In the following phone interview vocalist Dan Reynolds talks about making the band’s first full-length Night Visions, the difficulty selecting the tracks and finding inspiration in dreams.
So you just had vocal surgery?
I did, yeah, about four weeks ago now.
Is everything going all right?
Yeah, actually I was just cleared to start singing yesterday. We’ve already started band practice and it feels better than ever, man, so it’s great.
Was it just because you were singing so much?
Yeah, it was just overuse. We’ve really been touring straight for three years. On top of that, SXSW is really what probably launched it. We played 13 shows in three days, which was a bit much probably, looking back, but it was fun at the time. So it feels really good now. I was on vocal silence for 10 days, which was the worst thing of all time, but now I’m back to a hundred percent and it feels great.
This year has probably been surreal for you, with “It’s Time” and the EP slowly taking off. Is it hard for you to put into words?
It really is, honestly. Like I said, we’ve band a band for three years, so we’ve been living on the road, sleeping on couches, eating rice and beans. It’s the same thing all the starting musicians out there are doing. I think that having gone through that has made us that much more appreciative of seeing how things have gone. Every little thing is just amazing. We really couldn’t be happier. All of us are on cloud nine and taking it in. We’re continually writing and just doing what we’ve been doing.
This is your first full-length but you’ve done four EPs before this. How did you like playing around with the EP format and how do you think that’s prepared you to get to where you are today?
So many people ask us, “Why in the three-and-a-half years you’ve been together did you never release an album?” That was our fourth EP, Continued Silence. It was our first with a label but the fourth we’ve released. What it really came down to was we wanted to feel like we were ready to do an album. So many bands that I love and grew up listening to, their first album was my favorite of all their albums. It kind of defined that band for me. We wanted to make sure we were ready and prepared as a band and we really understood ourselves and our own sound and what our vision for Imagine Dragons was before we created an album.
For us, that took three-and-a-half years. Some bands do it in the first month and it works for them, but it’s what worked for us. It definitely prepared us, experimenting and trying different things and seeing what worked for us and what didn’t, what we enjoyed doing most and what types of songs we enjoyed playing live. At this point, we’ve done thousands of live shows, and I think that’s important for a band to do before you really understand who you are. Definitely all of it was preparatory and Continued Silence especially. When we got to that point, we really were narrowing down to what we felt that Imagine Dragons was. It was a good launching board for what Night Visions would be, and we expanded upon that.
How different is the new stuff you’re doing compared to your first EP?
People who go back and listen to it tend to think it’s really similar. For us, it’s different just because as an artist you’re always your biggest critic. You’re always picking yourself apart. Hopefully, at least for us, we feel we’ve grown a lot since then sound wise, but some people think it’s pretty similar. Who knows? That’s a good question. I’ve never been asked that before. Hopefully, a band is continually trying new things, pushing their boundaries and expanding their horizons a bit, so we’ve tried to do that. There’s similarities, but there’s also differences of maturing as a band.
On this new album you pulled songs from the Continued Silence EP and there’s a bunch of bonus tracks that will be available as well. Was it difficult narrowing down the songs you wanted to include on the album?
Oh, dude, it was so difficult. I can’t even put into words how difficult it was. Really it was combining three-and-a-half years of songwriting into one body of work that we wanted to make sure was cohesive, told a story and really told the story of Imagine Dragons correctly. A lot of it was our newest material, just because we feel the newer material represents us well, but there were a couple songs that made the cut that were also on our EPs.
It was so difficult, but we finally got to a point where we literally sat down with a sheet of paper and wrote down and defined who Imagine Dragons was, who we’d been and what we wanted to say as a band. As nerdy as that sounds, I think it’s important for a band to really take their art seriously and view the band as a real entity in itself, so we definitely took that into play as we were selecting the songs. I’m basically giving you the longest answers for everything *[laughs], but I’m trying to wrap my head around it still at this point. It was definitely a difficult process but by the end we were all unanimously happy with the tracks we had decided upon, bonuses and all.
A lot of the songs have a pretty big percussive element to them. Is that always there when you’re writing or do you incorporate that later on?
It really is in the beginning, I’d say. All the songs that you hear basically start on a laptop with either me or Wayne, who is our guitarist. Both of us are gearheads and we really have no lives other than sitting at home in the late hours writing music on our computers. A lot of the songs start percussively. Before I did anything, I was a drummer. That was my first instrument, so I think percussively as a vocalist. A lot of times I’ll start with a beat, like “It’s Time” started with me stomping my feet and clapping my hands in the kitchen late at night at 2 am. Percussive elements definitely fuse their way into every song we write. It usually starts with some sort of a beat, sometimes a riff, but we’re definitely very percussive writers, I would say. Percussive-focused writers.
You worked with producer Alex da Kid, and I think you’re his first rock stuff that he’s done. What was it like working with him and combining your stuff with his sound?
