On a certain level, Imagine Dragons’ new album, Evolve, came together much like the band’s previous records.
As he’s done since he was a middle school-hating teenager, frontman Dan Reynolds assiduously recorded a musical idea or soundscape every day—“It’s kind of a journal entry for me,” he explains—and then he and the rest of the group sifted through those ideas and sculpted songs from them.
Reynolds’ most recent daily recording sessions came during a period of great personal transition, however. Imagine Dragons had made a concerted effort to stay off the road and take a breather—the band’s first extended break in years—and Reynolds was focused on making big changes to his life, a process he calls “self-work” and “soul-searching.”
“I needed to go home and reconnect with the Earth, the universe, my family and friends,” the Las Vegan says by phone a few days before leaving for a European festival tour. “Just find a sense of self within the madness of what was Imagine Dragons.”
That soul-searching had a physical component: Reynolds was diagnosed with two “pretty serious autoimmune diseases”—ankylosing spondylitis and ulcerative colitis—and had been working with doctors to get his health in order. From a mental-health standpoint, he was also getting himself back on track.
“Smoke + Mirrors was one of the most dark periods of my life,” he says, referring to 2015’s gold-certified sophomore Imagine Dragons LP. “I was really dealing with a lot depression. I had dealt with it when I was younger, but never to the extreme that I did during Smoke + Mirrors. Looking back, I’m grateful for it, because it really inspired a lot of art and a lot of angst inside of me.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Evolve—out June 23 on Interscope Records—marks a sonic progression for Imagine Dragons. Although the band’s trademark epic choruses are still evident (dig the soaring “Whatever It Takes”), the record is a distillation of the group’s musical strengths: taut synth-pop grooves, hip-hop-influenced vocals and bustling percussion. Highlights include “Thunder,” a hip-hop/electro hybrid with playful production and vibrant rhythms—snapping fingers and foot stomps—and “Yesterday,” which boasts flamboyant glam-rock flourishes.
Evolve’s minimalist approach can also be credited to producers Joel Little, known for his work with Lorde, and pop-leaning duo Mattman & Robin. “We were able to have someone come in and say, ‘No, you don’t need 30 more tracks of symphonic strings,’” Reynolds says of the band’s first experience with outside producers. “It helped us to be honest about what Imagine Dragons was—what the good parts of it are and what the bad parts were—and to peel back the layers and refine our sound.”
Reynolds says taking time off to recharge and gain perspective also had a profound effect on Evolve. “I got to a really healthy headspace, both physically and mentally, and it ended up creating a really colorful album that I’m really proud of. It shows a journey of going from a place of soul-searching in darkness to a place of arrival and happiness.”