MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Finally today, it might be hard to imagine this but some people still find rock music hard to take. But even if that's you, I bet it was hard to resist this song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RADIOACTIVE")
IMAGINE DRAGONS: (Singing) I'm waking up. I feel it in my bones, enough to make my systems blow. Welcome to the new age, to the new age. Welcome to the new age, to the new age.
MARTIN: That's "Radioactive" from the Las Vegas-based band Imagine Dragons. That single and others like "It's Time" and "On Top Of The World" put the performers on the map with a combination of emotional depth and what one critic called spine-tingling arena rock catharsis. Their eye-popping collaboration with rapper Kendrick Lamar at the 2014 Grammys along with a 2014 Grammy for best rock performance established their place in the pantheon of rock stars.
A year later, they delivered a second album, "Smoke And Mirrors." And then they took a break. And now, they're back with a third album, "Evolve," which dropped last night. Two of the four band members, singer Dan Reynolds and guitarist Wayne sermon were nice enough to stop by and speak with us about it before they embark on a yearlong tour. Gentlemen, welcome. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
DAN REYNOLDS: Thanks for having us.
WAYNE SERMON: Hello.
MARTIN: So I'm interested in that break or a sabbatical or whatever you want to call it. You know, men often don't give themselves permission to do that unless they...
SERMON: I like sabbatical. Let's call it a sabbatical.
REYNOLDS: Yeah, sabbatical (laughter).
MARTIN: Sabbatical. I was just wondering, how did that come about? I mean, was it an agreement that all of you made that after a certain point you'd jump off the train for a minute? Who wants to take that?
REYNOLDS: I mean, I think it was a necessity. This is Dan. And we'd been touring straight at that point for - I want to say - seven years. So yeah, I think we just all needed it to reconnect with normal life and home and family and just to get grounded. And it was more out of necessity.
MARTIN: Well, Dan, if we could follow up on that, you've been very open about the depression that hit really at just the height of when you were touring and, you know, had made this big sort of splash And did - was that a part of it?
REYNOLDS: You know, I dealt with it since I was young, but the bouts would typically come in three to six months. And, you know, I think it was just so much happened at once. I had just got married. We had a baby. The record took off. All these really beautiful, wonderful things happened. But it was just, I think, really overwhelming for me.
And then I ended up kind of going through a year of really heavy depression. It was probably the worst that I'd ever had. And it got to a point where I really had to go seek help. And, you know, I decided to talk about it because I think that it's something that a lot of people hide.
And Wayne had also - has dealt with depression for years. And so both of us kind of went through it, I think, together in a lot of ways. And it was cool because we were able to speak openly to each other about meeting with the therapist and what was that like. And it was a tricky thing, but we're all really close. And so they were with me through it 100 percent.
SERMON: Yeah. I don't really know how you could possibly hide anything from your band members. Like, you're with these people, you know, more than anyone else and more than, you know, you've ever been with even your family. And so I don't know. I think even if we tried to hide things from each other, I think it would not work for very long.
MARTIN: Wayne, can I stick with you for a minute here on this? And one of the reasons I'm interested in talking about this again is that I think for a lot of men - and I hope I'm not generalizing - but I do think for a lot of men it is hard to talk about. I wondered whether your being artists helped that or hurt that. I mean, in a way, I mean, part of your job as artists is to articulate for people what other people cannot.
SERMON: Yeah. I mean, I think that there is like this stigma attached to it. You know, it's hard to feel like a manly man and to - I don't know, to feel validated as a man and admit that your struggle is something that's sort of eating you from the inside. And it's - I think it's something a lot of people deal with. And yeah, it was really hard for us.
MARTIN: You know, let me play "Demons" now. This is from the first album, "Night Visions." And I think your - it speaks to both of those things that you were talking about.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEMONS")
IMAGINE DRAGONS: (Singing) I want to hide the truth. I want to shelter you. But with the beast inside, there's nowhere we can hide.
MARTIN: A couple of ideas there. One is that you both talked about, you know, your shared background. And both of you did grow up with the same - a shared religious background which is you both grew up as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the Mormon Church. And I've - couldn't help but notice the religious references that are in the music. And - I don't know - Dan, maybe you want to talk about that.
