Vegas, 2002. Pay phones were as plentiful as CD players, and the Huntridge was where you played, but only if your band was going somewhere. The Killers played that stage, then sold out Wembley Stadium a decade later. In the meantime, the city became a launching pad for another platinum-selling rock band, Imagine Dragons. And though the two have played festivals together in other cities and countries, their guitar players had never met … before now. And I had never attempted a three-way international phone call.
Wayne Sermon: First of all, I just want to say how awesome it is that we’re doing this. I’m a big fan, and Imagine Dragons has a lot of respect for you guys as the torchbearers of the Las Vegas music scene.
Dave Keuning: Well, thanks. I enjoy your stuff, as well. There was one of your singles I heard before I knew it was you guys [“Every Night”], and I was like, “Wait, that’s Imagine Dragons? They’re huge. I’ve heard that song everywhere!”
WS: I’m curious what the scene was like before we got there, to have to start off in a city that wasn’t known for live music.
DK: It seems like another era now. When we used to go to the Boston and check out bands for free, you’d just walk in and there’d be a band playing almost every night. Cafe Roma was another place that would have bands a few times a week, also free to go. And the Junkyard was around—we had some of our first shows there. Almost every place we played at no longer exists … and a lot of the bands we used to do shows with are gone. We came out of nowhere, style-wise. Most of the bands were punk or metal, and we come in with this ... whatever we sound like. Nobody was doing that, so we stuck out like a sore thumb, for better or worse. You know, a lot of people hated us for it, and a lot of people thought it was a nice surprise. I wouldn’t even know where to go if I was in town and I just wanted to see a band, I guess sometimes there’s bands at the Beauty Bar.
Corlene Byrd: When was the last time you were Downtown?
DK: Once or twice a year I go down there. It’s changed a lot.
WS: I remember our first show pretty vividly. It was this place called Sinister Rock Bar. We’d been a band for probably six days. I had just moved to Las Vegas. We did, like, a week of rehearsals, we got some songs together and we practiced for eight hours each of those days. We were frantically trying to get things together, so that sort of set the whole pace of our band. We’ve been like that ever since, just at this frantic pace. Since then we’ve played other places like Beauty Bar, the Cheyenne Saloon and the Bunkhouse. We also played a lot on the Strip, doing half covers, half original. We’d play in the lounges at Mandalay Bay; we played at O’Sheas, which was unbelievable. The stage was, like, 5 feet by 5 feet.
DK: We didn’t playing covers on the Strip, but we did play a show at Gameworks. We did a battle of the bands there. That was interesting.
CB: Have either of you been exposed to bands that cover your music?
DK: No, I want to. I’d love to drop in and watch people play our songs. I’d just like to watch the guitar player and be like, That’s not what I do.
WS: Yeah, it’s interesting to hear the reinterpretations of your guitar parts. I think we were in Florida, playing this show in a club and walking down the alleyway, and we heard “Radioactive” being played live. It was coming from next door, and it was a church; there was a Christian band covering “Radioactive.” So we kinda snuck in there and taught them how to play it. So that was kind of a weird experience as far as covers.
CB: What do you think Life Is Beautiful could mean for the city?
DK: I think Vegas should definitely have a yearly festival, whatever it is.
WS: I totally agree. We’ve had a chance to do a lot of festivals now, and we’ve definitely grown to love the environment. Our favorite part has always been meeting other bands. There’s a certain kind of isolation to doing your own tour, so when you go to a festival, you see other bands and you can talk and reconnect with why you’re doing it in the first place.
DK: I know exactly what he’s talking about. You get up, you go inside, you soundcheck, you eat, you play the show, you get back on the bus and do that over and over again. You can kinda get to be in your own little world after a while, and the festival breaks it up a little bit.
CB: Dave, is there any advice you can give Wayne as he gets ready for his first arena headlining tour?
DK: Just have fun and try extra hard to entertain people. … And don’t be shy about stuff onstage. I know sometimes with me, I feel awkward moving around, but I also feel like that’s what I’m supposed to do. They didn’t just pay to watch me stand there. … Sometimes I stop and think in the middle of the show that there’s this many people here. You know, it all starts with a dream in your bedroom, practicing guitar. If you remember that, you’ll appreciate those arena shows.
WS: Not that long ago we all rented a band house together, eating ramen and scraping by.
CB: I still remember the meals Dave used to eat, like Cheetos with rice.
DK: I made rice and ramen noodles, because you could get a bag of rice for, like, three bucks down the street. I did everything to flavor it up. I’d either slice some hot dogs …
CB: You used ketchup. You had condiments.
WS: A little bit of ketchup, that’s genius!
DK: That’s all I had! I would put that in the rice so it wasn’t just rice. When we got a little bit of money, I was maxed out on ramen noodles, so I have not had ramen noodles since, and I will never have ramen noodles again.
DK: I heard you were playing on a Bilt Guitar. That’s pretty cool, ’cause you’re the only other person I know who has one.
WS: Yeah, I heard you got some awhile back as well. Those guys are pretty awesome. They’re cool guys, and they sort of just do whatever you wanna do.
DK: Yeah, they’re cool guitars, and most people don’t know they exist.
WS: Does yours have any effects in it or anything, or is it just the guitar?
DK: No, I’ve got some effects in it. I’ve got one with a little bit of drive and delay, and I’ve got another one that I specially modified with an octave thing in it. It’s pretty cool, pretty unique and I use it a little bit here and there on Battle Born.
CB: Do either of you have advice for current Vegas bands?
DK: Find your sound and work hard on your songs and hope people like you for who you are.
WS: Just keep going, ’cause when other people quit and you keep going, that’s what separates you.
Imagine Dragons Saturday, October 26, 6:45-7:45 p.m., Life Is Beautiful Festival's Downtown Stage
The Killers Sunday, October, 27, 9:40-11:10 p.m., Life Is Beautiful Festival's Downtown Stage