Imagine Dragons have been churning out hits since the release of their 2012 debut “Night Visions.” Their anthems have flooded the airwaves, while five of their albums have become Top 10 hits on the Billboard 200.
What’s been their calling card for more than a decade is their rep as alt-rock bangers with a sense of urgency. “I like to listen to big songs. I like a big chorus. I like big melodies. I like drama,” bandleader Dan Reynolds explains from his home in L.A. “I also grew up in Las Vegas where everything’s eccentric, everything is larger than life.” His penchant for theatrics, and his love of Queen, have fostered many of the group’s hits and made them “unapologetically huge.”
“Enemy,” which climbed the Billboard Mainstream and reached No. 1 on Top 40, is just one example of those aforementioned songs. “Some songs seem to write themselves and this was one of those cases,” Reynolds says of the track, recorded for the Netflix series “Arcane.” Still, he adds, “it’s hard to know what makes a hit — melodic and lyrical reliability, timing, production, special X-factor to it, luck, right time and right place.” A feature by rapper J.I.D, whom the band cold-called, also added to its stickiness.
But after four albums, Reynolds felt it was time to dig deeper. So he and bandmembers Ben McKee, Daniel Platzman and Daniel Wayne Sermon enlisted legendary producer Rick Rubin for what would end up being the double album “Mercury — Acts 1 & 2.” “Act 1” dropped in September 2021, while the second “Act” was released this July. “It was really evident right in the beginning that there were two themes to the record, and it was too much to put into one,” Reynolds says.
Working with Rubin helped shift the way Reynolds approached storytelling. “Rick really pushed me to evolve as a lyricist,” he explains. “I’m a really private person, and have a hard time being vulnerable.” While he’s well aware there’s an intimacy to the profession he’s chosen, Reynolds found himself shrouding his work with symbolism. “That was one of my greatest weaknesses. As the years would go by, I’d see that I was kind of hiding behind a wall of metaphors.”
That instinct to conceal his emotions stems from when he began writing songs at age 12, and much of his music was related to his struggle with religious conservatism. “The last thing I wanted my parents to know was that I was dealing with a faith crisis or depression,” he recalls. Rubin pushed him to be more explicit. “Rick wants honesty, so I’d say this was by far the most honest record.”
For Reynolds, that meant grappling with the complexities that come with grief. With the sparse “They Don’t Know You Like I Do,” he details the pain of losing one of his closest friends to suicide, and on the heart-wrenching “Wrecked,” he confronts the loss of his sister-in-law to cancer. “Going through something like that makes you want to be more vulnerable. It makes you take every song more seriously, be more raw and authentic, in case it can give any value to someone else who’s grieving.”
When Reynolds considers future releases, and looks back on how far the band has come, he believes Rubin will always be a part of Imagine Dragons’ music to some degree. But the band, he says, always likes to try something new. “It’s fun to just change things up and push ourselves,” he explains.
What that means for their next album, though, remains to be seen. Reynolds has started writing again after months of touring and being placed on vocal rest. “It gave me a moment to kind of decompress, reflect and remember how much I really miss having a voice,” he says. All he needs to do is figure out what to say.