The Swedish DJ spans bluegrass, rock and soul on a far-reaching solo debut
By Melinda Newman Special to MSN Music
Avicii, aka Tim Bergling, may be best known as a
top producer/DJ following such hits as "Levels," "Silhouettes" and his remix of
Madonna's "Girl Gone Wild," but when it came time for the 24-year-old Swede to
make his full-length album debut, he was eager to show that his musical reach
extended far beyond EDM's parameters.
"True," out Sept. 17, embraces a wide range of styles from bluegrass on "Hey
Brother" to Americana on his first single and worldwide hit, "Wake Me Up." All
the songs have a dance bed, but for Bergling, the mission was to blend seemingly
"From the beginning, my goal was to do something that no one else was doing,"
he says. "I guess, unintentionally, that was a way for me to demonstrate that
there are no boundaries."
That also meant bringing in a similarly diverse cast of collaborators,
including Chic's Nile Rodgers ("Every minute we spent together was
an incredible learning experience for me," Bergling says), Adam Lambert from "American Idol," Alison Krauss and Union Station's Dan Tyminski, alternative rockers
Imagine Dragons, Incubus' Mike Einziger and soul singer Aloe Blacc. Bergling admits the wide net further
stresses his point about no barriers, but ultimately, he picked the
collaborators "because they are immensely talented individuals."
In perhaps the album's most unlikely pairing, Bergling wrote "Addicted To
You," featuring Einziger and Audra Mae, with Mac Davis of "Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me" fame.
Davis, who was so popular in the '70s he had his own variety show, also wrote
hits for a number of other artists, including Elvis Presley. A music executive
who golfs with Davis introduced the two. "I knew that he was a legend and he'd
written songs for Elvis, so he had that going for him," Bergling says. "I would
be honored to work with him again."
In less than five years, Bergling has ascended to the highest rung of
heavyweight DJs, rising rapidly from the boy who began making music on his
laptop in his Stockholm bedroom. His older siblings introduced him to a wide
range of rock music, while his father exposed him to the music of Ray Charles
and other R&B greats. Only three years after winning British DJ/BBC Radio 1
host Pete Tong's Fast Trax competition, Bergling scored his first Grammy
nomination for his collaboration with superstar DJ David Guetta on "Sunshine," from Guetta's 2011
album, "Nothing but the Beat."
But nothing catapulted Bergling into pop music's stratosphere like "Wake Me
Up," which has soared to the top of the charts in 22 countries and reached the
top 10 in the U.S. With its acoustic guitar intro, foot-stomping melody, Blacc's
soulful, dusky vocals and Bergling's beats, it sounds unlike anything else on
Bergling and Einziger wrote the track and then called in Blacc, with whom
Bergling had a separate writing session scheduled, to see if he had any words to
add. "He'd written these lyrics that were simple and profound," Einziger says.
"He used our ideas as a guideline and just did his thing." From start to finish,
the song took four hours to create.
Bergling never considered that the different elements may be too much of a
stretch for listeners. "When making the album and messing around with different
melodies, I just fell in love with the sound of the acoustic instruments and the
bluegrass elements that the song, and the album, were developing," he says. "The
sound was so organic and with the incredible texture of Aloe's vocals -- kind of
an old-school Motown sound -- it all meshed so well."
When Bergling first introduced "Wake Me Up," along with several other numbers
from "True," at Miami's Ultra Music Festival in March, he found not everyone was
as open-minded as he was and he encountered some initial resistance to his genre
bending. A few days later, he took to Twitter to address the concert
controversy. "I really wanted to switch things up and do something fun and
different, as I always strive for, and this album is about experimentation and
about showing the endless possibilities of house and electronic music," he
wrote. He added, "My music is open to anyone who wants to listen to it and I
will always stay true to my sound. Love you all who listen with open hearts and
Einziger, who performed with Bergling at Ultra, recalls the audience's
reaction to the set as "very odd. The hour before we were on, there were
strippers and G-strings. No disrespect to anyone who performed before it, it was
just a different vibe. When we got on, there's banjo, there's fiddle, there's
Dan Tyminski, there's Mac Davis."
The mixed reaction only fueled Bergling's passion, Einziger says. "Tim has
worked really hard for his successes, but he's received a lot of praise early
on. I don't think he'd really faced that opposition. I don't think he was
prepared for what a backlash looks like," he says. After they came off stage,
Einziger gave Bergling a little pep talk and said, "'You have to have confidence
in your vision.' He knew it."
Of course, having the song become such a worldwide smash confirmed that
Bergling was on to something, and six months after the Ultra gig, he says,
"Criticism is inevitable. Some can be constructive and beneficial, to see what
people have to say, but in general, I just do my thing without listening too
much to the hate."
Plus, he stresses he has no intention of abandoning dance music. On "True,"
he wants others to join him in his exploration, "because the possibilities of
dance music are endless," he says.
When he speaks about "True," Bergling stresses that part of its title comes
from the fact that he stayed authentic to who he is and to "the Avicii brand" in
making the album. While the notion of branding may strike anyone older than 35
as merely a marketing ploy that's incongruent with such an ideal, for Bergling,
it is more a matter of his name representing a certain standard of quality. "The
Avicii brand is truly believing in yourself, taking a chance and doing something
fun and different," he says. "For this album, I produced music that I really
loved and I went with my gut on every element. Staying true to you is the Avicii
Melinda Newman is the former West Coast bureau chief for Billboard
magazine. She has covered music and entertainment for the Los Angeles Times, The
Washington Post, The Associated Press, MSN, AOL Music, Hitfix.com, Variety,
People Country and other outlets. Recent interviews include Taylor Swift, Susan
Sarandon, Pink, Jeff Bridges, Brad Paisley, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry and Carly