”
Dan adds: “We have people reach out to us, awesome labels, cool A&R people. Umm but, timing just wasn’t right. We just kept doing things on our own. Then one day, we got an email from Alex da Kid.”
This is Alexander Grant, a Grammy-winning producer from Britain who has worked with Eminem, Rihanna, Dr Dre and Nikki Minaj, among other artistes.
In its debut album, Night Visions, Imagine Dragons offers 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,” explains Wayne. “We are gearheads. We do a lot of experimenting with percussion that’s electric and acoustic on top of each other.”
Night Visions was recorded at The Palms in Las Vegas. Adds Mark Grey (engineer at The Palms): “To have these guys come back and do their first record here in Vegas where their roots are, is very cool.”
Every band member, except Dan, attended Boston’s prestigious Berklee College Of Music, and the technical skill and precision that came with that education impacted Imagine Dragons’ sound and process.
“I’m a musician who goes by ear. And when you put those two types of people in a room together that’s when the magic happens,” say Dan.
For him, “music is the only thing I know that transfers human emotions in a way that people who lives completely different lives can connect.”
His favourite part of songwriting is the first part, “the birth of an idea”. “You hear it in your head and it’s so exciting to put it on paper and to be able to listen to it outside of your head,” he says.
He wrote many songs alone, at home. He’d written hundreds, he says, and to pick 11 for Night Visions was really hard.
From the album comes the soundtrack-ready, foot-stomping It’s Time, its first single.
About the song, Dan says: “I wrote it just standing in 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.”
Other tracks include arena-ready tracks Every Night and Round And Round, the epic slow burn of Radioactive, and the percussive intimacy of On Top of the World.
The band’s signature diversity of sound and sentiment is all there on the album, distributed by Universal Music.
Imagine Dragons is on its first headlining North American tour, in support of Night Visions, which debuted at No. 2 on the US Billboard Album chart, and has hit No. 1 on its Alternative Albums chart.