Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: Provided
“I have eight brothers and one sister," says Imagine Dragons star Dan Reynolds. "There are 40+ grandkids now, every single one Mormon."
This tight-knit family is a year into the build of a “communal Mormon compound; 10 acres we bought in Las Vegas. Everybody has their own house,” with Dan and his wife “the only ones who are non-Mormon” who nevertheless “coexist quite well.”
It's a family dynamic that's left this noted LGBTQ ally uniquely positioned to help “multiple” family members come out over the last year.
Speaking to Attitude over Zoom, the singer explains: “I’ve had nieces and nephews come up to me - we’ve had long conversations. ‘Let’s go over to Dan’s and talk about queer things!’ I’m happy to do that.”
It's valuable to hear of this personal dimension to the 33-year-old otherwise very public allyship. As well as being the lead singer of Dragons – at the time of writing, Spotify’s 34th most-streamed artist worldwide – Dan's also the co-founder of LOVELOUD, a foundation and music festival supporting LGBTQ youth.
He also often wears rainbow flags on stage and in 2018 famously called out Eminem for anti-gay lyrics. (Asked if Eminem ever responded, Dan simply responds: “No.”)
It's headline-generating work that's led to both death threats (“I got the FBI involved” he says of one) and accusations of posturing or martyrdom.
“There are two things I never want to be: one is a martyr, and one is a hero,” the father-of-four insists today. “I’m neither and I hope that comes across.”
He instead applies the “hero” tag to his close friend Tyler Glenn of rock band Neon Trees, who he credits with sparking his allyship.
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“The turning point was, I went on a Mormon mission, came home, started the band, and one of my friends who went on the mission with me, Tyler, came out to Rolling Stone, a huge courageous step," he remembers.
"Prop 8 had just happened and the Mormon church was going against marriage equality. Here was Tyler saying: ‘I’m gay, I’m Mormon, and I’m going to figure it out.’
“I felt like, ‘OK, here I am with this powerful position’ – I had no idea I’d be in this gigantic band, ever – ‘what are you going to do with it? Be the silent Mormon kid?’ I called Tyler and we brainstormed.
"That’s how LOVELOUD came about. What can we do so it’s less scary for the next Mormon kid coming out? Or any people of faith? Religion is what's put into parents’ heads that something’s wrong with their child. I don’t meet children born innately bigoted.”
"I was conflicted about my faith"
Such friendships atone for a time where Dan feels he failed to properly support those around him struggling with their sexuality: "In middle school, 12, 13 probably; I had friends who were LGBTQ and didn’t come out until much later in life, but I was close enough that I knew. It was hard to see. I wasn’t vocal; I was just their friend. I was conflicted about my faith. 'What am I supposed to do?' All our friends knew and we couldn’t talk about it.”
Fast-forward two decades and the authenticity of Dan’s allyship is undeniable during our interview. Throughout, he displays far more passion and engagement about queer issues - and a tighter grasp on LGBTQ news - than your average straight guy. It's an elemental ferocity apparent in his stage presence and on many of his songs, too.
On one subject, the 'Believer' singer is particularly explosive and compelling.
“Our trans youth absolutely need to be playing sports,” he says. “And they need to be playing sport with what they identify as.
"Statistically, kids who play sports have better life expectancies and are happier. Looking at our trans youth, who are super at risk, the suicide rate is skyrocket high. We can either give them sport or take it away. Or force them into a situation that is dangerous for them. You take them out of the dangerous situation and give them sport.”
With audible tension in his voice, he continues: “For people who are like: ‘they’re taking over the Olympics!’ – no, they are not. That is false. ‘Well look at this one example!’ No. I’m sorry. Don’t give me one example. Let’s talk about the masses. And by the way, our kids’ lives are more important than sport.”
"I've started a new journey into sobriety"
A new fundraising collaboration with LGBTQ-owned bakery Wunderkeds also speaks volumes; $1 per dozen cookies sold during the Pride month of June goes towards LOVELOUD. It's the only thing Dan is 'promoting' during our interview - a rarity with a public figure of this level.
“I started a new journey into sobriety, and I decided to get some cookies for NYE – that’s where I’m at!” he says of how the collab came to be.
“I ordered some from Wunderkeds and had my assistant check [when they'd be delivered]. At the bottom of her email, it says her name and ‘assistant to Dan Reynolds’. They said ‘pass on the message that we'd love to collaborate!’ It came together in an organic way.”
Photo: Neil Krug
Towards the end of our 35-minute chat, the Dragons’ upcoming album gets but a cursory mention, but only when we ask.
“It’s being mixed and mastered right now,” Dan says. “We did it with Rick Rubin. It's a different record for us, my favourite we’ve done. I have no idea if fans will feel the same or not! And we will probably start touring next year when it’s safe.”
Then, we return to LGBTQ issues again - with this writer coming away more convinced than ever that straight, cisgender people’s support is essential in the fight for LGBTQ equality... while also making a mental note to watch Dan’s LOVELOUD documentary Believer.
“Yesterday I went on a vacation to the beach and this young girl of probably 17 runs up," he says of one recent viewer. "With tears in her eyes she says: ‘I’m from Utah, a Mormon family, I’m here with my mom and girlfriend.’ I’m getting chills talking about this. She said: ‘We watched the film as a family and it’s making a big difference.’
"For the record, I don’t share that to be, like, ‘Yeah, look at me!’ I made such little effort. I had someone film me doing a festival. I could be doing so much more. But the impact you have… a puzzle piece is the heterosexual male. The most privileged and powerful you can get is being a white male.
"So, for me, acknowledging that is not heroic. But it drives me.”
The Attitude July issue is out now.