Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” currently sits in #4 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts making it one of the hottest songs right now. However, the man behind the unforgettable lyrics of the song is rarely talked about, in fact he’s actually a well-accomplished independent artist in his own right. Meet Aloe Blacc, a singer and songwriter who like most musicians struggled for nearly a decade before coming out with his single “I Need a Dollar”, which currently holds over 25 million views on YouTube. He also recently released his own version of “Wake Me Up” with a powerful video touching on immigration issues.
I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Aloe Blacc via email. In this interview, we discuss what inspired him to write the lyrics for “Wake Me Up”, working with Avicii, and how being unconventional is important in staying relevant in business.
Where did you get the inspiration for the lyrics for “Wake Me Up”?
The initial inspiration came to me during a flight home from an IWC event in Geneva. I was reflecting on how much my life has changed since the success of “I Need a Dollar” and how it feels like a dream that I never want to end. I wrote the lyrics to “Wake Me Up” in my phone and thought that they could come in handy because the words felt rather strong. It wasn’t long before I received the call from Avicii to work on his album.
The song has a relatively country taste to it, is it safe to say that this is your first time diving into this genre?
I haven’t heard anyone who is officially a country musician refer to the elements in “Wake Me Up” as country so I prefer to call it a folk-inspired dance song. I have been experimenting with folk music for quite some time and released an acapella folk song called “Bus King” on my 2006 album Shine Through. There are similarities between folk and country music that generally hinge around the instrumentation, but I think there are folks who know better than I do how to explain the difference.
“Wake Me Up!” was conceived by a collaboration between Avicii, Mike Einziger, Mac Davis, and yourself. All of these individuals come from different backgrounds, genre’s, and generations. This is similar to building a successful product for a startup because of the different personalities and talents that you could work with. What was the whole process like to work with such different types of people? Were there any “creative clashes” at any point in time?
Actually, “Wake Me Up” was a collaboration between only myself, Mike Einziger, and Avicii. Mac Davis was involved in a different song altogether. Davis wrote a song called “Black & Blue” and Avicii liked it but wanted a soul singer to record it. While Avicii was in a session with Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, Shinoda suggested to Avicii that I sing the song. Avicii then invited me to Westlake Recording Studio in Los Angeles to record “Black & Blue,” but unfortunately, Mac Davis was not at this session. I didn’t meet Davis until rehearsals prior to joining Avicii on stage in Miami to perform at the Ultra Music Festival to debut his new music live on stage. Collaboration is wonderful when you have talented people who also conduct themselves professionally. Working on “Wake Me Up” was quite simple. Avicii invited me to join his session with Mike Einziger and I came prepared with the lyrics for “Wake Me Up.” When I arrived, Einziger had already created the guitar part, so all I had to do was create a melody to fit my lyrics with the chord progression. With the recording of a guitar and vocal acoustic demo, Avicii was able to remix and arrange the music by increasing the tempo, and adding drums and synths. Everyone had a role to play and it worked really well. There were no creative clashes.
Many successful entrepreneurs of our time saw success by doing things that were unconventional and out of their comfort zone. As a music artist, would you say that this applies to your industry as well?
I think reinvention is the key to success and survival in the music industry. As an entrepreneur I understand that my songs are my inventions and each one has to have value in order for people to find it worthy of their attention and purchase. As an artist, I recognize that my work is to make everyone else’s playtime more enjoyable, so doing things that are unconventional is very important. I have to get out of my comfort zone in order to make something that helps others slip into theirs. If you have a day job that is stressful and monotonous, sometimes you just want to step outside of reality for a second with the help of a little music. My job is to create a new world for people to visit in their minds so they can take a break from the real world.
Avicii is one of the hottest EDM artists right now, what is it like working with him? What is something unique about him that separates him from anyone else that you’ve worked with?
Avicii is not afraid to take chances. He debuted unreleased music on stage in front of thousands of people at Ultra Music Festival in Miami and brought musicians and singers to showcase the new songs. This is relatively unheard of in EDM and no one was expecting this. I give him credit for being the first and pushing the envelope in his genre.
Working in your industry is a huge grind, it’s the same especially for those in the startup world. Tell us about the moments you had to hustle hard until you finally saw some inkling of success.
I had to hustle from 2003 to to 2010 after I was laid off from Ernst & Young as a business consultant until I released the Good Things album with “I Need a Dollar.” I was doing as many shows and small tours as possible and guest appearing on albums to make a little money. The biggest hustle is staying relevant and finding ways to get people to notice your talent. Eventually, I discovered that the more you identify yourself with one thing, the better your chances of being noticed. When I decided on soul music as my focus, I saw an entire world open up that had been closed before because my styles were too diverse and hard for fans to define and identify.
Staying abreast of the changing trends is important in business, how do you keep up with the changing trends of music today?
I pay attention to the youth. Teenagers are the people who help trends to blossom. I like to know what they are listening to and watching. Social networking tools are a big part of changing trends, so I try to keep up with them as well.
You recently released the acoustic version of the song, getting 15,000 downloads in the first week, it’s clear your fan base has been growing. What’s it like to see your music transcend to different audiences?
It’s nice to be recognized at home in the US. I did not have the chance to properly market my music since my previous albums have all been on indie labels domestically. In Europe and abroad my albums have gone gold and topped charts, but the barrier to entry in the US is much higher financially. It will be interesting to see how my new album, Lift Your Spirit, performs in the States with the help of Interscope and Universal backing it.
Will we see you doing anymore EDM tracks anytime soon?
I don’t have anything planned for EDM in the future, but as a songwriter, I am open to exploring this genre further. Maybe I will start my own genre called BDM (Blacc Dance Music).
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Website: Aloe Blacc