“Wake Me Up,” the single by Swedish electronic dance music artist Avicii, begins with the insistent strum of an acoustic guitar. A male voice enters, sounding weary yet determined. Then, Avicii drops a lively, modified two-step dance beat and the song explodes in a burst of glittery sequencer squiggles. “Wake Me Up” is rousing and shamelessly big, as though Avicii were playing the honky-tonks on Mars.
Nothing on Avicii’s debut full-length, True, is quite so ambitious in its synthesis of styles, but there are moments that tease out the possibilities of combining these genres: Dan Tymniski of Alison Krauss & Union Station co-wrote and sings on “Hey Brother,” while Mac Davis guests on the dark testimonial “ID (Black and Blue).”
“Wake Me Up” elicited boos at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami this spring when Avicii brought a live band onstage to debut the track for an audience of dedicated dance music followers. Ultimately, though, “Wake Me Up” shot to No. 1 in more than 70 countries sold more than 3 million downloads worldwide. The single is now climbing the Billboard 100 chart while the album True will be released in the U.S. on Sept. 17.
CMT Edge: Guitar plays a big role on this album. That’s not an instrument one typically associates with dance music. In fact, I think some people are afraid that turntables and sequencers are making guitars obsolete.
Avicii: When making the album and messing around with different melodies, I just fell in love with the sound of the acoustic instruments, especially the guitar. It just sounded so organic. So I made sure to find a place for guitars in my album.
Did you have a country audience or a dance audience in mind specifically when you made the record?
Honestly, I didn’t have a specific audience in mind. I had no boundaries when making this album. I did all of the tracks for myself more than anything, and I really believed in my own judgment. I’ve always been open to listening to everything, and you can see that in my album. That’s why I called the album True because everything happened so fluently, and there was never a set plan behind anything. I didn’t plan to mix genres, but it’s what I liked, what sounded right, so I went for it.
Can you talk about writing and crafting this song? The beat almost sounds like a country two-step, like Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Two exploded into glitter.
It started out with Mike Einziger from Incubus and me jamming in his studio. I wrote the hook-line melody. He wrote the melody for the verses and the pre-chorus chords. Then the song was ready — minus the lyrics. So, I called [singer] Aloe Blacc since we were already working on another track together. He came by, and we just laid it down, I think we finished the whole song in about four hours.
What made Mike Einziger a good collaborator for this album? He seems to have one foot in the rock world and another in country music.
So many things. He is a phenomenal musician and capable of playing so many different instruments. Not only that, but he is also extremely intelligent. Mike is a really open-minded individual, as well. I know he is in Nashville a lot with his fiancée [Ann Marie Simpson]. He plays acoustic, and she plays fiddle, and they have backed Emmylou Harris.
There are some great vocal performances on the album — some a little country and some not at all. Can you talk about matching singer with song? Do you write with a specific vocalist in mind?
I do think that a lot of the so-called “country” in this track comes from the opening guitar lines by Mike Einziger, who wrote the song with me and Aloe. And as for writing the songs, I already have the melodies in my head and I know exactly where to take everything, but I’m not able to sing! So when I’m with an amazing artist like Aloe Blacc and all these different acoustic instruments, I know exactly where to take everything.
What’s your background in country music? Is it something you’ve grown up with? Who are some of the artists, contemporary or not, that you gravitate toward?
I have always liked bluegrass. There is something cool and likable about it. It’s so mellow with all of the harmonies. It’s always captured my attention.
What was it like working with Dan Tyminski and Mac Davis?
I’ve been a fan of [Dan’s] ever since I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou? So it was incredible to be able to work with him on a song. It was a really interesting mix, and this is actually my favorite track on the record. I was introduced to Mac by Neil Jacobson of Interscope. Neil has connected me with many different artists, and he happens to golf with Mac. Mac is legendary, and I was thrilled to be able to collaborate with him. I’m actually not sure what his reaction was … but we worked together, so it couldn’t have been too bad.
There were some boos from the crowd at Ultra. Did you have any second thoughts about releasing this material? Were you concerned with how it would be received?
The audience determines so much. Ultra is where I debuted “Wake Me Up” with the live instruments and vocals. There was a mixed reaction. I knew there was a risk in doing that because it was so different from what everyone else doing and from what the audience was expecting.
The Ultra reaction didn’t really shake my confidence because I knew I was taking a chance. Bringing out live musicians was something completely different. And everyone has come around. It’s definitely out of their comfort zone, but I think this track resonates well with all audiences because it has a great blend of different genres. Now that people recognize “Wake Me Up,” I think they will love hearing it live. Hopefully, everyone will listen to the live performances of my other tracks with open hearts and open minds.