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Mercury Act II, out today (July 1st), is a continuation of the band’s previous project Mercury Act I. Together, the sister albums serve as an inspiring, heartbreaking ode to the relationships frontman Dan Reynolds has lost; while Mercury Act I (released in September 2021) details the initial shock that comes with death, Act II is an even more intimate gesture that further explores themes of loss and recovery.
Best showcased on the vulnerable track “They Don’t Know You Like I Do,” Reynolds sinks into a deep regret for all that he wished he could’ve done for his close friend before it was too late. In the same vein, “I Wish” details the soul-crushing remorse that comes with indescribable loss.
But the record is not without glimmering moments of hope, too. “It’s really about life and celebrating every day and remembering that it is finite and it can all be gone,” Reynolds tells Consequence, “And being present. I just hope it brings joy, above all, to people’s lives.”
The Rick Rubin-produced project was three years in the making, and Reynolds is more than ready to release these songs into the universe. “It’s been a long time coming… it’s one of those moments where you feel anxious, excited, nervous, and happy,” he says. “I think hopefully we’ll feel relief when it comes out, because we’ve been working on it for three years, and it’s one of those things that we have to let go of and let it in the world.”
On album release eve, between international tour stops — the band had just played the Open Air festival in Poland and was preparing to play Sweden’s Lollapalooza festival later in the day — Reynolds took some time to dig into Mercury Act II, his work with the LOVELOUD Foundation, dream collaborations and much more.
Give Mercury Act II a spin, and check out the full Q&A with Reynolds below.
What was the writing process like creating these two albums?
We worked with Rick Rubin on these records, and we knew really early on that it was going to be two records. As we went through the songs on the first record, Rick sat me down and we really talked about the theme of it. We realized early on that Act I was focused on death and kind of those shell-shocked feelings that accompany that, whereas Act II is really post-grief and waking up the next day after you’ve lost someone that you loved.
What does that feel like, and what does it look like? Some days are better than others. Anyone who has ever lost someone that they’re really close to, family or a dear friend, especially when you maybe are with them when they pass, it makes you see everything differently. The presence of every day almost feels like, without sounding too cliche, really feels like a gift after someone that you love passes. So Mercury Act II is focused on post-death and dealing with that grief.
What was it like working with Rick Rubin?
It was really helpful to have some fresh perspectives, especially on our fifth record. There were so many songs. I write every day — I always have since I was 12 — so every record, we have like 200-plus songs to go through because it’s like a journal entry for me. So Rick sat down and was like “send me everything!” and we were like “okay, we’re not going to send you everything, we’ll send you like 70 songs.” So we sent him 70 songs, and he listened to all of them and wrote back this long detailed email, even before we met with tons of notes on every song. That’s when we knew he was the right fit for us. He really cared and put in the time.
I always imagined Rick Rubin as this quiet, reserved, laying-on-the couch — you know, you always see the picture of him laying down — and man of few words. That wasn’t the case. The Rick Rubin that we worked with was first to be there, last to leave, super hands-on, super engaged, but also really cool in all the right ways. He made me sit down and go over every lyric of every song, which is super arduous for me and that was something that I typically wouldn’t do, but it’s Rick Rubin and so I’m not going to say no.
But it was a wonderful experience, and Rick’s more than just a producer now. We’ve become dear friends and I have so much love and respect for him. Lyrics are such a vulnerable thing, and when you’re sitting down with someone and they’re like, “Well, what exactly are you saying in that line, what exactly do you mean?” It’s not always a question you want to answer and especially when it’s someone like Rick Rubin, you feel even more vulnerable about it. But I’m grateful for it, it pushed me.
You’ve mentioned that this new album sounds different from your previous releases. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Yeah, I think it’s a product of a lot of things. One, obviously working with Rick Rubin really brought a whole different palette to the table. There was a fresh perspective, there was more critical listening, more questioning, more rewriting, and rethinking. Also, we recorded it at his studio, which typically we self-produce out of Las Vegas, at our own studio. Rick’s studio really brings an added sense of organicness, I think, to everything. It’s on the beach, so you feel really connected to nature and the water and catching Rick’s vibe is very vulnerable and spiritual.
Some producers are there to not ruffle feathers. They’re there to help the band get along and they’ll have an opinion but it’s like someone with a brush, painting alongside. Rick really almost felt like sometimes he would grab your hand and help you paint. He never wants to change what you’re doing but he really has strong opinions and thoughts and voices them. I think that brought a very new shade and approach that we needed, so I’m glad that you hear that.
What do you want fans to take away from the new album?
I think above all, anyone who has lost someone that they love, is a really earth-shattering, devastating experience to go through. I wrote this record during a time period when I lost my best friend since middle school, who took his own life. My sister-in-law passed away from cancer really abruptly within a year, leaving behind her six kids. My ex-girlfriend passed away from leukemia. It was just, horrible. Have you ever had a friend who suddenly within two years they lose so many people? It’s one of those things where sometimes it rains, and when it rains, it pours.
Those people who lose their mom and then they lose their dad the next year, I don’t understand how it works. But for whatever reason, that was a big theme in my life for the past five years and I wanted to at least be able to memorialize them and those relationships on songs like “They Don’t Know You Like I Do,” which is about my best friend, or “Waves.” “I Wish” was about my sister-in-law.
Long story short, I hope that people are able to find some sort of cathartic release. But also joy. This record isn’t supposed to be a sad, morbid, record. It’s really about life and celebrating every day and remembering that it is finite and it can all be gone. And being present. I just hope it brings joy, above all, to people’s lives.
