A year-and-a-half after covering Led Zeppelin in low-rent casinos, Las Vegas rock quartet Imagine Dragons' first album, "Night Visions," debuts at No. 2 on this week's Billboard 200, selling 83,000 copies in its initial week of release, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The rapid rise to mainstream success has left frontman Dan Reynolds flabbergasted, but he credits the surprising bow to a radio push for snappy lead single "It's Time," combined with relentless touring and savvy synchs.
"We've been around for about three-and-a-half years and spent a lot of time on the road, living out of a suitcase, barely scraping by," Reynolds says. "To get to a point where you see things moving like this, where the song is on radio and TV, is the most humbling experience."
Reynolds, guitarist Wayne Sermon, drummer Daniel Platzman and bassist Ben McKee spent years writing songs and balancing live shows of original material with cover gigs before meeting producer Alex Da Kid, known for helming hits by Eminem and B.o.B. The producer began working with Imagine Dragons in summer 2011, and last November, the group signed a joint deal with Alex Da Kid's KIDinaKORNER imprint and Interscope.
"Alex was excited by the challenges of rock music," Interscope vice chairman Steve Berman says. As Imagine Dragons kept taking on live dates, Alex Da Kid's early involvement began with an EP, "Continued Silence," released last February. The six songs featured a mix of guitar buildups and indelible hooks, but the standout track was "It's Time," a proudly inspirational anthem that Reynolds wrote in his kitchen two years ago as he dealt with a bout of depression.
"I was dropping out of college, making some changes, and it wasn't the peak of my life," the singer says. "I was just trying to write a song for myself. I've struggled with depression and anxiety, and the song spurred from that. Whoever connects to it, I'm happy."
Following a South by Southwest gig in March and a spring tour that launched in April, Imagine Dragons performed "It's Time" on "MTV Push Live" in June and on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" in July. Berman recalls that synch opportunities for the song were "aggressively" pursued, and "It's Time" landed in ads for NBC's "Parenthood," TNT's "Major Crimes" and, most notably, the trailer for a buzzed-about feature film, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." Meanwhile, the track kept climbing Billboard's Alternative chart, peaking at No. 4, and continues rising on the Billboard Hot 100, this week moving 63-49 with the Greatest Gainer/Streaming honor.
One day after the album's chart-debut status was made official, "Glee" star Darren Criss performed "It's Time" on the season premiere of the Fox show. "He came out to one of our shows the other day -- totally cool dude," Reynolds says of Criss, adding that "Glee" remains "a show with a great message."
Reynolds says the band will find time to watch the episode during its ongoing mix of headlining dates and support gigs for electronic rock band AWOLNATION through October. Imagine Dragons plan a European tour to wrap up the year, following that with a proper headlining trek in the United States.
As for additional synchs and exposure, "On Top of the World" will be featured in new videogame "FIFA 13," while the band performed "Radioactive" on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" earlier this month. However, "It's Time" will remain the main focus for the foreseeable future, with other synchs in the works. Reynolds says "Radioactive" gets a big reaction at live shows, but has yet to be chosen as a follow-up single, while Berman says, "I'm not even looking at the next track yet."
Reynolds and the rest of Imagine Dragons, on the other hand, are already looking at the follow-up to their just-released hit album. "We're writing, always," he says. "Even on the road, we have our laptops out here, and Wayne and I are always working. So I'm sure there will be a second album that follows sooner rather than later."