Avicii Talks Quitting Touring, Disappointing Madonna, New Music

The superstar DJ also discusses the perils of partying, why he relates to the Beatles and more

Star DJ Avicii reflects on his decision to stop touring, and explains how he knew his party-centric life had become "toxic." Credit: Sean Eriksson

Avicii spent most of his twenties as one of the biggest touring DJs in the world, blowing fans' minds from Las Vegas to Ibiza with confetti cannons and colossal EDM hooks, not to mention a wedding-favorite pop smash ("Wake Me Up"). But, it turns out, it wasn't much fun for him, as seen in an Avicii documentary due out later this year. It shows how the stress of life on the road led the Swedish superstar (real name Tim Bergling) to multiple hospitalizations – for inflammation of the pancreas linked to excessive drinking, for a burst appendix and for a gallbladder that needed to be removed – and, eventually, to retire from touring last year. "I needed to figure out my life," says Avicii, 27, who also just released a new EP, Avīci (01). "The whole thing was about success for the sake of success. I wasn't getting any happiness anymore."

There are intense moments in the documentary, like when you're in excruciating pain from pancreatitis, or arguing with promoters who wanted you to keep touring. How did it feel to relive all of that?
It was hard. I looked at myself like, "Fuck, you should've really stood up for yourself more there. Come on, Tim!" Why didn't I stop the ship earlier?

Do you feel a kinship with Brian Wilson and the Beatles, who gave up touring so that they could focus on their studio work?
For sure. I watched the new Beatles documentary [Ron Howard's Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years], and seeing certain parts I was like, "Oh, it's not just me who felt like that." The one thing that kept me from stopping was that I felt weird – like, "Why the fuck can't I enjoy this like all the other DJs?" But I'm starting to realize that a lot of the DJs who look excited at every show have the same thoughts.

You broke through at a time when EDM was the biggest sound in the world. Do you think that era is over for good?
EDM started getting oversaturated four, five, six years ago, when money became everything. From that point, I started mentally not wanting to associate myself with EDM. Now that I have more time in the studio, I want to learn as much about other genres as possible. That's what I love the most – having a session with Nile Rodgers, for instance, and getting an understanding of music that's invaluable.

Mike Posner had a big hit last year with "I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix)," where he talks about doing drugs to impress you, but ending up sad and deflated. How did you feel about that?
Mike's a good friend, so I took it as an honor. And I agree – parties can be amazing, but it's very easy to become too attached to partying in places like Ibiza. You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic.

"it's very easy to become too attached to partying. You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic."

Have you gone to other artists' concerts in the past year? Is that something you can take pleasure in, if you're not the one onstage?
No, not really. I'm still traumatized. But I'm sure I will again. I've started being able to listen to music again, getting a little bit of that joy back.

There's a scene in the film where you talk about reading Carl Jung and realizing you're an introvert. What's the last good book you read?
The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer. It's about consciousness. None of us today can fucking handle our emotions - most of us are running around being reactive. That's why I had to stop touring, because I couldn't read my emotions the right way. 

You said that your New Year's resolution was to make "the best damn album of [your] career." How's that going?
It's shaping up well. I want to bring back some older songs for the die-hard fans, but I also want to make new stuff so it sounds fresh. [The 2015 Avicii album] Stories did well, but it didn't do as well as [2013's] True. So I'm a little bit nervous.

You worked on Madonna's Rebel Heart album a couple of years ago. Have you stayed in touch with her?
Not really. I'd love to work with her again, but that was right when I was busiest, and I think she might have been disappointed in me for not being able to put in as much time as she wanted. A lot of things start suffering when you don't have the energy or time to do things properly. You think you can get away with it, but the quality suffers.

Abba are reportedly working on a mysterious reunion project. Are you excited for that?
Wow! I hadn't heard that. A lot of young people don't understand the greatness of Abba. There's almost no songwriters on the same level as Björn [Ulvaeus] and Benny [Andersson]. They were like, "Fuck making hits, we're gonna make musicals" – and they killed it. I really admire that.

Diplo has a new TV show where he's played by the actor James Van Der Beek. Who would play you, if there were a series about your life as a DJ?
Jamie Foxx, obviously [laughs]. Fuck, I don't know!