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Interview:
Imagine Dragons on a hot streak
 

By GARY GRAFF
@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

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Imagine Dragons isn't just hot these days.

It's positively "Radioactive."

The Las Vegas modern rock group recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its first full-length album, "Night Visions," which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 (No. 1 on the Alternative Rock Albums chart) and has been certified platinum. The set has also spawned the hits "It's Time" and "Radioactive," the latter of which ranked No. 2 on Billboard's Songs of the Summer chart and was Top 5 in six other countries, while its video was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award.

Billboard also designated Imagine Dragons as the Breakout Band of 2012, while Amazon.com dubbed it that year's Favorite Rock Artist. And the group has graduated from theater shows to headlining at amphitheaters on its latest North American tour.

So "On Top of the World," the title of Imagine Dragons current single, is a pretty apt description for how the band is feeling these days.

"Definitely, all our heads are spinning a little bit," says frontman Dan Reynolds, a fourth-generation Nevadan who started the group in 2008 and shepherded it through five EPs before releasing "Night Visions." "It seems like every day gets a little crazier than the day previous.

"But we couldn't be happier. We're doing what we love. We're seeing a lot of the world and traveling around and playing music, which is what we love more than anything. So I really can't complain, y'know -- even though we haven't been home in, like, a year now. We're living the dream."

And Imagine Dragons' jammed schedule has prevented Reynolds from spending too much time pondering why things are working out so well.

"I honestly don't know -- that's the truth," says Reynolds, 26, who's married to Nico Vega singer Aja Volkman. The couple has a daughter, Arrow "I jsut think we're doing the same thing we did four years ago, which is just creating music we love, first and foremost. That's what we're passionate about. That's what's real to us -- that we enjoy playing.

"It's really almost a selfish endeavor where we're just trying to create music that we feel inspires us and fulfills our creative needs. And to see that it's connecting with this many people around the world, it's mind-boggling. I really don't know whether it's that our timing was just right or whether it was a lot of hard work and we hit a kind of tipping point. I just don't know."

There was certainly hard work. Reynolds and company -- the current lineup includes guitarist Wayne "Wing" Sermon, bassist Ben McKee, drummer Dan Platzman and touring multi-instrumentalist Ryan Walker -- literally sweated for their art in a rented Las Vegas house that had no air conditioning. The group focused on original music from the start, but finding places to play it was a challenge.

"In the very beginning years we played a lot of cover gigs, 'cause we were in Vegas and we didn't have money to make ends meet," Reynolds recalls. "So we begged for the casinos to let us play 50 percent covers and 50 percent originals; they said OK, so we learned 50 to 80 cover songs from bands that we loved."

The silver lining, Reynolds says, was an in-depth education from some of the best rock music ever written. "We were picking apart songs by the Beatles, the (Rolling) Stones, Led Zeppelin, Arcade Fire, and we learned those songs from the group up. In doing that you really get to study the songwriting process of a lot of great bands, and that really helped us develop our sound throughout the years."

The key lesson, Reynolds adds, was simplicity.

"Our rule of thumb in writing every song is if it cannot stand alone with just the melody and basic chords on guitar or on the piano and it has to be dressed up with production, then it's really not a good song," he explains. "If the song can be sung around the campfire, basically, in that raw setting, then you can dress it up.

"So we've started in that setting every single time, Nothing can be better than a good melody and good lyrics over a simple chord progression. I think the Beatles demonstrated that really well. If you have that, then you can dress it up however it seems fitting."

Reynolds is working on new material -- "I'm always writing," he notes - but he's also confident that "Night Visions" "has a lot of breath left in it and life left in it," and that Imagine Dragons will be "living on the road" for the foreseeable future. The group wraps up its current North American swing on Sept. 30, then heads to Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and Europe before the end of the year, and he doesn't think the group will be unpacking its suitcases until well into the new year.

"We're having a problem where we keep saying, 'Alright, we're going to take, like, a month off' and then we get an offer to play throughout South America and wherever else," Reynolds explains with a laugh. "We know we have all these fans waiting for us to play there, so we can either take that month off or go play for those people, and we just keep saying 'yes,' for better or for worse.

"And it's probably for better because we get to take our music to more places. There's no rest, but we'll save the rest for when we're old and gray and try to do everything while we're still young and have the means to be able to do it. We know this is a gift, and we really, really do appreciate it."

Imagine Dragons, the Neighbourhood and the Envy Corps perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, at the Meadow Brook Music Festival on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester Hills. Tickets are $37.50 pavilion, $25 lawn. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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