'My Entire Life, I've Been the Black Sheep in My Family': Imagine Dragons' Dan Reynolds on the Story Behind the Hit Single 'I Bet My Life'

Eliot Lee Hazel

Imagine Dragons

A lot of this record was written over the last two years. Flashback two years ago, things weren't that crazy yet. To everybody it looked like we blew up overnight, but to us it was just like every day was a little bit bigger than the day before. A lot of these songs, including the single, were written during that time period. The same process we used for the first album was basically used for the second album. At the end of the day, after the show, I would go back to my hotel room. I'm a bit of a recluse, so that's what I do every single day. I go into my hotel room and record a song, or start an idea, or record some thoughts or write down some lyrics. "I Bet My Life" was one of those songs which started like that, really organically.

Is that often how you end up writing tracks -- you come up with a part of something and take it to the group?

Totally. It'll usually start on my laptop in the hotel, I'll work out the basic skeletal structure of a song. Or Wayne, our guitarist, will send me guitar riffs and I'll piece that together and build the basic structure of a beat and things around it. Then it always comes to the entire band, and we'll play it in the live setting, and that's where it really comes to life.

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This song is about your relationship with your parents?

Like many teenagers, I really hit heads with my parents at times growing up. My mom and dad are from a really conservative background, so when I told them I wanted to be a musician, that obviously wasn't a thing that they particularly wanted to hear. But my entire life I've been the black sheep in my family and been in and out of trouble. So the song's about my relationship with my parents, but still celebrating through it all everything that we've been through. We try to see past our differences and celebrate the relationship that we have and that we still share today.

Have they heard the song? Have you guys talked about it?

Right before we were gonna release the single, I sat down with my mom and my dad and I played it for them. It's kind of why I started music as a teenager, to say things that I couldn't necessarily say. I played ["I Bet My Life"] for my parents and I think they kind of knew, and when I hinted at it, it was a little bit of emotional moment.

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People have been comparing the sound of this song to Mumford & Sons.

Before we released our first album we released four EPs, and there's really a lot of different sounds and themes that have gone on in our music. I think the last thing we wanted to do was pigeonhole ourselves. With "I Bet My Life," I can't really plot it in a genre -- to me it sounds like Imagine Dragons. It's a weird genre-bending thing. We brought in a gospel choir and we sampled them. They had some really cool riffs, so we cut it up and sampled it and put it to a hip-hop beat. And then there's an electric guitar that's reverbed out, some weird cowboy guitar we put in on the verses, a big bluesy solo on the electric guitar on the end. Whatever people want to call it, that's fine.

Is there anything you can say about how the next album is coming?

We tell our fans to continue to expect the unexpected. Not to say that in a way like, it's cool, expected the unexpected, but really that's just what we're creating. And a lot of our favorite artists through the year, whether its Harry Nilsson or the Beatles, they change and they evolve. Hopefully we'll continue to do that.

An edited version of this article first appeared in the Dec. 13 issue of Billboard.