At one point, Dan Reynolds says his only communication with his wife was through a third party—divorce attorneys. Then, out of the blue, a text changed everything and ignited one of Imagine Dragons’ new singles—the band’s first since Origins, released in 2018—off their fifth upcoming album.
“It was a long text, but the basis of it was, ‘I love you. I accept you for everything you are, and I don’t need to own you to love you. So I want you to be free. We’re going to raise our kids together, separately in life and it’s all going to be okay,’” shares Reynolds in a recent interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music’s New Music Daily. “It was just this incredibly healing, far reaching and very generous text.”
Eventually meeting up for lunch, and dates again, the reconciliation with his wife singer Aja Volkman, ended with Reynolds proposing again and the couple having a fourth child together. “Follow You” was initially composed as a present to his wife.
“The reality of it is that not all relationships work,” says Reynolds. “No relationship is perfect. It’s [‘Follow You’] about loyalty. It’s about sticking it out with whoever it is that you love—even if it’s yourself. The thing that hit me when she sent me that text was the love without expectations, and that for me was very transformative for our relationship.”
Along with “Follow You,” Imagine Dragons released “Cutthroat,” with producer by Rick Rubin. “Cutthroat” was a song Reynolds says Rubin helped the band flesh out along with organist Cory Henry.
“Rick is an essential part of this whole record,” says Reynolds. “But ‘Cutthroat,’ he really, really dug in deep with us. That was Rick Rubin putting his imprint on the band in a big way. We had a demo that we had worked on previous to Rick coming in… but it was 50 percent of what “Cutthroat” became.”
When the band initially reached out to Rubin to work with the band, the producer asked him to send a few songs, and Reynolds sent him 100. “I had been off for three years,” says Reynolds. “I had written and that was me narrowing down. I had 300 demos for this record. I was thinking Rick was going to respond and be like, ‘I’m not the man for the job. This is way too much,’ but he responded after a week, and he had comments on every song.”
Eventually, the band broke the batch down to 20 or 30 workable tracks. On “Cutthroat,” a song Reynolds wrote about a friend who committed suicide a year earlier, he says Rubin pushed him into an uncomfortable place through the track.
“He pushed me to be less metaphorical as a writer and to be more direct, which can be more poetic and more powerful,” says Reynolds. “And a lot of my favorite lyricists—whether it’s Cat Stevens or whether it’s Bob Dylan or Biggie [Smalls], Tupac—there’s a directness that’s there, and it cuts through all the bullshit.”
The attempt with new album is to get to the truth of what Imagine Dragons is, says Reynolds.”The record is split into two pieces,” says Reynolds. “Half of it is about looking out, and half of it is looking inward. ‘Cutthroat’ is on the looking inward side, and when we release songs, we’re going to put one from each side, and they’re very sonically different.”
“Follow You” was composed more as a present, pieced together from the pop elements Reynolds loves most. “It’s Beach Boys, it’s harmonies, it’s pretty melodies to your ear, and a love song, but over a minor progression,” he says. “And ‘Cutthroat’ is supposed to be the exact opposite, which is just chaos. A lot of my favorite records growing up had something to this extent, like an A, B side of a cassette tape, back in the day.”
Overall, one of the core themes of album is life and death. Along with losing one of his best friends to suicide, his brother’s wife lost her battle with cancer, and his longtime business manager, who was with Imagine Dragons since their inception, also passed away.
“It hit me on the most real level of the fragility of life, and to embrace every moment we have, to embrace every relationship we have, to cut through the bullshit, to say you’re sorry,” says Reynolds. “This is such a short period of time.”