Imagine Dragons on their Path to Success, Vegas, Meeting Flavor Flav and Getting Electrocuted

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Things don't look so bad from the top.
If you've caught the lackluster Carell/Buscemi/Carrey comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone since it opened last weekend, you've quickly become well-acquainted with Imagine Dragons' "On Top of the World" if you didn't know the song already. The folky tune is utilized repeatedly in Burt Wonderstone as a go-to motif for when a sequence that's exuberant, uplifting and cathartic--maybe even schmaltzy--is about to unfold. The song is an apt choice for such use not only because it's truly joyful but also because it's about as zeitgeist-y as a musical cue in March 2013 can get.

"On Top of the World" comes from
Night Visions, the 2012 debut full-length by the Las Vegas-rooted Dragons. All this talk of Dragons is convenient since Visions is practically some kind of mythological beast itself. The record is both the product of a young rock band and a dominant force on the Billboard charts; nowadays, albums get to be one but not the other.

As of this writing, Night Visions stands at no. eight on the Billboard 200. Its songs are doing handsomely over on the Hot 100, too, what with "Radioactive" stationed at no. 17 and "It's Time" at 23. If Billboard's recently redesigned site was less of a Rubik's Cube to navigate, we'd be able to tell you more. Just know that "On Top" has done pretty swell for itself, too.

The four-piece, who are in the midst of doing preposterously good touring business (Take a gander at this recently tweeted tour poster), come to House of Blues Anaheim tonight at 7:30 p.m. with Atlas Genius and Nico Vega. Before the show, we caught up with guitarist D. Wayne Sermon. As an interviewee, he's a rare and fascinating combination of affable, open, self-deprecating and business-minded. Press ahead for his thoughts regarding Imagine Dragons' origins, good times, bad times and inspirations (plus a cameo from hip-hop's most unavoidable hype man).


OC Weekly (Reyan Ali): In one of the other stories written about Imagine Dragons, the writer describes the story of the band starting with Dan Reynolds deciding that he's going to move to Las Vegas after school isn't working for him, and then he convinces you to go along, too. Is that accurate? If so, how did he convince you?

D. Wayne Sermon: Yeah, it wasn't that hard to be honest. For whatever reason, it's just something I wanted to do. I had just graduated from school at Berklee College of Music [in Boston], and I was pretty serious about making a career out of it. I just didn't want to get a degree in music and then not use it and go into something else like a lot of people do. I wanted to utilize some of the skills I'd learned and be a musician. It's not quite like being a doctor or lawyer where you can take the LSAT or the MCAT, and go to school for four years, and then boom, you're a doctor. There's extra steps after you graduate music school where you actually have to make it happen so I was kind of serious about it.


I saw in [Dan] some characteristics that I knew that I would need if I was going to start a band with somebody. That person would have to be a good front man and have to obviously have a good voice but most importantly have a knack for songwriting and know what it means to write a good song and know what it means to be able to write hooks and deliver them in a way that's original and unique. He definitely fulfilled that [criteria] for me as someone I would kind of hitch my star to because, y'know, in popular music, so much of it is about that lead singer and about that front man, and what they can do. However good the band might be, if the lead singer or front man isn't up to snuff, then [the band is] sort of dead in the water in a lot of ways. There's definitely a mutual respect between the two of us. When I actually started to move out there, that's when I called two guys I had met at Berklee [Ben McKee and Daniel Platzman], and they were the first two people I thought of when we needed a bass player and a drummer.


When you were first getting the band off the ground, there was a whiteboard you'd write things on. What were some things you specifically wrote on it?


Oh, I wish I could remember all of them. We should have taken a picture of it. I don't recall all that was on there, but I do know that we definitely we wrote a lot of our goals and ambitions for the band. I think the very first one we wrote was probably influences--the bands that we liked and bands we wanted each other to be exposed to and listen to. We all liked the same classic rock bands: Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Boston, Harry Nilsson, Simon & Garfunkel. We all liked that kind of '60s and '70s rock and songwriter stuff. That was cool to be able to have that in common. From there, it diverged quite a bit. There were some of us that liked the Cars and [the] Cure and New Order and Joy Division, and there's others of us that were more '90s kids that listened to Third Eye Blind, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and stuff like that. Between the four of us, we listened to everything.

Early on, you made your bones by playing on the strip in Las Vegas. What was the most entertaining/absurd story or person you encountered while playing the strip?


I remember we were on our way to a gig I think in the Hard Rock Lounge, probably a year into being a band, and we ran into Flavor Flav in the elevator, so we hung out with him and made small talk for about 30 seconds, and then he went off and did his thing and we went off and did our thing. But yeah, we have 30 seconds we will always cherish together in the elevator.


Was there a clock involved or no clock involved?


I don't remember a clock being involved. He must have forgotten it because I don't think he would in his right mind go out without his big clock.


How long did playing on the strip last?


Probably three years. The thing about it was we started doing those sort of gigs more on the side than anything else, to be honest. From the very beginning, we were doing original shows, and there's actually a lot of clubs [in Vegas] for an original band wanting to play original music. That was always what we were doing on the weekends. It was always what we had our eye on. Six months into being a band, we were like, 'Hey, rather than having to get a side job to support what we're doing, why don't we just go to casinos? We're in Vegas. Where else can you get away with going into a lounge and playing somewhere and have them pay you 500 bucks? That's just not something that you get in every city.' We took advantage of it.

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