>> Seven months on from the devastating death of dance music icon Avicii, Norwegian DJ Kygo (real name, Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll) is opening up about how the loss continues to impact him and the action he has taken since to support mental health services.
Floated caught up with the 27-year-old EDM star on the Auckland, New Zealand, stop of his Kids in Love tour, where he also sent well-wishes to his struggling “It Ain’t Me” collaborator, Selena Gomez, dished on his new single, “Happy Now,” and reflected on his massive few years rocketing to success after being inspired by Avicii to start making music.
“It’s definitely tough,” he said about losing his idol, who was found dead in Muscat, Omen, in April, at the age of 28. His death was later ruled a suicide. “He’s the reason why I started making electronic music and he was and still is my number one music inspiration. When I was trying to look for motivation and inspiration I would just listen to his music. It’s very sad and hard and I think about him and his music a lot.”
The “Stole the Show” hitmaker added that if he still had the chance, he would tell the late Swedish star, whose real name was Tim Bergling, how happy his music makes people:
“I already told him when I met him for the very first time that he was my biggest inspiration and the reason why I started to make music, so I would tell him that, but also that he affects a lot of people and makes a lot of people happy.”
Born in Singapore, Kygo traveled around the globe with his family, living everywhere from Kenya to Japan, likely unaware of how much the piano lessons he started as a six-year-old would come in use as he continued to globetrot as a chart-topping musician. Beginning to produce music in his teens, it was Avicii who cemented his dance music ambitions, prompting the budding DJ to start experimenting with his own remixes and posting them on Soundcloud.
His take on the Passenger hit “Let Her Go,” garnered attention, before his remix of Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire,” from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug soundtrack made waves. The 2013 remix -- which has had more than 75 million hits on YouTube -- showcases the tropic house sound that Kygo has popularized and has since been followed by many similar releases as he realized that people were connecting with this style of music.
Fire was also the theme of another career-defining track for the star, who collaborated with Australian musician, Conrad Sewell, on the breakthrough 2014 hit, “Firestone,” which appeared on Kygo’s debut studio album, Cloud 9. The song became an international hit and lead to the rapidly-rising producer being contacted by Avicii and Coldplay’s Chris Martin to remix their song “Midnight.”
“[‘Firestone’] was definitely the best thing that could happen to me at that point because I was making these remixes but wanted to transition into making my own stuff and that can be really hard,” he reflects. “It was a very important part of my career that people had to like the first song, so when I released ‘Firestone’ and saw how well the song did, that was the best thing. Then I followed up with ‘Stole the Show,’ which also did well, so at that point, my career really started taking off … going fast, upwards.”
Fast and upwards, indeed. What followed has included the catchy hit “First Time,” with Ellie Goulding, remixing U2’s “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” in collaboration with the Irish rockers, performing “Carry Me,” with Julia Michaels at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics, headlining Lollapalooza, and multiple performances at EDC, where his set became the backdrop to one young couple’s dreamy on-stage engagement in 2017. He was also named the fastest artist to reach one billion streams on Spotify in 2015.
“In the beginning, everything was happening so fast and was just crazy,” he says reflecting on his rapid success, in between spending some downtime soaking up the sun at New Zealand’s picturesque Piha Beach and playing his first show in the country. “Suddenly I was going from playing 200-capacity venues to 5000-capacity and it was bigger and bigger every time. It was definitely surreal, but now that it’s been a couple of years, I feel like I understand it more and can take everything in a little more.”
That means taking the time to put more effort into personal ventures, like the clothing brand, Kygo Life, which he started in 2016, and, together with long-time manager Myles Shear, launching a record label in collaboration with Sony Music Entertainment.
The label, named Palm Tree Records, aims to find, develop, and break emerging dance and electronic artists, something Kygo and his Palm Tree Crew management company (of which he’s a partner) have hoped to do for a long time.
