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Imagine Dragons gets past sophomore slump

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Tuesday, June 23, 2015

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Dan Reynolds says that he and his bandmates in Imagine Dragon's have a Dickensian relationship with their fame.

As in the best of times, the worst of times.

One one hand, of course, is the massive success of the Las Vegas quartet's 2012 debut album "Night Visions," which has sold more than seven million copies worldwide, launched the Top 10 hits "Radioactive" and "Demons," and netted Imagine Dragons both a Grammy and an American Music Award. And its follow-up, "Smoke + Mirrors," debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in February

But it hasn't all been smooth sailing.

"I feel like I've experienced every emotion," Reynolds, 27, says by phone from the Las Vegas home he shares with his wife, Aja Volkman of the band Nico Vega and his partner in the side group Egyptian, and their two-year-old daughter. "There were definitely some high highs and low lows for me. Y'know, you're out there on the road doing what you do, you're filled with adrenalin, then you come home and you're supposed to live a normal life. It just turns your whole life upside down.

"The truth is you get so lost being in a show, being in an interview. You lose your sense of self, strangely enough, 'cause it's so focused on the band and the music. You end up coming home and being like, 'OK, now who am I? I don't really know.' I definitely feel a mix of a lot of different emotions and had to sort through them and rebuild my sense of self from zero."

Reynolds stops for a moment and laughs, aware that he sounds like he's complaining about his lot. "It's actually been really great," he resumes. "It's been really, really, really great."

The struggle he describes at least gave Reynolds and the rest of Imagine Dragons -- guitarist Wayne "Wing" Sermon, bassist Ben McKee and drummer Daniel Platzman -- plenty of fodder for "Smoke + Mirrors." "When we created the first record, we had no idea anyone would hear it," recalls Reynolds, who formed Imagine Dragons during 2008. "So with this record, we wanted it to tell a story." Reynolds says that "about 90 percent" of "Smoke + Mirror's" songs were written on the road while touring to support "NIght Visions," and it didn't take long for the group to find a thematic center for its sophomore release.

"When I wrote the demo for the song 'Smoke + Mirrors' we knew that was going to be the title of the record," Reynolds says. "It had a theme that was reoccurring in a lot of the writing, that theme of kind of self-conflict and trying to decipher what's real and what's not and just growing up.

"I'm 27 years old. I haven't figured out anything; if anything, I've figured out that I HAVEN'T figured out anything -- like, I know nothing. So that was kind of the premise of the record, the thesis, and then we built it from there."

Part of that construction process, too, was taking more control of the music. "Night Visions" was helmed by producer Alex da Kid (Alexander Grant), a hitmaker with Dr. Dre, Eminem, Nicki Minaj, B.o.B. and others who had signed Imagine Dragons to a deal with his KIDinaKORNER label. Grant was still involved with "Smoke + Mirrors," co-produced two of the album's 13 tracks, but this time the group did the lion's share of the production itself, seeking what Reynolds calls "a different dynamic appeal" than the debut.

"We love working with Alex," Reynolds explains, "but we had self-produced ourselves for years. Before we met Alex we put out four EPs on our own, so it was literally something we needed to do again. We needed to write from a band perspective completely. We really wanted to embrace the production of the band and kind of just dig into what that was and the growththe band has gone through in the six years of being together." The result, he hopes, is something that feels more raw and perhaps immediate than "Night Visions'" sleekly polished sound.

"We weren't afraid to have faults on this record," Reynolds says. "Our first record was so produced, like we really, really just combed that record and cleaned it and sanded all the rough edges. We're still really meticulous and we're all perfectionists, but we learned to embrace the flaws of the band, too, and that made it a very honest record."

"Smoke + Mirrors'" chart-topping debut showed Imagine Dragons' fans approve of that philosophy. The set's first single, "I Bet My Life," went platinum while the latest, "Shots," is a Top 10 Rock track. Imagine Dragons has worldwide tour dates booked through January, and Reynolds says the band is stoked to have another batch of material to put into its shows.

"Oh, I can't even tell you," he gushes. "The bane of our existence on the first record -- and also the greatest part of it -- is it ended up being such a big record it kept us on the road. We were headlining festivals and drawing off this tone album, and it was really awful. We ended up doing, like, two festivals like that and saying, 'We're not headlining any more. We're too young of a band. We don't have enough material.'

"So now to have two records under our belt feels a lot better, and we're just trying to take a step back and trying to breathe a little more and let our career just take its time to unfold and not just rocket up. Even though that's what every band thinks it wants, it's not really what you want. That's something we had to learn the hard way."

Imagine Dragons, Metric and Halsey

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 13.

The Palace of Auburn Hills, Lapeer Road at I-75.

Tickets are $29.50-$69.50.

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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