‘The best thing you can do is listen with respect’

From Cradle to Stage, Dave and Virginia Grohl’s new Paramount+ program about rock stars and their biggest fans — their moms, that is — premieres this week just in time for Mother’s Day. And there is perhaps no better mother/son duo to kick off the Foo Fighter’s six-part docuseries than Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds and his mom Christene. Speaking about the show with Yahoo Entertainment, Christene confesses that she “never really had big dreams that [Dan] was going to be a big rock star” and “just wanted him to be happy,” and Dan says he’s grateful that he always had her support, even though they both knew his chances of actually making it were very slim.

“I feel like my mom really celebrated me my entire life, even when it was hard because it didn’t always match exactly what she believed would be the easiest route for me,” Dan says. Of course, Dan went on to unimaginable success, with Imagine Dragons becoming the biggest rock band of the past decade (selling 40 million albums and racking up 60 billion streams) and their new single “Follow You” skyrocketing to No. 1 at alternative radio. But it was in fact not an easy route for the 33-year-old singer, who’s now a father of four, because his dream of music stardom was often at odds with his equally important dream of one day having his own happy home life.

Dan Reynolds and Aja Volkman. (Photo: Bryan Steffy/Getty Images)

“I knew I wanted to have a family,” Dan says. “My only goal was to able to support a family, with my wife — whoever that was going to be in at the time, I didn’t know. But I just knew I wanted this kind of life that was atypical for a rock star, which is a family: one person to be with, always. The romantic dream of that for me was something that I wanted, and it doesn’t always add up with chasing being in a rock band.”

Dan eventually did find that one special person, Nico Vega frontwoman Aja Volkman, and they married in 2011, a year and a half before the release of Imagine Dragons’ debut album. But as his star rose, their union became strained, and in April 2018, the couple announced that they were splitting up. The two didn’t even speak for seven months, and their divorce papers were drawn up. But then — as Dan revealed in a recent TikTok post detailing the story behind “Follow You” — as he was driving to go sign the paperwork, he received a text from Aja that “saved his life.” Her message (“I love you. I don’t need to own you to love you. I can love you without expectations.”) was so powerful that it made him “rethink everything,” and when he arrived at the lawyers’ office, he and Aja decided to go on a lunch “date” instead. The papers remained unsigned, and the two officially reconciled in November 2018. Dan proposed to Aja again, and in October 2019, they welcomed their fourth child together.

While Dan stresses that he’s a “firm believer that relationships are not for everyone” and not “everyone should get married,” he realized that being married to Volkman was the right choice for him — a conclusion he came to with Christene’s unconditional support. “I certainly turned to my mom during that time. And I think her advice was really perfect for what I was looking for, which was she didn’t really meddle in it,” he says. “It was, ‘I support you in whatever is going to make you happy.’ My mom, when we went through this, took the approach of ‘I love you. I support you.’ She never said a bad word about Aja through it, never a bad word about myself. It was just, ‘I’m here for you. Whatever is going to make you happy.’ That’s what you should do, you know? And that’s all the support I needed. And it led me right back to where I was, which was I figured out that this was right for me. Sometimes you have to go a wander down a road you haven’t been down to know what road is right for you. And my mom was patient with me through that. And so, it was Aja.”

Christene becomes noticeably choked up as she reflects on this family crisis. “It was a really hard time, because Danny was suffering greatly,” she says softly. “And Aja was suffering greatly. And [Dan and Aja’s oldest child] Arrow was suffering greatly. And so to watch all the people you love… in real hard, hard sorrow, I would talk to Dan on the phone and cry with him because it was so hard for him. And then I would go see Aja, and Aja was so broken and it was so hard for her. And I remember one day I took Arrow with me because she just couldn’t handle it all, and we got in the car and she just started crying. And we pulled over and I said, ‘What can we do to make it better?’ And she told me the things that were killing her and what she wanted. And I told her, ‘We can try every day to do the best we can. But I can’t promise you any of your huge dreams [of your parents reconciling].’ And so it was hard. It was really hard. But you know, it worked. It was like a beautiful miracle, and it worked.”

