Tim Bergling, better known as the progressive-house power-player Avicii, has had quite a run over the last few years. Since releasing “Seek Bromance” (as Tim Berg) and “My Feelings For You” in 2010, and continuing that string of hits into 2011 with “Street Dancer,” “Penguin,” and of course “Levels,” Avicii has climbed the ranks rapidly, packing 2012 with world tours and headlining slots for nearly every major music festival.
Last week, Bergling released “Avicii X You,” a single that was the result of a project that saw more than 12,000 people from all over the world contributing melodies, basslines, beats, rhythms, breaks, and effects for the track. And next up, he’s got big plans for Miami Music Week: an exclusive Avicii Hotel experience. We checked in with him to talk about his latest tour, drawing musical inspiration from Ray Charles, and the next round of surprises for 2013.
2012 has been a huge year for you, and for dance music. You were ranked #3 in the DJ Mag poll after only three years of performing. You headlined nearly every major festival including Ultra, Tomorrowland, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Lollapalooza, among others. What were some of your favorite moments?
That is a very hard question. It’s so many things, but one of my favorite moments was when I headlined Ultra Music Festival in Miami, and Madonna joined me on stage. It was also one of those festivals I was really looking forward to. I remember going to Miami a year earlier and just looking at the headliners and dreaming that maybe one day I’d be a headliner like that, too.
Speaking of Madonna, you collaborated with her and Lenny Kravitz last year. Tell us about the creative process working with some of these artists.
They asked me to work on their projects, which was great. They sent me the tracks and I just did what I do in the studio. This year, I’ll be spending more time with my collaborators in the same studio. That will be a new way of working.
Your latest highly anticipated collaboration with Nicky Romero, “I Could Be The One” (formerly “NickTim”), pairs your melodic talents with Nicky’s high-energy sound and now features vocal treatment from Swedish pop singer Noonie Bao. How did this collaboration come about?
We seem to have a great energy together. And I was super-happy with Noonie’s vocals and the opportunity to share her talent with the rest of the world.
You’ve been known to wait to officially release songs until long after they’ve been circulated online and heard by fans. Is there a specific strategy to that approach?
That’s because me and my manager, Ash, have always thought the fans of our music were the most important part of what we do. We want to let them hear it first. Their response creates the momentum to enter the general marketplace.
Did you have any idea “Levels” was going to become such a phenomenon when you were creating the track?
Not at all! But it took a while for it to reach that level. People had to get accustomed to the hook. I am still amazed at the reaction I get from it.
You unveiled your giant face-shaped DJ booth at Coachella 2012, and took the stage setup on your arena tour. What inspired that unique design?
To be honest, I didn’t have much to do with the design, but I was so happy when I saw it—it was one of the coolest things that I have ever seen. It was something completely out of this world; no one had ever done anything similar to that, especially not in the electronic music world. It was just more of a show—it was still very much Avicii, my music, but the whole setting and everything around it really elevated the show to something completely different. The content that was made and mapped onto the head was just beautiful. It was kind of freaky sometimes; it looked real. It was really awesome.
You completed your first summer residency at the legendary Ushuaia Beach Hotel in Ibiza. What was that like?
Ibiza pretty much is Mecca for dance music; it really has such a long history of electronic music, and a love of partying so it was a really different scene to play at.
You just finished playing shows at Stereosonic Australia, Zouk in Singapore, then touring Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, and the US. What’s a typical day like when you’re on the road traveling from show to show?
If I’m touring it’s mostly catching the plane to the next show, check in, and if I have time, try to experience the city I’m in for a bit. Then I do my whole pre-gig routines: decide what tracks I want to bring, make sure I have all my things in order, and then maybe go out for some dinner before the show.
Do you prepare differently for a festival set compared to a club set?
Obviously there is stuff that I wouldn’t play in a club that I play at festivals, and vice-versa, but my sets are still dominated largely by my own music. I think that’s what makes me stand out a bit. My music is also festival- and club-friendly, so it generally works out well.
After a year full of intense touring, you’re back in the studio. What can we expect from your new releases?
I don’t know what I can and can’t say, but there’s been some collaborating going on, and over the past few months, I’ve finished some new tracks and continue to work on more. I feel fortunate to be at a point where I have a lot of unreleased material waiting to be heard. Stay tuned!
What does your current studio setup look like? Are you still using FL Studio?
On the road, it’s pretty much a laptop with FL Studio but I have my bigger studio in Stockholm.
Tell us about your creative process. Did you play instruments growing up?
I always just sit down at the piano and make the main hook—what I want the track to be about melodically—and then I’ll build everything else around that. But growing up, I did not play any instruments.
What advice would you give aspiring producers and DJs?
Don’t give up! It takes a long time to really get ahold of the production part, and the same goes with mastering the decks.
You’ve had great success at a young age. Who have been some of your biggest musical influences?
So many people! I grew up listening to a lot of Ray Charles and ’60s rock, thanks to my father, and then my brothers got me in to KISS and whatnot, so I guess that’s where I got my first taste for music. 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—everything from the basics of how to arrange a track to chords and scales, which ended up making my sound what it is today.
You’ve used several different aliases, including Tom Hangs, Tim Berg, and Avicii. Is that to differentiate your sound?
Yes, I release slightly different music under each name. Tracks I release under the Tim Berg alias are more experimental and underground tunes that don’t really fit under the Avicii name. Tom Hangs is an alias I used to release more commercial tracks.
Some say your December 2010 Essential Mix is one of the best ever and kicked off your rise to fame. Do you think that mix helped jumpstart your career?
Yes, definitely. It was just in the beginning of things and getting something out that receives a lot of exposure obviously helps your career.
Where do you see dance music heading in the future?
This year it just skyrocketed, but I think it has a long way to go. The electronic music world is really on top of its game right now and I think it will only get bigger. Ultra went to two weekends this year, so that’s an indication of the growth and interest in the music.
What are some of your plans for 2013?
I plan to spend a lot of time in the studio, and a little less on the road. Of course, I’ll be at Ultra and have a lot of surprises for Miami… You will see more initiatives for House for Hunger, and I hope to get the fans even more involved. So, look for new music and some surprises.