At first glance, Imagine Dragons don’t strike you as one of the world’s biggest rock bands and the current torchbearers of arena-sized rock music. There’s no rock and roll excess, no public beefs with their peers, no grandiose messianic complex. And yet, ever since their 2012 debut Night Visions, the genre-hopping pop-rock band has been one of the most consistently successful bands of our time, selling over 75 million records over their career and winning accolades across the music industry’s various awards shows.
Having released their most ambitious record yet last June—the second part of the Mercury Act double album—the band is currently in the middle of an 81-date world tour, performing across the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. Ahead of their headlining set at Lollapalooza India—the iconic American festival makes its India debut this month thanks to promoter and co-producer BookMyShow in collaboration with global promoters Perry Farell and C3 Presents—Imagine Dragons bassist Ben McKee talks to Lounge about being back on the road, working with Rick Rubin, and their surprise chat with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Edited excerpts:
Last year the band released the second part of the Mercury Act double LP and then hit the road for a world tour, for the first time since 19. How does it feel to be back on stage after the pandemic?
It's amazing to be back on stage. We had planned on taking a couple of years off right before the pandemic hit because we wanted to be focused on connecting with our families and just taking time to rest and recuperate from a decade on the road. In that time we entered one of the most productive writing period of our lives. We wrote all of these songs, close to 200 songs, for this double album. We were so excited to pick our favourites out of that, produce it, and get it into a final presentable form with Rick Rubin.
After that we were just chomping at our bits to get on the stage. We've never been more proud of the music we've made than on this double album, and I also think that we were never more prepared to bring this music onto a big stadium-style stage. That was the vision for where this music was going to live. So when we got the opportunity to actually take that music and get out and start performing again, it was as close to the feeling of that first time we stepped on a big stage.
You’ve self-produced most of your albums (along with a cast of regular collaborators). So what made you go with Rick Rubin for this record?
Rick Rubin is somebody who has made albums that we've all been inspired by. He's worked across all different musical styles, and with the different styles we represent on an album, it seemed to make sense that way. Also, our specific goal was to try and make an album that gets down to the essence of Imagine Dragons, to the core of Dan's songwriting. He was really working on getting to a more honest and raw place than he's ever been.
Rick is someone who can really help an artist take away the extra stuff and focus on what the core of that artist is, what makes them unique. So I think Rick did an excellent job of that working with us and working with Dan to get down to the essence of what Dan's story for this album was.
Dan Reynolds has spoken about the friends and family he’s lost recently, which inspired much of the writing on these two records. That is obviously a deeply intimate experience, so how did the rest of the band get on the same wavelength when you sat down to write and record?
Dan writes with themes that are based on specific experiences that he's had, but that are really relatable on a human level. You can listen to any of these songs, and maybe you didn't have the same experience of a relative dying of lung cancer or something like that, but you have experienced loss somewhere in your life, and you can connect to that feeling.
And we all speak with our instruments. We grew up with our instruments being a part of us since we were children. Holding our instruments, playing them when we're sad or we're angry. It's another voice for us, and in some ways, it's a voice that's easier to express raw emotion with.
So we just sort of listen to what Dan is doing, connect with that, and we sort of sing our connection to those feelings through our instruments, our voices. And it all comes together.
It has been over 10 years since you released debut record Night Visions. How do you look back on that journey? Have you fulfilled the dreams you had when you started off?
We have far surpassed any expectations we could reasonably have for ourselves when we were getting together, starting out as a band, rehearsing in Dan's parents' living room. But at the same time, I don't think any of us feel like we've arrived. We haven't gotten to the mountain top, we're not ready to relax and coast. There's still more that we want to do, there's still more ideas we have yet to express. And there's still things that we will bring to stages that haven't been done. We love performing, we love coming up with new ideas for production, and above all else, we love making and performing music.
Last summer, the band had a surprising video call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in the early stages of the ongoing war…
Yeah, it was really amazing how Zelenskyy reached out to us. We have a strong connection with Ukraine, we have a lot of fans there, we've had some incredibly meaningful concerts there. We have friends there, and we can see the injustice of what is happening with the invasion they're dealing with.
Zelensky, he asked that we keep on talking about Ukraine, and the struggles that the Ukrainian people are enduring, so that it's not forgotten about. It's not a problem that existed only in 2022, this is an ongoing struggle and the Ukrainian people need and deserve our support. And by keeping that topic in the forefront, we are helping to keep support coming in.
This is your first time playing in India, but has anyone in the band visited before? What are you guys expecting from your trip here?
We've never been to India before, and we're incredibly excited. I love Indian food, I'm excited to eat all these vegetables that I've never experienced before. I’m excited to see the loud energy of the streets of Mumbai that I've imagined but never gotten to experience. With Bollywood and Indian music videos—they're so colourful, and everyone is dancing—it seems that India is a very musical culture. So it's going to be exciting to get up on a stage and perform for an audience like that. Whenever we perform, it's always a back-and-forth with the audience, so if the audience is engaged, we are too. And I have the feeling that the Indian audience is going to be bringing a lot to Lollapalooza.