Aloe Blacc has long been a staple of the L.A. music scene; the former Stones Throw-signed singer has co-hosted his Sunday daytime dance party The Do Over since 2005. The O.C. native's career found traction in 2010 when his soul-influenced "I Need a Dollar" became the theme song for the HBO series How to Make it in America.
But things have really exploded for him since appearing on megastar DJ Avicii's hit single "Wake Me Up", which debuted earlier this year and has gone number one in dozens of countries. Now signed to Interscope, the 34-year-old singer is currently in Mississippi shooting his role in the upcoming James Brown biopic and will release his third LP, Lift Your Spirit, early next year. We spoke with Blacc about being the voice of one of the year's biggest songs.
How did you get involved with "Wake Me Up"?
I received a phone call from my record label asking if I wanted to record a song with Avicii. I said it'd be interesting. Avicii had been in the studio with Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park. I've never met Mike, but we know each other through a mutual friend named DJ Cheap Shot who I used to work with as a hip-hop artist back in the '90s.
Anyways, Avicii was with Mike Shinoda showing him a song written by Mac Davis, who is an old school legendary songwriter who used to write for Elvis Presley and other folks. Mike Shinoda suggested that he get Aloe Blacc to sing the song. So that's why Avicii ultimately contacted me.
And then what?
A couple weeks later I went to Europe to do some shows and other things. This was this past January. On the flight home from Geneva I was writing lyrics. The initial lines "wake me up when it's all over/when I'm wiser and I'm older" came to me on the plane. When I got back, I had time set up to go back into the studio with Avicii and finish what we had initially started writing, but he calls me and he says, "I know we have a recording date, but I'm over here at [Incubus member and "Wake Me Up" guitarist] Mike Einziger's house and we just started on some music that sounds great. We'd like for you to come finish the lyrics and melody with us."
By 8pm I made it to Mike's house. As he played the chorus on guitar, I thought to myself, "The lyrics I wrote on the plane are really strong and probably the best thing to deliver here, because I don't want to walk into this room empty handed." I respect Mike and Avicii, so rather than wrestle around trying write something brand new, and knowing that my wife would want me home within a few hours -- she was in the early stages of pregnancy -- I started singing the lyrics, "Wake me up when it's all over."
Once we knew we had the chorus right, all I had to do is finish the lyrics. Then I went into the booth and recorded the song over the guitar Mike had just recorded, and that's the version I went left with. I made it home by midnight.
Did you know it would be huge?
I didn't know it would be a massive hit. I knew people would like it. I really liked the lyrics I wrote, and I knew I was in a room with two really good artists in their respective fields, so at least our fans would like the song, and maybe collectively that would allow it to be popular, but we didn't know if it was a hit.