Imagine Dragons' rhythm method

JON BREAM | Updated 9/30/2013

Imagine Dragons ride hyperactive drumming to the top of the charts.

Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds isn’t exactly little. He’s 6 feet 4, which is big by rock-star standards. But Reynolds’ little band from Las Vegas has been making a big noise this year.

Imagine Dragons’ “Night Visions” is the second biggest selling rock album of 2013, behind Mumford & Sons’ Grammy-winning “Babel.” Their single “Radioactive” has sold 4.4 million and spent 13 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s modern-rock chart, making it the fifth biggest alt-rock hit of the past 25 years.

“We had no idea this would happen. We’re so used to being our own thing, building an organic audience slowly,” said Reynolds, whose band will close its U.S. tour Monday in St. Paul. “Then the past year has been an exponential [growth].”

At Dragons concerts, the hyperactive Reynolds runs around the stage pounding on six different drum setups. Is he channeling his inner marching-band drummer?

“I never did marching band,” said Reynolds, 26, last week from Orlando, Fla. “I did grow up playing drums — I took lessons for a few years — and played in high school garage bands. I was a drummer before I was ever a singer. I sing a lot more percussively because of that.”

Was he a hyperactive kid?

“One hundred percent! I have had ADD my whole life, depression, anxiety. I think that’s probably a common thread for most artists. I could never pay attention in class, always getting in trouble.”

But it all ended up OK when the Las Vegas native hooked up with some fellow musicians while attending Brigham Young University. They toiled for a couple of years playing in Vegas casinos before hitting the road as an unknown indie-rock quartet. After self-releasing three EPs, Imagine Dragons hooked up with big-time hip-hop producer Alex Da Kid (Eminem, Nicki Minaj). On “Night Visions,” they added a big drum sound.

“I grew up on urban radio; I grew up on 2Pac, Biggie,” said Reynolds. “We were invested in that world of percussion, whether it be hand percussion or world instrumentation. [Alex Da Kid] helped us take it to another level and maximize what we felt was the most important part of Imagine Dragons — rhythm.”

They also added some Vegas touches.

“You can’t help but be influenced by Vegas. Lights, noise, nobody sleeps,” Reynolds said. “We grew up playing in casinos more than regular venues so you’re competing with slot machines and bikini blackjack dealers. So you create music that is a little larger than life — just like Vegas.”

Indeed, Imagine Dragons have a flair for anthemic arena rock, with shades of U2 and Coldplay. And they’ve been known to stage some ambitious gimmicks, such as Reynolds zip-lining over the crowd while playing a drum.

Imagine Dragons have been gigging, gigging and more gigging — so much so that Reynolds had to have a polyp removed from his vocal cords in July 2012. So much gigging that the singer missed his daughter’s first birthday last month.

“I had to celebrate it with her a week and a half later; I had a day off in Oregon. It was a bummer for me,” he said. “But it’s like any job; you have to make sacrifices. My wife’s a musician, so she understands. But it’s been difficult — the hardest part of everything.”

But there have been some unforgettable rewards — like Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, one of Reynolds’ idols, telling him how much he liked Imagine Dragons’ music, or playing their first festival in front of 50,000 people. But maybe nothing was more satisfying than the letter Reynolds received recently from his third-grade teacher.