REYNOLDS: I wouldn't say as much religious references as much as just a spiritual reference. I think since I was young, spiritual things have always been interesting to me. In fact, supernatural things I would even go as far to say that. But as far as faith, it never came easy for me. And, in fact, I really struggled with believing in Mormonism since I was young. And I grew up in a large family - eight boys, one girl. And everybody went on missions and seemed to be super full of faith.
And for me, I really had a hard time believing in anything, even a God. But it was - I was infatuated with it. And I would read a lot. And I would study a lot just because I wanted to believe. So then I went on a mission because I wanted to believe.
And I thought, well, if I invest myself, I thought, you know, I would find something. But I think in doing that, I ended up getting even more lost and feeling like there were no answers. And so a lot of the music is kind of speaking about sometimes searching and hoping for answers but coming up empty-handed. And that was scary for me in a lot of ways.
MARTIN: I'm speaking with Dan Reynolds and Wayne Sermon from the band Imagine Dragons. We've been talking about what brought them to this point so far. And now we're going to talk about their latest album, "Evolve." So tell me about "Evolve."
SERMON: I think to really understand this third album, you kind of have to - at least in our minds, it makes sense based on the last two. You know, like, we talked a lot about the struggles we've had and some issues we've had, but it's also been an incredible ride. Another reason we hesitate talking about certain things is 'cause of the very fact that as soon as you do it's like OK, really, Mr. Big Rock Star is going to start complaining about this and that?
REYNOLDS: Like boo-hoo (ph). Boo-hoo for you.
SERMON: Yeah. But yeah, I think, you know, it was such a crazy transition. Like, we were such a small band for such a long time. For three years we were just in Vegas living in a house together making music. Not a lot of money but also, you know, not a lot of cares. And so everything switched really quickly. And I feel like the first two albums were sort of like playing catch-up with ourselves. Now we finally feel like we're starting to feel comfortable in our own skin.
MARTIN: Let me play something that immediately caught my attention, and it's called "Believer." And just - addicted to the baseline. Sorry, have to admit it. Maybe that's about me. But here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BELIEVER")
IMAGINE DRAGONS: (Singing) First things first. I'm going to say all the words inside my head. I'm fired up and tired of the way that things have been. Oh, oh, the way that things have been. Oh, oh.
MARTIN: So tell me about what, you know, what inspired the song.
REYNOLDS: I think that once I got home and took time off the road, for all of us, we were able to for the first time have perspective. Anybody who deals with depression knows it. It comes and it goes. And who knows where I'll be next year? But as for right now in this moment, I'm really happy and done - tired of searching and asking questions about, you know, Is there a God? Is there not? Is there - you know, the - I'm really done asking those questions.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BELIEVER")
IMAGINE DRAGONS: (Singing) You made me a - you made me a believer. Believer. You break me down. You build me up. Believer. Believer.
MARTIN: You have any advice for people who might be listening to our conversation who are starting out where you were seven years ago? And...
REYNOLDS: I would say have no ego. We opened at a mall for a mime in Las Vegas.
SERMON: That's right.
REYNOLDS: We did. We said yes to every single show. And, you know, looking back, maybe we should have said no to that one.
SERMON: No. No. No. We wouldn't have the story.
REYNOLDS: Yeah, we wouldn't have the story. But I think that you have to pay those dues. You have to take every chance you have to be seen. And that was important because finally one day someone was in the crowd who mattered in the music industry. And they got our EP. And they took it to somebody, and then we got signed. And so that's the way it happens.
And look. There's a million bands that are way more talented us that have been doing this for 20 years and they never get signed. And so they would say, well, that's BS. And to them, I would say, I totally get it. There's also luck involved. And we had Vegas luck on our side and a lot of hard work and dedicated our lives to music. And that's all you can do.
MARTIN: That's Dan Reynolds and Wayne Sermon. They are the lead singer and guitarist respectively for the band Imagine Dragons. The other members are drummer Daniel Platzman and bassist Ben McKee. As you just heard, their third album "Evolve" is just out this week. They joined us from NPR West in Culver City, Ca. Dan Reynolds, Wayne Sermon, thank you so much for speaking with us. We really enjoyed talking with you.
SERMON: Thank you.
REYNOLDS: Thank you.
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