They’ve only been together three years, but Imagine Dragons has gone from being a Las Vegas cover band to a radio-phenomenon.
Their latest single “It’s Time” popped on to multiple Rock and Alternative charts, and can be heard all over Bay Area stations like Live 105. They were noticed by pop-producer Alex Da Kid, who usually works with artists like Rihanna and Eminem, and next month they’ll begin working on their full-length debut, slated, they hope, for a fall release.
The group, which descended from Brigham Young University and the Berklee College of Music, is now wrapping up a nation wide tour. They started out playing places like the Mandalay Bay casino until they built up enough of a reputation to pull people away from the slot machines and toward songs they wrote themselves.
I spoke with Imagine Dragons guitarist Wayne Sermon to get the scoop on their journey out of the desert. Imagine Dragons may have happened in Vegas, but they don’t plan on staying there.
When people think of Vegas they usually don’t think indie bands, was it hard to harbor your music there?
I actually had the same thought when I first moved there about three years ago for the band. There are a lot of benefits to starting a band in Vegas, believe it or not. We did a lot of covers and we played a lot of casinos. We would kind of do 50/50 covers and original music to make ends meet. That was cool to tap into that income in the beginning because it’s so hard to make money.
We would play Mandalay Bay, O’Shea’s, and as the casinos started to know us better and as we got a fan base we would do more and more original music until we were doing all originals. Another cool thing about Vegas is it’s not as saturated as New York or L.A. where you’re just one of a million bands. There’s a resurgence of culture there that people don’t really tend to know about.
You guys have been working with producer Alex Da Kid, who’s better known for pop-based artists. Are there ever any disagreements in terms of sound?
It’s cool how that whole worked out. He was driving in his car one day and his assistant put in our music, and Alex listened to it and was like ‘oh, this is cool.’ He invited us in to meet with him, and we were kind of shocked by it because he’s a hip hop producer, and we already really respected what he had done but we wanted to know what he wanted to bring to the table.
And it worked out really cool because he approached us with already knowing what we like and not wanting to change it, but just add his progressive elements. We were used to being independent so it was really important for us to hold on that that creative control. But he was great; he just added his two cents here and there. It worked out really well, wasn’t much drama involved.
There’s an interesting blend of electronic and natural tones in your music, do you guys have a set ratio or does it flow with the feeling of each song?
Our philosophy has always been if you can play a song with two acoustic guitars, and the melody and the lyrics and structure is good, I think the song can stand up to a lot of different sonic possibilities. We try to make our songs as big as they can possibly be and then we figure out what kind of treatment we want to give the song.
Some call for more electronic-synth sounds, where as others like “It’s Time” we like to blend acoustic elements with electric sounds. Our influence list is pretty long, Simon and Garfunkel to Passion Pit. We’re really influenced by a lot of bands around us and it’s such an exciting time to be listening to music.
You guys have reached a high level of success in a few short years, what do you attribute that to?
Obviously any band has to work hard in order to get any success in this industry where there are so many bands that want to be heard. Working harder than anyone else has always been our mentality, but honestly there’s a lot of luck in this industry and we are thankful everyday.
But still, there’s no guarantee and we knew that coming into this. But really it’s the bands that have championed us and that share our music, that’s the only reason we do this in the first place and still do it. Whatever we lack in talent we try to make up for it in hard work.