Meet EDM’s Anti-Hero — Avicii Follows an Uncharted Path on First Full-Length Album, ‘True’

Yahoo! Music
The New Now

On a Sunday afternoon, Avicii stands onstage at Encore Beach Club at the Encore Hotel in Las Vegas, fist-pumping in the air as hundreds of scantily clad revelers dance to his beats. His DJ set isn't filled with huge build-ups and drops, typical of the electronic dance music sound that's currently so hugely popular the world over. Rather, the crowd is singing along to the chorus of vocal anthems that cross over from pop music to his own original productions.

The one common theme: All of the songs in his sets have distinct melodies. Whether it's his remix of '80s anthem "Sweet Dreams" by Eurythmics or the refrain from "Liar, Liar" (his new collaboration with L.A.-based indie band Blondfire), his legions of fans know every word. As the familiar chord progression to his currently single "Wake Me Up" begins, a roar rushes over the crowd. He's saved this huge hit for the end of his set, which ultimately concludes with his new track "Lay Me Down" (featuring Adam Lambert and produced by Nile Rodgers, who came back in a huge way recently through his collaboration with French DJ duo Daft Punk), and lastly his bootleg unreleased remix of Jay Z's "Holy Grail."

In a few hours, he's going to do it all over again, as Avicii's also booked to play at the hotel's XS nightclub later that night for Nick Jonas's 21st birthday party.

Avicii (real name: Tim Bergling) holds two residencies in Vegas (the other is at Marquee at the Cosmopolitan), with more residencies around the world, including a huge slot at mega-club Ushuaia in Ibiza — not bad for a young man from Sweden who just turned 24. Just five years ago, he was tooling around remixing other people's music at home in his bedroom in Stockholm.

Everything changed for Avicii in 2011, when his song "Levels," featuring a familiar sample of an Etta James lyric, because one of the biggest electronic music songs of all time, garnering him his second Grammy nomination. "Levels" was followed by two more huge hits, 2012's "Silhouettes" and 2013's "I Could Be the One" (with Nicky Romero). A huge commercial endorsement with Ralph Lauren followed.

On September 17, Avicii releases True, his first full-length album of all original songs. What's most unique about "True," however, is that it sounds completely different from anything else out there, drawing on musical influences that range from American bluegrass to house music. Many of the songs almost sound country, but they're executed with a soulful R&B edge. It's impossible to try to pigeonhole the music on True to any particular genre. Avicii zigged while every other DJ was zagging, and it certainly threw many of his fans for a loop at first.

But now, the new music is starting to show up everywhere — in nightclubs and beach parties — but also in television commercials and in the introduction to lifestyle segments on "The Today Show." It's music that's loved by both the hardest club raver…and your mom.

Yahoo Music caught up with Avicii on the eve of his album release to chat about his new music, his collaborators, and more. His answers demonstrated a surprising musical maturity, which left us unsurprised by his continued march to the top of both the dance and pop charts the world over.

YAHOO MUSIC: This album seems to be a "true" labor of love for you, as it's your first proper full-length album. What went into the process of making it?

AVICII: Yes, [it's] definitely a labor of love! When making it, I didn't set any boundaries…I wanted to explore what I could do personally, while making the most out of all the amazing people I was working with. I wasn't necessarily making music that would only work during a set; this album was me trying to make music that was emotional, and had meaning. It was a very natural process.

I was blown away by the diversity of talent that you chose to work with on this album: Mike Einziger of Incubus, Aloe Blacc, Blondfire, Mac Davis, Imagine Dragons, and so many others. How did you go about choosing the folks with whom you wanted to collaborate?

All of the collaborations on the album were through various connections that my manager, Ash [Pournouri], or I had…Neil Jacobson, who plays golf with Mac Davis, introduced me to Mac. So when the opportunity presented itself to work with such incredible talent, I just had to do it. I knew they would be great contributions to the album.

What was the process like reaching out to each of them and explaining your vision? How did you connect with Nile Rodgers, who's on a roll right now with Daft Punk? And likewise, how did the Adam Lambert collaboration come into the picture?

Once we worked out who I would work with, everything happened relatively fast…We sat down to discuss our ideas, and then laid it all down in the studio.

I shared ideas about incorporating guitar with Mike Einziger, who performs and/or writes on three tracks on the album, and Nile brought Adam [Lambert] in, and his voice was perfect for the track. I listen to so many kinds of music, I brought my openness into the studio, and it seemed everyone had something that fit with my vision.

I'd been talking to Nile for over a year, and we talked about working together. He's one of the most talented people I've ever met. I'm so lucky to have worked with him. And with Adam, I wasn't even thinking that he was going to be on the track…But his voice is incredible, and he captured something on the first take.

Have you been doing more with Adam lately, beyond the new track? There have been pics tweeted in the last couple weeks, of the two of you in the studio. Are you working on Adam's album?

I stopped by a big charity event [recently] that Nile put together, so Nile and I spent time in the studio again…and Adam came by also. I don't know what will happen to what we did in the studio together that day, but it was really cool working with him again.

Many people are excited to hear what Zedd and Madeon did with Lady Gaga for her new album. Which other artists are on your list as dream collaborators?

I have been lucky enough to work with some of the most creative, cool musicians and voices out there. At this point, I am open to collaborate with any artist that I really like, mainstream or not, regardless of the genre. Working with Nile was a dream of mine…[but] Chris Martin is one [that I'd like to work with], Stevie Wonder, Adele, and more.

"Wake Me Up" is certainly different sounding than anything else out there right now — this album pushes the envelope by adding country and bluegrass elements to electronic music. How does this sound inspire a young man from Sweden? What drew you to it?

I have always been open to listening to anything, and bluegrass in particular has always captured my attention when I've heard it. The sound of the acoustics is just so pure, especially the guitar. I think it added a great element to the song.

Obviously the response at Ultra Music Festival in Miami back in March must've been disappointing [EDM fan message boards shared mixed reactions when Avicii debuted his new sound there for the first time earlier this year], because people were probably expecting to just hear "Levels" over and over again in a large setting. How did you feel when you got this reaction from people?

Although it was a little disappointing to see the negative feedback. I didn't let it get to me. I knew I was taking a chance by bringing out live musicians. It was something completely different from what the audience was expecting, especially at Ultra. I really appreciate my fans who stuck by me and listened with open hearts and minds. It's been really rewarding to see the success of "Wake Me Up"; I can't believe how well it's done.

Do you have a personal favorite track right now on your new album? If so, which track is it?

I'd have to say "Hey Brother" — the bluegrass elements just have a really cool and alluring sound.