Oh, dude, it was so cool. I also grew up listening to a lot of urban music. I’m sure I’ve been influenced by a lot of urban music to date. When he reached out to us, I knew who he was. I was very familiar with his work, but I had no idea of his producing skills until I actually sat in a room with him and wrote a song with him. He’s just a genius and really has a different perspective on music. I don’t know if it’s because he’s not from America and music’s a little different over there, but he just has a different perspective that he brought to the table.
On top of that, he was a big fan of Imagine Dragons and what we had done. His first and foremost thing was he didn’t want to change anything about what we had done, he just wanted to bring his experience to the table. He has a very comforting approach to working with artists where he lets you do your thing and gets in his two cents here and there, but those two cents are worth two thousand dollars. He’s just really, really a genius.
Did you self-produce your early EPs?
Yeah, everything to date had been self-produced. This was kind of the first time… Actually, you know what? Our last EP we did work with a producer. The one before Continued Silence we worked with a producer that’s a friend from a band called Envy Corps. Darner is his last name, Brandon Darner. He’s just an incredible guy, and we worked with him on the EP before we signed. So, yeah, we had worked with one producer before.
The lyrics on this album have a certain internal struggle to them and yet it’s mostly from a positive slant. Can you talk about what some of your inspirations were on coming up with the lyrics?
I myself have struggled probably my entire life with a bit of depression and ADD and anxiety issues. It’s not much different from a lot of people. I kind of have a struggle with my own demons. The guitarist in the band, Wayne, who’s the other producer of the music, is a clinical insomniac. He’s a real serious insomniac. He doesn’t sleep for five days in a row. He’s been to sleeping psychologists since he was 14 years old and has not had any real help with that. Anybody who’s had a sleepless night knows it’s really awful. So we’ve had our own demons we’ve struggled with, and it fuses its way into everything you write. You can’t help but write about the things that are the happiest and worst in life, at least for me as a lyricist. Wayne as a guitarist is really a vocal guitarist. I’ve always felt like everything he plays has a real deep emotion written into his melodies, guitar wise. So the songs and emotion of Night Visions have the great happy of things and the dark struggle based on those things.
I read that you get some ideas from your dreams. How does that work?
Because I have anxiety issues and Wayne and his insomnia, both of us primarily write in the late hours of the night, like 3 am. Also, lyrically I’m a pretty vivid dreamer. I often remember my dreams when I wake up and they stick with me. You know when you have a dream you wake up with and it’s so real it takes you 20 minutes to understand reality again? I swear I have those dreams all the time. Very often, especially on a good number of songs on this album, I ended up using nightmares I had had or recurring dreams. That, on top of Wayne and his struggle with insomnia and writing music during the night, when the name came up it fit so many of the elements of how the writing process took place and the overall theme of the album. It just fit perfectly, so when the title was brought up and we came up with it we knew immediately that was what it needed to be called.
Was the song “Radioactive” from a dream?
No, actually “Radioactive” was written from, and this is more than I usually say just because I like to leave a lot up to the listener’s interpretation. A lot of times people will have their own interpretation of the song and I don’t want to ruin it for them, but just to give you a general idea on “Radioactive” it was a song I wrote coming out of a pretty serious spell of depression and having a new awakening and a real vigor for life. That’s the general thing where that song came from. There’s more specifics to it, but that’s the basic, general idea.
The other three guys in the band went to Berklee, which is one of the biggest music schools in the country, and I understand you pick most stuff up by ear. How does that work between the balance of those two?
I think it actually ends up being to the benefit of the band. I’m definitely much more by ear and they’re very classically trained. All of them are jazz musicians who went to Berklee. They’re real geniuses on all the ins and outs of chromatic scales, diatomic scales and just weird stuff that I don’t really understand. It works well for us because when we get into a room together I express what I’m hearing in my head and they’re very good at being able to chart it out on paper for me. Somehow the two worlds coming together has actually really been to the benefit of Imagine Dragons. I can’t say that one is better than the other, being your own musician or a by the book musician, but it’s really worked well for us, bringing those two worlds together.
You’re also the only member of the band who has grown up in Vegas and has lived there most of your life. How do you think living there has impacted the band and what have you taken away from the experience?
You can’t help but be influenced by where you live, especially being from a place as outspoken as Vegas. You can’t. Anybody who’s been to Vegas knows Vegas is so utterly void of culture that it kind of has a culture of itself, is kind of how I like to put it. I love Vegas. Not only is it home for me and where I grew up, it’s also where I want to spend the rest of my life just because it’s such a strange place. I love the fact that it’s always awake and people are always doing things. You can go eat at three in the morning and places are all still open. There’s just a lot of energy in the city, and as a writer it’s a really inspiring place to write because of that. So I made all the band move to Vegas and they all had to experience that for themselves. We lived in this band house we rented out together with no air conditioning. It was a real experience for us and it really shaped the sound of our music, being from Las Vegas.