MC: You’ve also been careful about choosing a label. You’d had offers before and rejected them.
Reynolds: We grew to a point where we had all the leverage to be able to say, “Hey look, what we’re doing already is working.” So when I met Alex da Kid, he just was a fan of the band. He didn’t want to give us new artistic direction. He didn’t want to change anybody’s image or anything like that. He wanted to just be a part of Imagine Dragons. And we created together and it just felt natural and was a lot of fun.
MC: Yeah, tell us about your working relationship with Alex, who’s known as a hip-hop producer.
Reynolds: We were already leaning towards a more percussive-driven rock and he was able to help us get the sounds we’d been trying to get, like a deeper kick or a bigger snare. Any producer can help, but at the end of the day we ended up signing with him because we were able to have a contract that gave us full artistic control.
MC: Was it different working with a hip-hop producer? It sounds like it was a natural extension of what you’d already been doing.
Reynolds: It’s hard to say, because we’d really never worked with any producer before that. We’d just self-produced, always. A lot of the songs that are on the record we had released already on EPs, like Hear Me and Amsterdam. Alex is great in that he’s very respectful toward artists. He’ll never say, “Hey, you need to do this.” He’ll just say, “What do you think about trying a snare to sound like this?” He knows when to be hands-on and when to be hands-off. It never felt like he was changing or controlling us. Rather, he was someone we trusted that was in the room who said, “Yeah, let’s try this snare” or pushed us to be more self-critical. And it was a perfect match, strangely enough. I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop. I listen to a lot of 2Pac and Biggie. So Alex really worked because we had influences that came from the urban world.
MC: Let’s talk about the impact of streaming services and their low returns. What about a strategy for fighting leaks?
Reynolds: When it comes to streaming services or iTunes or any of those things, I don’t think any of us have a big opinion. We leave that to the people who are more educated with that. It’s really always been about the live show for us.
None of us got into this for money. None of us got into this for fame. We’re just a bunch of dudes who love music and didn’t have any other options in our lives as a career, because this is all we had ever done. The three of them all went to Berklee College of Music. I dropped out of college because all I was doing was music instead of homework and studying. None of us got into this for money. We were going to do this anyway, even if we were broke.
MC: What’s your advice to other young artists trying to find themselves and make it in the industry?
Reynolds: Keep going, keep creating and keep pushing yourself. Don’t give in to industry pressure to create something that’s not authentic for you. Create what’s authentic to you. That’s the most important thing. Listeners are really good at telling when something is authentic and when it’s not. And if they like it, then they’ll like it. If it’s not authentic, then it’ll have no chance. If you’re in it for the money, get out—your chances of making a career and supporting a family are slim to none. For all we knew, we’d be broke, and we were okay with that because we’re artists. We love to create. We couldn’t do anything else. There’s a saying—don’t do music if you want to do music; do music if you have to do music. I believe that. None of us got into this with a plan B. It was do or die in music. That’s it.
MC: Do you have any idea where Imagine Dragons will be in the future? Could you ever get so big that you called it quits?
Reynolds: This year has been scary for us. We keep our personal lives really personal, our heads down low and just stick in it for the music. We’re really not in it for anything else. If that ever changes, then yeah, we won’t do it anymore. But as for now, all of us just care about the music and that’s all that matters to us. We’re closer now than ever before and I think that’s because we’ve been through a lot together. We feel very lucky, very grateful, very blessed to be where we are. And we’ll continue to work and create until it’s not fun anymore. But for now it’s pretty fun.
MC: It sounds like you guys are grounded, you’ve got a perspective to handle success.
Reynolds: Some people get into music because of the lifestyle, thinking it’ll get them girls and it’s cool being in a rock band. If that’s the reason you’re in a band, you’re not going to have success, especially now. You’ve got to work. We practiced eight hours a day and played five nights a week on the strip in Vegas to support ourselves in the beginning. We had no money. And we learned, like, 60 cover gigs as well as writing our own songs and did that for years and played to empty bars. There are a lot of musicians who know exactly what I’m talking about and playing the same empty bars and sleeping on the floors of anybody they can find and eating cheap Taco Bell or something. And all those people I have mad respect for and say, just keep doing what you’re doing. We’re inspired by a lot of underground bands who are doing that and deserve to be exactly where we are. So we’re just trying not to take it for granted. We worked really hard to get here, but we also have some Vegas luck that we’re here and we just feel fortunate.
Contact Hillary Siskind Hillary.Siskind@umusic.com