Climbing leagues, not levels: Avicii speaks on monumental year, breaking barriers, head-turning plans for 2014
“I didn’t want ‘Levels’ to define me any more.”
Tim Bergling reflects on his past year and pinpoints the catalyst of his new beginning. For Avicii, it was 2013. The year that left the 24-year-old Swede with an impressive list of accolades that included a Grammy nomination, the record for the longest-running No. 1 hit on Billboard’s dance music chart, and a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30. All of which are the result of an even greater feat; taking the boldest risk that electronic music has seen in years and trampling any of its aversion with an album that painted a genre in danger of becoming black and white with all the colors needed to inspire change and creativity.Revisiting the monumental year that had the DJ/producer ranked as our number one artist and looking into the future, Avicii sat down with Dancing Astronaut to discuss everything from square one to his new artistic era. “I was so sick of people thinking that it was the only track I’d done,” he continued on the topic of escaping boundaries set by “Levels.” As busy as any jet-setting DJ or electronic artist, it was a hiatus from performing that allowed Avicii to “step outside of the norm and push the limits” as he had wanted. “Once I had a break from touring and actually had a chance to sit down and dedicate time to creating an album, that’s when the concept of True was born.” He’s referring to his debut artist album, where he’d “incorporate a wide breadth of musical styles and sounds.” He describes his initial treatment of the album as “Everything [he] loved,” but the end result would become so much more. “The process was very natural,” he humbly suggests, “I really used my own judgement when creating this album and created it for myself more than anything.” Again alluding to reinventing himself as an artist and the sound attached to his brand, Avicii explains, “I didn’t set any boundaries for myself, that’s why I called the album True.”While most of his festival-rocking peers are abiding by tried-and-true radio formula in their exploration of the commercial avenue, Tim “never really considered the pop route.” Holding nothing against the pop/electronic tracks, and giving them approval, Tim explains why he took the road less traveled for his album, “it’s just not what I wanted to do,” that “the talent I got to work with was unbelievable and incomparable.”The artists he speaks of include the likes of disco legend Nile Rodgers, Incubus’s Mike Einziger, singer and songwriter Aloe Blacc, along with high-profile yet unexpected artists such as Mac Davis and Adam Lambert. The roster of contributors aren’t your go-to guys for an electronic album at first glance, but Tim breaks down the collaborative process which he himself facilitated.
Bringing together styles from bluegrass to disco to rock, and weaving them into neo-electronica was child’s play for one of the genre’s most gifted producers. Especially in comparison to the challenge he would take on next. That was to premiere the unprecedented sound on dance music’s biggest stage, beneath its brightest lights, and in front of its largest audience. It was Ultra’s main stage — during his headlining slot, nonetheless — where Tim rolled his dice and took a gamble now honored as the boldest move by an electronic performer in years.Thousands upon thousands, both in-crowd and viewing from home, had been dialed into both weekends of Ultra’s pounding festival atmosphere. So when Avicii brought his new material to the stage with live performers and instruments, initial reactions came as a mix of confusion and criticism. The controversy had been stirred, and Tim acknowledged that in a personal letter to fans. But he also stood by his vision with the promise that “people will soon see what it’s all about.”
And they did. Not so long after Ultra concluded in Miami, Avicii’s new material had made its way around the world with “Wake Me Up” in particular dominating airwaves in every corner of the globe. That success, due in part to remaining artistically unscathed by negative feedback — not backpedaling or even returning to the drawing board after fans expressed themselves as underwhelmed by his latest work.
On the subject of the lead single Tim digs deeper; “We knew debuting ‘Wake Me Up’ in Miami would be a risk, but we felt like everyone was doing the same thing and we wanted to do something completely different.” He asserts that his team was aware that a risky debut would be the biggest hurdle to international acclaim, continuing; “We knew once we would give it time, people would come around and fall in love,” the Swede continued “I just really believed in that track, and in everyone that worked on it.”
Today, the name Avicii just rolls off the tongue differently than it had in 2011. The artist is unattached to “Levels” and his image has shifted from the poster boy of a booming dance scene to an artist leading the charge of innovative electronic music. An icon in one respect two years ago and an icon in another today, Tim said he could not have foreseen such growth while already at the top, but that the trajectory had been set by management as early as 2008. Now 2014, Avicii is one of the few artists considered as an ‘EDM Rock Star’ by bystanders on the outskirts of the niche.
Keeping most details about his future under wraps per usual, Tim opens up about music post-True; “[Mike Einziger] is writing with me on a few of the next set of songs.” On that next set of songs, he’s already making progress but only has demos at the moment. He does hint at even more star-power, however, excitedly mentioning; “Nowadays I have the luxury to work with people I’ve admired for a long time.” Ready to match and succeed his landmark studio efforts of 2013, he’s also prepared to further stun the event circuit. The Avicii Hotel is confirmed for a Miami return, but where Tim keeps the mystery alive and insists on “more things in the pipeline that will turn heads.” So it appears, once again, that Avicii is ready to break into a greater echelon of dance artist status, even if that means creating it himself.