At the Grammys this Sunday, Imagine Dragons will be competing for awards against everyone from Daft Punk and Lorde to Led Zeppelin and Jack White. If you think their odds are slim in light of that competition, you’re not alone: Lead singer Dan Reynolds isn’t exactly making room on a shelf for a statuette.
“Let me just say that we are definitely not going into this thinking we’re going to win a Grammy,” Reynolds says from his Vegas home. “We’re up for Record of the Year, and ‘Radioactive’ was a big song. But songs like ‘Blurred Lines’ were huge. If I were a voter, I’d be like, ‘Robin Thicke was at the VMAs with his pin-striped suit, and Lorde is cute — and who are Imagine Dragons? I have no idea what those dudes even look like!’ When that’s the take, you know you’re not going to win that award.”
Last year, “Radioactive” sold nearly 5.5 million digital copies, making it the third-biggest-selling digital track of 2013. But Reynolds doesn’t think that will help them snag Best Rock Performance either; his band is up against White, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin (the version of “Kashmir” from their live reunion album Celebration Day), Alabama Shakes and Queens of the Stone Age. “I’m not counting on winning against people I worship,” he says. “I’ve seen Jack White multiple times and he was awesome every time. I can’t even get started on Bowie. Queens of the Stone Age — Josh Homme is the man. These dudes are the real deal and been around for years. I’d be more than happy if Alabama Shakes won. Brittany Howard has an amazing voice. I don’t even feel deserving at this point in our career to be nominated. If I were to win, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d be too embarrassed to walk up and accept.”
Reynolds is no stranger to Grammy wagering. Growing up in Vegas, he partook in a particularly regional family tradition while watching Grammy live telecasts. “My mom would us make predictions about who would win beforehand,” he recalls. “It was this big ordeal. Everyone put in a nickel for every nomination, and whoever won got all the nickels. It was just a little money, but there had to be some gambling — it’s a Vegas tradition. We also did that for the Oscars.”
The annual Grammy show has made a name for itself by pairing up acts for duets (Kanye West and Daft Punk, Elton John and Lady Gaga), and on Sunday, Imagine Dragons will be performing with Kendrick Lamar. According to longtime Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich, the suggestion came from Lamar. “I wanted Kendrick on the show, and he came to a meeting and right out of his mouth, he mentioned three acts he’d want to be with, and one of them was Imagine Dragons,” says Ehrlich. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to give them a full slot, so now you have two acts I want to have. There’s a match somewhere with ‘Radioactive’ and ‘M.A.A.D City’ or another Kendrick track. All we do is say, ‘Get together and see if you can do something.’”
Reynolds insists the hookup isn’t as left-field as it may sound. “We’re all fans of Kendrick,” he says. “We’ve been playing his record on the tour bus. We’re more influenced by hip-hop than most rock bands. I was into 2Pac and Biggie, and to me, Kendrick reminds me of that era. He feels authentic.”
Both acts recently met to map out ideas. “We don’t know what songs we’re going to play yet,” Reynolds says, “but it will be mashup of some sort between us. Neither of us wants it to be forced. It’ll be us as a full band and him performing how he usually performs. For a lot of people this will be the first time seeing either of us, so this is a real chance for people to put a name to the face. Which,” he chuckles, “is probably for the worst, since we’re not that good looking.”
In addition to the Grammy telecast, Imagine Dragons are gearing up for their February 1st debut on Saturday Night Live and their next album, which Reynolds promises will take a different approach than 2012’s Night Visions. “I have about 50 demos kicking around,” he says. “I think the next record’s going to be much different. I want to strip it back quite a bit. We embraced a lot of hip-hop influences with Night Visions, but I think the next record will be more rock-driven. It’s too early to say, but there is some weird stuff going on in these songs.”
After all, Reynolds says, one of principal musical heroes is the late cult legend Harry Nilsson. “I even named my daughter ‘Arrow’ after his song ‘Me and My Arrow,'” Reynolds says.