At first everything was lined with cotton, soft and deceptive.
– The shock made it possible for me to function, because I couldn’t really understand anything. In my mind Tim was still alive.
Klas Bergling looks out over the dark waters of the Atlantic sea.
In Las Palmas, on the Canary Islands, he has been renting a small apartment for several years together with his wife Anki Lidén. Below the balcony seniors are practicing gymnastics in synchronized movements.
The father of a world star puts his hand on the table.
– Everyone asks me if it doesn’t feel better now, after a year. They do it with good intentions. But it’s worse. There is another perspective now. I miss him in a much deeper way.
Klas' son, Tim Bergling, known around the world by the name Avicii, was just finishing his third alum when he was suddenly snatched away, 28 years old.
His life was at last stable.
After years of sky-high expectations, an existence at an impossibly high pace, he had finally stopped touring. He was forgetting that he was a brand, and he had found peace and quiet.
And then hell breaks lose again, the inner thoughts. More than ever.
At least that’s how it felt.
– Anki and I have learned that many people who commit suicide have been very happy shortly before they do. I can understand that. The relief when you have found a place where you can finally be happy.
Klas Berling sits quietly, touching his coffee cup.
– And then hell breaks lose again, the inner thoughts. More than ever.
● ● ●
”Can you hear me – SOS! Help me put my mind to rest...”
In a music studio in Vasastan in Stockholm music producers Kristoffer Fogelmark and Albin Nedler lean over the computer screen. They turn the volume up.
A direct and airy melody streams from the speakers: finger snaps, thumps on a violin, lyrics about the expectations of love.
”SOS” is one of the last songs that Avicii was working on just before he died, and this summer it will be released on the album ”TIM”.
– It was like Tim had stepped out of that dark hole. He said it over and over again, that he was feeling so much better, says Albin Nedler who together with Kristoffer Fogelmark composed three of the songs on the album.
Albin Nedler presses play again – the studio vibrates with another light and atmospheric tune – the lyrics are dark.
”I don't want to be seen in this shape I'm in, I don't want you to see how depressed I've been”.
When Kristoffer Fogelmark stops the music his eyes are glazed over.
– Tim talked about the lyrics as if they were in the past. A period which had been difficult that he had moved on from.
The musician looks down.
– When I hear these songs now I can’t stop thinking, hell – is this how he was really feeling? Could I have done anything?
● ● ●
It all started only abouta decade ago, in a boy’s room in Östermalm in Stockholm.
Tim Bergling – the son of a businessman and an actor – was finishing middle school when he discovered FL Studio. The music program made it possible to draw notes visually on the screen, you could pull the music using your computer mouse, it felt playful and magical.
On the bed behind Tim Bergling were his friends. For years they had spent every weekend in the three-room apartment on Linnégatan, playing the computer game World of Warcraft – if they put the cushions on the floor they could all sleep in the living room.
Now Tim Bergling had discovered music, and the friends’ roles had become deciding if a drumroll or a baseline was powerful enough.
Tim found security in that room
His friends always thought so, Tim Bergling never agreed.
– We quickly grew tired of listening to the same three-second loop forever. Tim loved fiddling, he couldn’t be stopped, everything had to be perfect, says Fricko Broberg.
– He had quite a lot of acne. That stressed him a lot. He could be excited about a party, but then he saw a spot and he didn’t want to go anymore, says Lucas von Bahder.
– I think that was one of the reasons he stayed at home. Tim found security in that room, says Johannes Lönnå.
● ● ●
A 26-year-old club promoter by the name of Arash ”Ash” Pournouri soon saw the potential in Tim Bergling's melodic beats and started to pour all his energy into having people discover the artist that now called himself Avicii.
The breakthrough came quickly, and it was massive. The song ”Levels” was released when Tim Bergling had just turned 22, in the fall of 2011, and it climbed charts all over the world. A few months later he performed with Madonna.
At that time – before the young composer or his family had really grasped the magnitude – Tim Bergling started to make songs together with the musicians Salem Al Fakir and Vincent Pontare, who were both impressed by his lack of prestige.
– Tim could find inspiration in anything. It could come from a tiny chord in an obscure musical song, or from something he saw in an animated children’s movie that he watched on Youtube. It was so sprawling, so much fun, says Salem Al Fakir.
– He was so unconcerned. Everything was open, nothing was fixed, nothing was corny. All he cared about was the feeling, says Vincent Pontare.
In the summer of 2013 Avicii is the main act at the festival Ultra in Miami – the biggest place for electronic dance music. He is playing his single ”Wake Me Up” for the first time.
