Interview: Imagine Dragons

"We sit around and we fantasise about the Peking duck we had the last time we were in Hong Kong"
imagine dragons
By Graham Turner |
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Las Vegas stadium rulers Imagine Dragons have built themselves a huge worldwide fanbase through their accessible and anthemic tunes. Yet, they manage to appeal to the more discerning music fans with their darker, more introspective songs such as I Don't Know Why – the doom-laden opener to their latest album, Evolve – and the vibey, trip-hop leanings of songs like Dancing In The Dark. They return to Hong Kong after a triumphant performance in 2013 and judging from the conversation we had with bassist Ben Mckee, it's going to be epic...

Your new album employs the kind of grandiose soundscapes that you guys are known for but seems somewhat more considered, more scaled back. Why is that?Well, when we were doing Evolve, we decided that we wanted to collaborate with some producers, have some people come in and help us stay focussed. We had over a hundred demos that we had written and we would bring the strongest ones into the studio and just flesh them out until they had the full, lush soundscapes that Imagine Dragons has come to be known by. But working with other producers, I think that they helped us to focus a little more on finding the right sounds, trying to make everything just sound right, not necessarily just trying to add more to it. Everything was a little more balanced and focussed this time around.

You guys got through that hard sophomore album with flying colours. Do you feel that maybe you earned the right to experiment a little bit more on this album?
We never try to replicate something we’ve already done before. In fact, I think we probably actively try to avoid doing that. We're inspired by the new music we hear, it shows us new directions that music can go. We really like pushing the boundaries of what popular music is and we’ve tried to not fit into any box. We make music that we relate to, that inspires us and it’s very freeing to be able to not be bound to one genre.

How’s the latest album been to play live? Does it lend itself to a cleaner live experience because it's a bit more dialled back?
You know, we’re just getting into the meat of our North American tour and this album live is feeling better than anything we’ve ever put out before. We’re not a band that just plays an exact transcription of our albums on stage. There’s different sections expanded, different parts that we’ve added. We keep the music fresh and interesting for ourselves. After we’ve written the album we don’t just go and play it on stage, we go and try to figure out how we can best perform that album on stage and how the songs fit into a live environment which is different from those songs fitting into a studio environment. We’ve really focussed on trying to make ourselves a bigger part of the show. We’re trying to engage with fans a lot more because they feel that one-on-one interaction and connection with us - trying to make a huge stadium feel like a small club as much as possible. We have some surprises that we’ve been throwing out there that people have not been expecting. Hopefully it hasn’t completely been revealed on social media, but we have a few cards up our sleeves.

Have you been enjoying the tour?
Oh yeah. This is, I think, the most fun that we’ve been having for a long time together. We took a little break and focussed back on the music. I think this music came from a positive place and that positivity is coming through on stage and beyond, into our personal lives. I think just being in a more positive space when we created this music has us living in a bubble of optimism.

Here in Asia, you guys have a really strong following. Why do you think your music resonates so much with audiences here while a lot of your contemporaries have struggled?
I think it probably has something to do with our openness to play different styles of music and be influenced by different things. We maybe have a more global sound than a lot of bands like us. We allow ourselves to be influenced by world music and by artists that aren’t just from the US. I think that we also really try to make music that comes from an honest place and people can tell when your music is real and when it’s being forced. If somebody’s going out there and they’re trying to write a song to fit into a certain niche, to try to capatalise on a new fad, I think that fans are smart enough to be able to understand that and see that and they’re not going to connect with that as much as a song that is written from a real place. That’s just communication – the more honest a foundation that communication is coming from, the more universal the appreciation of that music can be.

What made you want to come back to Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is amazing. I can’t think of one thing that I didn’t like about Hong Kong. We sit around and we just fantasise about the Peking duck we had there after we went out and got suits made to match the characters from Dumb and Dumber.

Oh yeah, the orange and blue ones…
They were custom made for our charity foundation –the Tyler Robinson Foundation – that helps to raise money for the unforeseen costs to families that are struggling with children who have cancer. It helps to pay for their groceries, their mortgage on their house when they have to quit their job etc. So, we got those suits made for the big annual fundraiser event and I think we actually got a lot of good attention for the event from those, so we’ll probably get something more ridiculous made next time we’re out there.

You guys have stuck together through a meteoric rise, stayed at the top of your game while negotiating some stormy weather. That kind of pressure affects a lot of bands relationships, but you guys seem to have managed to stay quite close for a long time now…
We’ve been through a lot together and it hasn’t all been the best of times. All of the struggles, I think they’ve managed to bring closer together. I think it’s easy to give up if you’re in it for the wrong reasons but we’ve all been committed to this – to making music and really to this band, we believed in it from the beginning and have really given it our all. I think we all have a foundation of respect for each other because we know how much every one of us has sacrificed in our lives to keep this going and how little of a chance of success we had at the beginning. You know, the chances of being successful as a rock band are basically zero, it’s just never ever going to happen. It’s like winning the lottery and striking oil at the same time without trying. We didn’t want the reason we weren’t going to be successful to be through lack of effort. We’re very grateful for the position that we’re in and thankful for the fans that we have that have elevated us to the level where we can travel around the world and go back to Hong Kong and do a show for our fans there. That alone is reason enough for every bit of sacrifice we’ve made.

It’s obvious you spend a lot of time reflecting, taking stock on where the band’s at and where you came from…
Well you know, we’ve all been musicians for our whole lives. We grew up playing music with our friends. We all went to college to study music and we’ve seen our friends, just like us, going down the same path who’ve sacrificed so much and haven’t had the same success we’ve had. I think we all really appreciate what a fortunate position we’re in and want to take advantage of that opportunity and really be grateful for what we can give back to the communities that have been so good to us whenever we can. 

What can we expect from the show and do you have a message for your fans here who are frothing at the bit to see you guys?
You know, getting into this tour and taking this music onto the stage, this is the most exciting thing. This is the most dynamic live show that we have ever put on as a band. We have managed to create an intimate environment within venues that we’re playing that I don’t think I’ve ever seen at a concert of this size before. We are in your face and it’s just amazing to be able to have this close interaction with all of our fans every night. It’s inspiring for us and I think that the fans in Hong Kong are going to find it inspiring too. We are so excited and we are going to bring a huge show out there for them.

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