Posted July 21, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

Vegas to Moscow, Imagine Dragons Truly on Top of the World

Imagine Dragons
Imagine Dragons

A couple of years ago, Imagine Dragons were just another indie rock band trying to scrape by. But now the Las Vegas group has hit the jackpot, becoming the biggest thing in the alt-rock world with a sold out North American tour.  The band’s hot full-length debut, Night Visions is an eclectic but not unfocused collection of pop songs that delve into electronica and world beat. From the Coldplay-like single “Radioactive” to the freewheeling “On Top of the World,” the songs have sharp pop hooks. Guitarist Wayne Sermon recently phoned from a tour stop in Moscow where he was hoping to spend some time in Red Square and “do the tourist thing” before the band’s gig at the arena there.

Did you know that Tim McGraw has been using “Radioactive” as his entrance music on his current tour?
I didn’t. That’s cool. That’s really awesome. That’s amazing. He’s legendary.

Talk about that song a bit. What inspired it?
That song was a collaboration between the band and our producer, Alex Da Kid. It was written by both of us. We thought it turned out really well. [Singer] Dan [Reynolds] locked into the lyrics of the song and he locked into a great melody. We all knew it was a special song. Stylistically, it was something we hadn’t done before. That always excites us. It was a direction we wanted to go. Having Alex helped us make the bass drum bigger and snare hit a little bit harder. We were excited about bringing him on board.

Ironic that a band from Vegas, the site of so many atomic tests, would have a song about radioactivity.
Yeah, maybe there’s a little bit of radioactivity in us, too.

The song also references the apocalypse. Why are people so obsessed with the end of the world?
For us, to be honest, the lyrics are pretty personal to Dan. The song is up to interpretation. I don’t like when artists say exactly what a song is about. When I hear people doing that to my favorite songs, it’s a bit of a disappointment. I have my own meaning and identity. There’s a lot of symbolism and I think generally it’s more about personal redemption and awakening in oneself.  It’s about waking up and doing things better as the day goes forward. That’s the underlining theme of the song. Beyond that, he doesn’t go into it the content. We let him have that.

Talk a bit about your background. When did you learn to play guitar?
I learned when I was 12 years old. I got a guitar for Christmas. It was the best Christmas I ever had. I had seen my dad play and would sneak into his study to put on albums by the Beatles, Boston, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. The guitar sounds on those albums is so awesome. I started playing and played in high school bands. I never stopped being serious about and never thought about anything else. Music and the guitar had this special place in my heart. I went to Boston, which is far away from home for me, and made the move and made friends. [Drummer] Daniel [Platzman] and bassist Ben [McKee] were some of the friends I made instantly. When I met Dan, I called the other two people I met.

What was your experience at Berklee like?
I studied a little bit of classical but I mostly studied jazz. I was into jazz. The school dominates in jazz music. We were inundated with jazz. We lived and breathed it for the four years we were there. If you can learn jazz, all of the art forms come easier. But we grew up listening to rock and pop and had that at our core.

If you can learn jazz, all of the art forms come easier.

Did the band form in Vegas?
Yeah. The band formed in Las Vegas. I met Dan in Utah. I had graduated from Berklee and met him when I moved back home and we talked and we had a lot of the same interests and goals. We decided to start a band and Dan was born and raised [in Vegas]. He said it would be a good place to start a band and we all believed him.

Are there places to play in Vegas?
I had the same question. I had no idea. I trusted Dan. I find that from being there for a few years that there’s that one mile of square land that everyone hangs out. But Las Vegas is a spread out and massive city and it goes on for miles. If you can go past The Strip, there are places you can play. There are clubs and bars that welcome local music. I think it’s even becoming more that way. More bands are coming from there and playing there. It’s moving toward being more focused on art and culture and having a culture of its own rather than the glitz and glamor of the strip.

How does the songwriting work in the band?
We all final say in what our instruments are and what part we play. As far as the germ of an idea, the first conception of song starts with Dan or me. We write simple demos in our laptops. I send them to Dan and he writes the lyrics. That’s how it starts. When we get in the studio and that’s when we take it apart and put it back together and it becomes an Imagine Dragons’ song.

Night Visions is pretty eclectic without being all over the place.
That’s something we’re really mindful of. It’s a balance thing for us. It probably is for every artist. We figure we would rather err on the side of doing what interests us. There’s a lot of music and influences and interests. We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves on this first album. We’re really into percussion and we have a lot of drums on stage. We have a lot of drums and percussion in the studio. We like things to sound big and larger than life. That’s something we always liked. Some songs lend themselves to more of an electronics and synthetic thing, “Radioactive” being one of them. We thought we could dress things up in the production aspect as long as the song is good. The Beatles were the best possible example. At its core, it’s got to be a good song, but they dressed them up in so many different ways: “Norwegian Wood” to “Day in the Life” or something as simple as “Yesterday.” They felt that they could mess with it. It is an amazing song you could sit down and play on the guitar. That’s what you want. At the end of the day, you have to be able to sit down and play the song on an acoustic guitar and have people like it.

“On Top of the World” has sort of a reggae feel.
I don’t know if it’s a reggae thing. For us, it’s more world music-y. That comes a lot from Dan. He listens to a lot of Paul Simon. It’s a lame duck definition of what that sound is. It’s kind of a world music thing. We just went with it. The song went in that direction and it happened organically.

I like the fact that the record isn’t just the same song processed over and over.
I appreciate that. We’re still learning and growing as a band. We do know that we never want to be just one thing. The kind of music we like is so varied that we could never create music that sounds the same. There’s too much awesome music by other bands and there’s too much going on in the world of music to be constrained. The fact that people have tapped into that and appreciate it is really cool to us.

The kind of music we like is so varied that we could never create music that sounds the same. There’s too much awesome music by other bands and there’s too much going on in the world of music to be constrained.

What do you need to do to keep from getting burned out?
All we have to do is remember back to three years ago and eating rice and beans and living in a little house we rented with no air conditioning. All the hard times when we’d lose money on shows. We were barely scraping by. All that. If you remember that for five seconds, this is so much better. People are showing up to our shows and we’re able to play bills. All the problems are good problems to have. Not that we don’t’ get tired. But no one wants to hear a musician in our position complain. The majority of time we’re having a ball. We’re extremely grateful. Redeye flights back to back get tough. We miss our families, but they all understand and are supportive. There are a lot worse problems to have. We’re in Moscow right now, for heaven’s sake.




Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.