Imagine Dragons on beards, brotherhood and life on the road

Before yesterday’s arena show, Imagine Dragons woke up refreshed and effectively indoctrinated on Filipino culture by way of the previous night’s karaoke session and a nice dinner of our famed balut, among other local dishes. They had just arrived the day before and jumped right into it, also experiencing first-hand, much to their excitement, “authentic Philippine traffic.” Daniel Platzman, the band’s drummer tells us about this like it’s a good thing, “We’ve seen L.A. traffic, we’ve seen Atlanta traffic…Manila might be the worst. Manila’s right up there.” They are, in every aspect, like sponges just ready and able to absorb anything and everything that their “Smoke+Mirrors” world tour throws at them.

Before the show, GIST sat down with the Band Beards — Wayne Sermon (lead rhythm and guitar) and Daniel Platzman, for a roundtable interview:

What do they think of balut and being in the Philippines?

PLATZMAN: I know there’s a lot of islands, and I know we’re not gonna get a chance to go on a boat and check out the beaches.

SERMON: We got to experience the Filipino culture. We went out to a really good dinner at Golden Bay, a really good Chinese place and we had some balut.

PLATZMAN: It was delicious. It was a little intimidating, but it was great!

SERMON: As long as you don’t look it right in the eye, you’re fine.

Has being on the road inspired them to write new material for a new album?

S: I’ve actually been writing a demo in my hotel room, I think Dan has, too. Usually when we go to places, it’s more of a feeling. It’s a little more abstract than writing about traffic. It’s just about how a city makes you feel, how a country makes you feel. Though, we have not really been talking about a new album yet.

Which songs on their album do they have a personal connection to?

P: A lot of those song were created on the road, while we were on tour and we were in similar situations for a lot of those songs. Personally, the chorus of Shots, the idea that the thing you care most about is the thing that you end up screwing up, like you’re your own worst enemy, I definitely can relate to that, sabotaging something that you really care about. I didn’t realize I cared about it in the moment, but looking back, I realized, ‘Wow, I was an idiot.’”

S: Road life is really high highs and really low lows, the most fun we’ve ever had on the road doing what we’re doing, it’s like the best job in the world. But there are also really low lows and we don’t get to talk about it as much. Things change when you have success. A lot of the songs were based on not being sure who you can trust, especially with Gold and Smoke and Mirrors. Or things are changing — we feel the same — but people around us are acting different.

On the Imagine Dragons sound:

P: There’s a lot of juxtaposition especially in “Smoke + Mirrors,” content sounding one way and if you read it, there is this other side to it. It’s not really a formula, we weren’t trying to purposely do that. It just felt right.

Have they finally wrapped their heads around what is happening — the band’s success?

P: I don’t think we’ve wrapped our heads around it and it’s probably good that we haven’t. I compare it to horse in the city, they always have these blinders on so they don’t get freaked out as a car is whizzing by. If I actually take a look at our schedule, I’d probably be very overwhelmed. I think it’s probably good.

S: We did birthday parties, weddings…we opened up for a mime at a shopping mall. We were too loud, people didn’t like us. We had a lot of experiences like that, so we appreciate THIS. If we had gone right to this, then maybe we would feel more entitled to certain things or have more attitude. I’ve been with the band for seven years and the first four years of that was not glamorous, really difficult. Playing four-hour casino gigs for 300 bucks, stuff like that.

D: To travel to a place you’ve never been before and play for a packed crowd singing the words at you, it’s pretty indescribable. It makes us feel like we need to work harder, like we need to be deserving of this success that’s right in front of us. Especially when English is not the first language — in Tokyo, for example, at Summer Sonic people were singing the words at us and I was blown away. I just couldn’t believe it.

What do they do between the highs and lows — those “medium” moments during touring?

S: We write. That’s kind of where it works. Writing about the things that aren’t so great is more therapeutic. We still write about things that are good — On Top of the World is probably one of the happiest songs I’ve ever heard in my life. For us, it’s more therapeutic to write about the lows.

P: There’s something really nice about taking something negative and taking it into something positive.

What are the lowest lows they’ve ever experienced while touring?

P: For me, the low lows is when I feel like I’ve been missing out on my life. For example, I feel like I haven’t been the best family member. I have an older brother, he has a life, sometimes I feel like I’m a terrible brother because I don’t know what’s going on. And I realize that I wasn’t there for somebody I really care about and that for me is a really low low.

S: This is the best job in the world and the last thing we want to do is complain and ask you to feel bad for us. But every career has its positive and negative. Two of my sisters have had children that I haven’t seen yet, it can make you feel like a bad person. But I think that my family knows that this opportunity is once in a lifetime, it’s one in 20 million. To be able to do this at our level, I think our family understands that — our friends don’t understand it, we don’t have friends anymore. (Laughs)

How do they help each other out?

S: When someone is having a particularly bad day, at least one or two of the guys are having not such a bad day so they can help. So it’s like a band of brothers situation.

P: We spend so much time with each other that you can kind of tell when something’s off with somebody. Obviously when somebody’s having a bad day, the last thing they want is to have you be like, “You look like you’re having a bad day!” So we just pick and choose and support each other. Being onstage and with the crowd, that’s a great emotional release. So usually, that’ll help out. If you can channel that negativity on stage and turn it into energy, that’s really powerful.

How are they not yet killing each other after spending so much time together, traveling, working and being a band?

S: I think for us it’s been really good, because this band got together based on music, not so much on friendship. Don’t get me wrong — I went to school with Platzman and Ben and we became good friends, but for the most part, I think this band is based on music more than anything. After I had graduated from Berkley, I didn’t know if I would see these guys again, I hoped that I would. When this opportunity came, I called them up because they are a really talented rhythm section. None of us are childhood friends. It’s all based on respect other than knowing each other since we were 10.

On the surprises that they meet on the road:

P: When we did that single for Assassin’s Creed, we just started touring Europe for the very first time in years. And we weren’t sure if people were gonna come, if anyone knew who we were, but the shows were selling out. Back then, we could still go to the merch table and talk to the fans, and I would always ask, like, “How did you hear about our show in Hamburg, you’re not even German, how are you here?” And they would say they saw this commercial for Assassin’s Creed, liked the song, saw that we were having a show and hopped on a train.

When will they reveal the real name of the band?

P: Probably after we’re doing our residency at a casino in Vegas and nobody cares about us anymore, we’ll be like, “Wait, don’t you wanna know what the real anagram is?”

S: There are clues out there. In our music, there are clues.

If they could add any solo artist to the band, who would it be?

S: Maybe it would be like the Neil Young thing where he became part of Crosby, Stills and Nash.

P: Imagine Dragons and Young — that’d be awesome.

On the thing that they didn’t expect to see in Manila:

P: While we were in traffic, we got to see the jeep (I think Dan was talking about the tricycle — Ed). We’ve never seen anything like it. It’s cool! (They’re so packed and I love how short they are. — Wayne) We were trying to imagine our parents getting into them. I don’t know if my dad would be able to get into that, physically. Getting to see the world, that’s what it’s all about.

Rank: Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll:

P: They’re all pretty important. It’s a package deal. But in all seriousness, none of us really got into music for anything other than music. Some of us are the biggest music nerds, and I don’t mean in terms of musical competence, but in terms of being void of anything else in our lives. Music is what we do and what we focus on. When you’re all like-minded and that goal-oriented, it works. That honestly helps us get through anything.

Who has the better beard?

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to ask this question. They had a long day ahead and had to rush off to the arena. But we did get pretty close to both beards and just judging by shape and volume, we’re calling it: Wayne has the better beard.

Photos by WALTER BOLLOZOS