Imagine Dragons Interview

Imagine Dragons

When you’ve got the #1 most-downloaded song in rock history – “Radioactive” – ahead of classics by Journey, Kings Of Leon, Queen, Linkin Park, Bon Jovi and more, it’s safe to say you are “on top of the world.” Imagine Dragons are much more than their gargantuan, Grammy-nominated song (which went on to win Best Rock Performance, and was also nominated for Record of the Year in 2014). The Las Vegas foursome has several empowering anthems that are musically diverse and truly global in their appeal. Songs about evolving, joy, family and perseverance, be it the foot-tapping folk-rock “It’s Time,” the uplifting rhythmic dub-step-tinged “Demons,” the whimsical, folky “On Top Of The World” and the rhythmic, tribal “I Bet My Life” off new album “Smoke + Mirrors” which debuted at #1. Imagine Dragons, who consist of lead singer Dan Reynolds, guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Ben McKee and drummer Daniel Platzman never set out to be anything but musicians, but their music is certainly resonating on a superhero level. This is clear with their biggest New York-area venues booked to date, Newark’s Prudential Center on June 29 and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on June 30. Fans and music lovers are in for an electrifying show – Imagine Dragons are known to be experimental with percussion, their dramatic songs have a cinematic magnetism and Dan Reynolds and the guys’ vocals will surely unify the stadium crowds. Imagine Dragons’ Ben and Platz took some time while on tour in South America to speak with New York City Monthly…

NYCM: “I Bet My Life,” “Gold” and “Shots” showcase a strong range of new material. These songs come off your sophomore album “Smoke + Mirrors” which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 and in Canada and the U.K. After such a massive impact with a string of hits on your debut “Night Visions” was this new album a challenge for you guys? 

Ben McKee: We never let pressure influence our creativity. We write music every day because it’s what we do, not because we are trying to meet a deadline or because we are trying to replicate the success we had with “Night Visions.”  When we went into the studio to record “Smoke + Mirrors,” we already had over 100 demos to choose from. Bringing the best of those ideas into the studio and turning them into “Smoke + Mirrors” was an inspiring process.

Dan Platzman: No, the album was so much fun to work on.  We got to do the whole thing in our own studio too.

NYCM: As you know, New York is a landmark for many things rock & roll and music overall, including many styles that seem to be at the core of what Imagine Dragons is all about: (punk) rock, hip-hop, electronic and folk. Your tour will take you all over the world – what kind of feeling do you get when performing in New York vs. your Las Vegas hometown or say somewhere in Asia or South America? What is unique or different about playing New York?

BM: New York is an iconic city in the world of music. I think that people there really have their finger on the cultural pulse of the world.  A New York crowd can be intimidating to play in front of because they’ve seen it all, so there was a little bit of extra anxiety. Fortunately, we have had nothing but amazing reactions from our NYC audiences.

DP: New York is a great city, I lived there for 3 years and there is an energy about the city. New York crowds can be intimidating because you never know who’s going to be in the crowd.

NYCM: Imagine Dragons has played most of the major NYC shows: The Howard Stern Show, Good Morning America, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (prior to his Tonight Show), The Late Show with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, you’ve played Jones Beach and following South America, you take the “Smoke + Mirrors Tour” to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Do you have any memorable moments in New York to share, dating back as early as your first Bowery Ballroom show or perhaps earlier?

BM: I remember the first time we played New York. We were playing at a club called Piano’s right across from Katz’s Deli. We were a little late for load in, and the stage was a little bit smaller than we were expecting. We sort of had to choose between fitting our drums on stage, or being able to move.  We opted for the drums. That whole show was like performing on a jungle gym. We were jumping over drums and amps, knocking mic stands into the crowd. It was chaos. But the energy of the room was amazing.

DP: When we performed on Lettermen, I was struck by how cold the set was kept. I asked around and apparently that’s the way Dave likes it.

NYCM: Many would credit Imagine Dragons and a handful of other bands like Kings of Leon, Muse, Mumford & Sons, The Black Keys as being the new foundation of rock music in America and around the world. The format has clearly shifted but will never go away – what are your thoughts on the current state of rock music?

BM: I’ve heard people say, “Rock is dead,” but I don’t think that’s true at all.  Rock music is alive now maybe more than ever. It’s a genre that is constantly growing and changing. It absorbs everything that touches it. There are no rules when it comes to rock, no boundaries. Rock is just evolving so quickly that I think people have a hard time defining it. You can’t look to the past and try to define what rock and roll is now. You have to experience it in the cultural context of the ever-shrinking world that we live in.

DP: I think the question is not what the state of rock music is but what the state of music itself is. Genres mean less than they ever have because everybody is listening to everything these days. The lines are blurring and I feel like it’s an exciting time to make music.

NYCM: Your songs take on meanings that go beyond expected themes of love and heartbreak, touching upon family, friendship, stress, tragedy and struggle – real universal, relatable themes as evidenced by hit singles like “It’s Time,” “Radioactive,” “Demons,” “On Top of the World” and new tracks “I Bet My Life” and “Shots.” Beyond the bright lights, the devoted fans and insanity of media/social media, what does it feel like as four band members when you are not only inspiring people but also helping them through their challenges, struggles and battles? Your involvement with The Tyler Robinson Foundation and the Do The Right Thing: National Campaign To Stop Violence are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how you have become role models and people who give back.

BM: We never got into music because we wanted to have celebrity status. We never expected it. When we realized that we had the attention of people all over the world, that people looked to us and would respond in big ways to messages that we put out there through our music, or even through social media, we sort of felt like we had a responsibility to take advantage of our position. To do something meaningful with it. Starting the Tyler Robinson Foundation is the most rewarding thing that we have ever been able to do in our careers. It’s been inspiring, not just to see the children and families that we have been able to help, but also to see the way our fans have gotten together all over the world to stand for such a great cause. Every day on Twitter, or Facebook or Instagram, I see people organizing fundraising events, or volunteering to help their own communities or putting out positive messages to inspire people to make a positive change in the world. People are amazing and we have been fortunate to have an opportunity to create a community where people can come together and do something meaningful to make the world a better place.

DP: It’s always great when we can be a part of something bigger than ourselves and be a part of something “good” that helps people. It’s always the most rewarding experiences for us.

NYCM: Your Grammy-winning smash “Radioactive” was one of the most synced songs in 2013/2014, included in HBO promos, “Chicago Fire,” “Arrow,” several video games, sports programming and a Superbowl commercial. A great song generally takes off no matter what, but did you ever imagine “Radioactive” to reach anthemic status, having such a huge influence on popular culture on a global level?

BM: “Radioactive” is a song that we always believed in. People tried to tell us that it was too hard for radio. That the mix was too aggressive and dirty and distorted. We just loved the energy of the song and thought that people would relate to that energy and connect to it the way that we do when we perform it, so we stood behind it and insisted on getting it out there. I don’t think that we ever could have expected it to take off the way that it did though.

Canadian alternative rock band Metric and New Jersey singer Halsey open both dates.

(Photo Credit: Eliot Lee Hazel)