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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fire-breathing Dragons

Joining forces with top-notch producer like hitting the jackpot for Vegas band

Posted: 03/7/2013 3:16 AM | Comments: 0

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NEW YORK -- When he first started working with Imagine Dragons, music producer Alex da Kid was looking for some inspiration for the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

"I thought they would be great to help me come up with ideas for U2," the Grammy-nominated English producer said.

There was just one problem: the demos they recorded were too good.

So instead of using the alternative band to collaborate on the score by Bono and The Edge, Alex da Kid -- the creator of Eminem and Rihanna's colossal hit Love the Way You Lie -- immediately signed the Las Vegas-based foursome to his label imprint KIDinaKORNER Records, distributed through Interscope Records.

Imagine Dragons released its debut album, Night Visions, in September and so far has reached gold status, selling more than 600,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The band currently has two songs in the Top 25 with It's Time and Radioactive and they are on a sold-out tour that comes to Winnipeg's Garrick Centre on March 9.

Imagine Dragons had been building a buzz on the music scene as an independent act before Alex da Kid got hold of them. They released four EPs and toured America. Lead singer Dan Reynolds said the group was "dead set" on being an independent act.

"We had offers from those labels all throughout the years and we turned them down," he said. "It was so important that we built that organic, independent fan base."

Three of the band members met while "playing jazz together a lot" at the Berklee College of Music.

"I just didn't think I'd ever play with them again, to be honest. I hoped that I would someday," says guitarist Wayne Sermon (bassist Ben McKee and drummer Dan Platzman round out the group). "I called (Reynolds) and he had eight credits left before he could graduate and get his degree, but apparently he didn't care much about that, so he just actually left and dropped everything and came to Vegas."

Meeting Alex da Kid, born Alexander Grant, changed his perception about staying independent. He says the producer filled a void in the band's sound.

"We didn't feel like we were ready as a band. We didn't understand our sound enough and our theme and who were are, and we didn't want to try to tell people that story," Reynolds said. "(Alex) was the perfect match for what we had been trying to do for three years."

It's Time -- the breakthrough anthem for the band -- was built from Reynold's personal issues.

"I've always struggled a bit with depression and anxiety and that song was at a particularly low point for me: I was dropping out of college (and) going through some personal issues," he said. "Late one night I was in my kitchen and I was really just writing a song for myself. I wasn't thinking of writing for the band or anything."

But watching him onstage with his bandmates wouldn't give you the impression that he's struggling with anything: The 25-year-old is wild as he works the crowd with dance moves that shows he's got rhythm and swagger. The tall, slim singer, in fitted jeans and small T-shirt, belts his rock melodies while playing one of the six drum sets onstage.

Looks, of course, can be deceiving.

"I've always dealt with it, my entire life," Reynolds continues about battling depression. "I've never been able to feel like I can fully be myself until I walked onstage and sang a song."

Night Visions is 44 minutes of drum-filled, rock-based melodies that keep the percussion sound forefront. The songs are grounded in ambition: Living life, finding success, making things work and staying positive. On Top of the World and Underdog are self-explanatory. Tiptoe, a song about rising above with an addictive, dance-y vibe, features the repeated line: "I won't fall asleep." And It's Time, which has sold close to two million tracks, is about staying true to oneself.

"There wasn't any real pressure to come up with a hit for (Imagine Dragons)," said Alex da Kid, who also produced hits like B.o.B's Airplanes, Dr. Dre's I Need a Doctor and Lupe Fiasco's Words I Never Said.

"It was really kind of seamless," he continued. "It was very organic."

Imagine Dragons' tour also features rock act Nico Vega, fronted by Reynolds' wife, Aja Volkman. They got married in 2011 and used to perform as a duo called Egyptian. They have a seven-month-old daughter, Arrow, who is also on the road for the tour.

"Nico Vega, in our first year of being a band, took us on tour and they headlined," Reynolds said. "We learned a lot from them and so to now be able to take them on tour and pay it back in some way is special for all of us."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 7, 2013 C7

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