Tim invites an acoustic bluegrass band on stage. They are playing the banjo and singing country melodies. There is chock and dismay in the electronic dance world: playing acoustic instruments on stage is seen as a cardinal sin.
It was like the profession kidnapped our son. He was pushing himself pretty far
Arash ”Ash” Pournouri, the manager, encourages his young star – give it five days, he says, and everybody will catch on. Tim Bergling talks to Salem Al Fakir and Vincent Pontare on WhatsApp.
– ”We got quite a lot of shit, but soon they will understand”, he wrote, says Salem Al Fakir.
– As always he was right. That concert became legendary. Just a short while later he had taken over the world completely.
● ● ●
For Klas Bergling the hardest part was the distance.
– It was like the profession kidnapped our son. He was pushing himself pretty far. He didn’t stop, unfortunately.
From the beginning of his career one could see the complex dynamic, which in hindsight seems painfully obvious.
On one side a skillful young man longing upwards, forwards, shooting for the stars, someone who wants his music to be heard around the world.
No one needed to push Tim Bergling.
– But at the same time he was fundamentally shy. He always had problems standing in front of a crowd. Stage fright. That’s why he needed to sedate himself with wine or a few shots before every concert, says Klas Bergling.
A couple of years into his intensive touring, in the beginning of 2012, Tim Bergling is lying in a hospital bed in New York.
There is constant night work, and the next day there are interviews, or you have to stress somewhere, or deliver a song
The stress and the drinking has taken a toll on his body, he suffers from acute pancreatitis.
In Stockholm two nervous parents are pacing.
– We both thought it was really difficult. The physical distance created such a big divide. We missed him, we worried.
Tim is hospitalized for eleven days, on heavy morphine-based medication. For the first time he has to cancel several concerts.
– One of the consequences of this lifestyle is the inner watch stops working. Sleeping, resting, pausing. There is constant night work, and the next day there are interviews, or you have to stress somewhere, or deliver a song. There is no recuperation.
Klas Bergling and Anki Lidén get used to long, nightly phone calls to other parts of the world.
Their son is proud that people around the world love his music – but he finds it hard to always be judged and watched over.
– What a star does right has big consequences, when he does something wrong there are even bigger implications, says Klas Bergling.
– People write about you, they judge you, people film and take pictures of you all the time.
● ● ●
The childhood friend Lucas von Bahder is at work – part time as a sales clerk – when Tim Bergling calls.
– He was on tour and he said he missed us. The gang. I think it was hard for him to be by himself among all those people.
Tim suggests that Lucas von Bahder should move to him, and help him with his music.
He’s bought a house in the mountains in Hollywood, where there is plenty of room.
– He wanted me to come too, even if I didn’t really have a position to fill. Tim said: ”We can call you my personal assistent?” says Fricko Boberg.
Fricko Boberg, known in the friend group for being absent-minded, is put in charge of gear and bags, responsible for everything being where it should be.
– It didn’t work very well. Once I forgot a sound card that Tim needed to finish a song. When we realized, we had already arrived in a new country. But Tim wanted us there, so he didn’t have to be alone.
As soon as he went off stage he was exhausted. Relieved that he made it
Lucas von Bahder finds his friend resisting more and more, sometimes it’s like he is fighting himself.
– When he was actually on stage you would never have noticed. He never wanted to give his fans a bad show. But as soon as he went off stage he was exhausted. Relieved that he made it.
– There was so much pressure on him. This whole roller coaster was relying solely on him. If he stopped so many people would lose their jobs. ”I don’t want to disappoint people, there is so much money involved”. That’s what he said, Fricko Boberg remembers.
● ● ●
In March 2014 Tim Bergling is hospitalized again, this time in Miami. He is forced to have his gall bladder and his appendix removed.
The doctors prescribe oxycontin, a highly addictive morphine-based medicine.
– We didn't notice it right away, but Tim started to take those pills outside the hospital as well. He got addicted to the medicine, says Klas Bergling.
We realized that oh my God, he is falling asleep at the table
The changes appear slowly. Tim Bergling becomes distant, he stops eating while he is working, for a while he only drinks Coca-Cola. When he is prescribed buprenorfin – a counter medicine to end the addiction to morphine – that medication also kidnaps his brian.
– It wasn’t working at all. We realized that oh my God, he is falling asleep at the table. Really scary.
In August 2015 Klas Bergling flies to Ibiza, where his son is renting a house which he uses as a base for parts of the year – from here it is easy to fly out to summer festivals around Europe.
Together with Arash ”Ash” Pournouri, the tour manager and a few of Tim’s friends Klas Bergling stages an intervention.
