Lighter, brighter Imag­ine Drag­ons emerges af­ter dark times

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - MARK KENNEDY

NEW YORK — A weird thing hap­pened when the four mem­bers of the alt-rock band Imag­ine Drag­ons sat down to lis­ten to their new al­bum all the way through. They ac­tu­ally liked it.

“This was the first record that I think af­ter we cre­ated it and we lis­tened to it, we all went, for the first time, ‘Yes. This is Imag­ine Drag­ons and we’re proud of this,’” said lead singer Dan Reynolds. “That doesn’t hap­pen very often in this band, to be hon­est with you.”

The Las Ve­gas-based quar­tet, which likes to blend rock and hip-hop, has al­ways been its tough­est critic, but on “Evolve,” band mem­bers had to learn to let go. They re­lied on pro­duc­ers for the first time — Swedish duo Mattman & Robin, who won a Grammy for Tay­lor Swift’s “1989,” and Joel Lit­tle, who pro­duced Lorde’s “Pure Hero­ine” — to shepherd the al­bum all the way through.

“We knew as a band one of our big­gest flaws was over­pro­duc­ing our­selves. We’ve known it since the be­gin­ning and we’ve had so many con­ver­sa­tions as a band say­ing, ‘How do we peel back?’ And we just couldn’t do it un­til fi­nally some­body walked into the room and slapped our head,” Reynolds said.

The new ap­proach re­flects a lot of changes be­hind the scenes at Imag­ine Drag­ons, now re-en­ter­ing the spot­light af­ter more than a year away as a hap­pier — maybe even sunnier — band. The first sin­gle, “Be­liever,” is al­ready a hit.

The group ground away in ob­scu­rity for years — even for shar­ing a bill with mimes — un­til be­ing signed by pro­ducer Alex da Kid and see­ing mas­sive suc­cess with the 2012 re­lease of the hit “Ra­dioac­tive.” Their sec­ond al­bum, “Smoke + Mir­rors,” went gold but didn’t reach the sales height of their de­but, “Night Vi­sions.” They spent seven years tour­ing, a gru­elling sched­ule that took its toll.

“I think it kind of snuck up on us a lit­tle bit, to be hon­est. The change hap­pened pretty fast. We were this tiny lit­tle band that strug­gled and strug­gled for so long and played any show we could — I mean, we opened for mimes, for heaven’s sake. And that was by far not our worst gig,” said gui­tarist Wayne Ser­mon.

By the time they blew up — with a Grammy Award and arena tours — band mem­bers feared the suc­cess would stop if they stopped. “It was sort of un­healthy for us, so this year-break was amaz­ing,” said Ser­mon. “I think it re­flects in the mu­sic. I think the mu­sic is brighter. I think it’s cleaner. I think more vi­brant.”

The break was most ap­pre­ci­ated by Reynolds, who has al­ways been frank about his battles with de­pres­sion. He was des­per­ate to get home and re­con­nect with his four-yearold daugh­ter, his wife and friends.

“I was in a re­ally just scat­tered, de­pressed headspace, and I think it just came from a sense of los­ing my sense of self al­most to a de­gree and all the abrupt changes. I had dealt with de­pres­sion when I was young, but it re­ally took on a whole new level and it was kind of a full year,” he said. “I did a lot of self-work, read a lot of books, met with a lot of peo­ple who helped me find a healthier headspace and got to a re­ally won­der­ful, colour­ful, good headspace, which has been just great.”

To make “Evolve,” the band leaned on Alex da Kid and new col­lab­o­ra­tors like Joel Lit­tle and Mattman & Robin. Imag­ine Drag­ons turned to the duo for sev­eral songs chiefly be­cause they were very opin­ion­ated and very min­i­mal­is­tic.

“They helped us see the weak­ness of what we’d done and the strengths and try to make a more evolved ver­sion of what Imag­ine Drag­ons was son­i­cally while also re­tain­ing the el­e­ments that made the band who they were,” Reynolds said.

Af­ter spend­ing much of the sum­mer on tour in Europe, the band re­turns for a fall swing through the United States. Life on the road may be a grind but they say the re­ward is the ul­ti­mate high of play­ing live.

“Cliff jump­ing isn’t as ex­cit­ing to me as the idea of go­ing on­stage and play­ing for peo­ple who got a babysit­ter, fought traf­fic, paid ex­tra for park­ing and showed up,” said Ser­mon.

Imag­ine Drag­ons is at Way­home Mu­sic & Arts 2017 in Toronto July 29.

AMY SUSSMAN, INVISION

Imag­ine Drag­ons:from left, Wayne Ser­mon, Dan Reynolds, Daniel Platz­man and Ben McKee

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