Lester Cohen/Getty Dan Reynolds
Fresh off the release of a new compilation album, Mercury — Acts 1 & 2, Imagine Dragons is in the midst of the North American leg of the Mercury World Tour — the band's first in three years. While the lengthy hiatus was certainly extended by the pandemic, lead singer Reynolds, 35, had already planned to take some time off following the years-long Evolve World Tour, which wrapped in 2019.
"I was feeling pretty burnt out on the road," Reynolds tells PEOPLE. "I was at a point where I would walk on stage in front of 100,000 people pre-COVID, and at the end I felt numb. The second you're at that point, that's when you know someone else deserves to be there and not you. I needed some time to regroup and re-find my lust and love for live music."
The break was fruitful in many ways, as he and wife Aja Volkman welcomed their fourth child, a son named Valentine, in October 2019. Then, Imagine Dragons — which also includes guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Ben McKee and drummer Daniel Platzmann — worked to craft the ambitious two-part Mercury album, through which Reynolds was able to write about the grief of losing several close loved ones over the last half-decade.
Courtesy Interscope Records Imagine Dragons 'Mercury' Cover Artwork
Released last year, Mercury — Act 1 found the musician experiencing the shock and sadness that immediately follow death. Act 2, which dropped earlier this month, focuses on processing the losses and eventually reaching some form of solace.
"Every time I step on the stage now, it feels more lucky. There's more gratitude involved," the musician says of getting back to performing. "Distance makes the heart grow fonder."
During a recent break in-between concerts, Reynolds opened up to PEOPLE about touring as a father of four, maintaining his health on the road, and working with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to aid those affected by the nation's ongoing war with Russia.
Eric Ray Davidson Imagine Dragons
The Mercury Tour is your first since welcoming your son, Valentine, in 2019. How's it been balancing life on tour with fatherhood this time around, now that you're a father of four?
It is a really tricky balance. I just did all of the U.S. and Europe with my children and wife. It was like a traveling circus. I would get in at 2 or 3 a.m. after the show, and then I'd have children jumping on me in the morning at the hotel room at 6 or 7 a.m., and then rinse and repeat. It's beautiful because my kids got to see the world, but it's also hard. I had to be on vocal silence a lot. My little guy, Valentine, would be like, "Dad, why can't you talk?" But on the flip side, now I'm doing the U.S. again for a month-and-a-half, and I don't have the kids with me because school started. That's really hard because I miss them. I haven't quite figured out the right recipe here because it's kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't. I had a kid throwing up on me almost every other day in a plane or a car. I don't miss that, but I certainly miss my kids with me.
It has to be a little bit easier in your position, performing in arenas and stadiums, than it'd be touring nightclubs.
Oh, for sure. I've been on that end of it. Arrow, my oldest, she traveled with us before we were even in a tour bus. She was sleeping in the back of an airport shuttle that we had purchased as a band. You just make it work. Kids are super resilient. It's not hard on the kids. The kids are always up for an adventure, waking up in a new city. But now, [Arrow is] 9 years old. I don't want her to miss out on her friends at home and the school experience.
You've long been open about your experiences with two autoimmune diseases, ankylosing spondylitis and ulcerative colitis, as well as depression. How have you been keeping yourself well on the road amid a grueling tour schedule?
I have to live a really, really rigorous lifestyle, very disciplined, in order to keep my body working. Every day I have to exercise to flood all my joints with blood and keep the inflammation down. It's a lot of exercise, like physical-therapy-type exercise. Then, I live a really regimented diet — no processed food, very little sugar, a lot of complex carbs. It's like living as an athlete. For me, it keeps me strait-laced. I'm a little prone to wanting to not be strait-laced, so it helps when it's your health on the line. If I didn't have that, I don't know that I would've been able to not burn out hard on the road. It's really easy as a musician to turn to all the vices. It kind of comes with the territory. It's a blessing and a curse.
Mercury — Acts 1 & 2 were born out of a period of loss. How has creating, releasing and promoting this album impacted your own healing process?
It's been incredibly cathartic. I was in middle school when I started to deal with depression, so I turned to music to voice the things that I could not say through just words alone. Something about melody and chord progression and setting up a soundscape really makes me feel safe and able to say the things I need to say. It's like a therapy session for me. I write a song almost every day, and it's like a journal entry. Most of them nobody will ever hear, and that's not the purpose of it. The purpose is, selfishly, to serve my own mental health. Even in regards to Mercury, it's no different. I lost quite a few people in my life.
Over the last five years, I lost one of my best friends. I lost my business manager to cancer. I lost my ex-girlfriend to cancer. I lost my sister-in-law to cancer and sat in the room with her and my brother as she passed. That was my first time seeing someone be here and then gone. Then, I sat with my brother as he called his seven children to tell each child that Mom had passed away in her thirties [when she] was perfectly healthy the year before. When you lose that many people close to you, or even one person, it makes you rethink life. It makes the things that you thought mattered meaningless and really shows you what matters, so I couldn't help but write about that.
Eric Ray Davidson Imagine Dragons
Imagine Dragons was set to play shows in both Russia and Ukraine on the Mercury World Tour, but both were canceled due to the ongoing war. You and your bandmates then barred your music from being sold in Russia and have since been working with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as ambassadors for UNITED24 to support those who've been affected. What inspired you to get so involved in aiding Ukraine?
Quite a few reasons. I'm in an incredibly blessed position. I've been given a great deal, really a one-in-a-billion life. Ukraine has been really a big part of our career. The band is really, really large in Eastern Europe and Ukraine — it's like Harry Potter and Imagine Dragons are ginormous. I have always felt a deep connection to the people we've known there for a long time. They're some of the best fans to play for. They have so much passion and vigor for life.
The other part is, it's a really obvious situation. This is injustice at its most egregious. This is a dictator who is taking away independence and freedom of people for no reason — not that there ever is a reason for that, but it's so obvious that Ukraine needs us. Ukraine is being bullied, and children are being killed. Bombs are being dropped in 2022. It's crazy to me that this is still part of our reality. It was something that was already in the forefront of our minds. Then, we got in touch with people over there and had the honor of sitting down with President Zelenskyy on Zoom. [We were] able to ask him how we could actually help more than just words and thoughts and all the things that come with social media.
Courtesy Imagine Dragons
What have you learned from him?
The interesting thing he said was, "First of all, thoughts, words, those things actually do matter. So get on our social media, and don't forget about us. Keep talking about us. That's how it gets in the news." That's one way that everybody can help, because the media sees that and picks it up. Then, politicians see that, and they feel pressured.
That's one way you can help, but also, money makes a huge difference, putting your money where your mouth is. For instance, so many of their ambulances have been destroyed that people need help, and they don't have ambulances to send to help these people. So, you can help buy ambulance vehicles [at UNITED24's website, U24.gov.ua], which was an initiative put through by the First Lady Olena Zelensky. There's a lot of ways to help.