Alternative pop band, Imagine Dragons, have come a long way since being a Vegas cover band almost four years ago. They went from playing covers for drunken tourists at the Bellagio to being a MTV VMA nominee, one of Billboard Magazine’s “Brightest New Stars of 2012”, and landed a spot as a supporting act on the nearly sold out Awolnation US tour.
You may have heard their single “It’s Time” on the hit TV show Glee, or “Radioactive” on the trailer for Stephenie Meyer’s new film “The Host”, but Imagine Dragon’s latest album “Night Visions” is full of hard hitting alternative sounding songs to beautifully written dance tunes from beginning to end. The band is constantly writing new material and they continue to change and blossom into a true gem for the alternative pop music industry.
Imagine Dragons just released a new music video for their successful hit “Radioactive”, and released an EP entitled “Hear Me” that became available on November 25, 2012.
In October, I was invited to hang out with Imagine Dragon’s guitar player and founder, Wayne Sermon on their tour bus at House of Blues in Dallas to chat about video games, being a musician in Las Vegas, and what it takes to make it as a successful band in the ever so competitive music industry.
R: How’s tour going so far with Awolnation?
W: It’s really good. It’s been a good fit as far as, we get along really well with each other and we’ve all become best friends. We hang out. We play video games together. Kenny, Awolation’s keyboard player is playing Dan in this one (points at some basketball video game on the tour bus TV). So far, Kenny is up one. Dan is very competitive so he’s probably going to want a rematch soon. After the show we’ll probably get back in here tonight and go for best two out of three.
R: So you guys are losers?
W: Yeah. Awolantion are the winners we’re the losers. Dan is representing the whole band, so when he loses, it effects the band as a whole. We’re all losers, so it’s really important that he win this one.
R: How come you don’t jump in and try to pick up Dan’s slack and try to win?
W: I’m a FIFA guy. I’m a soccer player. Real Madrid is who I play usually. You’re giving me a shaking head of disapproval…
R: Sorry dude. Manchester United, all the way.
W: We’re actually playing Manchester pretty soon! It’s one of our last stops on this tour. This will be our first time to play Manchester. We’ve played Norway once, other than that we’ve never been to Europe. It should be pretty exciting!
R: How long have you been touring with Awolnation?
W: This tour actually started in December. It’s been a little while. We play like five or six more shows and that’s it! They’ve all been sold out and that’s more than you can really ask for on a tour. It’s amazing how successful and how fun it’s been.
R: Would you say that this is probably the biggest tour you guys have done?
W: I think so, yeah. As far as the number of people that come out to see us and know our songs, and sing along to the lyrics of our songs. It’s kind of stranger and overwhelming that all this is happening. It’s happening fast. You know, we’ve been a band for 3 ½ going on 4 years now and we’ve tried to build our live performances organically as much as we possibly can, we’ve been a touring band since the beginning. Lately it’s just really taken off, it’s kind of hard to comprehend.
R: Have you been in any previous bands before Imagine Dragons?
W: Not really. Me and Ben and our drummer all went to school together at Berkley in Boston and we all used to play a lot of weird jazz stuff together, so playing pop music with those two, I never thought I’d see the day when that would happen haha. It’s good though, it’s really great, they are both really good pop players as well as jazz players so it worked out! The transition was very smooth. We all grew up listening to pop music, it’s our first love.
R: So when you first started playing music, was it jazz music?
W: No, it was mostly The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, that kind of stuff. My first guitar solo I actually learned was Pearl Jam, haha. So really I played a lot of 90’s grunge stuff, that’s what I grew up on. I got into jazz a few years later and played that for a bit, then I made it back to what my first love was (pop music). I think it was pretty much the same for everyone in the band.
R: How long have you been playing guitar and what made you want to pick it up?
W: Geez, I’ve been playing since I was twelve, so sixteen years. I remember when I was younger, I would sneak into my dad’s study and he had vinyl and a record player and all that. He had like countless vinyls of all the classics. I grew up on vinyl like Abbey Road, Rubber Soul, all the Led Zeppelin albums, Chicago, anything that sounded good on vinyl, I listened to. That was like my introduction to pop music. That’s what made me want to play music.
R: How did Imagine Dragons come about?
W: Well I met Dan about 4 years ago. He was in another group at the time doing his own thing, and I was just in the audience. I knew him through a mutual friend and after the show I was just like ‘hey great job, you definitely have really cool stage presence’. He definitely had that “it factor” about him. So, I definitely remembered him and six months went by and we talked again about music, and we both kind of had the same goals. We wanted to make a career about it and we were both very serious and driven. So we moved to Vegas and started the band! That seemed like a good place to start, it’s where he is from. So we moved there, then tried to find a good drummer and a good bass player, which is really hard to find. So yeah, I definitely kind of rattled my brain and thought of someone and I called him and he was available! Ben actually dropped out of college a semester early, haha. I was just like “Hey Ben, what are you doing, do you want to join a rock band?” and he was like “Yeah definitely! That sounds really cool..”. So we had that conversation and three days later he calls me back and says “Okay, so, I want to do this so should I move now? I definitely want to do this so where should I go? Let me get my ticket.” So he sold all of his stuff in Boston and dropped out of school! I think he was really burned out of school and just wanted to play pop music, so this was the way to do it!
R: Well, what a great decision!
