Måns Mosesson on writing Tim – The Official Biography of Avicii, getting close to the star & much more [Interview]
On April 20, 2018, Tim Bergling, who the world knew as Avicii, tragically passed away. His music had touched millions across the globe, and many fell in love with his story throughout an expansive and illustrious career; but only a few knew the real him. Måns Mosesson is one of those people. An award-winning investigative journalist and author, he set out to tell the story of not just Avicii, but Tim Bergling: who he was as a child, his rise into fame, and subsequent downfall. Compiling information from countless sources which included personal emails, Whatsapp messages, videos, and personal stories from those who knew him best, he emotionally assembled; Tim – The Official Biography of Avicii.
A 400 page deep dive into the intricate life story of a DJ many came to love, Måns Mosesson triumphs in detailing every high and low that he went through. Recently, we were fortunate enough to speak to him all about the creation process, his own thoughts and goals in writing it, and much more.
Hello Måns, we appreciate your time in speaking with us! How does it feel to finally release the biography having spent so much time working on it?
“It’s a strange, but nice, feeling. I have got to know Tim quite well – I’ve been working on this for almost three years now. So I’m very excited to now also let the readers and fans get to know him the same way.”
Talk us through the early stages of the project and how the idea for this biography about Tim’s life originally came about.
“Normally I write for Dagens Nyheter, a daily paper in Stockholm in Sweden, similar to The Guardian or New York Times. Around a year after Tim’s passing, when the posthumous album ‘TIM’ was about to be released, I was assigned to do an interview with Tim’s parents and some of his childhood friends. As soon as I met Klas and Anki, the parents, I could sense that it was quite therapeutic for them to talk to someone coming from the outside looking in. It was around March of 2019, which wasn’t even a full year after his passing, and they hadn’t talked that much outside of the family. We had really open and honest conversations – discussing Tim’s career from the perspective of being a parent, everything that he went through and where they were in their grieving process. And so I wrote that piece for the paper, and around that time the parents had started to entertain the idea of someone actually writing about Tim’s life in a longer format, where you would be able to get a more nuanced picture and really get to know the person he was. So then they asked me to write the book.
It really comes as two main storylines. It’s of course a fantastic story about how the electronic dance music scene exploded in such a short period of time and how it conquered the world. Obviously, Tim was on the frontline. He was such a curious and brave musician; he did some pretty revolutionary things, connecting the acoustic world with the digital, in a way that was even provocative at that time. But then we also agreed that if this book was going to have even more value to it, we needed to talk about some bigger issues. For instance, the prescription of opioids, that have plunged the US into this sad health crisis. Tim got addicted to those same types of pills. The gift and the curse of social media. And really, in essence, why so many of us are feeling depressed, stressed out, and why mental health issues are on the rise in the Western world, especially among Tim’s generation. There are a lot of things in the book that you don’t have to have hit superstardom to identify with. A lot of us are going through similar things.”
Image credit: Thron Ullberg
You stated in the book that it isn’t so much about the details surrounding his death but rather what we can learn from it. What messages were you trying to portray in this biography?
“It may sound strange for those who still haven’t read the book, but in a lot of ways I see this as a positive story. It’s about a young guy who is thrown into a world of intense work and stress, and it surely took a while – but down the line he actually found methods to try to cope with that. A big turn around is when he’s admitted to a rehab clinic in the fall of 2015, at the height of his career and at the exact time when “Stories” was released. At this clinic in Ibiza he begins to understand how his old ways of thinking have been kind of destructive. He has suppressed and pushed aside all the emotions that he deemed as negative, never really listened to the signals. But at this old, renovated orchard he starts to really take in this environment for the first time. And starts to understand that no emotions were trying to hurt him. “No emotion’s purpose is negative”, he writes in his own notes from that time. I’m so glad I have his actual words on these kinds of topics. And that’s also when he decided he needed to stop touring. To really put some action behind this thinking and change his whole path as an artist, that takes some guts.
Another beautiful thing about him is this very idealistic side that I came to know. He wanted to encourage people to start to think about their own well-being. That’s really one of the main things here, to try to listen to what your body is telling you. It might sound obvious, but I think we’re way too bad at actually doing it.”
Delving into the substance of the biography, are there any particular stories or any moments within Tim’s life that particularly stood out to you when writing it?
“It was really interesting to get to know the young Tim, because he was so curious all along. He was kind of strong-headed in a way that I hadn’t grasped, how really stubborn he was. That goes all the way back to him in his little bedroom at his parents place, writing poems, reading up on the universe and space and just how obsessed he became with a game like World of Warcraft. Way before FL Studio, he had that same obsession with gaming. I loved getting to know that young guy, because it tells you so much about why he stood out later on as a composer as well. He really trusted his own gut musically, and had a sense of where he wanted to go creatively. But in those young years you can also clearly see the sensitive side of him. He battled with this sense of not really connecting to the world, was ashamed of his acne and could have a hard time just stepping outside the apartment.
