How to Hatch a Dragon

Looking back at the birth of Imagine Dragons on the eve of their Life Is Beautiful headlining gig

Imagine Dragons | Photo by Anthony Mair

Imagine Dragons | Photo by Anthony Mair

Since the 2012 release of Night Visions, Las Vegas has had to relinquish sole ownership of rockers Imagine Dragons. Their debut major-label album has been a runaway hit, spawning two platinum singles, “It’s Time” and “Radioactive.” The latter is a bass-heavy, dubstep-inspired, lighter-raising anthem of the apocalypse, and it requires 26-year-old frontman Dan Reynolds to enthusiastically bang an enormous drum—taller than his lanky 6-foot-4 frame—onstage. He will ostensibly do this on the Dragons’ upcoming international tour (the band’s second), and again on their first American arena tour. But before all that, Imagine Dragons will play a homecoming show by headlining the Life Is Beautiful festival on October 26.

Reynolds, the soft-spoken, fourth-generation Nevadan, suddenly finds himself in the surreal position of being hailed across the globe as a rock god. “I’m really trying to soak everything in,” he says, “But it’s a bit overwhelming.”

So how did they get here? The band’s origin story is as organic as they come. Reynolds had just dropped out of college in Utah when he met guitarist Wayne Sermon through a mutual friend. The two hit it off musically and decided to head back to Reynolds’ hometown of Las Vegas, where, as he puts it, “I knew two guys” (the roster has shifted somewhat over the years, but now includes bassist Ben McKee and drummer Daniel Platzman). A week after forming, Imagine Dragons—an anagram of another phrase only known to band members—booked a gig at the now-defunct Sinister Rock Bar and then started playing casinos to make ends meet, performing a mix of cover songs and original music. “We were competing with the slot machines,” Reynolds remembers dryly. “It was definitely good for us. We had to get people’s attention.”

As they gained fans on the Strip, Imagine Dragons released a handful of EPs on their own, despite being courted by labels. “We had a lot of developing to do,” Reynolds says. “It was too early. We didn’t feel ready.” But turning down initial offers and building their own grassroots fan base ended up working. “What they say is, once you don’t need a label is when you sign,” Reynolds says. They chose hip-hop producer Alex Da Kid, whose label KIDinaKORNER is owned by industry giant Interscope Records. Da Kid and Interscope promised Imagine Dragons full creative control on Night Visions, which Reynolds says was what sealed the deal.

Now, just more than a year after the album’s release, the band is enjoying a newfound level of fame. Their first headlining tour brought them to The Joint in February, and now Life Is Beautiful brings them back home again. “We get asked every single day about different shows, and we turn down almost all of them.” Reynolds says. “But this was a no-brainer. The city is literally a part of us. We wouldn’t be here without it.” He can’t divulge any details about the festival show, but hints that fans can expect more surprises, like when he swung out over the audience at The Joint on a rope, Cirque du Soleil-style. “I wanted it to be a little spectacular,” he admits. “Maybe it’s being from Vegas, but I like pushing boundaries.”


Noon to midnight Oct. 26-27, Fremont East Entertainment District (enter at Sixth and Carson), $95 single day admission, $159.50 for both days, VIP/Culinary Parties extra,

Back to your Life is Beautiful Guide. 

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Vegas/Rated magazine. View the issue or download the Vegas/Rated app.