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Avicii Collaborators Reflect on Beloved DJ’s Death, and the Album it Birthed

"He was brave enough to shed the concept of genre," says Aloe Blacc.

Aloe Blacc, Joe Janiak, Salem Al
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutt

A bulb inexplicably flickers in a villa at the Sunset Marquis where (pictured, from left) Aloe Blacc, Vincent Pontare, Salem Al Fakir and Joe Janiak have gathered to talk about their late friend and collaborator Tim Bergling, better known as Avicii. It comes just as a question is posed about the vocalists chosen to sing on “Tim,” the posthumous album released this week, which include Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Imagine Dragons, the group Arizona and producer-songwriter Noonie Bao. Was any thought given to enlisting a huge A-list star like, say, Rihanna?

A brief lights-out in the afternoon haze, and Al Fakir cracks, “Tim’s like, ‘You guys should’ve had Rihanna!'”

Moments of laughter and levity are welcome when it comes to talking about Tim, who died in April 2018 at the age of 28. In a decade-long career, the Swedish born talent graduated from DJ to hitmaker to visionary, bringing his knack for undeniable melodies across unexpected instrumentation to the masses. Avicii only released two full-length albums, but singles featuring the likes of Blacc, Martin, Rita Ora and Nicky Romero were smashes of their own.

“He was brave enough to shed the concept of genre,” says Blacc, who appears on two of Avicii’s most successful songs, “Wake Me Up” and “Hey Brother.” “I can name three or four major acts right now who were inspired by [Avicii’s debut album] ‘True.’ I meet new artists all the time who tell me they got into writing or producing because of Tim. This album will inspire so many more because this is not a genre album. It is a musical album.”

It took Al Fakir, Janiak and Pontare six months to work up the frame of mind with which to visit Bergling’s unfinished tracks. “We actually chose to not open the files until we got through the human part of this situation first,” says Pontare. “Because he was the human that we knew.”

Once the decision was made to explore the music that remained, Janiak says they were fortunate in that Bergling “was very clear with his intentions when you were working on something.” At the same time, he was constantly “exploring,” adds the Brit. “Every song is so different. He was just trying stuff out. He’d get some kind of melody or shape in his head and would search to the end of the earth to find it.”

“Of course it was super emotional to open up the arrangements where we left them with Tim,” offers Al Fakir. “It helped that the songs were like 85% done when we left them, but then there was also the memory of Tim and how excited he was about the new music. So it turned quite quickly into a joyful experience, too.”

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The guys had other considerations: featured artists were scrapped in favor of getting as close as possible to the original demos. “I think that that was a good choice — not to bring in people that had no connection historically [to Tim],” says Al Fakir, who first started working with Bergling in 2011.

Blacc’s return was pre-ordained in a way. As the singer recalls: “Tim had put my name in his notes for the song ‘S.O.S.'” He then leaned on his previous experiences in the studio doing vocals with Bergling. “He was very specific and very in control of the production of the vocal,” says Blacc. “Making sure that you did your melodies and your inflections and your tone exactly how he heard it in his head. I remember going over things way more times than I normally would have by myself. But feeling like he must know something that I don’t know. And in the end, of course he did. He knew exactly what it should sound like. I would have left good enough alone; he was looking for perfect.”

Lyrically, Bergling gravitated towards specificity too. Says Blacc: “When I read the lyrics for ‘S.O.S.,’ I thought it sounded like a cry for help — like he was tortured. But that’s not what I experienced in my communication with Tim in the past. In the months leading up [to his death], the understandnig was that he was in a good place. In hindsight, reading these lyrics made me think, well, was he? Was he hiding something or was his passing triggered by something?”

On “Hold the Line,” featuring Arizona, the song’s verses include such sentiments as, “We don’t get to die young. … We just have to push on. … We don’t get to give up this life.” It’s a particularly revealing track, as Variety previously reported and Rolling Stone recently affirmed.

But Al Fakir points to the song “Peace of Mind” as proof that the DJ was in a better place. “He exercised, he meditated… and we talked about it a lot because we wrote this song.”

But Pontare also acknowledges a dark side to the music. “He was questioning what was going on with all the social media and society overall. He thought it was really interesting to discuss that.”

Blacc’s take: “In this this era of super mass stardom, there is a lot of pressure in the clock. And you trust in your people and your infrastructure to put a business plan together for a tour. Sometimes what they miss is the humanity in the schedule. The fees that promoters are offering are so astronomical that, if it’s logistically possible, you’ll do it. But is it humanly possible? Is it humane? That’s the difference. And I think for Tim that was really stressful.”

Blacc would know: when “Wake Me Up” exploded in 2013, he saw firsthand as the stress took its toll on Bergling. “The amount of time that he was gone and always working, I could see that being really tough,” says Blacc. “But being young, and feeling like you’re invincible, you want to do it all. You want to take that gig. I mean, why would you leave that money on the table? Especially when everybody who’s in your infrastructure only gets paid when you get paid. So they want to make sure you do that gig, you know?”

But Bergling may have been a classic workaholic, even if business hours tended to be the overnight shift. “What I really appreciate about him is that he did the work,” says Blacc. “Not everybody who is an artist of note in the music business does the work. Some of them just show up and sing. Some of them hire all the producers and then take the credit. He was there, he was in charge … and he was able to be free with his inspiration and with his expression. That is going to have untold ramifications for the artists that will be inspired by this album.”