NEW YORK (AP) — Imagine Dragons are touring the U.S. this summer and fall, which means frontman Dan Reynolds has to go to a lot of dark places.
The band is debuting songs from the second half of “Mercury,” a double album of brooding and moody meditations on death and human frailty. Reynolds relives the pain at every show.
“I don’t know how to perform without going to the place that I was when I wrote the song,” he says. “When I get up on the stage, it’s ‘OK, the song is playing. Where was I? What was I feeling? Now let me emote that.' That’s a lot to emotionally go through every other night.”
Integrating the new songs into a seamless, fun night out for fans has also been a challenge, with the band needing to somehow fit hits like “Radioactive” and “Believer” with songs like “Wrecked,” which Reynolds wrote about losing his sister-in-law to cancer.
One solution was to break out some of the songs from “Mercury” and halfway through the concert play four or five of them acoustically, in a stripped-down, intimate way on a secondary stage.
“It was really hard to find the momentum and to do it correctly,” Reynolds says. “How do we go from empowering to happy and then happy to angry? There’s so much emotional baggage with Imagine Dragons.”
The songs on “Mercury” reflect a tumultuous few years for Reynolds. “The main takeaways were death played a huge role in my life during those five years the records were written,” he says.
In addition to his sister-in-law, Reynolds lost his business manager, an ex-girlfriend and his best friend. “It makes you question everything,” he says.
Such blows could make anyone wonder what's the point in anything. For Reynolds it was the opposite: “Every moment is so meaningful. Every relationship. The present moment right now matters.”
The album was named “Mercury” after the reflectiveness and chromatic beauty of the element. “When I looked at mercury, it felt reflective in that way, that it was like beautiful but also volatile at times,” he says. “I really feel like ‘Mercury’ at its core is a very self-reflective record.”
Sam Riback, executive vice president and co-head of A&R at Interscope Geffen A&M, agrees: “I think this is obviously Dan and the band’s most personal work to date,” he says. “There were so many great songs that they had generated over a large time period and they wanted to make sure that their fan base got to experience all the stories they were telling.”
Unlike this spring's European leg, Reynolds will be leaving his four kids at his home in Las Vegas for the North American tour, which kicked off in Salt Lake City. He laughs good-naturedly at some harrowing dad moments from a few months ago.
“It’s been a traveling circus. It has been really difficult. Lots of throwing up on long winding roads with kids and screaming kids in airplanes and getting in at 4 a.m. from a show and kids jumping on you at 6 a.m. But I survived.”
Imagine Dragons — which includes guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Ben McKee and drummer Daniel Platzman — just celebrated being the first band in history to have four certified diamond singles — each reaching 10 million or more in sales and stream equivalents in the United States. A stunned Reynolds calls it “funny numbers.”
"I honestly have realized in my life that I have no ability to have true perspective on any of this," he says. “This is so mind boggling to me. Maybe there’s some people who can wrap their heads around this. I have no ability to. I hear that I’m like, ‘Wow. I don’t even know what that means fully.’”
The latest single to cross the diamond threshold is “Thunder” from 2017's album “Evolve.” Reynolds marvels at its humble roots: He wrote and recorded the vocals over two hours in his house in Las Vegas, even manipulating his voice to a crazy pitch in parts that were included in the final song. “If you listen closely with headphones, you can hear screaming kids in the background,” he says.
On a wider scale, Imagine Dragons have always had a social impact apart from their music, raising money and awareness in support of causes like LGBTQ+ rights, the fight against pediatric cancer and the empowerment of women. They've recently added Ukraine to their list of concerns.
The band performed at the Save Ukraine telethon and during the European tour, Reynolds was rarely seen without the Ukrainian flag, dedicating songs to the country. Imagine Dragons are huge in Ukraine and sold out the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv in 2018. Reynolds has also been working with a team in Ukraine on a video game.
Reynolds recently spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy over Zoom — a meeting he calls “the honor of a lifetime” — and has joined a fundraiser for new ambulances to replace those lost in combat with Russia.
“My main takeaway from our meeting was just they need help. They need help,” he says. “Our headlines are so quick to move on to meaningless things when we’re in the year 2022 and there’s a war and there’s kids being killed. There is truly a culture and a country being destroyed.”
Adding Ukraine to Reynold's list of activist causes is part of the obligation he feels as a public figure. It's also personal, like his work for the Tyler Robinson Foundation — inspired by meeting the pediatric cancer patient.
“My mantra has been ‘Go just exactly where your heart takes you, the path of least resistance.’ You can’t do everything. You can’t solve everything. So you go where your life takes,” he says.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press