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Interview: Imagine Dragons

If the kitchen is the heart of any home then it’s fitting that Dan Reynolds, frontman of Las Vegas foursome Imagine Dragons, chose to set up his laptop in that particular nook during a burst of late-night creativity spurned on by a restless mind and first stomped out the driving beat of “It’s Time” – the band’s platinum-selling, career-making single.

The muse clearly sidestepped the fridge that night and landed on the 25-year-old’s shoulder.

“I was not thinking at all like I’m writing this song for radio or a hit song. I had no idea. It was really a low point and I was just kind of writing out my feelings like a journal entry,” he says over the phone from home in Los Angeles on one of the precious few days he’s not living out of a suitcase. “It’s crazy.”

Appearing:  3/4 at House of Blues (329 N. Dearborn) Chicago with Atlas Genius.

A descriptor that sums up a year in which the Sin City band (including Berklee College of Music buddies Wayne Sermon on guitar, Ben McKee on bass, and Daniel Platzman on drums) traded in competing for attention with whistling slot machines for squeezing household names out of their Billboard chart standings. On the strength of “It’s Time,” Imagine Dragons hit No. 2 by selling 83,000 copies of Night Visions (Interscope) in its first week of release in September. Not bad for a full-length debut four years in the making.

A Lumineers-like clomp and Reynolds’ “I’m-king-of-the-world” defiance fuels the exuberant anthem, but its high-pitched mandolin riff is the fairy dust keeping it in flight. New friends Passion Pit remixed the song, sweeping the instantly hummable jangle aside in favor of tinkling synths set to “music box” and the instrument’s absence renders it inedible – like strolling by a Cinnabon under the duress of a severe head cold. Take away that primal olfactory pull and only sticky balls of slathered dough congealing under a heat lamp are left.

Now inescapable on the airwaves, Reynolds vividly remembers hearing his voice through the fuzzy reception of the band’s van while crossing the border from Vegas into L.A. “We were all freaking out, stomping on the pedals to try to race into the bounds of L.A. to be able to hear the song without so much static around it,” he fondly recalls. “We were just celebrating and that whole cheesy thing that bands do probably when they hear themselves on the radio. I would like to say that we were like, ‘Oh, turn the station,’ but we were totally like little kids about it. We were just so excited.”

Flashback to an uncertainty-filled 2008 when Reynolds dropped out of Brigham Young University and scrapped plans to join the FBI. “I was taking courses to move towards that. I was going to seminars and stuff and then my mom at the time was like, ‘Are you sure you want to go to the FBI? Like would you be O.K. if you knew you killed somebody?’ and like sat me down and had this serious talk,” he admits.

Writing “It’s Time” helped ease his apprehension about pulling the abrupt U-turn. “I always kind of go through these stages in my life where I finally like sit down one day because I’m just like unhappy with how things are going. I’ll pull out a notebook and kind of like write down a bunch of changes I want to make. Kind of like New Year’s resolutions, but I end up doing it all throughout the year,” Reynolds explains. “I remember that point it was kind of one of those periods where I wanted to make some changes, but I wanted to make changes that I felt were true to myself, like more going back to my roots and being who I was.”

Even stretching as far back as 13 when just crossing the threshold of a building labeled middle school magnifies every insecurity, (Reynolds characterizes the time spent within those walls as an “awful experience”) music allowed him to navigate bouts with depression and anxiety. He remembers coming home from school and concocting bits of songs out of his rudimentary self-taught guitar skills.

For the full feature, click on the issue cover or grab a copy of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.

Janine Schaults

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