As Imagine Dragons embark on an epic summer tour, including a stop at the Verizon Center, the band shares the behind-the-fame struggles that inspire their music.
Imagine Dragons are no strangers to the unexpected. The band—guitarist Wayne “Wing” Sermon, bassist Ben McKee, drummer Daniel Platzman, and lead singer Dan Reynolds—did not plan to win a Grammy in 2014 or sell 2.5 million copies of their first album, Night Visions. And they certainly never predicted they would make history performing a live song in a Target-sponsored commercial break during the Grammys, either. (The production involved a 360-degree screen, LED jewelry, helicopter shots, and 22 cameras.)
“It’s been one surprise after another,” says Sermon of their journey thus far.
So when the musician says that the Smoke + Mirrors summer tour (also the name of their chart-topping sophomore album) will boast “things that have never been done before,” you better believe it. He can’t go into detail—trade secrets and all—but says there will be more lights (“Hundreds!”), speakers, and galactic visual effects on July 6 at DC’s Verizon Center—a tour stop that has them particularly excited.
“For our touring crew, we basically stole the best sound engineers and techs from the 9:30 club in DC. Now they are helping us conquer stages all over the world.” —Wayne Sermon
“DC is great. Our favorite thing about it is the people though,” McKee says. “Our core touring crew is built around three Washingtonians. We basically stole the best sound engineers and techs from the 9:30 Club, and now Scott, Jared, and Erik are out on the road helping us to conquer stages all over the world. I know they’re excited to get back home for a show.”
“Band life may seem glamorous—and it is, sometimes—but we sure didn’t start out that way,” says Sermon, who cofounded the band just six years ago with Reynolds in Las Vegas. Before that, he was studying at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he met McKee. “He was the guy in the front row asking all of the questions,” Sermon says. “I was the one in the back row being quiet.” The pair took to practicing together, along with fellow classmate Platzman. “It’s a given that everyone can play at Berklee,” Sermon says, “but we got along.” When he joined forces with Reynolds to form a band, Sermon picked up the phone and called two guys: McKee and Platzman. “It cannot be overestimated how much you need to like your bandmates. They have to be your family.”
The quartet came up with the name Imagine Dragons—an anagram based on a top-secret group of words that even family members don’t know— and started performing at tiny joints around Sin City. “We’d play four-, five-hour gigs and split the $400 pay between us,” says Sermon. “It was grueling, but we earned our chops.” They also picked up fans, lots of them, followed by a record deal. The Dragons produce a powerful hook, delivering one haunting yet catchy anthem after another. Each track is laced with Reynolds’s moods, both bright and dark, his voice roaring lyrics of apocalypse, dreams, demons, and fame.
“Dan writes lyrics like journal entries,” Sermon says. “They are deep thoughts and extremely honest. He documents the hard stuff—sudden fame, the loneliness of touring. It’s therapy for him. It’s raw, but it’s real. We had no idea we would blow up to this extent. Our music is true to us. We write music that we would be okay with playing hundreds of times, over and over.”
This June to August, the band will perform in 39 cities in 58 days, with barely one day off per week. In DC, they hope to play tourist. “I have a feeling you’ll be able to find us strolling around the National Mall,” McKee says, “or exploring the halls of the Smithsonian.” July 6 at 7:30 pm at the Verizon Center, 601 F St. NW. For tickets, call 202-397-7328, or visit ticketmaster.com