Two years ago today, on April 20, 2018, Tim Bergling — known to millions of fans around the world as electronic dance music superstar Avicii — took his own life. It was a shocking moment that seemed to be the end of a very public figure’s long and intermittently troubled tale, although the story continued in the form of a 12-track posthumous album called Tim, the launch of the Tim Bergling Foundation and a 2019 memorial concert in Stockholm.
A Spin cover story published last June in conjunction with the release of Tim and written by Billboard Dance director Katie Bain went inside Bergling’s final days — from the time he spent recording the album to the final texts he sent to friends and collaborators.
Bain’s interview with Bergling’s closest peers paints a picture of the man in his final days. It depicts a man of strong vision and unrelenting will. It shows an artist in his stride, still struggling beneath a surface of smiles. It tells of Tim‘s creation and, much as the album itself, attempts to leave fans one more piece of an irreplaceable icon. It’s a touching and personal portrayal peppered with touching and heart-wrenching details.
Here are some of the things we learned.
Avicii didn’t exactly trust strangers. When it came time to begin work on the music that would become Tim, Bergling gathered his favorite and most trusted collaborators. All of them were fellow Swedes. All of them had been with him since day one, and when newcomer singer-songwriter Joe Janiak came around, he was almost turned away. “I remember Tim calling me from his house the day Joe was arriving,” longtime collaborator Carl Falk recalls. “He was like, ‘Maybe we should start the session with just you and me and see how it goes.’ I was like, ‘Tim, Joe is outside your actual door, waiting. I think you should open the door for him.” That day, they ended up writing the album’s closer, “Fades Away.”
He had a self-destructive work ethic. The piece is littered with comments from friends and collaborators about Bergling’s inability to rest or even eat. Falk told Bain: “He’d call eight hours after I left the studio, and he’d still be there with his half-eaten cheeseburger laying on the laptop. It was horrible to see. We had to make sure that he slept, that he ate.” Longtime collaboratore Vincent Pontare said: “You could just see he was tired. We were telling him openly and honestly, ‘After this is done, you should get some rest. You should sleep, man.’” Geffen Records President Neil Jacobson is quoted: “The studio was as much a burnout for him as touring. I think the narrative may not be correct in that it was all touring that took him down. If we didn’t have an end time for him, he would stay in the studio for 15 or 16 hours.”
His collaborators consider him nothing less than a genius. He let personal care take a backseat to the vision in his mind, but that truly insane attention to detail made him an unparralleled composer. Jacobson says: “Let me tell you, I don’t use the G-word lightly, but Tim’s vocal productions and his ability to direct a vocal … that was his genius. He was a really good producer, but it was his ear for melody that made him just unbelievable.” Janiak recalls: “One thing I really admired about Tim was that he was never one to go, ‘I guess that’s good enough. Let’s move on.’ We had to find what we were searching for, and because he was a perfectionist, maybe six hours after he finished something, he’d be like, ‘Actually, I’m not sure.’ Then eventually it was like, ‘Oh wait, no, that was right.’”
His third album was meant to be a wild exploration of new sounds. Always a fan of experimentation, Avicii brought a vast and varied tapestry of influences to his studio. He played Swedish lullabies, selections from the Gladiator soundtrack and vintage African vinyl for his collaborators. Janiak quips: “It didn’t seem like Tim was creating out of fear. He told me he had finally started enjoying music again,” while Falk says of his lyrics: “This time he was talking about the album in more spiritual way. He was talking about nirvana.”
Tim was 85 percent finished when Bergling died. Christopher Thordson, Avicii’s business manager, explains: “The songs selected for this album were not picked based on their commercial hit potential. The album rather represents an uncensored, yet coherent, body of work guided by Tim’s notes and wishes to the highest degree possible.” Falk adds: “I hope the music will be received in the right way, that people can see this is an effort by us, his friends, to celebrate Tim. To honor him by finishing these songs in his name.”
Read the full cover story on Avicii via Spin.