– It was really unpleasant. Really hard. Even if you know that you are doing the right thing it feels like a betrayal. We had a really difficult night, which ended at two o’clock in the morning. He then agreed to sign himself in to a rehabilitation clinic in Ibiza.
● ● ●
Something happens when Tim Bergling discovers the psychiatrist Carl Jung.
He found Jung amazing, someone had put into words what he had been feeling for so long
Everything fits into place when the star, who devours books about psychology and philosophy, gets to know the Swiss psychotherapist who in the 20’s introduces two basic personalities: extroverts and introverts.
The extrovert iswho people expect Tim to be: someone who gets energy from other people and rejoice success.
An introvert person, according to Jung, finds social gatherings exhausting, and treasure lonely, creative activities.
Fricko Boberg hearshis friend put his own dissatisfaction into words in an enormous suite in Las Vegas.
– He found Jung amazing, someone had put into words what he had been feeling for so long. All these quick impressions had been stealing energy from him for years.
Tim stays in bed while they are talking, he should really be on his way to yet another afternoon concert at a pool party. The fact that he postpones his commitments has become a recurring problem.
– That’s when he said it out loud for the first time: ”This isn’t working. I can’t continue like this. I have to find a way to stop doing gigs.”
● ● ●
Tim Bergling lets a filmmaker follow this most transforming part of his career. He has started to listen to himself – but who is listening to him?
It’s the industry itself that is the problem, the industry that makes money of the artist
In director Levan Tsikurishvilis documentary ”Avicii: True Stories” several moments are caught on camera, where people around the star seem to dismiss the anxieties that Tim Bergling himself is pointing out.
– I didn’t see any evil people around Tim really. It’s the industry itself that is the problem, the industry that makes money of the artist. It's really hard to stop the machinery, says Klas Bergling.
Director Tsikurishvili’s camera catches the moment when Tim Bergling says goodbye to his hectic life situation.
It’s May 2016, he is 26 years old and has decided to stop touring.
”My path has been filled with success but it hasn’t come without its bumps”, he writes lying under yet another blanket in a hotel room.
”I know I am blessed to be able to travel all around the world and perform, but I have too little left for the life of a real person behind the artist”.
– I would really like to send this out as soon as possible, Tim Bergling says.
– Are you in a hurry to publish it? a person in his crew asks.
– I am.
– Because my body is telling me to. That’s the thing. What you just said is what I’ve been hearing all the time. ”Calm down, there’s no stress”.
That was so brave. It was a decision which created big problems for a lot of people
Tim Bergling is now sitting up, he is arguing his case.
– It’s so hard for me to explain that the stress is my life. That is what my body is telling me. And has been telling me for eight years.
Klas Bergling remembers being proud of his son when he put his foot down.
– That was so brave. It was a decision which created big problems for a lot of people. Tim had commitments, he was booked here and there. To then cut loose, and show yourself like that, that’s really something.
● ● ●
A new life starts to form.
Tim Bergling travels to Madagascar, then Kenya, to Peru and Colombia.
He is still on kind of a tour – but this one he has chosen, and there are no timeframes. Now he is simply a tourist, looking at llamas and monkeys, not a travelling billion dollar enterprise.
He turns his phone off.
Slowly his desire to do what he actually loves comes back: which is composing.
In the beginning of 2018 Tim Bergling invites three production teams to his home in West Hollywood.
– It felt like Tim was coming back to life, says Salem Al Fakir, who arrived at the enormous glass villa in March last year.
Tim Bergling is tanned and muscular, his posture is straight, his gaze clear.
He sits in the kitchen, talking about diets and meditation. About the fact that the small fish at the bottom of the nutritional chain are the most healthy ones. Tim is seeing a celebrity physician to drain his lymph nodes, he is eating sardines and rice.
In the mornings he meditates on a stool in the sun.
– One day a tourist bus went past. Everyone started screaming as they saw Avicii meditating on the balcony. Tim waved back, he knew that this was a jackpot for the tourists, as Hollywood as it gets, says Kristoffer Fogelmark.
The music they make comes from unexpected places. Tim Bergling borrows a melody from a Japanese 60’s-ballad, he is inspired by Indian string instruments, him and Vincent Pontare find a mutual delight in the 90’s-period when rock artists tried to rap.
The songs are more spacious, less driven by the hard drum beat, than before. Tim Bergling’s unique and direct tunes are in the center, the lyrics are about life.
His eyes were gleaming when he talked about it
He is excited when he e-mails his record company:
”Hey guys!! Its been two great weeks in studio with Salem and Vincent and I feel very inspired at the moment! ”
A plan for the future is starting to form. Tim e-mails a wildlife resort in Kenya, explaining that he would like to rent the whole facility. ”We would be 20 people coming then maybe, and would have to build a studio somewhere!”
