When Dan Reynolds went into the studio and sang "It's time to begin, isn't it? / I get a little bit bigger, but then I'll admit / I'm just the same as I was," he had no idea this stomping chorus for "It's Time" would reverberate with so many people — or that it would become the breakthrough single from his Las Vegas outfit Imagine Dragons.
A coming-of-age everyman rock song, it went on to sell 2 million downloads, becoming the longest-running Top 10 alternative-chart hit of 2012. It also paved the way for an equally uplifting debut album, Night Visions, as well as the techno-chiming new single "Radioactive," both of which have already gone gold.
Despite the song's sunny but defiant optimism, "It's Time" was birthed in a depression so dark it was nearly clinical. "I was dropping out of college," recalls the 25-year-old Reynolds. "I was having a hard time focusing, just kind of uninterested in life, period, and not very happy with who I was. I wanted to make some changes, and I never thought that I was writing a song for anyone other than myself."
Raised Mormon, a teenage Reynolds had gone on an eye-opening, 24-month mission to Nebraska. And he was comfortable with that part of his past. Or, as he puts it, "When you spend two years sitting in people's living rooms, where you've got a single mom and the father left, and she'd been beat up by him, and she and her kid have no money to provide, and you're this 18-year-old kid in this stupid white shirt sitting down with her, trying to figure out a way for them to make money and get her off addiction? When you do that, you grow up fast. And when I got home, I saw the world in a different way — it was more important for me to do something positive than to be cool."
Reynolds decided he wanted to get back in touch with who he was as a person by getting back to his childhood roots, when he was a geeky video gamer who hung out with like-minded misfits. At the age of 13, while other classmates were playing sports or out partying, he was at home in his bedroom, tracking initially awkward treatises.
"I'd just sit down with a mic and record something, whether it was about dealing with some heartbreak from some girl or being too skinny because I couldn't gain weight," he laughs, in retrospect. "Just stupid stuff. And that's the only way I know how to communicate — just through music — I felt like I could say things that I can't relay any other way."
In short order, Reynolds formed Imagine Dragons with some non-scenester chums, defied current musical conventions with a New Wave-ish, stadium-huge sound, got married early and became a father.
Ultimately, Reynolds is surprised but pleased that fans can relate to "It's Time." "It's just crazy to see that other people even understand what I was talking about," he marvels. "Because honestly, with a lot of the lyrics I write, I often think 'I don't know how anybody would possibly understand what I'm talking about here!' I mean, it's great. But I'm still baffled by it."