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[The Weekly Chat]

Nico Vega’s Aja Volkman on marrying Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds and bringing their baby on tour

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Nico Vega.
Photo: Frank Ockenfels

The tables have turned since Las Vegas favorites Imagine Dragons used to open for her band, but Nico Vega singer Aja Volkman doesn’t harbor a grudge. Maybe that’s because her husband happens to be Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds. The Weekly caught up with Volkman to get the latest on her family and both bands.

What has it been like seeing the success of Imagine Dragons from the inside? It’s happening really, really fast, so it’s hard to keep up with. Dan knows what it’s like, because he plays the shows and sees how crazy it is, but then he just comes home and we have a normal life. We walk around and nobody knows who he is and nothing is different at all.

Had you heard much about Imagine Dragons prior to meeting Dan? We were actually on tour, and my lawyer—Robert Reynolds, who is now my brother-in-law—asked if we would mind if Imagine Dragons, his brother’s band, opened our show at Wasted Space. It’s so funny, because Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees were both opening for us. There is a long list of bands we’ve toured with who have had so much success. I think it’s amazing that all of our friends are becoming successful.

So we met at that show. I was kind of at a place in my life where I thought, “This guy is so cute, but I’m not really interested in meeting anybody right now.” But we really just fell in love, and about a year later we ended up getting married and then we had a baby.

The Details

NICO VEGA
Opening for Imagine Dragons, with Atlas Genius.
February 9, 8 p.m., $21-$26. The Joint, 693-5222.

It was probably one of the greatest nights of my life, because I met somebody who just made perfect sense to me, and I think I made perfect sense to him. What’s really funny is, I didn’t actually watch his show that night. I was up in my hotel room, and I didn’t watch the show, so I fell in love with Dan without ever seeing him play any music. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if he had been awful, because I was just in love with him. Then I saw him perform months later and I was like, whoa!

How will touring with your husband change now that you have a child? Arrow will be on the road with us, and I think that’s probably going to be the hardest thing. I really want to be a good mother who is keeping her daughter really safe, and I don’t want to be irresponsible and stupid about things. I also don’t want to be one of those people who is an overprotective germaphobe.

We’re bringing help on the road with us—a close friend who can help me with the baby. My band is also really supportive and amazing. They love her and they are so amazing with her. And my management has been really supportive. I can’t think of a better place for me as an artist to be than where I’m at with my label and my management, because they’re so great. When I told them I was going to have a baby, I thought they were all just going to be like, “What?” and freak out, because we had just made a record. But everybody was cool to wait a year and release it and make it work. I couldn’t believe they still wanted to work with me.

Imagine Dragons singer Dan Reynolds—husband to Niko Vega's Aja Volkman—performs on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

It looks like you were performing pretty late into your pregnancy. With all your dancing and the level of energy you bring to the stage, what was that like? It was amazing. We went on tour with Neon Trees, and I was about seven-and-a-half to eight months pregnant, and I feel like it was my best live experience to date.

A lot of it is that when you’re a pregnant lady and you walk onstage, people automatically love you. As an opener, it’s always hard to open for a band, because you never know what people are going to think. But as a pregnant lady the response was just amazing. I felt really free to just tromp around barefoot with my big belly. It wasn’t really harder physically, because you just adjust as you get more pregnant. At that stage I felt like I was still able to dance around. The first time I jumped up on the kick drum when I was pregnant, I watched everybody in the audience have a look of shock on their faces, so I decided I probably didn’t need to do that anymore.

Your website says, “Nico Vega isn’t just a band—it is a way of life.” Can you explain that? I think we created something in our minds that was sort of like a self-empowerment project. A lot of the music started out to be a sort of confidence booster, sort of taking the underdog and communicating that you can be as powerful as you want to be and believe in yourself and have a voice for yourself. I think we all three had felt like we had come from that position at different points in our lives and had kind of risen up to our own individualities and bonded together. That was kind of our message. The whole point of it is that it lifts us all up, and we do it so other people feel empowered.

Your website also mentions that you try to write politically minded songs. Could you tell me a bit about that, especially as it relates to the new record? I shouldn’t even use the word “political,” because I don’t feel that they’re political; I feel that they’re social. I feel they are songs written for the people and for them to believe in themselves. There’s a song on the record called “Protest Song,” and in my mind it was about awful things that have happened in the past and how there are so many suppressive parts of humanity, with one group suppressing another group and it becoming a social norm. So there are some things like that on the record, and also things about standing up and having a voice and believing what you believe in.

What are the release plans for your new album? We don’t have the exact date yet, but we’re going to be releasing an EP in February to roll out some of the tracks off the new record and get people amped about it. I would imagine the record would come out in early summer.

Why did you decide to add a fourth member (Jamila Weaver) to the touring lineup? When you take Rich [Koehler] and Dan [Epand] and I, as amazing as it’s been in the past, when you put us up against the huge live bands we’re touring with that have however many parts, I think that sonically, it is hard to distinguish the bass from the guitar riffs, because Rich plays both of them through an octave pedal. It kind of muddies up the sound, which can be really cool, but when you’re in this great, big room you just want people to really hear everything clearly. When you put us up against bands like Imagine Dragons, I don’t want to seem like we’re a garage-rock band.

Your voice is so powerful and intense. Did you have any formal vocal training? I think I found it on my own. When I was younger I did sing in choir, and when my voice dropped I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went from being a soprano to being a contralto. That was about sixth or seventh grade, and I quit singing for years because I was embarrassed about it. Then I found Janis Joplin and Tina Turner and it was like, okay, I can still sing!

The band’s been together for almost eight years now. Did you have a backup plan if music as a career did not work out? None of us have ever had a backup plan. Somehow, we have just pieced it together and made it work. It really helps when you’re in a band where you’ve built your fanbase from the ground up, because when you tour extensively you gain fans even if you haven’t had large commercial success or publicity. And I think we’ve been really fortunate to do it in that way so we have a sustainable fanbase.

Nico Vega has toured with some big names like No Doubt and Blondie. Do you have a favorite group or person you’ve shared a bill with? Blondie was amazing; Debbie Harry is just amazing—I was in awe backstage. My favorite tour to date though was with a band called The Soundtrack of Our Lives. They’re out of Sweden, and they are just the most loving, amazing people. You know when you watch Almost Famous? It was like being on the road with a real vintage rock band. I felt like I had warped into a different reality for three weeks. I could not believe that I had to go home after that.

We’ve also toured with Gavin Rossdale. He’s like meeting a prince. He’s the most charming, sweet guy ever. The tour with Imagine Dragons where we took them on the road a few years ago before they were signed was so much fun. We went to places in Northern California, and we were canoeing and then we were running on the beach at night in Santa Cruz. It’s fun when you go with a band that wants to hang out.

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