Avicii Talks Illness, Fame and Retiring at Age 26
"I'm happier, more stress-free than I've been in a long time,” the Swedish DJ tells THR about his surprise decision to quit live performing at the end of his current, worldwide tour.
Avicii looks tired. Tired, but happy.
The Swedish electronic dance music superstar is en route from Bahrain, where he was the headline act for Bahrain Grand Prix concert series, stopping over for a few hours in Cannes before heading out for the final stretch of what, if the 26-year-old DJ is to be believed, will be his final tour.
Last week, Avicii, who also goes by his given name, Tim Bergling, shocked his millions-strong global fan base when he announced his retirement from live touring in an emotional letter he posted on his website.
"Two weeks ago, I took the time to drive across the U.S. with my friends and team, to just look and see and think about things in a new way," he wrote. “It really helped me realize that I needed to make the change that I’d been struggling with for a while."
Sitting down with The Hollywood Reporter, ostensibly to talk about Stories, an upcoming documentary about his short, spectacular career in music (which BBC Worldwide has snatched up for international distribution), Avicii was in a reflective mood.
“I was nervous when I made the announcement,” he says, “mainly that I would look ungrateful. But I've gotten so many supportive texts from friends in the industry, other DJs, other artists. The fan response has been incredible. And even the press response has been incredible. So yeah, its been a lot better than I expected.”
Indeed, the artist's EDM peers — Morgan Page, Steve Aoki, Nicky Romero and the The Chainsmokers among them — took to Twitter and Instagram to offer their support. Canadian DJ Deadmau5 was less kind.
“Yeah, I saw that,” says Avicii, of the Deadmau5 tweet. “That's fine. It's not my problem if he can't quit.”
Avicii had suffered from very public health problems for the past few years, including acute pancreatitis, in part due to excessive drinking. After having his gallbladder and appendix removed in 2014, he canceled a series of shows in attempt to recover.
“To me it was something I had to do for my health,” he says of his decision to quit touring. “The scene was not for me. It was not the shows and not the music. It was always the other stuff surrounding it that never came naturally to me. All the other parts of being an artist. I'm more of an introverted person in general. It was always very hard for me. I took on board too much negative energy, I think.”
Today, with his deep-set eyes gazing out from a pale, gaunt face, Bergling still looks far from healthy. But he is smiling.
“I just feel happy. I feel free at this point. Like I have my private life back and focusing on myself for the first time in a long time,” he says. “This was obviously the hardest decision of my life so far. But so far it has paid off tremendously in terms of well-being for me. I'm happier than I have been in a very, very long time. Stress-free more than I have been in a very long time. I can't say I'm never going to have a show again. I just don't think I'm going to go back to the touring life.”
Directed by Levan Tsikurishvili, the film Stories follows Avicii from the release of his debut album, True, in 2013 to his follow-up, which shares its title with the documentary. It records his rocket-like rise as a pioneer of the EDM movement, to one of the world's top DJs, who has enjoyed cross-over success with hits such as "Wake Me Up" and "Hey Brother," won two MTV Music Awards, one Billboard Music Award and earned two Grammy nominations.
"'It's been a very crazy journey. I started producing when I was 16. I started touring when I was 18. From that point on, I just jumped into it 100 percent,” Avicii recalls. “When I look back on my life, I think, 'Whoa, did I do that?' It was the best time of my life in a sense. It came with a price — a lot of stress a lot of anxiety for me — but it was the best journey of my life.”
Despite his own decision to step away, Avicii says he thinks EDM, as a musical and commercial genre, still has a lot of life left in it. “The music is still growing, it's still evolving,” he says. “That's why, in a way, I had to make the decision I did. Because I don't feel that EDM is going to stop. So I had to figure out how am I going to deal with that? Am I going to be able to go on this train for another eight years?”
With 33 dates left on 2016 tour, Avicii isn't quite done yet. He is also working to finish his new album, which he says is still a work in progress. “I'm collecting what I have left from the last eight years, stuff I've always loved but haven't had an outlet for, and I'm seeing what to release and what not to release.”
In his remaining live shows, Avicii said he'll be premiering new songs “here and there to see what flies and what doesn't.” That includes a new track featuring vocals by Australian artist Sia, though Avicii says the version he played a show last weekend in Dubai, was “a demo, not the finished version.” In fact, he said during the concert he pushed the wrong button and played a different version of the track by mistake. “It's one of a lot of new songs that I haven't finally worked out yet. That version isn't the Sia/Avicii song. We're still trying to find the right version.”
Even after he wraps his last show — scheduled for August 28 in Ibiza — Avicii says he'll keep making music. In fact, he says retirement will likely mean he'll make a lot more music “whether that means doing other projects, songwriting for other artists, or whatever.”
Bergling also hinted he may branch out into other creative fields, though he didn't provide any details, besides saying he planned “to play around a little bit and see what sticks, see what I feel I'm good at and what I enjoy.”
He'll also have a chance to catch up on the news — like the reunion of LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy's pioneering electronic dance band that ended its 10-year-run in 2011 when Murphy, much like Avicii now, decided he had enough with the touring lifestyle.
“LCD Soundsystem are getting back together? I didn't know. I haven't even been paying attention. That's super exciting,” Bergling says. He pauses, pondering the idea. “I could envision a comeback. Maybe in 60 years.”