Christene, a devout Mormon, goes on to discuss how she raised her nine (yes, nine!) children in a “Christ-centered home” and tried to teach them two commandments: “love God with all your heart, mind, and soul” and “love your neighbors as yourself.” But then she pauses. “Do you want me to say this? I don’t know if should even talk about religion on there,” she says, trailing off. However, Dan sweetly encourages her to keep speaking (“Say what you want, Mom!”), which perfectly illustrates the empathetic and non-judgmental dynamic between them. While Dan’s views on religion and Mormonism have diverged from his parents’ strict beliefs over the years, that hasn’t driven them apart.

“My mom believes very firmly in her faith; she would not be living her truth to not instill it in me from a very young age. And I have no anger about that. I have no resentment towards that,” Dan says. “I think I went through a period where I was angry about it, and then as I’ve gotten older, I realized her intentions were always good always. My faith is not the same as my mom’s. I think that’s hard for her, as much as it will be hard for me, if or when my children aren’t believing or practicing exactly the things that I think that they should practice. I still am a very spiritually grounded person. I believe in God — I hope for a God, I would say. But I’m not as religious. And that’s something that me and my mom have had to work through in many, many conversations. And I think we’ve landed in a spot that’s healthy, which is love and respect for each other and where we’re at.”

Imagine Dragons singer Dan Reynolds with his mom Christene in 'From Cradle to Stage.' (Photo: Paramount+)

Imagine Dragons singer Dan Reynolds with his mom Christene in ‘From Cradle to Stage.’ (Photo: Paramount+)

“I think the best thing you can do is listen with respect to do that. Both those have to go together,” adds Christene.

One thing Dan learned from his religious upbringing was the importance of helping the disenfranchised — teachings he has put into practice with his LoveLoud Foundation, which supports at-risk LGBTQ+ youth in the Mormon community. While Reynolds has caught flak from certain Mormons for his allyship (“There are some letters that I’ll get, or blogs, that will be like, ‘Dan Reynolds is leading Christians to hell,’” he told Yahoo in 2020), his mother is completely proud of his efforts — so much so that the old Reynolds family home, where From Cradle to Stage was filmed, has been donated to Encircle, a non-profit organization that provides safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth and their families.

“We are so thrilled with what he’s doing. And I think that the sweetest part was, I didn’t want to move out of my house. We’d been there for 30 years. I’d raised my kids there. It was hard,” recalls Christene, getting teary again. “It’s a house built for children, the yard and the house is built for kids. It was making me really sad. And then Danny called one morning and said, ‘Mom, I had this dream. I told Aja about it, and she said let’s go for it.’ And so he called us and said, ‘What would you feel like if we bought your home and turned it into an Encircle home?’ And my husband and I were both on the phone, and we both burst out crying. It was the perfect answer, the perfect answer. So, now it’s a home that will love kids still. I can’t think of anything better.”

The Las Vegas-area home, which Dan says was always “a house of celebrating others,” is currently being renovated, with an Encircle ribbon-cutting ceremony planned for the end of the year — although “the things that were fun and special” about the house (like a “naughty” scratch Dan made on a wall at age 12, and “an incredible sign welcoming people into a home of love” that Christene placed in the entryway) will remain intact. “It’s fantastic that it’s going to go forward to celebrate LGBTQ youth and provide a safe place for them and their families to see the road ahead,” says Dan. “It’s an incredible story, and I think it’s one that people hopefully should hear. I think we need more stories of good happening in the world. And certainly my mom has been a great example of that.”

The From Cradle to Stage premiere featuring Dan and Christene Reynolds is available to stream now on Paramount+. Future episodes will star Pharrell Williams, Miranda Lambert, Brandi Carlile, Tom Morello, and Geddy Lee with their moms.

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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by Jimmie Rhee

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