When Swedish producer/DJ Avicii, a.k.a. Tim Bergling, died by suicide in 2018, he left behind more than just unanswered questions—there were also somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 unreleased tracks and demos. By the accounts of his friends and collaborators, not only was Bergling in good spirits near the end of his life, but he was well into the production of what would become his third full-length album. Within weeks of his passing, his family asked his management to begin the process of combing through all his devices for the music he’d been working on. "He kept titled folders like 'These are the [tracks] that I want to release' or 'These are the ones that I'm unsure of,’” Christopher Thordson, a member of Avicii's management team, tells Apple Music. After Thordson inventorized everything he could find—audio files, emails and text messages to his co-writers and label team, iPhone voice memos, notes in his Dropbox folders—he met with Bergling’s father, Klas, and a group of A&R people to whittle down five years’ worth of recordings into a shortlist of songs for the album. From there, Avicii's co-producers and songwriters began their work—which was intentionally kept to a minimum. (Thordson estimates the tracks were about 80 to 90 percent finished at the time of Bergling's death.) “No one is saying that this is 100% Tim, because that's impossible when you have a guy that is so particular and a perfectionist,” admits Thordson.
The songs that were chosen for the final album, which was overseen by producers and songwriters Carl Falk, Albin Nedler, and Kristoffer Fogelmark, follow a similar direction to what Avicii had been pointed toward with the folk-pop feel of 2017’s Avīci (01) EP. TIM’s first few singles (“SOS,” “Tough Love," and “Heaven,” which features Coldplay’s Chris Martin) are built on dance-pop’s foundations, but the scaffolding—touches of ’80s soft rock, acoustic strums, vaguely Eastern-sounding strings—makes them something different altogether, even if you could still spend a night on a beach dancing to them. And as was one of Avicii’s signatures, there’s an introspective, darker tone to the lyrics that’s offset by the music's uplifting vibes. “Just a couple of days before passing away, Tim had written in his iPhone notes, 'Spread positivity through my music... and enjoy success but not materialistic success,'” says Thordson. "Within the same context—writing to himself about music—he also wrote, 'Transfer emotion to the song, and what emotion the song is written in will be transmitted.'"
In some cases, Bergling's comments were more specific, particularly around using lesser-known vocalists for the features. “If every song is an interesting mix of never-before-seen collaborators,” Bergling wrote, “that is in itself a sign” that the tracks will stand on their own, as opposed to drawing attention with recognizable names. Which is why you’ll see that beyond Martin, Imagine Dragons, and Aloe Blacc (whom Avicii in many ways introduced to the world on 2013’s "Wake Me Up”), most of the guests who appear—and who were on Bergling's original demos—are up-and-coming, globally speaking. Here are a few more examples of how Avicii’s notes helped put the finishing touches on TIM.
“Peace of Mind” (feat. Vargas & Lagola) "We made ‘Peace of Mind' the very first track because Tim wanted to have it as an intro,” says Thordson. "He also wrote that it's about society, how we're unable to disconnect from our cell phones. He said, 'This can be such a cool concept song, especially if we capitalize on 'peace of mind party' versus 'peace of mind I need a break from constant impressions,' meaning social impressions on Instagram. It’s about putting your phone on flight mode and taking a break."
"SOS” (feat. Aloe Blacc) "On ‘SOS,' it was another demo vocalist originally,” says Thordson. “But Tim wrote in his notes and told the songwriters, Kristoffer Fogelmark and Albin Nedler, that it would be really cool to have Aloe Blacc on it. That's an exception where we took in someone because Tim specifically said so. Otherwise, with the majority of these vocalists, they're the same as on the demos."
"Freak” (feat. Bonn) "Tim wrote in his notes that he absolutely loved that whistling,” Thordson explains, referring to a sample from Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto's 1961 song “Sukiyaki.” "It's way more difficult to release a sample than it is to play it yourself. But he was very clear that he wanted to use the original. He wrote, 'The whistle is probably my favorite production out of all of these,' and that he ripped it from YouTube. I think that's very characteristic of the way that he worked, that he finds something unique and he makes something really cool out of it. It's the same vocalist as on the original demo: Kristoffer Fogelmark, a.k.a. Bonn."
“Tough Love” (feat. Agnes and Vargas & Lagola) "Tim wrote that this one needs to be a duet,” Thordson tells us. "'Coolest thing would be a real couple, or a couple that have worked together enough to almost be considered a couple. Something like Selena/Bieber, but not Selena/Bieber.’ Originally, it was just Vincent Pontare of Vargas & Lagola. After I told the songwriters, Vincent and his wife—she's a quite famous Swedish artist as well, Agnes—said, 'Okay, let's try making a duet.' To actually have the original demo vocalist there, and to be able to have a real couple—that really made sense according to Tim's notes."