The Las Vegas rock stars chat to Discover ahead of their massive world tour – talking lyrics, legacy and their hopes for Mercury - Act 2
“There’s an energy… There’s a sound… There’s a vibe… When that many people get together to be passionate about anything, whether it’s sports or a show, there’s a wave that hits you and it’s just very hard to describe, but we’re all completely addicted to it”.Dan Reynolds
By 2018, Imagine Dragons were on top of the world. With a roomful of international music awards, more than 75 million record sales, and the official record for being the most streamed group in the world – the band decided to take a break from touring. As plans for a big return melted into the start of the pandemic, the band’s hiatus got longer until they found themselves putting out Mercury – Act 1 in September 2021 after three years away from main stages.
“Three years was such a long time for us,” laughs lead singer Dan Reynolds, chatting to Discover in a hotel suite somewhere above the Oxford Street Christmas lights. “We’d been touring for pretty much 10 years straight before that. But it was good to take that time off in a way. It helped reinvigorate us. It helped remind us how lucky we are to be on a stage with a group of people. I think the whole world took that for granted. But now we’re definitely ready to get back together and celebrate life and music.”
Announcing their biggest ever world tour for 2022, Imagine Dragons are playing one night in the UK at Stadium MK on June 18, bringing their most intimate and emotional record to the 45,000 seat venue. “I think I’m a really high and low person,” says Reynolds, already thinking about how the new songs are going to track alongside their earlier hits. “This record, for me, is more concerned with death and grief but every record has had its moments of being on top of the world, with these very happy, light-hearted songs, and then they have these other songs just bleeding out right next to them. So I think our fans have grown to understand that that’s the journey of Imagine Dragons.”
Partially inspired by the death of Reynolds’ sister-in-law, as well as by the loss of other friends and by his own struggles with mental health issues, Mercury – Act 1 marks the start of a new chapter for Imagine Dragons – one defined by more intimate, personal and direct song writing.
“I think I probably was afraid of opening up in the beginning, for sure,” says Reynolds, now faced with pouring out his emotions in front of thousands of people a night. “That’s why I’d be very metaphoric, which was one of my greatest weaknesses as a writer. I think it’s really important to open up, and a lot of my favourite writers, people like Cat Stevens, were always very direct. You knew what they were singing about and you could feel it on a deeper level. I’m getting older now so I think I’ve tried to be a little more on the nose without being trite.”
Spurred on by the record’s great fan reception, the band are now more eager than ever to get back on stage and play the new songs live. “I think I’m more excited to play this record than any yet, from top to bottom,” says lead guitarist Wayne Sermon. “It just goes places we haven’t gone. ‘Dull Knives’ is probably the heaviest song we’ve ever done. ‘Cutthroat’ and ‘Giants’ are going to be really cool live. But then there’s also songs like ‘It’s Ok’ that I think will just feel really different for us, and that’s so exciting”.
Formed in Las Vegas back in 2008, Imagine Dragons quickly rose up the local scene playing bars, clubs and casino lounges – pegging their success to the Vegas scene that has nurtured so many other big names over the last few decades. “The two bands that we really saw come up before us were The Killers and Panic! At The Disco, both out of Vegas, says Reynolds. “I grew up with Brendon from Panic and we were friends before any of that happened. We were both raised Mormon, so I would see him at Mormon events. It’s so important to see that happening to bands that are from where you’re from. It becomes this easy jump to think, ‘maybe I can make it too’, ‘maybe I don’t have to move to LA or New York or wherever’. So it gave us the confidence to stick to our roots. I’m third generation Las Vegas. I was born and raised there. And I’ll die there. I love that city.”
“The one thing you can do in Vegas is get up on a stage,” adds drummer Daniel Platzman. “We didn’t have the money to drive to LA, but in Vegas, you know, as long as you were willing to do half covers and play for people that weren’t necessarily there to see you, you could play some of those lounge acts and kind of cut your teeth playing live. I think that’s a big reason why we’re successful, all those little stages.”
Remembering back to their first ever gig together at the Sinister bar at The Rock And Roll Lounge (“It’s since been closed because they had a bunch of shootings there…” says bassist Ben McKee, “My amplifier exploded as soon as I turned it on…”), Imagine Dragons have come a long way since 2009 – getting their first big break at the Bite Of Last Vegas festival just months after they released their first EP.
“The first festival I ever went to was the one we headlined,” laughs Reynolds. “We had this morning slot booked in front of about 100 people on a little side stage, and that night, the headliner was Train. As it turned out, Pat Monahan got swine flu and had to drop out at the last minute. The promoter came to us and said, ‘Hey, do you guys want to fill in on the mainstage?’ That was 20,000 people. It was pretty scary to go up and say, ‘Hey, we know you wanted to see Train, but we’re a little local band…’. But the crowd got behind us and we put on the show of our life. That was the turning point for us.”
With dates booked throughout summer 2022 in stadiums all over Europe, following a massive North America run that starts in February, Imagine Dragons are now deep into pre-production on the biggest tour of their career. “We’ll have a long few weeks in a warehouse together to practice as a band, just like we always have for 10 years, and then we’ll get ready to put on the best show of our life,” smiles Reynolds, not intimidated at all. “These are gonna be stadiums, and that’s very different from arenas, so it’s a big step for us, but we’re excited to step up to it.”
Keeping details of the show under wraps, the band hint at a gig that spans their whole back catalogue, covering every chapter of the Imagine Dragons story. “Each era is supposed to have a certain feeling to it and our fans will hopefully recognise those feelings and what it looks like,” says Reynolds. “Whether it’s Smoke + Mirrors or it’s this kind of gothica world, we’re going to try and take a journey through those albums.”
Now five albums in, the biggest problem the band face is working out which tracks to play. “It’s getting to the point where it’s really hard to put together a setlist,” laughs Sermon. “On the Night Visions tour we were like, ‘guys, we’ve got an hour-long slot and we’ve got eight songs… what are we going to do?!” But now it’s like, ‘guys, we have 40 or 50 songs we want to play… what are we going to do?!’ So yeah, it feels like finally for the first time we have kind of shoes that fit.”
“I keep pitching an alphabetical system and I keep getting shot down…” laughs Platzman. Deciding to mix things up, the band are committed to making sure every night of the Mercury tour feels different, changing up their setlists to make sure they cover as much as possible. And then there’s the next chapter to think of, with Mercury – Act 2 now confirmed, but still undated.
“It’s gonna be different,” says Reynolds. “I mean, it’s different enough that we didn’t want it to be as part of Act 1. I think our fans can expect to see us go to some new territory. I think on Act 1 we’ve gone to some new places already, but there are moments on this next record that do things way differently than we’ve ever done, which is really exciting for us. You know, five records in, we’re just looking for new ground. We’re just looking to keep ourselves excited.”
Imagine Dragons will be playing Stadium MK on Saturday 18 June 2022, and tickets are available now.
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