When Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger got the call that superstar DJ/producer Avicii (aka Tim Bergling) wanted to meet with him, he admits he wasn’t sure why. “I wasn’t too familiar with Tim’s world, and, also, specifically with Tim’s music. I knew the song ‘Levels,’ and I knew him as an electronic music producer, but I didn’t know how that would work with what I do.”
The answer, it turns out, is fabulously. The two co-wrote “Wake Me Up,” the first single from Avicii’s “True,” out Sept. 17. With its foot-stomping, hand-clapping, acoustic appeal (anchored by a fierce beat), “Wake Me Up” has soared to No. 1 in more than 22 countries and has become Bergling’s first Top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
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“It’s the biggest song I’ve written in my career,” Einziger says. “It’s crazy to be part of something like this. I certainly didn’t expect it to happen when I first got that email to work with Tim. I just thought, ‘this could be something fun’.”
The two got off to an auspicious start: “He showed up about four hours late,” Einziger recalls. “He was so apologetic, I actually felt bad for him.” Einziger was working in his Santa Monica studio and once Avicii arrived, they hit it off. “He basically told me he hoped to write an album of songs that were timeless sounding, that didn’t sound like they would just be cool in one specific period of time. The music he was referring to was folk inspired or bits of country or bluegrass.”
For their next session, Einziger picked up his acoustic guitar and began playing the chord progression that sets the tone for “Wake Me Up,” the first song the two wrote together. “We got the guitar part nailed down very quickly and then we arranged it into a verse, chorus and bridge and wrote all the melodies and vocal melodies.” Avicii needed to leave for another writing session with soul singer/rapper Aloe Blacc, but instead, the pair invited Blacc over, played him the melody, he brought out some lyrics that fit and “Wake Me Up” was born, with Blacc’s stirring vocals. The whole song took less than four hours to create.
“We recorded all the parts in my studio and I dumped it into Tim’s laptop,” Einziger says. “He does all his work on his laptop. He messed around with the arrangement. I got up the next morning and he’d emailed me. He was all excited about it. He’d put some finishing touches on it—the things he does— and it just sounded awesome. We had no idea it was going to become the No. 1 song in the whole wide world.”
In addition to co-writing one other track on “True,” Einziger plays on a total of four of the album’s tunes, including the bluegrass-flavored “ Hey Brother,” featuring Alison Krauss and Union Station’s Dan Tyminski.
Working with Avicii reminded Einziger “to just really being open to doing something new and unexpected. I really didn’t know what was going to come out of that collaboration,” he says. “I’m really thankful and happy that I was open to working with Tim and trying something.”
Einziger also tried something new when he worked with Hans Zimmer on the score for “The Lone Ranger.” While he’s scored smaller, indie movies, “The Lone Ranger” was Einziger’s first blockbuster (or intended blockbuster, as the case turned out to be).
Einziger, Zimmer and Einziger’s girlfriend, violinist Ann Marie Simpson wrote “big thematic ideas,” Einziger says. “At the very beginning, the ideas came from our collaborations together. It was an amazing thing for me to be part of. How film music works [is] totally different from writing songs.”
He was blown away by the level of involvement by director Gore Verbinski: “We’d have 10-hour long meetings with Gore goes over every scene, every transition, every action,” he says. “It was an amazing learning experience.”
Einziger’s packed schedule also includes executive producing “Feel Good,” the second album from The Internet, a group from Odd Future’s musical camp. “I took on a mentor role for those guys, it was really fun,” Einziger says, who connected with The Internet through Frank Ocean. “I brought Chad Hugo in and he co-produced a couple of songs. Those kids idolize the Neptunes and bringing Chad in brought the energy up another notch.” “Feel Good” comes out Sept. 24. He also recently worked on Malaysian singer/songwriter Yuna’s sophomore album, “Nocturnal,” out Oct. 29.
As far as Incubus, whose last release was 2011's "If Not Now, When," the band will play some shows in South America in December. There are no plans to record together again, but Einziger has no doubt that they will.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he says. “We’ve been a band for 21 years and it’s been a long time. We’ve made a lot of music and done a lot of touring. At some point, it has to feel new. There has to be a reason to make album No. 8. We can do it when it feels good to us.”