Incubus’ Mike Einziger On The Making Of Avicii’s Chart-Topping ‘Wake Me Up’
by Jay Tilles
Avicii’s latest single, “Wake Me Up,” has rocketed to No. 1 on the iTunes charts in 14 countries (as of press time). Despite the fact that the song was composed in his Malibu, Calif. home studio, no one is more surprised about this than Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger.
Although the track’s international success is undeniable, “Wake Me Up” received mixed reviews after its American debut at the Ultra Music Festival in March. EDM fans were confused by rock and bluegrass musicians playing live on stage alongside the Swedish DJ and producer. Einziger was among the rockers taking part in the jam session, along with his fiancée — accomplished bluegrass violinist and banjo player Ann Marie Simpson — and fellow Incubus bandmates Ben Kenney (bass) and Jose Pasillas (drums). Bluegrass big Dan Tyminski, old-school country crossover star Mac Davis and folk-rocker Audra Mae also took part in Avicii’s Ultra performance.
Meanwhile, Incubus fans immediately took to social media to try to wrap their heads around the pairing of a rock guitarist and bluegrass musicians with one of the biggest faces among the new crop of EDM stars.
Despite the reaction, “Wake Me Up” became the first single from Avicii’s upcoming debut studio album, #TRUE, out September 27 on PDRM/Island Records. The Mumford-lets-the-bass-drop song is now on track to become the fastest-selling U.K. single of 2013 so far. Released stateside June 25, it’s gaining at American radio and expected to creep up the Hot 100 chart, this week at No. 68 (up from No. 81 last week).
“It doesn’t matter how many times you write a song, for people to respond to it in such a drastic way is never expected,” Einziger said in an exclusive interview with Radio.com this week. “It’s never expected in Incubus, and it was not expected with this collaboration with Avicii and Aloe [Blacc, whose vocals are featured].”
Speaking of the seemingly odd pairing, Einziger said: “Over the last six or eight months that Incubus has been on hiatus, I’ve been writing lots of music with lots of different people, the connection that Avicii and I have with each other was unexpected. I think it was surprising to a lot of people that know me and also know him. We seem to operate in what seems to be different musical universes but when we got together the way that we started writing together, it couldn’t have been more organic and effortless.”
Einziger confessed that he “was not that familiar with Avicii’s music when [they] first met up to discuss music.”
“Someone from his camp contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in working on something with him,” he explained. “At first I was puzzled thinking, ‘How would that work?’ But then I was like, ‘Why in the world would I not?’”
“Wake Me Up” was born in an organic way, written in just two hours during a jam session at Einziger’s home studio. The two instantly began crafting a chord progression with Einziger leading the way on guitar with a melody and Avicii on keyboards. Once the two agreed on the chord progression, they began singing melodies on top of it, albeit sans actual lyrics.
That night, Avicii was supposed to leave Einziger’s house to work with rapper-turned-singer Aloe Blacc on a totally separate project, but the two were feeling so much momentum, they decided to invite Blacc over to contribute.
“He came down with some lyrics that he had written already,” Einziger said. “It was almost like a poem. So we started taking the lyrics that he’d written and applying them to our new melodies.”
By the end of the night, the three shared the same feeling: the song was very special. Still, they had no idea the international success would be so immediate. Einziger was still having trouble wrapping his head around what had happened.
“Electronic music in that sort of form, even to this day, I still consider it a little alien to me cause it’s like a different musical universe,” he said.
Although he believes that dance music is typically best when played by a DJ, Einziger does expect that there will come a time when they’ll perform the song again live together — perhaps with less negative fanfare.
“Just before our [Ultra] performance there were stripper girls with G-strings dancing on the stage and here we are with Mac Davis, and Dan Tyminski, one of the greatest country/bluegrass musicians,” he began. “To go from that stripper-ish dance party environment to a bunch of musicians on stage, it looked and felt out of place. But that was the goal. That was what we set out to do. After we were finished writing all this music, Avicii asked me, ‘I want to play this live. Can we do this?’ I said yeah, and he said, ‘This is going to piss a lot of people off.’ I said, ‘Perfect, let’s do it.’”
(Additional reporting by Jillian Mapes, Radio.com)