Artist Interviews

Q&A: Avicii

By | Published on Tuesday 16 July 2013


Swedish DJ and producer Avicii, real name Tim Berling, began making music when he was eighteen. He quickly gained a strong online following, before Tiësto gave him his big break by inviting him to play a weekly residency at Privilege in Ibiza. A first single came in 2008.

2013 has been a busy year for Avici. First he wrote a new Eurovision theme tune with Abba’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, and then there was all the prep to be done on his debut album, ‘#TRUE’, which features many collaborators including Incubus’ Mike Einziger and Aloe Blacc, both of whom appear on the album’s first single ‘Wake Me Up’, which is out this week digitally – its release having been brought forward after a cover of the track made the Top 40 on Sunday. The proper version is now on course to be number one in the UK charts this Sunday.

Also this weekend, Avicii plays the first ever UK edition of the US dance festival Electric Daisy Carnival, at Queen Elizabeth Park in London, before returning to the UK for Creamfields over August bank holiday weekend.

But before all of that, CMU’s Andy Malt caught up with Avicii to ask a few questions about the album, dance music in general, and his specific studio technique.

AM: Dance music has been booming in recent years, and you’ve been very much at the front of that wave. How did you get into making electronic music?
A: A friend of mine showed me this program where you make your own music and I instantly got hooked. I’ve always had a fascination with making music, but I didn’t learn to play an instrument until fairly recently. So to be able to make music without that ability was awesome. I was just playing around, doing a bunch of different genres, but I wasn’t that familiar with the DJ scene. Then I got into house, and when I met Ash [Pournouri, manager], he got me into DJing almost overnight!

AM: Did it take you long to find your own sound and style? When did your music become what we’d recognise as Avicii?
A: I worked a lot on getting a signature sound; that big-room melodic sound, which I think sets me apart from other producers and what they’re doing. I don’t really know when it became recognisable but eventually everything started clicking.

AM: You’ve got a wide range of guests on the album – such as Nile Rodgers, Aloe Blacc, and Incubus guitarist Michael Einziger. How did you choose your collaborators for the album?
A: I had an idea of what direction I wanted to take this album in, and when the opportunity arose to work with these amazingly talented guys, it all started to fit into place. I’ve gotten to work with so many talented musicians and singers, and there’s a lot more potential for that. It’s a great time in the EDM world!

AM: Were there any guests you tried to get but weren’t able to?
A: None that I know of!

AM: Does such a diverse range of collaborators reflect your own musical influences and tastes? What music did you grow up listening to?
A: Yes, it definitely reflects my musical taste – I grew up listening to a lot of Ray Charles and 60s rock, thanks to my father, and then my brothers got me into Kiss and whatnot, so I guess that’s where I got my first taste for music.

AM: Who had the greatest influence on you?
A: So many people! As I said, I started out with Ray Charles, 60s rock and Kiss. But when it comes to electronic music, I started listening to a lot of Daft Punk, way before I knew what house music was, and then progressed into a lot of Steve Angello, Eric Prydz, Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso, and Laidback Luke. They all influenced me a lot and listening to them taught me so much.

AM: When working on the album, did you view it as one complete piece of work, or is it more a collection of tracks written over a period of time? In these days of iTunes and Spotify, does it even make sense to think of an album as a whole any more?
A: Everything in the EDM world is single-oriented right now. I recently told Rolling Stone, the only way to make an album is if every track is treated like a single. So that’s how I approached my new record. And these days, I reckon that’s how albums should be made.

AM: So what was the process when you went into the studio with each collaborator?
A: When collaborating with these amazing artists, I have the melodies in my head and I know exactly where to take everything, but I’m not able to do it all by myself; I’m not able to sing. So when I’m with someone who does sing and all these acoustic instruments, I know exactly what to do with it.

AM: Does the single ‘Wake Me Up’ signal a new direction in your production style?
A: I wanted to debut something a little different with ‘Wake Me Up’. It’s a blend of rock, soul and R&B, and almost kind of bluegrass and old house funk, but very electronic. It was a lot of fun to make that track.

AM: In 2011, you got into a legal battle with Syco over the use of one of your tracks without permission. The use of instrumental tracks like this seems to be a common problem for dance music producers, do you agree? How does it feel to find your work appropriated like this?
A: I’m not sure how common it is, but it’s definitely a problem. In a way, it’s flattering that people like your work enough to want to use it in their production. But the bottom line is, credit needs to be given where it’s due.

AM: You’re playing the Electric Daisy Carnival London and Creamfields festivals later this year, how do festival crowds compare to a club or your own headline show?
A: It’s just two different types of vibes. A good club show can be just as good as a festival but obviously in a different way. Festivals are way bigger, and seeing the reactions of 20,000 people jumping around is unlike anything else.

AM: You have played some of the other Electric Daisy Carnival festivals already. How do they compare to other events?
A: EDC is such a massive festival; the energy at that place is like nothing else. The crowds have been amazing so far and I can’t wait to play the next one!

AM: What should people who’ve not seen you live before expect from your performances?
A: I always try and do something really special for big festivals such as this, so I hope they are ready for a good time!