While once dismissed as a European quirk or a genre that requires a tab of an illicit substance to enjoy, house music is taking over mainstream America—and 22-year-old Swedish house DJ Avicii is at the helm. Although he only started making music a few years ago, Avicii is already number 6 in DJ Magazine‘s prestigious top 100 list (he is beaten only by the likes of David Guetta, Tiesto, DeadMau5 and Armin van Buuren, and something tells us this won’t be the case for long) and has played every major house festival in the US. Avicii, real name Tim Bergling, took a moment out of his Asian tour to talk to us about his favorite festival memories, borderline-hipster shirt choice, and just how he plans to play two shows in two different countries this New Year’s Eve.
EMMA BROWN: Hi Tim, thanks for taking the time to speak with me from Bangkok. How long have you been on tour for?
TIM BERGLING: Pretty much this whole year, I really haven’t had any time off.
BROWN: Wow, you must be exhausted. Do you enjoy being on tour?
BERGLING: Yeah, I enjoy it. I love what I’m doing, I feel fortunate to be able to do it, but then again, of course, it’s tiring, especially when you do the really long tours, like I have 35 shows in a row in 30 days—double shows, no rest. So it is exhausting. I’m going to be able to get some time off in February, I’m going to take a vacation somewhere, haven’t figured out where yet.
BROWN: I hear you are playing two shows in Canada and New York on New Year’s Eve…
BERGLING: Yeah. We play in Canada first and then we have a private jet to New York, it’s just so stressed on time, we have a helicopter from the airport to the gig, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do it. [But] I’m always looking forward to playing in New York, especially on New Year’s.
BROWN: How do you get the energy for a night like that—are you pounding energy drinks?
BERGLING: [laughs] No, not really. I try and sleep as much as I can. There’s really nothing else that I do, I don’t drink coffee or anything like that.
BROWN: Do you get a chance to write any music while you’re touring?
BERGLING: I have a hard time writing music when I’m on tour. Every time I go, I’m pretty much taking a break.
BROWN: When did you start making music?
BERGLING: I started a couple of years ago, three or four years ago, when a friend of mine showed me this program where you make your own music and I got stuck instantly. I’ve always had a fascination with making your own music but never have been skilled enough to play the instrument, so to be able to make music without the ability was awesome.
BROWN: That’s not very long ago. Were you into house music when you were growing up?
BERGLING: No, not at all. That came later. I actually only started listening to house music around the time I started making it. I got hooked both to making music and to house music.
BROWN: What sort of things do you listen to in your spare time?
BERGLING: There’s always so much music around me now, it seems like everything has to be something with music, so in my spare time I try not to listen to anything. [laughs] It’s so hard for me to listen to something without trying to see a benefit in it: “Maybe I’ll make my own version of that track or maybe I’ll do this or that.” When I’m off I just don’t want to hear anything.
BROWN: So what do you do to relax when you’re off?
BERGLING: I watch a lot of movies.
BROWN: How do you start creating a song?
BERGLING: I always start with the melody, so I’ll sit by the piano and play the chords with the melody. When I have a melody, I’ll build everything around that.
BROWN: Do you have something in mind that you want to communicate to your listeners when you are writing a song?
BERGLING: I’ve never really thought about that. To me, I’m always trying to look for the energy, to imagine in being played on the dance floor. I guess that’s the most important thing in making music for me.
BROWN: Can you tell me about your different DJ names—you’ve recorded under both Avicii and Tim Berg, is there a specific distinction?
BERGLING: Yeah. Tim Berg is a little more underground, or not underground, but it’s more experimental, I can do exactly what I want with that, while Avicii is a little more social, I have to focus on it. I have one other pseudonym, Tom Hangs. [laughs] That one is for the more commercial stuff.
BROWN: You’ve worked with some really big names, Tiesto and David Guetta. How was working with Guetta?
BERGLING: It was awesome, David’s an awesome guy. Everything was painless, so I’m really happy about that. I wanted to work with him for a long time. He helped me a lot, so I support him. It was cool to finally be able to do something [together.] He just emailed my manager and asked if I wanted to collaborate with him for his new album.
BROWN: Anyone you’d like to work with in the future?
BERGLING: My dream collaboration would probably be Adele right now.
BROWN: Have you tried to reach out to her at all?
BERGLING: No, [but] I never reach out, it’s always my manager [who] handles all of that. I’m so busy on tour, it’s hard for me to keep up sometimes. It’s probably going to be pretty hard. [laughs]
BROWN: House music is traditionally associated with Europe, but you’ve had such a good reception in America, were surprised by that?
BERGLING: Yeah, I think everyone in this industry is surprised about what’s happening in America right now—house music is just exploding, it’s bigger in the States than it is anywhere else right now.
BROWN: Yeah, it seems like Ultra and Electric Zoo are turning into Bonnaroo and Coachella. How were Electric Zoo and Ultra?
BERGLING: They were amazing. I’m not even exaggerating, it feels like almost every gig in the States is amazing; all the festivals are amazing, the crowds are really good… massive crowds.
BROWN: Any festival highlights?
BERGLING: Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, it’s just so incredibly massive. It was insane.
BROWN: You’ve also played at a lot of universities…
BERGLING: Yeah, the college crowd is the best crowd ever. They are very open-minded to anything.
BROWN: When someone samples one of your songs, like Flo Rida did, do they ask your permission before they record the song, or do they come to you with a finished product and ask then?
BERGLING: It’s different every time. Flo Rida doesn’t really sample me, he just uses the original vocal and that’s from Etta James, but he still came to me and asked for permission from me and my manager.
BROWN: Would you ever say no?
BERGLING: Yeah, of course! But we couldn’t really say anything there because as I said, they don’t really sample us.
BROWN: I’m curious about your passion for flannel. What is this Avicii’s Flannel Twitter handle that you follow?
BERGLING: That’s just a fan. [laughs] I get my flannels from pretty much all over, all the time. I think I have about sixty flannels. I don’t collect them, I just keep losing them all the time so I have to buy new ones.
BROWN: Would you ever come out with your own flannel line?
BERGLING: Maybe. That could be interesting…
AVICII WILL PLAY AT THE SCOTIABANK CONVENTION CENTRE, NIAGARA FALLS AND PIER 94, NEW YORK ON NEW YEAR’S EVE. FOR MORE ON AVICII, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.