For Avicii Collaborator, Finishing Posthumous Album 'Was Also A Grieving Process'

Jun 10, 2019
Originally published on June 10, 2019 11:59 am

When DJ-producer Avicii died by suicide last year, the music world mourned its sudden loss of the 28-year-old Swedish talent.

For the electronic artist's friends tasked with seeing his posthumous album to the finish line, the creative process presented a particular challenge.

Swedish producer Carl Falk, Avicii's close friend and collaborator, says he was paralyzed with grief he associated with manipulating his friend's music.

"It was almost impossible to go to the studio for the first couple of weeks," he says. "I would open a song and I would play the song and all of a sudden, you're like, 'Oh, this piano was recorded on this keyboard in Tim's house and his vocals, I remember — there were so many memories that came up."

Before his death, Avicii had been working on songs for a new album and left the tracks nearly complete. So his family turned to a group of Avicii's longtime creative partners to see it through.

The musician's father, Klas Bergling, was adamant about its release. "No question about it," he said in an interview with The New York Times.

Avicii's posthumous third album, Tim, titled after his real name, Tim Bergling, was released last week.

Despite the emotional and creative challenges, Falk says he felt confident about what he thought Bergling envisioned for the album.

Swedish DJ Avicii, in the studio with producer Carl Falk at right.
Sean Eriksson

Falk describes Avicii's push for an evolved sound, involving "slower tempo, more organic instruments, a lot of African influences, a lot of darker lyrics ... this is new ground for Tim."

Bergling, who could be obsessive about finding the right melody, Falk says, was determined to reinvent himself with his next genre-transgressing work. The producers also drew from conversations and text messages with Bergling, in addition to the meticulous notes kept on his computer.

But that tight-knit relationship also made the process much more difficult.

The responsibility he felt to properly honor his friend weighed on him. "It didn't take me long to realize that, 'OK, I can't. What should I do with this? I can't take anything away, I can't add anything to this? I don't have the right to do that. ... This is Tim's legacy right here that I'm looking at,' " he says.

But baby steps helped Falk move forward with the project. He would tell himself, for example, "I'm just gonna listen to these tracks and I'm gonna go home."

After months of sitting with material that both musicians produced, he started to feel empowered to honor his friend with the record's completion.

"All the songs me and Tim have done has been a little bit of Tim and a little bit of me, which was an eye-opener for me," Falk says. "Then I realized that I can actually make decisions, I can finish this without him as long as it's done as a celebration to him and, you know, feel like Tim's sitting there with me."

The album's final track, "Fades Away," presented one such hurdle, where Falk carried out a posthumous collaboration.

"It was one of those songs that [wasn't] finished because Tim couldn't decide what should be the verse and what should be the chorus," he says.

Avicii's slow piano is heard in the track's intro. "The rest of it was all about him."

Avicii — who in 2016 announced his retreat from the world tour lifestyle after years of hard partying had taken a toll on his health — wanted to write a song that felt really slow, Falk says.

"Then, when the melody drop part came, it would almost be double tempo," he says. "And the contrast between slow and fast should be the thing."

It's an up-and-down contrast that's mirrored in the mixed emotions Falk felt throughout the album's production.

"That song sums up the record for me," he says.

And Falk has managed to treasure the positive memories. "It became almost like a comfort to work on these songs and to have them, to listen to, to remember and to think back on the whole process how they were put together."

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOS")

AVICII: (Singing) Can you hear me? SOS. Help me put my mind to rest.

MARTIN: New music by deejay/producer Avicii. It's an album full of songs he'd been working on before he took his own life last year. The tracks were not quite complete, so Avicii's family turned to a group of his close collaborators and friends to finish what he left behind. One of them is Swedish producer Carl Falk. He spoke to NPR about the emotional and creative challenge of finishing his friend's last album. It's titled "Tim," a tribute to Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling.

CARL FALK: It was almost impossible to go to the studio the first couple of weeks because I would open a song, and I would play the song. And all of a sudden, you're, like, oh, this piano. That was recorded on this keyboard in Tim's house. And these vocals - oh, I remember. It was so many memories that came up. And it didn't take me long to realize that, OK, I can't - what should I do with this? I can't take anything away. I can't add anything to this. I don't have the right to do it. This is, like, Tim's work. This is Tim's legacy right here that I'm looking at. So I decided to, like, OK, I'm just going to listen to these tracks, and then I'm going to go home.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD REPUTATION")

JOE JANIAK: (Singing) Can you see my emotions sinking away in slow-motion? Like a break in the ocean, just getting lost out at sea...

FALK: I realized for me that all the songs me and Tim have done has been a little bit of Tim and a little bit of me, which was an eye-opener for me because I realized that I can actually make decisions. I can finish this without the team as long as it's done as a celebration to him and feel like Tim's sitting there with me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD REPUTATION")

JANIAK: (Singing) 'Cause it's going to follow me, follow me, I know.

FALK: I felt really confident on what I think or what I would have guessed that Tim would have wanted based on working so much with Tim in the past but also since I knew him so well as a person. It was more sad. It was so sad to sit there and finish the songs without him. He wanted this to be Avicii 2.0. - slower tempo, more organic instruments, lot of African influences, lot of darker lyrics - you know, stuff like that. So this is new ground for Tim.

(SOUNDBITE OF AVICII'S "FADES AWAY")

FALK: The last track on the album, "Fades Away" - and that was one of those songs that weren't finished because Tim couldn't decide what should be the verse and what should be the chorus. So I came back to Sweden with this piano track. It was the original piano. It's still on the intro. That's Tim's original piano. And it's also Tim's words - and I can't go on, and I can't go on. Don't you love it how it all just fades away?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FADES AWAY")

NOONIE BAO: (Singing) Don't you love it how it all just fades away?

FALK: Those were Tim's words. And I still have the text message in my phone with Tim saying, like, oh, my God. Those lyrics are so good. And all of his songs instantly had a new meaning for us songwriters after what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FADES AWAY")

BAO: (Singing) Don't you love it how it all - it all just fades away. It all just fades away. All of the...

FALK: To finish the songs, it was some mixed emotions because it was - one was the whole mission to finish what we started. But it was also a really hard process because all the memories and all the happy times, all the sad times and everything just came up during this process. But it became almost like a comfort to work on these songs and to have them, to listen to them, to remember and to think back on all the whole process how they were put together. That also became nice and positive memories.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FADES AWAY")

BAO: (Singing) Don't you love it how it all - it all just fades away.

MARTIN: That was Carl Falk, one of the producers on the final Avicii album, "Tim."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAVEN")

AVICII: (Singing) Step out into the dawn, You pray till, you pray till the lights come on, and then you feel like you've just been born. Yeah, you come to raise me up... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.