Imagine Dragons recently went Top Ten in the Irish Charts and Number 2 in the UK charts with their debut album, ‘Night Visions’. Vanessa Monaghan (that’s me) caught up with Sin City’s finest when they were in Ireland.
Many of us get our ideas and thoughts of Las Vegas from television and film; a city built in the middle of the desert, where Elvis will marry you, and you can gamble your house on a roll of a dice, but more recently, it’s become the American version of Ibiza, with superstar DJs flying in each weekend. It’s not noted though for its original live music scene. When Imagine Dragons decided to stay there instead of moving to a more renowned music city, they had their reasons.
“It’s not thought of a music city as much as a place like New York or LA but because of that, there’s not the over saturation and competitive nature to it with other bands” explains bass player Ben McKee. “With LA, you literally have to battle to get any spot on any stage, if you aren’t willing to play it for no money at all, there’s fifty bands right out there behind you that are willing to take it.” Las Vegas and its casino gigs gave Imagine Dragons the opportunity to support themselves financially but it also provided a good platform for the four piece to hone their skills.
“It’s really hard to get that opportunity to actually be out in the real world live music environment and go through all the struggles that happen with that, not just effectively performing your music in a way that connects with people but also just the little problems that arise from having bad power on a stage to having your amplifier blow up or having your keyboard not work.” Ben continues “You know Dan (Reynolds, singer) passed out after one of our shows one time after a six hour long set. It gave us years and years of experience of touring basically, condensed into one year of very intense performance.”
A question from a Twitter follower gets the band giggling. Do they have a favourite slot machine?
Guitarist, Wayne Sermon is the first to respond, “I think I’m up $12 on a slot machine so I think I’ll leave it there. I’m at a surplus so I’m happy” before Ben mentions that “Blackjack really is the game to play.”
There are two Dans in the band. There’s an easy way to overcome the confusion. Dan Reynolds is the singer, while Daniel Platzman is drummer in the band. Platzman explains how the past eighteen months, since the band got signed “has been a series of moments where I reflect and say ‘Wow, that was unbelievable, I can’t believe that just happened.’” ID have been on every major TV show in the US and they were nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. Their album ‘Night Visions’ got a US release in September of last year and reached number 2 in the Billboard charts. Along the journey, things were getting bigger all the time until one day their manager sent them a video link to watch. It was President Obama’s inauguration in January. Daniel still seems a little overcome by what he saw. “No one even told us, it was like ‘Wait’.. is that… ?” Ben explains “I think we were actually in France at the time. We were like, ‘ What is this ? Oh?! This is the inauguration with our music being performed by a children’s choir ?!’ It just came completely out of left field!”
Obviously something like the American President’s inauguration is an amazing platform, not just in the US but worldwide. When the band’s debut single ‘It’s Time’ was used in Glee, how did they feel about that? They are an alternative rock band, Glee isn’t quite in that ballpark. “We really felt like that was a really good opportunity to get our alternative music to people who wouldn’t have seen it otherwise“, says Daniel. “The programme is forward thinking and positive and we didn’t have any problems with allowing them to use out music.” Singer Dan is quick to point out that the band are down to earth. “It’s someone covering our music, we’re not so high and mighty that it’s, like, ‘ No, you can’t cover our song! It’s not something we would do.”
For an alternative rock band though, they did take some chances with their music and sound, writing with and having ‘Night Visions’ produced by Alex Da Kid, the man behind B.o.B. And Hayley Williams’ Airplanes and Eminem’s hit with Rihanna, Love The Way You Lie.
“We were very open to it because of the success he has had in the industry and we were already aware of him as a producer“, says Wayne. “We weren’t sure if it would work out, we’re an alternative rock band and he’s more into hiphop and pop so we weren’t sceptical but we were like ‘Ok, let’s give it a shot and see what happens.” They shouldn’t have been too concerned – as soon as they got together, the band knew it was going to work with Alex. “It was kinda like how it felt with each other when we first played together, it just works. And when we wrote with him, it just worked. It was just easy, it’s the only way I can describe it. It was instant chemistry.. that sounds romantic.”
While the album may have had a hip hop producer, the band themselves are more than comfortable in stripping back their songs and performing acoustic versions. “That’s how a lot of the songs start, whether it’s a demo on the computer or whether it’s the start of a song on an acoustic guitar or something. It’s fun to strip it down to it’s bare bones and see what happens. Luckily we have a good viola player (nodding at Daniel) in the band, that was a happy accident.”
Daniel mentions that Wayne also plays cello and starts a story with “One time…” before Wayne playfully interrupts, “I never get asked to play it.” Daniel tries to continue with this playful banter before Wayne concedes “I also played it a little out of tune that one time because I hadn’t played it for years.” Daniel then backs up his buddy with “I thought it sounded good.”
Three of the band, Wayne, Ben and Daniel, went to Berklee school of music in Boston, playing in what Daniel describes as “a fusion jazz ensemble called the Eclectic Electrics.” Wayne is quick to point out that “It was nerdier that it sounds.” He’s not wrong, Daniel gives some insight. “Five electric guitars, bass and drums and we played together in that for three years in Boston.”
So does that mean Imagine Dragons went to college with Former Goldenplec interviewees Semi Precious Weapons? Wayne seems suprised. “Did they go to Berklee? I didn’t know they were in Berklee!” The old college days are relived as Daniel says “Berklee is a huge music school but it’s still only 4000 people, playing the Berklee game, I get it one out of every three or four names, I’m like, ‘Oh My, I totally know that person.”
The conversation moves to how if the band spend some time in Ireland, they’ll get to know lots of people. Moving from country to country in such short time frames obviously take its toll and the band try to find out as much as possible about Ireland while they’re here. They have a genuine interest in the country, everything from the population, what classifies as a gold disc here to making sure they know Ireland isn’t part of the UK.
Singer, Dan, comes from a big family. Did that prepare him in anyway for being in confined spaces for long periods of time with his band mates? “I had to fight for food with a bunch of boys“, he jokingly continues. “For me, it was perfect, I’m used to being around sticky smelly terrible people.
Looking at the rest of the band, it seems like they’re a nice bunch of guys, they’re not that bad are they? “They are nice guys, they’re not stinky, they are smelly though“, he says laughing.
As Goldenplec’s time with Imagine Dragons is drawing to a close, the point of the infamous anagram is raised. Imagine Dragons is an anagram for words that only the band know. Undetered by the fact that the band won’t tell their names origins, GP provides three possible solutions for the band. The first ‘Aging Maid Snore’, the band nod at each other and give a little ‘ooh’. The second has an added exclamation mark, ‘Airman, Go Design!’, that gets a little more ‘ooh’. The final possible solution is ‘Insomnia Dagger’ which receives the biggest ‘ooh’. Dan hastily adds “That’s not bad, you know Wayne actually gets insomnia.”
With that, Imagine Dragons have finished their first full day of promotional interviews in Ireland and are off for some rest before a set at that night’s Trinity Ball and an early start as they continue their tour of Ireland and the UK.