Last March, Dan Tyminski found himself in a place he never thought he would be—near the water in Miami with thousands and thousands of fans of electronic music jammed into Bayfront Park.
Tyminski may have the most recognizable male bluegrass voice on the planet today, thanks of course to his role with Alison Krauss & Union Station and his turn as George Clooney’s stunt singer in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and its Grammy Award-winning soundtrack that sold more than seven million copies. So he’s used to being seen and heard beyond the circuit of festival stages and small rooms that many pickers routinely inhabit, but the main stage at the Ultra Music Festival—the global electronic dance music (EDM) series with fans who follow it to exotic locales like Ibiza, Sao Paulo, Seoul, and Johannesberg—is about as far a cry from the Festival of the Bluegrass as you can get.
It all started with a phone call from an associate of 24-year-old Swedish DJ, remixer, and record producer Tim Bergling. The caller said that Avicii, as Bergling is known as to his many millions of fans, wanted Tyminski as lead vocalist on an upcoming track.
“I’m always flattered when someone wants to work with me,” said Tyminski. “But my first reaction was ‘great, but this may be a little too far out of my genre.’” But the basic track was done, so Tyminski listened to it. “It was in the perfect key for me,” said Tyminski, whose second reaction was, “Am I crazy, or is this something that seems like it would work?”
After texting his daughter Kathryn, 20, to see if she knew of Avicii, Tyminski was in. “She just went crazy. Her level of excitement raised my interest dramatically.”
Hey Brother was released as a single in October 2013 and has since hit number one on the pop charts in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden (of course), and Switzerland, as well as topping the dance charts in the United Kingdom and the United States.
It wasn’t happenstance that Tyminski found the song suited to him. “I had Dan in mind, but his participation wasn’t locked down until after the track was almost finished,” said Avicii, in an email interview, about the process of writing the song with co-writers Vincent Pontare and Salem Al Fakir. “Dan has this earthy tone to his voice, that’s what helped create the bluegrass elements on the track.”
Though Hey Brother sports the driving, tight beat one would expect from an EDM track, it also has enough acoustic guitar and Americana tinge that many fans and critics—who heard it performed by the unlikely pairing for the first time in Miami—were nonplussed. Clearly, most of them have come to appreciate Avicii’s decision to add a rustic edge.
Once on board, Tyminski called on esteemed Nashville producer/engineer Neal Cappellino (AKUS, the Del McCoury Band, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley) and went to work. “We had some leeway, but there was a specific melody mapped out, and I believe in staying true to the songwriter’s idea,” Tyminski said.
With Cappellino at the controls, Tyminski laid down the 24 melody and harmony tracks heard on the final cut. “It’s really easy to move the data back and forth, so the most challenging part is communication, making sure that you’re doing what he (Avicii) wants you to do,” Cappellino said of the process of recording Tyminski remotely. “You do your best, but then you have to wait for the feedback.”
In less than a month, Tyminski said, the vocal work was done, and Avicii satisfied that the sound he imagined had been fully captured by Tyminski’s voice with what one reviewer called an “American tone, more chest-warming than a shot of Jim Beam.”
For Cappellino, who enjoys EDM and Avicii in particular, even though the “highly-programmed, beat-intensive” nature of EDM runs counter to the spirit that most country and bluegrass artists aim for, the confluence of what is best about both styles is what makes Hey Brother so compelling
“Dan’s voice really brings in the fabric of humanity, and the contrast really works,” said Cappellino. “It’s the voice of humanity reaching out and drawing you in.”
Likewise, Avicii seems intent on continuing to seek whatever musical elements help him bring more meaning to his work. “I think music is about melody. Music is a universal language—it doesn’t matter if it’s a synth or a banjo,” Avicii said.
Tyminski’s pleased to once again be one to give worldwide music listeners a drop of the pure stuff for the first time. “I think it really breaks new ground, merging EDM with bluegrass,” he said. “There’s nothing out of place, all the pieces fit perfectly.”