Since Las Vegas alt-rockers Imagine Dragons formed in 2008, the band's rise has been steady and consistent — until this year, when things seem to have exploded. Thanks to new album Evolve and the accompanying singles “Believer” and “Thunder,” it’s hard to have the radio on for ten minutes, for better or worse, and not hear Imagine Dragons.
In many ways, it’s inexplicable. On the surface, there’s not a tremendous difference between a song like “Radioactive," from the debut Night Visions album, and one of those new singles. All share that suburban brand of tribal indie — chanted verses leading to a big chorus. It’s a blueprint that’s worked like a dream so far, though drummer Daniel Platzman claims that there has been a healthy amount of evolution leading up to, ummm, Evolve.
“We’ve had a lot of different events in our aesthetical arc,” Platzman says. “In the beginning we were a young band playing shows, and the opportunity to get into a studio was not always at our fingertips. Then, as we were an adolescent, we got our own studio in Vegas and we made [2015's] Smoke and Mirrors. We’re super-proud of that record, but we learned a lot in the process of making it. Now, I’d say that we are an adult band and our sound certainly has changed. Among other things, counterintuitively, we’ve learned that sometimes less is more.”
Having been born in the bright lights, decadent buffets and bachelor parties of Vegas, the Dragons were offered the opportunity to perform on bandstands at casinos in front of hundreds of people who had no real interest in watching them, preferring to keep pumping quarters into slot machines. The job of the band was to distract the potential casual gamblers and convince them to stick around.
“They gave us the opportunity to actually get on a stage in front of people and play music, and rack up the hours doing it, and learn very valuable lessons,” Platzman says. “What to do when your amp goes out. All the things that don’t happen when you’re just practicing with yourself in the safety vacuum of your own living room and practice space. Stuff happens on the bandstand — the heart rates get going. There were all these six-hour gigs in the casinos. Those are especially great because you’re not playing for people who came to see you. I think that was super-valuable. What’s wonderful about Vegas is that there were all these gigs but not many bands.”
Whether or not there have been any big changes to the band’s sound, it’s undeniable that its popularity has shot up this year. Platzman says that the growth of the group's fan base and overall profile has been organic.
“I don’t feel that we’re getting sucked into a black hole of any kind, but I don’t think any of us were expecting to get the reception we’ve gotten this year,” he says. “It’s very validating, and very exciting at the beginning of a tour to see that the music is connecting with this many people. We’re just thrilled to be playing these shows. This first couple of shows have been a lot of fun, and the audiences are reacting great. Dan [Reynolds] used the phrase ‘The color is back.’ Smoke and Mirrors, for him, was less colorful. It was more of a film noir. Now the color is there. We’ve come to a place of arrival. We’re very confident in who Imagine Dragons is and what we sound like.
With the rise to the big leagues come bigger gigs, festival spots higher up the bill and larger crowds. Platzman believes that he and his bandmates have the best job in the world, traveling the world performing their original music to a lot of people.
“Many times, I have 'pinch me' moments where I say, ‘This can’t be real, there’s no way this can be happening,'” he says. “Everything from playing Red Rocks to having to cover a Beatles song for the Beatles. That was very intimidating. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous. Because you’re not going to do it better than the Beatles. The best you can shoot for is not humiliating yourself. Getting our own studio right before the second album was a huge 'pinch me' moment. For a musician to actually have your own studio — it’s your own musical playground.”
In Denver, Imagine Dragons will play the Pepsi Center this time around, a sure sign that things are going well for them. Platzman says that he has a lot of good memories from previous trips to Denver and Colorado.
“I had my birthday after a show in Denver a few years back, and I remember walking around and hanging out with the locals,” he says. “The food is great. I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, originally and it’s really nice to go to a city that has grits and a little Southern food going on. But you guys also have amazing omelets. A total foodie city. It’s really fun to come through Colorado and Denver.”
The set will be a mix of the new and the old, but there will be a few surprises. And no matter how big the venue, the Dragons like to get in with their public.
“We stripped down the show,” Platzman says. “We get intimate. We have some really crazy production. It gets weird. I don’t think we’ve ever interacted with each other on stage more. I feel like Ben [McKee, bass] is rocking out on my drum riser more than he ever has. We’re having a blast.”
When this run of shows is over, the band will head to other countries, aiming to take Evolve to as many people and places as possible. There will be arenas and there will be theaters. Platzman isn’t fazed at all.
“We’ve never had more opportunities than we have right now, ever,” he says. “So never count Imagine Dragons out. We always have something up our sleeve. There’s no venue too big and no venue too small.”
Imagine Dragons plays with Grouplove and K.Flay at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 14, at the Pepsi Center; 1000 Chopper Circle.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.