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Avicii on his explosive rise to fame & why it’s so hard for DJs to stay healthy

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How many people in the world have made a photo-montage of an important life event with Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” playing in the background? Hundreds? Thousands? There is certainly a strong chance you’ve seen one on your Facebook timeline. It’s a track that has come to invoke a “moment” between people, the perfect mixture of rousing melody, triumphant chorus and coming-of-age theme – aided by the soulful vocals of Aloe Blacc. It’s perhaps little surprise that, since its 2013 release, it has charted at number one in much of the English-speaking world.

The DJ and producer behind the Avicii moniker is Tim Bergling, a 26-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden, who is at his new home in California when he takes our call. He’ll be jetting over to Dubai for a gig on April 1 and, seeing as it lands on April Fool’s Day, he assures us he’ll think of a prank to play on the crowd. “I’ll plan something fun to do! I’ll think of something,” he laughs. “Every time I’ve been [to Dubai] every show has been bigger than the last show and better than the last show, so I’m super excited.”

These days he’s able to get more excited about gigs, mainly because he does far fewer of them. After the release of his first album True, years of constant touring followed, with revellers in their thousands grabbing tickets across the globe to hear tracks such as “Hey Brother” and “You Make Me” among a mob of sweaty peers. He barely took his foot off the pedal when he started his second studio album, Stories, which was released in October last year. But then the headlines broke: “Superstar DJ Avicii Hospitalised” and “Avicii Cancels Ultra Music Festival”.

ShortList caught up with him to talk about his explosive rise to fame and why he had no choice but to slow down.

You had some health concerns last year. What was the issue?
For me, my threshold was eight years. I could do eight years of, like, super-heavy touring and the workload was so intense. But then I just knew that I was going to hit a wall if I kept going on at that pace. So I really took a step back and refigured out a lot of stuff in my day-to-day life. I do more planning when it comes to stuff like this, like press interviews. All of that has helped me tremendously because it’s so much less stressful now.

Is it hard for DJs to stay healthy with the hectic schedules and so much travel?
I think any profession with that amount of pressure is going to be hard on a person. I don’t think it really matters if you’re a DJ or something else, it’s going to be tough if you’re constantly stressed and constantly on the road.

Speaking of going on the road, we’re excited to have you in Dubai. We’ve had a lot of famous DJs here recently, do you think the city is becoming bigger on the music scene?
I think so, for sure. Firstly, I think dance music in general has become much bigger. Like, the dance music phenomenon and the phenomenon with the festivals and DJs… all of that has become so huge now. I think that with Dubai being the hub that it is, it’s very natural that it’s also much bigger there, too.

Your albums incorporate lots of different genres. Is it hard to make them feel like a complete piece of work with so many different elements?
It is, but when you’re working with so many different genres and so many different artists then that kind of becomes the product… that mix is the album. The piece of work is the diversity in the songs. So in the beginning it was hard adapting to it because I’ve been doing house music for my entire career, and kind of changing, going from that to blues to jazzier records with different tempos, it was all new. It was very challenging, especially when trying to make it make sense on an album. But after True, which basically started that process, Stories came a lot more naturally.

Where does the country music influence come from?
For me, it didn’t really start with country music at all. I think those influences started with folk music, and European folk music in particular, which I used to listen to a lot. I then got into [American] bluegrass, which was kind of a way into country for me, because it was very melodic and it had the cool factor that I love about European folk music in general. It almost felt like an overseas equivalent of what I grew up listening to in Sweden.

You’re known for placing a lot more emphasis on lyrics than some other DJs…
Maybe, but it hasn’t always been the case. That’s something that I really started focusing on with my first two albums. Before that, when I was releasing singles, I was focused purely on the melody of the vocal. But as I’ve progressed I’ve started being a lot more involved in the song-writing process. I’m now almost always in the room when the first seed is planted. So it’s very natural to get involved in the lyrics. It’s definitely something that I’ve started focusing on more now.

You were a DJ during dance music’s mainstream crossover. What did that feel like?
I think I’ve only started to feel part of it now. I’ve been right in the middle of it for such a long time, non-stop touring and working right in the middle of this genre, so it was really hard in the beginning to grasp how big it’s become – and how quickly. Looking back on it, on that whole journey, it feels awesome.

Avicii to play in Dubai this April

Where: Dubai World Trade Centre

When: Apr 1 – Apr 2
Start: 20:00

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