Many of the up and coming musicians who the tight-knit team works with are finding powerful platforms supporting or performing with Kygo, like Toronto native Frank Walker and former Radio Disney star, Justin Jesso, who joined Kygo on stage in Auckland to perform their fan-favorite track “Stargazing.”
“He’s the greatest,” says Jesso, who is managed by the DJ and his Palm Tree Crew. “He’s the nicest guy, the humblest person and definitely inspiring both musically and as a person. That’s kind of the whole crew and who they surround themselves with.” Jesso’s sentiments echo how Kygo has stepped into the same shoes that Avicii filled for him during his early days in music. His love for the late star is further evident during his show, as he declares “This one’s for Avicii,” before playing the late star’s hit “Without You.”
He first met the “Wake Me Up” creator in 2014, admittingly fanboying as he told him “all this stuff about how much his music meant to me.” The two continued to run into each other on the festival circuit and Kygo opened for the icon in Ibiza and replaced him on the main stage at TommorrowWorld as he faced health issues in 2014. He was preparing to hit the stage at Coachella in April, when he got word that Avicii had passed away, paying tribute to his “biggest musical inspiration,” during the performance.
Since the GRAMMY-nominated musician’s loss, Kygo has supported Tomorrow Needs You, citing a “tough year in the music industry” for his involvement and recently making a generous $30,000 donation to the organization’s To Write Love On Her Arms campaign, which aims to help those battling depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.
“Mental health is very important and a big issue -- you see all these young artists who suddenly are [gone or struggling] and it’s just tough,” he says. “I think it’s important for people to know that there are organizations like Tomorrow Needs You and that they can talk to people if they feel dark thoughts are coming over them. It’s important people know they can reach out to someone -- and also know that there are a lot of other people who feel the same way.”
The issue of mental health has more recently affected another of Kygo’s peers -- Gomez with whom he had the 2017 banger “It Ain’t Me” from his EP Stargazing. The 26-year-old songstress was recently hospitalized and sought treatment at a mental health facility.
“I haven’t talked to her in a while, but I definitely hope she’s doing better,” he says. “I heard she’s not doing that well, but I hope she’ll get better soon.”
The two reached the top 10 on the U.S. charts, but like many modern-day collaborators, they never actually hit the studio together. “It was more of an online collaboration!” he says, explaining how he “made a scratch” of the track with songwriter pals and one knew Gomez, so he sent it to her. The musician and actress “loved” what she heard, so she hit the studio in LA with Kygo’s collaborators, who then sent her vocals over to him in Norway.
Kygo recalls being immediately impressed with what he heard: “When we made it, I didn’t have anyone in mind, but when one of the songwriters said he might have Selena for it, I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s a good match!’ Her voice was really good for that song -- it just sounded really great. I love unique voices and hers is a voice you definitely recognize, so I think that really helped.”
A second studio album, Kids in Love, followed in November last year and more recently, Kygo teamed up with Imagine Dragons for the track “Born to Be Yours.” As for his new single, he got in the studio with super-talented Swedish singer/songwriter, Sandro Cavazza, known for featuring on “Without You,” from Avicii’s 2017 EP, Avīci (01) -- his final release before he died. Although the song’s about a relationship crumbling, one can’t help wonder how much the two thought about their mutual pal while creating the track, with lyrics like, “We don’t wanna believe it,” and “I hope you’ll be happy now.”
Kygo debuted the Cavazza collaboration, “Happy Now,” at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, and has just dropped the music video, which showcases his native Norway. “It’s a very upbeat, melodic and like my old style -- almost going back a little bit,” he says. “So, I’m very excited about it.”
As for his dream collaboration, it’s no secret that he’s dying to work with the Brit behind the song which snowballed the success of his early remixing.
“Ed Sheeran has always been top of my list,” he says. “I remixed a couple of his songs in 2013 [and] I’ve asked him and he’s up for it, but we’ve got to find the right song and the time. Hopefully, it’s going to happen!”