Avicii Interview 2015

It’s been nearly three years since we last sat down with Tim Bergling, the Swedish wunderkind who is more commonly known by the eponym Avicii. Since then his debut album True has gone multi-platinum and the young Swede has firmly cemented his place as a global icon. He’s the face of his own Ralph Lauren line called Denim & Supply and has inked endorsement deals with everyone from Coca Cola to Volvo.
I first came to know Bergling in 2012 following the success of his breakout hit “Levels,” when XS’ former managing partner Jesse Waits introduced me to the then 22-year-old producer and his manager Ash Pournouri. What has always struck me about their camp is the amazing synergy between Pournouri and Bergling, and their authenticity. Without a doubt, Pournouri is a marketing genius and has helped the talented Bergling build a brand that has become just as iconic as those they partner with.
While marketing is great and talent is a prerequisite, I believe a large part of Avicii’s success is due to his unapologetic authenticity. He is not afraid to make the music he wants and be “true” to himself. When he debuted “Wake Me Up” at Ultra in 2013, many felt he veered too far from his EDM roots, when in fact he showed fans how progressive the genre can be and helped moved many people’s tastes forward. This realism also manifests through all aspects of his business and candor, which, like his music, can sometimes be misconstrued.
As he gets set to release his sophomore album Stories on Friday, we again caught up the busy Swede to chat about his music and set the record straight on what makes this 26-year-old superstar tick.
What “story” are you trying to share with this album?
I think this album has more layers than True. One of the hardest things to make is a song that everyone loves not only at the first listen, but at the fiftieth, where they discover something new each time. That’s a lot harder to do, but I think I managed it with more of the songs this time around.Stories features one of my most personal songs ever, but all of the songs on the album have a story I want to tell.
I wanted to ask you a bit about your personal story. It seems people often don’t get it right (especially reporters). Do you have any thoughts on why that is?
People like to form their own opinions of people before they get to know them; that is the way it’s always been — especially when you’re in the limelight.
How has this and fame affected you?
I don’t necessarily like the attention, but I’m so grateful for the wonderful opportunities it has given me.
This album has been in the works for quite a while. Can you explain your process and what’s involved?
For me, this album redefined what I didn’t feel was perfect last time, so that took time. True was the beginning of my experimentation with different genres and I got a lot out of it. Because I've done house music for so long, to be able to make rock songs and ballads, and explore reggae, blues, and jazz — yes, it’s a challenge, but it’s also a lot of fun. I spent countless hours in the studio with incredible musicians, pushing myself genre-wise and focusing on the melody of the tracks, which has always been a critical part of my creative process. I played the guitar and piano, and carefully considered lyrics.
How do you ultimately select the tracks that make the cut?
That’s always the hardest part! I also have different versions that I have to pick; that’s when I’ll bring in my manager Ash or a trusted friend to give me their opinion.
In regards to collaborations, there has been a lot of hype about a number of people being involved with this album. Who approached whom?
It goes both ways. I found great inspiration in working with these amazing artists — Zac Brown, Chris Martin, Gavin DeGraw, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ Alexander Ebert, Wyclef Jean and Matisyahu, to name a few. It's much more fun writing a song from scratch on a guitar with someone you think is talented and who you get along with so well. Nothing like how I used to do it in the past — alone in my bedroom on a laptop!
Wyclef has always had an incredibly open and creative mind about making music that crosses and connects genres, and fuses everything from jazz-rap to R&B to reggae and now to electronic music. He doesn’t limit himself — and I feel the same way.
You told me over New Year’s Eve that you would be heading into studio to work with Chris Martin. What was it like working with him?
I’ve always been a Chris Martin fan, so to be able to work with him was a dream come true. He’s an incredible musician and friend. I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s a perfectionist, but in an incredible way. He has a great ear!
I find it a bit hard to explain your sound sometimes as it is constantly evolving.
That’s definitely a fair statement. It’s hard to label my sound when I’m always looking to take my music one step further.
“Pure Grinding” [off Stories] is something very different from what we’ve heard from you before. What has the reaction been from your fans?
Yeah, this song is definitely different from anything I’ve ever done. I’ve received a great reaction from fans so far, especially when I include it in my set!
People often questioned how you would follow up “Levels.” The answer was obviously “Wake Me Up,” but your 2013 Ultra set definitely created a reaction in your fans. Were you surprised by the initial critical and fan response?
Yeah, it was a little surprising. I just wanted to switch things up and do something fun and different. The whole idea behind True was experimentation and pushing boundaries, so I thought a live set at Ultra would be a great way to show that. I wanted to make a statement and what better place than Ultra Music Festival!
Obviously you put out music you are passionate about, but do you care what people say about it?
The only people I really care about are my fans. If Avicii fans — new and old alike — dig a track, then I consider it a success.
Is it true you are singing on this album?
I posted a pretty telling photo on my Instagram, but you’ll have to wait and see!
Was playing for Prince Carl Philip and Princess Sophia the craziest thing that you did this year?
Yeah, that was definitely an unbelievable experience, and a highlight of my career! I met Carl Philip in Ibiza; he is a super cool and humble guy. We got to hang out and talk about the possibly of having me DJ at his wedding, so obviously I was in! It was a ton of fun, and such an honor!
Do you prefer playing at XS in Las Vegas, Ushuaia in Ibiza or someplace else?
I can’t choose one over the other. Massive festivals are always an incredible experience, but XS and Ushuaia have become home. There’s something intimate about playing at XS and Ushuaia, and the crowds are unbeatable.
Do you feel EDM is getting played out in Vegas?
No, I don’t. I like that Vegas has kind of become our home base, a place where we always have incredible fans and a supportive team.
Can you talk about how you decide to work with a company on an endorsement?
It always has to be a company that I truly support and believe in and where I can see myself being part of a collaboration for more than just a short period of time. Working with Ralph Lauren was a no-brainer because I already wore clothes similar to their collections. Volvo was very personal to me. We filmed in a part of Sweden where I spent a lot of my childhood, which is obviously an important place to me. It’s where I gather my strength and energy with family and friends. The video shared my story of renewal following my grueling tour schedule. The music video also featured family members and close friends, so it was really great that I was able to do that.
Beyond the album, what’s next for you?
No set plans yet. I started working on Stories shortly after True, so who knows! Maybe a world tour, but definitely more studio time!
What do you think is the most misunderstood things about you?
Probably that people think DJs just push a button. A lot of work and thinking goes into my DJing. It’s a whole creative process, and I take a lot of time to prepare for a set. On a similar note, last minute tweaks and changes are inevitable. There’s a lot more to it than people realize.
You’re also doing some pretty cool charity work.
This year I worked with the RED campaign with my good friend and incredible musician, Wyclef Jean. Our song “Divine Sorrow” was an entry in the “Share the Sound of an AIDS-Free Generation” campaign, which aims to end mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Proceeds from the song benefit the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The fact that the campaign is about mothers and children really touched me. I also did some work with the online charity site called Omaze. Working to stop the cycle of AIDS being passed inadvertently to a new generation is such incredible work.

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