The “Bones” music video was “Thriller”-meets-zombies-meets-Wall Street. How did you land on that concept?
My kids’ favorite music video is “Thriller,” and it’s also one of my favorite music videos. It sits in the middle of being a little scary — I remember as a young kid watching it, and being a little scared — but [it’s] also addictive. It really gave me that feeling of “I want to watch it again because it scares me a little bit.” It’s also the energy of it. Certainly, that was a huge inspiration. Bringing the Wolf of Wall Street approach to it felt like a fun thing to explore.
Typically with all of our music videos, I’ll wake up and have an idea and I’ll talk to my wife about it — she’s like the secret behind everything Imagine Dragons, she’s an incredible artist herself. Or she’ll wake up and have an idea and that’ll be a music video. We’ll go to find a great director and I’ll help flesh it out. That’s been the case for every music video, it really started as a dream or as a thought from a night, I’ll discuss things with her, and it was the same thing for “Bones.”
Mercury Act I was released during the pandemic, and the last time you toured was in 2018 for Origins. Now that you’ve been back on the road for a bit, what does it feel like to finally play shows again?
It’s such a blessing to be able to do this right now, especially with how crazy everything is, politically. It’s just like, we’re living in such a crazy time and it’s really easy to get caught up in it all, feel like doom and gloom. Almost every night, I get to get on the stage and see the best part of humanity, which is people gathered together and being united for music. Celebrating lives and so especially post-COVID, there’s a deeper hunger for human interaction. I can see some of the joy in people’s lives, just for being able to be out amongst each other.
Seeing each other smile, and seeing each other’s faces. There’s deeper gratitude for everything because it’s been taken away in the last few years. So it’s been a really deep blessing. I feel so lucky to be able to do this every day and constantly be reminded about the good things about humanity rather than just always opening up the news every day and lingering in that world.
Do you feel there’s a difference between playing in a festival setting versus playing a solo Imagine Dragons show?
I don’t feel like I really feel that much of a difference, only because I don’t think I let myself think about it much. I get up on stage and I try to go where I was when I wrote that song, and that’s my main goal, to bring the true spirit of each song to each stage. That could be in a small room of 100 people, it could be a stadium of 30,000 people or a festival of 100,000 people — it’s kind of the same thing to me. I’m always looking out to the faces that I can see, connecting with those people, and relaying those songs in the most honest way I can. So I feel like I approach it all the same.
How do you put together a setlist these days?
It’s really difficult. Honestly, it’s difficult at this point. And we’re about to put out a record with 18 songs on it. We have so many songs at this point, it’s the opposite problem that we used to have. I remember our first record, when Night Visions came out, and it blew up. We weren’t expecting it, and we were slotted high at a lot of these festivals and we would have over an hour set time. We didn’t have enough music and that was always intimidating.
Now, it’s the opposite problem; we get on stage and we’re given two hours and we’re headlining these festivals and we’re like, “How do we play all these songs that we want to play?” And we can’t. So we just change the setlist a lot, but it’s really hard to pick. You want to play all your new music but you also want to play the songs that the fans want to hear. So you kind of go somewhere in the middle.
You’ve collaborated with JID, Lil Wayne, X Ambassadors, and so many others. What do you look for in a collaborator?
I think from our very first collaboration, which was with Kendrick [Lamar] on “Radioactive,” it was the same approach. If something feels effortless and it comes together very easily and likemindedness in the creating room, then I’m always open to it. It’s super fun and interesting to see the talent in other artists and vibe and feel what they’re into and create that way. There’s no difference with JID; we immediately connected. The collaboration came so easily, and we’ve never done a collaboration that was different. If something comes along naturally and easily, I’m always inspired by that.
Is there anyone that you still have on the wishlist?
I really feel like I’m just kind of riding the waves of life and whatever comes along. But whenever something comes along and it feels natural… it’s typically when I’m at some place and I see an artist that I love and we start talking and then somehow we’ll maybe start creating. You never even know if there’s something that will turn out as a song or not. I don’t know, I mean I think Kanye. I’m always inspired by him, I think he’s an incredible artist and producer and was able to spend some time with him and sit down and listen to his record at the time that he was working on it. I’m always inspired by him. Neil Diamond or Bruce Springsteen would be amazing. Those would be dreams. Cat Stevens.
The LOVELOUD festival returned this year after a few years off due to COVID. What were the main takeaways from this year’s fest? Are you thinking about the 2023 edition yet, or are you still riding the high off of this past festival?
It’s always such a beautiful evening. Probably the highlight of my year, truly, every year. LOVELOUD was no different this year — it was fantastic, and the people of Utah really came out. And it’s crazy because people travel from all over the world to come to LOVELOUD, so I think speaking on that note, our next goal [is to reach] a lot of communities that need LOVELOUD; it’s not just Utah. Anywhere that is primarily Orthodox or deep Orthodox faith-based, those can be extremely dangerous for our LBGTQ+ youth, and often places where you have these children who are raised in homes with conflicting feelings because they’re being taught that their innate sense of being is flawed or sinful. [It’s about] having those conversations with families about how important it is to love and celebrate your LGBTQ youth, especially in these faith-based communities. That’s needed in the US, it’s needed all over the world.
So our long-term goal is really to bring LOVELOUD to the world and to as many cities as we can. Utah was the starting ground because it’s the faith that I was raised around and it was the community that I knew. It was a testing ground and the number one reason for death among teenagers is suicide. It’s needed everywhere, so that’s the long-term goal, and next year hopefully we’ll be able to branch a little bit, so we’ll see.
Catch Imagine Dragons on tour; tickets are available via Ticketmaster.