Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons isn’t a band that rests on its laurels. The Las Vegas-based group, whose hit single “Radioactive” earned a 2014 Grammy for “Best Rock Performance,” spent much of the past two years writing and recording more than 100 demos for the follow-up to their double-platinum 2012 album, Night Visions. Slated for release February 17, Smoke + Mirrors finds the quartet further refining their melody driven, sonically adventurous sound. Guitarist Wayne Sermon spoke with us about the band’s influences, his favorite Gibsons, and the guitarists who impacted him most.

Did you have an over-arching goal as you were making the new album?

Not really. I feel when you start thinking in terms of strategy, or how you want an album to sound, that’s sort of a dangerous game. During the last two years, since the first record blew up, our lives have changed in just about every possible way. I feel the album is sort of a journal entry for all of us, representing the insanity we’ve experienced during that time. That’s true for every member of the band, and especially so for [frontman] Dan [Reynolds], as the lyricist. The theme that emerged was one of being on the road, and the ups and downs that come with being musician—the amazing things that happen and the lows, too.

Who are the band’s musical influences?

Our common influences are classic rock and singer-songwriter stuff from the ‘60s and ‘70s. We all listened to Paul Simon, Harry Nilsson, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, David Bowie—all the great stuff from those eras. After that it diverges a great deal. It sounds clichéd, but for me The Beatles were the best band in the world. They’re my number one influence.

Who impacted you most as a guitarist?

I don’t ever remember not knowing who George Harrison was. I spent a lot of time in my Dad’s studio. He had an audiophile-quality amplifier and a really nice record player, and I would listen to The Beatles all the time. Harrison’s playing was always so tasteful—exactly what it needed to be, never any fluff. I also loved Boston--the sounds Tom Scholz got, and his melodic approach to solos. It was never about finger-tapping or shredding, or how many notes he could play. Instead it was about powerful melodies that sounded good. That impacted me at a young age.

Imagine Dragons

Can you tell us about the Gibsons you play?

I play a Les Paul Goldtop when we cover Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” in the live shows. I also play Gibson acoustics--a J-45 and a Honky Tonk Deuce. Right now the Honky Tonk Deuce is my favorite acoustic. That’s what I play on-stage. It has a pair of dice on the pickguard--a bit of a shout-out to Las Vegas, which I like as well.

What do you like about the J-45?

The J-45 is probably on our records more than any other guitar. I play it live, but I also use it in the studio all the time, because it records so well. It has such an identifiable sound. More than with any other guitar, I can listen to an album and tell you whether or not it’s a J-45 I’m hearing. The J-45 and the Honky Tonk Deuce were pretty much the only acoustics I had in the studio.

Can you characterize, sonically, what the difference is between the two?

The Honky Tonk Deuce has lots of “low end” and clarity. It’s very versatile, good for a lot of different things. The J-45 has those things as well, although it’s a different sort of beast. I think of the J-45 as more of a singer-songwriter guitar. They each have their own distinct sound, a sound that’s easily identifiable. One song might call for one, and another song might call for the other.

You’re also known to play an SG.

Actually the guitar I used for the solo on “Hopeless Opus,” from the new album, is a Jeff Tweedy Signature SG. It’s an awesome guitar.

How do you see the role of the guitar in Imagine Dragons?

I’m mostly concerned with adding textures. Sometimes there’s a guitar part where people don’t even know it’s a guitar. That’s especially true of the new album. There’s actually more guitar on this album than on the last one. When we were writing, I would send Dan tons of guitar parts—put them on a USB drive and stick them on his computer. He would take them and build a song around them. Of course there are also moments where I shine through a bit more—on “I’m So Sorry,” for instance. Rather than creating a texture, I’m sort of the driving force on that song.

What’s surprised you most about having such huge success?

The main thing is that now we’re able to do what we do on a much larger scale. That makes us happy. We wake up grateful every day for that. But the dynamic between the four of us is the same as it’s always been. It’s just four of us making music. We never want to be a band that argues or fights. Right now we just want to strike while the iron is hot, and get our music out to as many people as we can.