He says that he would like to work with masaii’s – he is curious about their traditional choirs. ”Is there someone specific that is known in the different tribes to be the 'best', knows most about masaii music?”
– His eyes were gleaming when he talked about it. Living in the savanna and writing music. He was really excited about it, says Albin Nedler.
One night Albin Nedler is standing with Tim Bergling and Kristoffer Fogelmark by the grand piano upstairs. While they look out over Los Angeles they write a love song about the fear of goodbyes.
● ● ●
A day later Tim Bergling travels to Oman.
He has been invited by a group of old friends from Las Vegas – they are going to the desert to sleep in tents.
They go surfing, and listen to the new songs. Tim Bergling smiles for the camera when a fan asks to take a selfie with him at the hotel.
Bergling oversees the work with the record from a distance – the sketches he has been recording in Los Angeles are now about to being send out to potential singers. On April 10 Tim writes instructions to his record company:
”Think of features only in terms of what will be interesting for listeners and not what is 'big' and will bring attention.”
Tim Bergling feels at home in Oman. He is fascinated by the lifestyle, he enjoys sitting on the floor, eating camel with newfound friends. While several of his travel companions go home he wants to stay, to continue to explore the country.
”Will stay for 8 more days in Oman”, he tells his management.
On April 17 he makes some notes in his phone, they seem to be reminders to himself, what he thinks is most important:
”Spread positivity through my music, in message. And enjoy success but not materialistic success.”
”Bring the artists up.”
”Transfer emotion to the song, what emotion the song is written in will be transmitted.”
● ● ●
Three days later, on April 20 2018, Kristoffer Fogelmark receives a phone call.
Him and Albin Nedler have stayed in Tim’s villa in Los Angeles, they are just on their way to continue working on the songs.
Kristoffer Fogelmark screams into the phone.
Albin Nedler runs up, looks at him slumped on the floor, his face is white.
– Tim is dead.
Suddenly the magical glass vila feels large and empty. Not knowing what to do the two musicians start rolling up cables for the home cinema, packing up the studio they built there.
It’s not until Albin Nedler touches down at the airport in Stockholm, that he can actually take in what has happened.
A picture of Avicii – one of Sweden’s prides – is on the wall, on the floor beneath is a sea of flowers.
– That’s when I lost it. Ever since this whole year has been like that.
– It’s just a question mark. I will never understand. That’s the hardest part – that I will never be able to grasp why, says Kristoffer Fogelmark.
Tim wanted to show everything, all of life. How he was feeling
– Tim wanted to show everything, all of life. How he was feeling. I think that was important to him.
During the last year the three childhood friends have changed their priorities.
Both Fricko Boberg and Johannes Lönnå have started seeing a psychologist after the death of Tim.
– Before I blocked out my anxiety. Now I have some exercises to learn how to accept it. That makes it easier to handle, says Johannes Lönnå.
– To welcome bad feelings rather than to push them away. Try to listen to what the feelings are about, more precisely. I think everyone needs that, it’s a relief, says Fricko Boberg.
Johannes Lönnå nods.
– To actually handle your feelings, listen to yourself more, there is a soothing feeling in that. It feels like Tim had already understood that.
● ● ●
Klas Bergling touches his remote, a sunshade is rolled out over the balcony. It casts long shadows over the wall in the apartment in Las Palmas.
Tim Bergling’s father starts his mornings with a short swim, followed by a walk or some exercises. Then he works with the company Avicii Music AB – it’s the parents that have decided that the world will now get to listen to the last songs their son was working on.
A lot of the time is spent preparing for the foundation the family is starting. Tim Bergling Foundation will, among other things, support organisations that prevent suicide.
Klas Bergling and Anki Lidén has thought a lot about the vast amount of medication that was prescribed to their son – they want to work towards a more open conversation about mental health, rather than heavy sedation.
– We also want to support the work around what comes after a suicide: there are organisations that help people who are in the situation we are in at the moment.
The fact that he left music which so many people want to hear, it’s actually soothing
One of Tims half brothers has had a daughter, another one has a wife who is pregnant.
Life must continue, in spite of everything.
– I can still have conversations with Tim. Where I try to make everything right. But I have to realise: I can’t do anything. That’s how it is now, says Klas Bergling.
Sometimes he picks up courage enough to listen to his son’s new songs.
– I can find comfort in them as well. He knew he was making something really good, he was so proud. The fact that he left music which so many people want to hear, it’s actually soothing.
The sun is setting behind the mountains, the white stone houses fading away in the distance.