On a purely sonic level, “It’s Time” couldn’t be more celebratory. Built on a foundation of multilayered percussion and coloured by such unlikely bedfellows as ringing mandolin and soaring synths, it has the type of chorus that pushes a song into instant-anthem territory. And then the bridge hits, and you notice that what Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds is singing about is the futility of trying to stay still in the face of life’s inexorable forward momentum: “This road never looked so lonely/This house doesn’t burn down slowly/To ashes! /To ashes!”
If that seems to run counter to the song’s chorus, on which Reynolds asserts “I’m never changing who I am,” then so be it. The Las Vegas–based Imagine Dragons deals in contradictions and is often at its most triumphant-sounding when the subject matter is bleak.
Reached at a Boise, Idaho, tour stop, the quartet’s guitarist, Wayne Sermon, says it’s all by design. “No human event is ever just one thing, you know? Each person can run the gamut of the human emotional scale. We want to represent all of that, not just one part of it. So that entails times when you feel dark and you have demons inside of you, and songs like ‘Radioactive’ that just pump you up and make you feel energized. There’s a lot of different ways to inspire and to make music, so we try to explore all of them as much as we can.”
He’s not kidding. The band has its signatures, such as Reynolds’s emotive singing and the use of multiple rhythmic elements (often handclaps and sequenced beats layered over the standard drum kit), but the songs on Imagine Dragons’ debut LP, Night Visions, are eclectic. “Underdog”, for instance, snakes buzzing synthesizer lines through a pulse reminiscent of warm-heart-of-Africa dance music as played by droids. “Demons”, on the other hand, is a soul-searching ballad anchored to the kind of epic breakbeat that OneRepublic would trade its platinum records for.
Sermon explains that the group’s proficiency with different styles was earned the hard way, through night after night spent playing covers of everything from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to the Cars and the Cure in bars and lounges on and off the Las Vegas strip. Although he, bassist Ben McKee, and drummer-violist Daniel Platzman all studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, the guitarist insists that it was their time as a cover band that was their real education.
“There’s things I learned at school that I’m very grateful for, and the connections I made while I was there were invaluable, because that’s where I met the bass player and the drummer. I studied a lot of jazz music, and the other guys did too. That’s all there. I don’t really think about it as much as I did. I’m sure it’s influenced my playing. I’m sure it’s influenced the other musicians that went to school. At the end of the day, learning the songs of the masters—I think there’s not really any better education than that.”
Imagine Dragons plays Venue on Saturday (October 6).