By Betty Williams
Despite being a lesser-known hub for music compared to other spots in the United States, Provo’s music history has always been rich and exciting. The city has attracted some of the biggest stars – spanning decades and genres and providing a foundation for prominent music acts in the industry. Outsiders would probably be surprised to find exactly how many mainstream acts were formed in the city or have ties to it. Here are a few homegrown Provo musicians to check out.
Though the current members of Imagine Dragons hail from all over the country, they trace their roots back to Provo, where the band formed at Brigham Young University. Provo was where they gained their first big following playing at venues like Velour Live Music Gallery. Lead singer Dan Reynolds attributes much of the band’s success to places like Velour, which support smaller artists. Since their humble beginnings, Imagine Dragons has become one of the biggest bands in the world. Massive hits like “Radioactive” and “Believer” allowed them to become one of the best-selling music artists ever.
The band has delved into various genres like pop rock, alternative rock, and indie pop; as such, their equipment is as versatile as their sound. Guitarist Wayne Sermon has a wide range of guitars, mainly using ones from BiLT for electric. His models, like the BiLT Volaré and BiLT Relevator, are highly customized to give him the sound he needs for the band’s songs. Dan Reynolds also plays the guitar, and he and Sermon use Gibson for acoustic. The brand is responsible for some of the most iconic acoustic guitars in history, such as the Gibson J-45—which Reynolds plays—as well as the J-200 and The Hummingbird. In a recent interview, Reynolds also mentioned experimenting with an old Gibson ES-5 guitar along with a vintage Neumann U67 mic for a film scoring project. Their gear has enabled them to explore their sound and perform their best hits.
After opening for The Killers during their North American tour dates in late 2008, Neon Trees became significantly more popular. By 2010, the Provo-based band reached a commercial breakthrough with the single “Animal” and gained even more mainstream success with “Everybody Talks.” Their style reflects a handful of genres, such as synth-pop, new wave, alternative rock, and pop—made possible by their love of eccentrics and unique equipment.
Bassist Branden Campbell’s pedalboard is notably extensive for a bassist; while the 1961 Fender P bass and the Aguilar Tone Hammer are his bread-and-butter, Campbell’s rig includes a number of EBS bass effect pedals, joining the ranks of Flea, Jimmy Earl, and Billy Talbot, who were among the first to push the envelope with EBS’s early rack-mounted bass preamps. Some of his EBS gear includes the EBS DPhaser, EBS UniChorus, and the EBS Octabass. Guitarist Chris Allen seems to have an affinity for Fender, as all his main guitars come from the brand. He usually plays on a Fender Eric Johnson Strat but uses a Fender Custom Shop model and a MIM Fender Jazzmaster as well. For effects, his Ibanez TS808HW Hand-Wired Tube Screamer overdrive is a must-have.
All-girl band The Aces initially began as a childhood dream, started by sisters Cristal and Alisa Ramirez. After their friends McKenna Petty and Katie Henderson joined the group, they began performing at local venues in Provo under the name Blue Aces while still in high school. By 2017, they began sharing the stage with other alternative bands and landed themselves gigs as opening acts for groups such as 5 Seconds of Summer and Coin. Their 2018 debut album When My Heart Felt Volcanic kicked off their rise to fame.
Their indie and alternative pop sound is inspired by various acts, including Paramore, Michael Jackson, and Weezer. Guitarist Katie Henderson channels these acts through her pedalboard; the MXR M102 Dyna Comp is always left on to give her a clean tone that brings her whole sound together. The DigiTech Eric Clapton Crossroads is her main overdrive pedal, which she uses for distortion on solos. The TC Corona Chorus gives her a 70s-type funk sound. Most of her guitars are from Fender, using models such as the Jazzmaster, Telecaster, and the Malibu Player California Series for acoustic.
Not every successful Provo act can be mentioned here, but for the uninitiated, this should be a good primer. If you want to see a Provo band that’s exploded recently (like 4.4 million monthly listeners big), check out The Backseat Lovers’ performance on Jimmy Kimmel below.