By Jay Tilles
As Imagine Dragons edge closer to the announcement of their yet-to-be-named album, frontman Dan Reynolds gives Radio.com readers a peek into their highly anticipated Smoke and Mirrors follow-up.
In a candid interview, Reynolds explains how his rather personal new song “Believer” made its way into a Super Bowl commercial and the story behind the single’s Tron-like artwork. Reynolds also addresses his battle with depression and how the new album appears to be a positive turning point in his life.
Reynolds also reveals, exclusively to Radio.com, an Easter egg found on the album that fans will surely be listening for. After all, it involves a band member’s bare backside.
Why the surprise release of the new single?
When we’re in the studio we never know when something’s gonna be completed. Could be completed in a year, a week, a month, it’s hard to have deadlines. We’ve always had a hard time with that. We didn’t know if the single would be ready or what the single would be and then we finished “Believer” and we knew that this just had to be the song and we had to get it out there. And, we’d been working on the record for a while so we knew the album was pretty close to being done. So the timing just seemed right.
You basically launched the song with a Super Bowl commercial. What’s the story behind the band teaming up with Nintendo for this huge commercial?
It was pretty crazy how that happened. We put the song out and Nintendo contacted us and said, “Hey, we’d like to use this song for the Super Bowl.” We all grew up on Nintendo—N64 was like God’s greatest gift to teenage boys in the ’90s. That was such a big part of my youth and all the guys in the band so it was incredible to be part of a Super Bowl commercial like that. “Believer” had come out and they wanted the song. It happened really fast.
Did you see the commercial air during the Super Bowl?
Believe it or not, I saw the first three-quarters then I had to jump on a plane—we’re working on a new music video right now—so I was actually at the airport during the fourth quarter and I thought the game was all but over. I was about to get on the plane and I hear all these people at the bar screaming. I walked over and saw the score and that it was going into overtime. I had all my family sending me video of the commercial so I kinda saw it second hand. But I didn’t get to see it that way I would have like to.
The single artwork, it looks straight outta Tron. What’s back story on the art?
There’s this incredible artist called Beeple. We found him online and just loved his stuff. I had a visual in my mind of what “Believer” represented for me—just lyrically and kinda the personal message behind it. And the record also has a pretty distinct sound to it this time around. So we knew that we wanted a certain visual. We scoured and scoured and scoured trying to find something and when we came across his work we were super impressed with him, got in touch—love the guy—and came up with the artwork for “Believer.” It basically represents… you see this guy wandering the darkness of space—it’s kind of ’80s—I’ve always been a huge ’80s nerd—and he’s arriving at a place of color and brilliance. Smoke and Mirrors was, like, a really dark record for me and actually a pretty dark time in my life. I’m really proud of what that record was. But it also represents a lot of mental and physical trials for me. Then this last year has been super healthy for me. It’s the best place I’ve been in maybe in my whole life and this record reflects a lot of that and “Believer” is that song that kind of that anchors that transition from a darker place to a place of light and so that visual kind of speaks in that way.
You’ve spoken about the last few years as dark times. Were the times similar to Tyler of Neon Trees’ battle with his LDS upbringing or your battle with AS (Ankylosing Spondylitis) or being a new dad and a rock star?
You know, it was honestly both. It was a spiritual crisis—for sure for me—but that’s been a long time coming for me. Smoke and Mirrors was really a soul-searching record in that way for sure. But it was also physically—I had been diagnosed with two diseases, Ankylosing Spondylitis and Ulcerative Colitis so that was pretty overwhelming for me for sure. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety issues since I was really young but it really came to a head—I think it was just everything—[it was a] spiritual crisis, [trying to] figure out what was going on with my body and things like that and I kind of broke down mentally. Just like everybody else, I’m human. I had to take action. I went to a bunch of therapy, read a lot of self-help books, all that stuff that nobody likes to talk about. But it was really good for me and now I’ve been in this place—I feel like I’ve seen a whole new color to the world. It’s been so incredible. I’ve got twins on the way and a four-year-old girl. I’m a super blessed dude. I’m just trying to appreciate those things.
How does “Believer” compare to other songs on the musically and lyrically?
I think it’s definitely indicative of the sound to come in some regards but there’s definitely some different sonic things going on in the record. I mean, we get bored really easily and we never wanted to create a record where every song sounds the same. But on the same note, we’ve tried to find a little more cohesion to our sound. “Believer” to me, is the first song I’ve ever written in my career that I could stand back and say, that is only Imagine Dragons—that comes from a place that is really authentic to us, it’s very percussive, it has the urban qualities that I’ve always latched onto but it also sounds strange and kind of grand. I feel like it was the right place to start with this record.
Are there any Easter eggs on the album? Did anything out of the ordinary get woven into one the recordings that fans can listen for?
[Laughter] Oh man. Yes, there’s one thing in particular that I want to share with you. I’m not sure if the guys would get mad at me but yeah… [laughter] There’s one song that I think is gonna be on the record. I’m ninety percent sure. And, one of the very prominent noises—I can’t believe I’m sharing this with you—one of the very prominent noises in the song consists of us slapping Ben’s a–. We wanted this very distinct sound and we were like, “You know it sounds like when you slap someone that’s the sound we need for the snare.” We tried a bunch of different things and the thing that worked was a bare a–.
Please say there’s video of Ben dropping his pants and you slapping his a–.
Yeah yeah. I have it on my phone actually. [Dan breaks into giggles again]