It was very emotional for me to have the privilege to go through his own notes. There are over 40,000 emails, all the way from his first stumbling steps into the scene, into the last weeks of his life, in Oman. And when I first found what he was writing at that clinic, how strongly he shifted his way of thinking about his career and life, I actually cried the first time reading it. I’m so happy to have his perspective on things, to see this hectic life through his eyes. And so it’s not only a book where people talk about Tim Bergling, it’s actually him talking to us as well, in sort of a dialogue.”
It’s interesting to see exactly how many resources you had at your disposal. How difficult was it to narrow down all of those resources to find the key bits of information to tell Tim’s story in the most fitting way possible?
“The sheer number of resources is the reason it’s taken a while to finish. It’s been a pleasure to talk to so many people around Tim, and I really appreciate how candid and upfront they have been about their own struggles as well. They would talk about their own panic attacks, drug habits and the pressure that comes with always trying to deliver the next hit track.
It certainly took a while to narrow down what the storyline really was, and to ensure I didn’t stray too far away from Tim himself. You know, I needed to understand Buddhism, because Tim got so deep into his own spiritual quest, but it’s not a book about Buddhism. I needed to grasp the scene in Las Vegas at the time, but it’s not a book about Las Vegas. I always wanted to keep Tim as the centrepiece.”
So having worked in radio and newspaper media, how was the process in piecing together this book compared to anything else you have published in the past?
“In a lot of ways it is similar, being that I work with feature reporting and documentaries, that tends to take some time. The main difference was just the vastness of the material and how in depth I could be. The hardest part, mentally, was not being able to really track the progress on a week to week basis, as you can with news stories. There’s been weeks where I know that I’ve worked very hard, but at the end I still can’t figure out what I’ve done. Because it’s all scattered over 400 pages. It’s only when you look back to where you were six months ago that you really can tell, okay, I’m making some headway here after all.
That problem is also one of luxury, of course, and that’s the main feeling here: it’s been a privilege to get to know my subject this well. In a lot of ways I feel that I know Tim Bergling better than my own friends at this point.”
How much did Tim’s parents contribute to the making of the book?
“When me and the parents started discussing the idea, I wanted to make sure that we had a common ground on what the story should be. If you’re going to write about such a tragic passing, you really need to be upfront and honest. There’s no point in telling this story if you’re not being very candid. But you can be that in a searching, respectful manner, I think. If the parents hadn’t sort of blessed the project, I’m certain that I wouldn’t have been able to talk to as many people as I did. And I get that – this is still a very fresh wound for the people who knew Tim personally, it’s still not even four years since his passing. However, as a journalist, I still wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t be restricted in any way. So that I was never controlled or kept on a leash. This project needed integrity.”
How has it been to see the reaction from the dance music community and beyond following the recent release of the book?
“It’s been great. I get a lot of reactions along the lines of “I thought I knew this story, but now I realise I didn’t see the full picture.” I wanted to come to the point where you feel that it’s actually nuanced. I also get the feeling that the book has actually helped people to start reflecting on their own life, helping them to talk a little more openly about how they’re really feeling and what they’re going through. You know, sadly we can never get Tim Bergling back. But as tragic as that is, I really think there are some things to learn from a story like this.”
Tim – The Official Biography of Avicii book cover
Having dedicated years to putting this together, do you think you’ve learned anything from the experience personally that you would take with you moving forward in your career?
“I think a lot of us are so focused on just the end result of things. We are taught from early on that we need to achieve, and that success is always a good thing. So we push through, and forget our own selves along the way. Ignore our emotions just to reach that goal. Tim obviously struggled with that for a long time, and on a much smaller scale, I can connect with that – I think a lot of us can. Is all this work really making me feel good, on a deeper level? Who am I, as a person, beside the accolades? Tim for sure wanted us to reflect on stuff like that.”
Did you connect with the Tim Bergling Foundation in the creation of the biography?
“Indirectly, yes. The majority of the revenue of the book is going directly to the foundation, which feels great to me. They’re doing some important things right now, supporting a lot of organizations who prevent suicide and work with mental health issues.”
If our readers around the world want to get their hands on a copy of the biography, where can they do so?
“The easiest way to find online stores in the various countries is through this special link: aviciibook.com“
Tim – The Official Biography of Avicii by Måns Mosesson is now out worldwide.
Featured Image credit: Universal press