The PV Q&A: Imagine Dragons' Dan Reynolds On Monikers, Anthems + Night Visions

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Interview by Tom Lanham

You can consider the unusual moniker of anthemic Las Vegas outfit Imagine Dragons until the cows come home — even totally overthink it — but frontman Dan Reynolds really wouldn’t recommend it. “It’s an anagram,” he chuckles. “We all sat down as a band and we had a phrase that we came up with that we felt kind of encompassed the vision of the group. Or at least it had some meaning to us. But we didn’t want to call the band that because….Well, I feel like I’d probably say too much if I said anything more than that. But we switched the letters around and never told anybody except our manager.” Fans regularly buttonhole the singer after shows, thinking they’ve decrypted it. “A Gemini So Grand?” No. “Aged Men’s Radio?” Close, but no cigar. But as their irresistible clap-punctuated smash “It’s Time” propels their debut album Night Visions to the top of the charts, he adds, “It’s kind of nice that we can have something that we can keep to ourselves. I’m sure there will come a day when we’re desperate for press, that we’ll say, ‘Alright! We’re gonna come out and tell everybody what the anagram is!’ But it’ll probably be a big letdown….”

PureVolume: You’ve said that “It’s Time” was written during a confusing period in your life?
Dan Reynolds: Oh, my whole life I’ve struggled with bouts of depression and anxiety, and when you’re dealing with those you’re naturally gonna go through some highs and lows. But mainly, I was dropping out of college — I was not doing good in college. I was having a hard time focusing, just kind of uninterested in my life, period. I was not very happy with who I was, I guess, and I wanted to make some changes. And I never thought that I was writing a song for anyone other than myself. But everybody has those times where you just wanna re-start your life, recreate who you are as a person and say, “Oh, tomorrow I’m gonna be this and do these things!” So I just wanted to find out what my roots were — I wanted to go back to my roots as a child, when I was much more innocent and happy all the time. So I wanted to stay true to who I was but also make some changes — that was kind of the basis for the song. So it’s crazy to see that other people even understand what I was talking about. Honestly, a lot of the lyrics that I write, I often as a writer think “I don’t know how anybody would understand what I’m talking about.” But that song, in particular, I guess people just connected to it, and that’s great. But I’m still baffled by it, to be honest.
PV: What were some of your worst days at BYU?
DR: Well, I guess I’ve always felt quite different from the people I’ve been raised around my whole life. And I’m sure a lot of people go through that. But I just felt like I wasn’t as smart as anybody around me in my classes there. And I’ve just always been a bit of a different person, and felt like I didn’t fit in very much. And I’ve had a really great life in a lot of ways, so I don’t wanna sensationalize it, like “Oh, poor me!” It wasn’t much different from the college that most people go to — I just happened to write it into a song. And my whole life, I’ve always been a bit of an oddball, and thus I’ve always been attracted to people who are the same. So I can’t say that there were specific days that got to me, and I can’t think of particular people that rubbed me the wrong way. And all my best buddies growing up were always the nerds or gamers — never the popular kids. I always connected with people who are a little more different and unique.
PV: Is that how you met your missus, Aja Volkman [from Nico Vega]? And you’re only 25 — you got married quite young.
DR: The story is so crazy, because we couldn’t be more opposite, honestly, in our lifestyles. She grew up in Eugene, Oregon, in hip culture, and I grew up in a conservative family in Vegas. But our bands played together a few years back, and I was just so taken aback by her. I was a big fan even before we played with them — I had scoped them out online and listened to their music. So I stuck around after the show and kinda creeped on her a little bit, and then we just became best friends. And we were best friends for a year and a half, and then fell in love. And once you’re in love with your best friend, it’s like “Well, why not get married?” So we’ve been married for a year and a half and we have a month-old baby daughter, Arrow. And it’s so hard because I’m away from her right now — we had the baby and then two weeks later my album came out and we’re on the road. But as soon as Arrow gets old enough, she’s gonna be on the road with us, and that’s just the way it’s gonna be. And hopefully, she’ll like seeing the world.

PV: Thanks to the musical "The Book of Mormon," it seems like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has entered into pop culture. How different was it being brought up LDS?
DR: It really is just about family and loving people. The honest truth is that in every religion, people find their own spirituality and the way that works for them. And I’ve always been of a mind that I don’t really know a lot, and I don’t claim to. All I know — even more as I’m getting older — is that I don’t know a lot. And I just wanna learn. So I still say I’m LDS — that’s what I was raised in and that’s what I still believe in. But I feel like I have my own spiritual way, ya know? My spirituality is based a lot upon just trying to be a good person and trying to understand other people. That is my way of life.
PV: Has humanity lost its moral compass? Just watch one episode of “The Kardashians” or “Jersey Shore” and tell me it hasn’t.
DR: I dunno. I’d like to think that there’s still a lot of good people out there. I meet great ones all the time. But the truth of the matter is, the world is how you see it. And what you choose to see and who you choose to be around. And I’ve never been the type to say what is the right way to live, or that I’ve figured anything out. I’m just doing what works for me, what makes me happy.
PV: But a good anthemic song like, say, “It’s Time,” “Radioactive,” “Demons” and “Hear Me” can uplift you, totally brighten your whole day.
DR: For sure. That’s the only way I know how to communicate. Just through music, I’ve felt like I could say things that I can’t relay in any other way. And it kinda takes it all off my chest. And I’ve always written about things that are close to home. So that’s what Imagine Dragons is, still.

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