Imagine Dragons Dan Reynolds: Smoke + Mirrors Album is a true reflection of my own dark struggle-js76352770-jpg

PLAYING to a sold-out crowd at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow tonight is a walk in the park for Imagine Dragons.

But stick them in front of a couple of their idols, covering THEIR music, and it’s a different story – as the band found out earlier this year.

The occasion was an anniversary gala celebrating 50 years of The Beatles and sharing a stage with acts such as Dave Grohl, Katy Perry, Pharrell and Alicia Keys. Imagine Dragons got to cover their favourite Beatles track with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr sitting right in front of them. They jumped at the chance but it’s still what they regard as the most intimidating show of their career.

Frontman Dan Reynolds told us: “That was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my entire life. We covered Revolution in front of The Beatles.

“It was not something that I’d ever want to do again but I’m very glad we did.

“I swear, though, I probably lost five years of my life through sheer stress. Imagine Paul and Ringo sitting right in front of you, going, ‘OK, play our song, you’re not going to do it justice and you won’t do it as good as us, but good luck’. It was terrifying but at least it’s done now.”

The Las Vegas band first made a name for themselves back in 2012 with their debut album Night Visions but its rapid success left no time to properly realise their ideas for a live show. Now touring the world on the back of their follow-up record Smoke And Mirrors, Dan finally feels that they can properly bring their music to life.

He said: “This is a different experience for us because we actually had time to plan this tour whereas with Night Visions, everything just blew up so fast. There was no chance to focus on things like the theme or the lighting.

“This time, the production values are higher and there’s more of a story.

“We really wanted to capture the whole vibe of Smoke And Mirrors, so when people walk in the door, the artwork is there and it’s a full experience. Being able to plan all that
in advance really helped.”

That success has seen them move from club shows to arenas in only a few years, especially Europe, but for Dan – alongside bandmates Daniel Platzman, Ben McKee and Daniel Wayne Sermon – it’s been a steady progress since they formed in 2008.

He said: “It’s weird, as from our perspective, which is probably the worst perspective, it’s been kind of a slow-build over seven years.

“We played the clubs, then we played the theatres, then we played the amphitheatres, which led into small arenas and now we’re looking at large arenas.

“There are various places around the world where we’ve made a big jump but for
us, it’s been a very slow, gradual process.

“On the same note, it’s just not that big of a difference in terms of how the live show works whether you’re on a small stage or a big stage. We get on stage and we play the songs. I think we’ve always been a kind of over-the-top band anyway, so even in those small clubs we played as though we were playing in an arena anyway.”

As much as they are a band who have always belonged on those big stages, Dan still has a love of playing on a more intimate level. Earlier this year, the four-piece went back to their roots, with a series of club gigs, playing to only a few hundred people each night. But they love doing that and don’t plan to stop any time soon, regardless of how popular their band keeps getting.

Dan said: “It was great, I really enjoyed it. There’s something to be said for both.
When you’re in a small room, you can see everybody’s eyes, it’s like a communal experience where at the end of the show you all feel like you know each other.

“Whereas in an arena you don’t have that intimacy but it’s got other pros in that the energy feels so huge. It’s still a communal experience but of a different kind. I don’t know if I prefer one over the other but it was nice to go back and play those small rooms and reminisce about what it felt like six years ago.”

There are not many places left on the global touring circuit Imagine Dragons haven’t played but one city holds a special place in their hearts and they are thrilled to be back in town tonight.

Dan said: “Glasgow really is something else. It’s always one of the rowdiest crowds in the world to play for which is just really exciting. We love to play there. That’s saying a lot because, for example, South American crowds are really crazy, but Glasgow is really its own kind of thing, it’s just nuts every time we’re there.”

They’re coming back in support of Smoke And Mirrors, their second album, which was released back in February to strong reviews across the board. Every bit the equal of its predecessor, it avoided that difficult second album syndrome by virtue of Dan’s newfound confidence in his songwriting abilities, delivering a record that was as raw as it was personal. It was a deliberate move to be as honest and open as he possibly could and the results speak for themselves.

He said: “As a writer, you’re always trying to grow and progress and one of the hardest things for me from the beginning, since I was 14, was to express myself very honestly.

“I didn’t always want people to know what I was saying, as I was embarrassed or self-conscious. Like when I was 14, I was writing songs about struggling with my faith and I didn’t want my mom to hear that, so I would hide it in metaphors, as she was the only person who would actually listen to my music at the time. I had to be careful, as I didn’t want her sitting me down and lecturing me. Or when I wrote about a girl I was in love with, she would have given me grief for being too young for that kind of thing, so I’ve been used to hiding a lot of things for a long time.

“With Smoke And Mirrors, I’ve grown up as a person and as an individual so I feel it’s more important to go to places and express myself as honestly as possible, whereas Night Visions was a lot more metaphorical. This record is definitely a lot more raw and real album lyrically for me.”

One of the themes Dan draws heavily on across the album is his own struggle with depression. It’s an illness he has suffered from since he was a teenager and it is still
a major factor in his life.

He said: “I felt a pressure to be honest and speak about those things, especially as this band has got bigger, as I’ve met so many people who have gone through very similar things. It’s important for people to feel there are others out there who have gone through or are still going through similar experiences to them and that they’re not alone.

“I’ve struggled with depression for years and years. It’s probably the biggest plague of my life but also at times it can be my biggest inspiration. Depression is often what drives artists to express themselves, it certainly is for me at times. I didn’t really have to make
an effort for it to find its way into the music, it’s just part of my life.”

Without judging anyone else, Dan understands exactly why people are reluctant to admit their own struggles.

He said: “It can be an embarrassing topic for people. Nobody wants to sound weak, as it’s as if you’re asking people to feel bad for you because you’re depressed. I actually think that it’s anything but a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength to be honest.

“I think it’s really important that people know that others struggle with this.”

The other big theme on Smoke And Mirrors ties in with that confessional aspect, with a strong thread of forgiveness running all through the record.

Dan said: “It’s probably the most consistent theme on the album. I’ve had a guilt complex since I was very young.

“Whether that’s something from being raised in a very conservative home or whatever, I don’t know, but it’s something I’ve always struggled with and I think it really came through on this album.

“In fact, it was eye-opening to me as I didn’t even realise I was writing that much about
it until we put the album together and I was like, ‘Man, there are a lot of songs on this record about my guilt complex’. It’s just something I’ve been working through now, both through music and my own personal therapy, to try to get over that and just accept myself, but it’s always been a struggle for me.”

That personal therapy isn’t just in the traditional sense, as the frontman has his own individual method of keeping himself well – and that’s making music.

Dan said: “It has been for years and years. When I wrote my first song, I was 13. I had a huge gap in my teeth, bad acne, I was short, skinny and had huge, thick black glasses. I was in a really difficult place in my life, so I went home and taught myself to play guitar and write music. That’s what brought me the most happiness, so I just kept doing it.

“And especially being on stage, that’s the most free I ever feel.”

Looking to the future, there are no such nerves.

Dan said: “We’ll just write and continue to play music, as long as we don’t kill ourselves or each other, until we’re old and grey.

“We all get along and are really loving what we’re doing. We’re still young, we’re only two albums deep but they’ve come back to back. When we get off the road this time, we’re going to take a step back and re-evaluate our lives. Basically, we’ll take some time off then write another record. It sounds perfect to me.”

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