Imagine Dragons' Wayne Sermon on how his time playing jazz at Berklee formed the foundation of his pop rock approach

Wayne Sermon
(Image credit: Lisa Lake/Getty Images)

Boasting monthly listening figures of more than 60 million on Spotify alone, Imagine Dragons’ unique pop/rock blend has helped turn them into a global phenomenon. When they released Mercury – Act 1 in 2021, it had been their first album in three years, following up 2018’s Origins

Mercury – Act 2, the second part of the project, came out last summer. The band’s extended absence didn’t seem to have impacted their success, although, according to guitarist Wayne Sermon, they never planned to be away for so long.

“We’d been planning to take a break in 2019, but then the world went crazy, and it became a much longer period off the road than we’d ever imagined,” he says. “We’d been recording almost non-stop, though, so we had tons and tons of music – over 200 demos. We recorded both albums at the same time, but it seemed to make sense to release the records in two parts.” 

Is there still a lot in the can that hasn’t been released?

“Oh lord, yes. [Laughs] We’ve been doing this band for about 12 years, and we do the same for every album where we write and record way more songs than we ever release. We’ve probably got about a thousand songs that have never seen the light of day.”

Rick Rubin produced both albums. What did you learn from working with him?

“Every producer you work with brings something distinctive. When you think of the artists Rick has worked with – that discography – it’s just amazing. It was almost a little intimidating at first. We didn’t know what to expect, but even from our first phone call with him, his energy was just so much in tune with us as a band. He was really warm and kind, and we just gelled immediately.”

Keyboards are a big part of the Imagine Dragons sound, and there are a number of songs where the guitar parts are very minimal. Do you ever feel frustrated – or feel the need to break out the shred?

“[Laughs] Yeah, being in a band is really interesting. I studied guitar at Berklee, but it was mostly jazz, although I’d really been into rock before I went. I think the discipline of being part of an overall ensemble, playing jazz, really informed the way I approached being in Imagine Dragons. The most important thing is the song, and knowing what I can bring to the song – what will work best and what wouldn’t add anything to it. I started to think of the guitar as being part of a greater whole.”

What guitars did you use to record the album?

“Recently I went on a bit of a splurge as far as buying guitars goes. I’ve always wanted to buy some really great guitars, so I went ahead and got some things that I’d always wanted. I got a red ’65 Strat, a ’56 goldtop Les Paul with P-90s and a ’61 ES-335. I also have a ’41 Recording King acoustic. I made the whole album with those vintage guitars.” 

Blur has some unusual tones, particularly on the solo. Was that a slide guitar?

“No. What that is – and it’s actually something we do quite a bit – is [vocalist] Dan [Reynolds] will sing something and put distortion on it and I’ll duplicate it with guitar, so the end result is a kind of unique blend. It all works well together in a strange kind of way.”

Take It Easy has an anthemic feel. I can imagine it’ll be a great crowd-pleaser at your shows.

“It’s so funny you should say that, as I was actually just talking to Dan about this album yesterday and trying to figure out which songs we should play live, because when you have a big catalog of songs, you know people will be disappointed if you miss some things out, but you also want to play some new things. The one we both agreed on that we absolutely had to play live was Take It Easy

“I like the message of the song. Dan and I were raised in very strict religious households, where you never have any doubt. You know who god is, what’s going to happen when you die – all that kind of thing. But then over the years Dan and I have started to have questions about any kind of certainty in life, you know?”

So what’s next? With so much music recorded, is there going to be a Mercury – Act 3?

“No, there won’t be a final part. I think going forward we’ll always be releasing music periodically, at shorter intervals, keeping a steady stream of music going. I think we had the assumption that we could take a few years off and our fans would still want to listen to what we came up with when we came back, but I think it would be a very risky thing to do again. We really appreciate their support and can assure them that we definitely won’t keep them waiting as long in the future for new music.”

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Mark McStea

Mark is a freelance writer with particular expertise in the fields of ‘70s glam, punk, rockabilly and classic ‘50s rock and roll. He sings and plays guitar in his own musical project, Star Studded Sham, which has been described as sounding like the hits of T. Rex and Slade as played by Johnny Thunders. He had several indie hits with his band, Private Sector and has worked with a host of UK punk luminaries. Mark also presents themed radio shows for Generating Steam Heat. He has just completed his first novel, The Bulletproof Truth, and is currently working on the sequel.