Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds Talks Their New Record ‘Smoke + Mirrors’

Photo by Eliot Lee Hazel

Dan Reynolds tells me he can’t handle New York’s arctic blast, which makes the weather contrast pitifully to his home base in Las Vegas. “I’m a baby,” he jokes. It’s a little hard to take the self-disparaging infant jest seriously from the lead singer of Grammy-winning band Imagine Dragons, which has recently collected over 1 billion streams on Spotify, a cover on Billboard Magazine, and overnight stardom that transformed them into internationally loved chart toppers.

Today marks the release of the band’s sophomore album, Smoke + Mirrors, which maintains elements of the sound that propelled Imagine Dragons into the spotlight while toying with the newfound struggles (as well as joys) of success. We chatted with Reynolds about the pressures of fame, Taylor Swift, and the importance of honesty he placed on the new album.

After the massive success of Imagine Dragon’s debut album, did you feel pressure in following up with your sophomore release?

I definitely felt that sophomore feeling of like, “Okay, we had all this mainstream success on our first album so, you know, with the second album, do you replicate the first album and will it still be successful? Or do you try and go in a different direction and try to do something all creative and make a statement about how you’re not mainstream?”

I really just tried to put those thoughts out of my head. Like, acknowledge that those things are there for a musician on your second album, and just put them out of my head and create what’s honest and true to Imagine Dragons…I grew up on Paul Simon’s Graceland and the Beatles, and I love Poppy melodies, so there definitely will be a lot more of that in Smoke + Mirrors. I just try to be true; true to who Imagine Dragons is as a band and just put outside of my head all of the pressures.

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Even so, is it a bit nerve-wracking?

When you have mainstream success, I just have accepted the fact that there are going to be people who love it, people who hate it, and that’s just the way it is. But the most important thing at the end of the day is it’s true to us as an artist and that we’re creating something that’s honest and real. And with Smoke + Mirrors, we believe in this album and are proud of it. It feels very real for us.

Over the past few crazy years, who have you determined to be your fan base? Who is connecting with your music?

You know, honestly, it’s pretty trippy to see who the average Imagine Dragons fan is, because it really has changed so much. Like right when [Night Visions] came out and it started to really play on Alternative radio, it was like all college students coming out to our shows. And then, when it crossed over to mainstream radio, then it was college kids and families…and it really just opened up to a whole different world.

At the end of the day, I tried to really write an honest record. Lyrically, it really dives into some places that were a little hard for me to get to just because it’s a little raw at times, but you know, I felt like we owed it to our fans to create a really honest record and to show the different dynamic sides of the band. So we really pushed ourselves, in a lot of ways sonically, on the record as well…it sounds like Imagine Dragons, whatever that is.

Can you expand on some of the lyrical content and themes you explored on Smoke + Mirrors?

Even though it sounds cliché, this really was a therapeutic record for me to write, just because…really, my life has turned upside down dramatically in the last couple of years, because of the high highs and low lows that come with fame and success, because believe it or not, there are some lows that come with it. Your life changes, the way people treat you changes, your relationships change, and even the way you view yourself changes. So I definitely struggled with some of those things, self-conflict about how I was raised and struggling with depression, and struggling with different things that I’ve actually struggled with for many years. That’s actually not really new to me.

But there’s definitely a lot of themes about conflict on the record, a lot of themes of kind of wanting to start over, wipe the slate clean and feeling a little sorry about things in my past and trying to accept them and accept myself.

What do you think of the genre Rock and Roll in 2015?

I think the genre lines are blurring a lot, and you know, there are still bands where you’d say, “This is rock band.” But as for us, I’ve never really felt like we’re a flag bearer for Rock and Roll. I know people lock in on us and are like, “You’re a Rock band!” But the truth is, I don’t really care what people label us. Like if they want to call us alternative, if they want to call us a Pop band, they want to call us Rock…it doesn’t really matter to me. We’re not really trying to be any of that.

I really believe that the spirit of Rock & Roll is just to be true to yourself. People say “Rock and Roll” and it’s like, “Oh, drugs, sex and Rock and Roll!” But that’s not the Rock and Roll that I grew up on. Like the people who I looked up to were people who…it was all about independence. It was all about being true to yourself, whether people perceive that as being cool or not.

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I saw you guys’ awesome cover Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” which made it pretty evident that you’re not a typical Rock and Roll band.

I love a good Poppy melody and there’s a lot of that in our music. Like there are definitely a lot of Pop melodies in our music because that’s the kind of stuff that I grew up on. Like I said, the whole spirit of Rock and Roll to me is about attitude and standing up for what you believe in, and just standing behind that rather than people thinking about some dirty Rock and Roll dude who’s just like, “I don’t care about anybody! I need my M&M’s and I need them at 2 o’clock sharp!” That stuff is just a joke to me.

So you’re not an M&M’s at 2 o’clock sharp kind of artist?

Yeah I’m a pretty low maintenance guy. I think on our rider it’s like, “As long as I can get some salami and crackers backstage, then I’m happy.”

Are there any other Pop stars we’d be surprised to hear you like?

I mean, first of all, just on the subject of Taylor Swift, she had a really great record. Sonically, it’s really great, with good melodies and it’s just really enjoyable. I’ve been listening to Katy Perry’s “Roar.” I love that song. I think it’s just brilliant. I have a two-year-old daughter, and you know, kids just don’t care about anything other than a good melody. That’s really what kids care about. So anything like Katy Perry’s “Roar, anything that has that strong melody that catches you on a first listen, I think that’s great.

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