Music

Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds reveals the music that saved his life

Dan Reynolds of million-selling US rock band Imagine Dragons tells us about the artists who shaped his activism and songwriting, on The Music That Made Me.

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Music can save a life, inspire activism, bring joy and release grief. It has done all these things for Dan Reynolds. And as the singer of Grammy-winning American rock band Imagine Dragons, he wants to make his fans feel the same way.

“I think music is more powerful than spoken words. I think it saves lives. I would say music has saved my life,” he says.

Reynolds has long been known for wearing his heart on his sleeve, openly talking about his struggles with mental ill health and his Mormon faith, through both Imagine Dragons’ music and his social media. His sense of responsibility to his audience is obvious. For Reynolds, it isn’t good enough to go through the motions and collect the cheque. The moment that happens, he says, “is when I’m going to quit music”.

In 2018 Imagine Dragons were the most streamed group on Spotify, but the pressures of global touring were starting to make the singer “feel numb”. Not long after, he put the band on a long hiatus. He took time off to “be a dad and a normal person” and to refind himself.

As Imagine Dragons return with an emotional new album, produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, Reynolds (below, pictured front) tells us about the music that has helped him get through hard times, as well as the artists who have shaped his activism and his songwriting.

Dan Reynolds (second from the left) and Imagine Dragons. Credit: Eric Ray Davidson

Dan Reynolds
The Music That Made Me

Catharsis from Cat Stevens

I grew up listening to a lot of Cat Stevens. I remember when I was about 12, I was dealing with depression for the first time in my life. I listened to Father and Son by Cat Stevens. And that was the first song that really moved me to tears. I remember sitting in bed and crying, listening to the song and thinking, “Wow. This is what I want to do. I want to impact people with music, in the way that this is impacting me.” It made me feel less alone, made me feel heard. All the things that music does for people. Certainly creating it, for me, is incredibly cathartic.

Joy and grief in Graceland

One album that I always turn to is Graceland by Paul Simon. I can always put on and it makes me smile. There’s one line in particular that always hits me really hard: “And she said, ‘Losing love / Is like a window in your heart / Everybody sees you’re blown apart / Everybody sees the wind blow’.” I love that line. Something about that imagery is so real for me, with grief and losing people you love. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to that song. It’s made me happy when it comes to that part. And then I’m crying. And then I’m smiling. That’s the beauty of music. And I’m always chasing that. Songwriting is making someone feel joy and happiness. But also, maybe they cry, and maybe they feel a cathartic release. That’s always my goal.

Harry Nilsson. Credit: Kevin Dooley

The underrated Harry Nilsson

Probably the most influential artist, for me, is Harry Nilsson. He was most of The Beatles’ favourite artist. The song Everybody’s Talkin’ has always been important to me. His album Nilsson Schmilsson is one of my favourite records. Most people I talk to don’t actually know who Harry Nilsson is. Man, what a travesty.

The music that inspired Dan Reynolds to be an LGBTQ+ ally

Tyler Glenn is the singer of the band called Neon Trees. We grew up together. We both were raised in Mormonism. We went on a Mormon mission to Nebraska before either of us had bands. Tyler came home, started the band Neon Trees. I started Imagine Dragons. We didn’t quite fit with Mormonism. Tyler ended up coming out [as gay] later, and the amount of blowback he got from a lot of his fans who were Mormon was devastating for him. And it was devastating, as his friend, to watch that. To see all these people turn their backs on him for being who he was, and had been since he was a kid. He’d had to hide it for decades. Tyler really inspired me to get involved. [Reynolds now runs the LOVELOUD festival in Utah, to “celebrate our LGBTQ+ friends and family”.]

On stage with Third Eye Blind

As a child of the Nineties one of my favourite bands was Third Eye Blind. Stephan [Jenkins, Third Eye Blind singer] is just such a character. He says what he wants to say. He’s a rock star in the realest sense. We were playing a festival and Third Eye Blind was there. Stephan came up and said hello and I was like, “Wow, it’s so great to meet you. You know I love your stuff.” He’s like, “Well, why don’t you come on stage with me and sing Jumper?” So I did. But that actually wasn’t the moment. The moment for me was after, I was sitting on the side of the stage and he’s singing Motorcycle Drive By, which is in my top five favourite songs of all time. I’ve seen all the greats, but that moment is one of my all-time favourite moments ever with live music. If you would have told a 12-year-old Dan Reynolds: one day you’re gonna sing Jumper with Third Eye Blind and sit on side stage and watch them play Motorcycle Drive By…? I mean that was it for me, you know? It was an out-of-body experience. I felt every emotion at once.

Imagine Dragons’ new album Mercury – Act 1 is out now

 @laurakaykelly

Watch the full series of The Music That Made Me here. Featuring Imelda May, Fran Healy, Eddy Grant and more!

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