Imagine that you’re an 18-year-old high school senior. You’re a bit checked out of school, and you spend your time at the library making dance tracks like your idol. You take a wild stab at sending one of these tracks to his manager on Facebook. It’s a shot in the dark, but somehow, he responds, and he sent the song to your idol. A couple years later, you’re opening for him in stadiums across North America.
It seems like a dream, right? Well, that dream was Spencer Brown’s reality. Over the years, the producer became quite close with Avicii. The man was his greatest inspiration, their shared former manager Ash Pournouri his greatest supporter. The news of Avicii’s death shocked Brown as much as anyone and sent him down a path of reflection.
“I didn’t even process it for the first few days,” Brown tells Billboard.” It’s almost given me this massive burst of inspiration, trying to have him shine through my music again. It was such an honor to work with him over the years, and it was such an honor to know him. Everything I’ve made in the last couple weeks has been very, very, very happy and euphoric.”
Brown worked with Avicii and Pournouri to garner a more progressive style. In 2013, he met Avicii in person for the first time just before opening for him at the Hollywood Bowl.
“I had previously never used CDJs in my life, so I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” Brown laughs. “I’d been DJing since 6th or 5th grade, but I always used a midi controller and laptop growing up, or CDs. Then I went up to the Hollywood Bowl, and I had no idea how to use CDJs.”
The experienced pushed him to progress quickly. He released his debut EP Chalice on Avicii’s LE7ELS label in 2014, a moment Brown remembers as “literally a dream come true.” Shortly thereafter, he hit the road as the superstar’s direct support on the True arena tour.
“He seemed really down to earth, calm and kind,” Brown says. “It’s nice meeting someone, a superstar at his level, who is just another person. He started out in his bedroom, just like me. So, anyone can ‘make it’ in the industry.'”
Once again, Brown found himself thrust into a spotlight. He was used to DJing for crowds of 300 at sloppy Frat parties. Here he was, performing for tens of thousands at venues at Barclays, TD Garden, and the Rogers Centre in Toronto. It was one of the most incredible times of his life, but he didn’t see much of his idol backstage.
“I kind of went about my own business,” he remembers. “He preferred not to be bothered before sets or after sets. He would just kind of do his own thing, and rightfully so. I’m sure he was so stressed from all the traveling and stuff. I feel like, in my time touring with him, everything was swept under the rug. I wasn’t really aware to the extent what was happening to him, because no one really talked about it. After watching the [Avicii: True Stories] documentary, everything makes sense. If he looked really stressed or tired before the show, It all makes sense now.”
Though he has since moved to new management, Brown maintains no ill will toward Pournouri. he calls the man a “fantastic mentor,” and thanks him and his team for all the immense opportunity they bestowed on his career. As his sound evolved to create longer, instrumental tracks, he felt a change in management would better reflect his changing style. He never felt pressured to push himself too far with Pournouri, but he also understands that he wasn’t the team’s main client.
Through the years, Brown says he has noticed a decrease in the larger-than-life party habits of some of his peers. He himself has used his idol’s passing as a “wakeup call” to live a healthier lifestyle.
“I’ve been working out every single day,” he says, “I’ve been meditating every day. I’ve been really watching my drinking and my partying. I think it’s just really important to treat DJing — this whole lifestyle — as a job. It is fun. It’s the best job in the world, in my opinion, but you’ve still got to watch yourself. Without health, you don’t have anything, and it’s not hard to balance them both if you get into a good rhythm.”
It’s tough for Brown, and everyone who was touched by Avicii’s life, to really accept that he is gone. Going off the late DJ’s advice, Brown still leads all his musical creations by creating the melody first. His debut album Illusion of Perfection, released May 11, is an hour-long mix album that Brown says was heavily-inspired by Avicii’s work. He says he owes much of his current success to Above & Beyond, and they discovered him through Avicii’s support.
Finally, Brown is about to head off on his own headline tour, and he can’t help but remember those days with his former friend.
“I think he was one of the first artists to successfully bridge the gap between the dance music and commercial music, and he did it in a way that was accessible and really authentic,” Brown says. “You see The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Hendrix and all these legends, and he will be that of our generation. His music is going to live on for an extremely long time.”