W: Definitely. With Platzman it was kind of the same thing. He had a life in New York after he graduated. He had a life going and doing all kinds of crazy stuff in the city and he dropped everything and moved down as well. They both sacrificed a lot in the very beginning. I don’t know if they had a lot of faith in me or they were just crazy or stupid. I’ll have to ask them. They are probably just stupid. No they’re not, haha.
R: What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t playing music?
W: I don’t know, I’m really into computers so I’d probably be programming computers or something really lame and painful like that. It sounds really painful actually haha. Some people really love it and really enjoy going to work. I think that this (playing music) is really the only thing that I would feel happy doing. I was very driven and I wanted to have a successful career at a very young age. All I wanted was to be a successful musician. You know how the music industry is.. there are bands that work, and work, and work and get very little for their efforts. You can only work so hard, so I figured I would just work as hard as I can and hopefully make some luck out of it. That’s been our philosophy really, just do all that we can and do our best, and we’ve been very fortunate.
R: Well you’re obviously doing something right! You’ve been getting a lot of radio play here in Dallas.
W: Yes! Yes, it’s an amazing feeling to hear your song on the radio. We were bowling a few nights ago outside of Austin somewhere and our song came on. I did a gutter ball as the song came on, haha.
R: When was the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio, and how did you feel when you heard it?
W: We had just shot our video for “It’s Time” and we were somewhere between Vegas and California. It was this really deserted location and we had just finished two days of shooting in the dirt and we were filthy. We were driving back to California and there was a station in California that was playing it, and we knew what time it was going to be playing. We were hustling back to get reception and at first we didn’t have it, it was all fuzzy and stuff. When we finally heard it we were definitely nerding out a little bit.
R: What bands are you listening to currently?
W I really think it’s an awesome time to be an alternative music lover. There are so many incredible things happening. We’re really good friends with Grouplove. We always ran into them at the summer festival things and I’ve listened to a lot of them. They new Grizzly Bear album is really good. Foster the People are doing some really good things, obviously. We’re all really into Passion Pit, they actually did a remix for “It’s Time” which is awesome. We like what The Lumineers are doing and Of Monsters and Men, fun., we grew up listening to The Format so they’ve been doing this a long time. Their success is incredible. It’s been really fun to see them take off.
R: What would you say is your favorite part about touring?
W: I just really like playing the guitar. I love playing music, that’s why I do what I’m doing. I love just being up there playing. To be able to do that, night after night, it’s just unreal. I think everyone in the band feels the same way because, like I said, we work as hard as we can and there’s just so many unknowns. It’s just unreal.
R: Do you have a favorite city to play in, or what city has the best crowd?
W: Probably Philly. Or I really like Milwaukee a lot. Minneapolis was really fun. I love Seattle and Portland. I just really love the west coast so all of those shows were really fun. Austin is pretty cool too, we’ve had a lot of experience there including SXSW and stuff. I have a feeling Dallas will probably be the best (sarcasm.)
R: Do you have any rituals you do before shows?
W: Yes, actually. They days are usually pretty hectic with driving and loading in, soundchecking, interviews, stuff like that. We usually take about five minutes before we go on and kind of center ourselves. We have some things we do, we have a chant that we do but we don’t reveal it. We try to get ourselves in the zone, like where we were when we wrote the songs in the first place.
R: What can fans expect from your live show?
W: Depending on what sort of time frame we have, we do different things. As far as what to expect, we try to put a lot of ourselves into our live show. Growing up, being from Vegas, we played a lot of cover shows. Usually our sets would be 50% covers, 50% original music. I think out of that we kind of learned how to get a crowds attention. In that environment there’s slot machines and cocktail waitresses and it’s very noisy. In order to compete with that the band had to learn to really draw people in. You sort of have to have this element as a band if you want people to pay attention to us, so this is sort of spoiling us to have people come to our shows to see us play on purpose, haha. They are looking at us and they know our songs, we’re just being spoiled every night compared to what we’ve been used to. We used to try to like fight for drunk people’s attention.
R: I can imagine how hard it must have been to make it as a band in Vegas.
W: Yeah, it definitely had it’s challenges but it had it’s own perks too. We were actually able to make a living playing music there because of these cover shows we would do. I think that’s pretty much exclusive to Las Vegas, being able to support yourself doing that kid of stuff when no one knows your band. It was cool too because people come from all over the world, Vegas is like the destination city. We definitely felt like that was an advantage because people would see us then go back to their hometowns and talk about us.
R: Are you guys writing music currently?
W: Yes! We are always writing music. You’ll see us all on our laptops all the time and throwing ideas around all the time. We like to throw in some bonus tracks that we’ve done for spotify and iTunes into our shows which are pretty new.
R: When can we expect a new album?
W: It depends. I don’t know how long this current album is going to ride out, you know? There’s so much up in the air. There’s no set plans. We’re really trying to focus on the current album, but at the same time we’re always writing. I’m constantly thinking about a new album. Me and Dan are really talking a lot about direction and what kind of sound we want to go for. We’re actually really excited about it already.
R: What are your future plans after this tour, or even after today?
W: After this tour, we’re going to tour. We’re going to Europe. After that, we’re going to do some Christmas type radio shows. We’re probably going to be headlining another tour early next year. We really feel like touring is the best way to do it and the best way to win fans. The best way to captivate an audience and to attract life long fans.
Interview and words by: Rachel Martin