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As Avicii’s latest single “The Nights” works its way up the global charts, the voice and co-writer behind it, Nick Furlong (aka RAS), says the folksy dance hit is one of the latest examples of EDM’s ongoing evolution.
“The old dance formula doesn’t work,” says Furlong, speaking with Variance on an early winter afternoon. “Avicii is one of the guys who gets that. He’s such an innovator. And I think he’s gonna continue to bridge multiple genres. Like on his [upcoming] album, he collaborated with Serj [Tankian] from System of a Down, but Wyclef Jean, Matisyahu and Billie Joe Armstrong are all on this same album. It’s just not what you’d expect.”
At 28, Furlong’s own résumé is already quite impressive, having worked with the likes of OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Diplo and Colbie Caillat. But this year will likely prove to be a pivotal one for the songwriter-producer.
“I’m really excited about a lot of the stuff I have coming out because it’s really diverse,” he divulges. “You don’t have to live in one genre. ‘The Nights’ is a good representation of who I am at my core, but the songs I write with All Time Low or Steve Aoki or Mr. Hudson [he’s written new, upcoming material for all three acts], it’s more about finding where they’re at and the messages they’re trying to convey. So I try to live through that experience and offer what I can.”
Furlong has previously worked with Aoki, but this latest collaboration is a twofold reunion, as Aoki is once again teaming up with another familiar voice: Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, who was featured on the DJ-producer’s 2011 single “Earthquakey People.”
“[Aoki] sent me this track and it was just unbelievable,” Furlong recalls of the song’s origins. “It was actually reminiscent of Radiohead to me. So coming from Steve, it was totally unexpected and kind of left-field. But it felt like a great challenge, so I wrote the song and sent it to him. Then a couple weeks later we were discussing the song and the vision for it, and we decided to have Rivers Cuomo on vocals. It’s kind of amazing.”
While “The Nights” has been building on dance radio and Furlong has written material for EDM duo Krewella’s upcoming album, he is quick to expound on his rock roots, which he says still plays a significant role in his career.
“There’s a place in my heart for it. I grew up on it,” he says. “My first real exposure to music was when I’d be getting ready for school in the morning and my older brother would be playing Soundgarden and Nirvana and Green Day. All those bands were my first, real taste of music.”
In fact, Furlong’s affinity for rock has been reaffirmed lately, as he points to Fall Out Boy and Imagine Dragons’ success as proof of a genre comeback.
“Imagine Dragons was the first band to really kick the door back down for other [rock-leaning] bands to make their way into top 40 radio,” he opines. “There’s always going to be a generation of kids who need to rebel against the norm; they need something of their own. So many of the 18-28 generation have embraced [electronic music], but as we keep going, like with everything else, people start looking for something different.”
"Dance and rock are kind of cohabitating now, even if we aren’t shouting it from the rooftops yet.”
According to Furlong, it’s not just the Jack Whites or Royal Bloods defending rock, as he considers current material from the likes of Taylor Swift, Kiesza and Tove Lo as further evidence of “a very particular pop-rock thread” beginning to find its way into the mainstream.
“Even if their music isn’t labeled a certain way, it’s also not all the same sweet, soft pop,” Furlong observes. “There’s an edge to it. And I can’t say rock will be the next thing but at the same time, the so-called ‘rock revival’ is kind of already happening because the [music] industry is all about following the trends. Somebody comes out with something that strikes a chord, so that sends all these creative heads at labels trying to recreate their own version. And it just spirals out from there. Dance and rock are kind of cohabitating now, even if we aren’t shouting it from the rooftops yet.”
Of course, Furlong acknowledges there are plenty of music lovers who aren’t exactly keen on Imagine Dragons or Taylor Swift being considered ambassadors of modern rock. But from his perspective, the rock of 2015 “isn’t necessarily going to sound like what we grew up with.”
“Yeah, there are purists who might judge today’s music and compare it to the ‘70s or ‘80s or whatever time is their favorite,” he says. “But we should by now that current music is influenced by decades and decades of sounds, so it’s not going to sound like ‘all rock’ or ‘all R&B.’ In a way, that doesn’t really exist.”
Regardless of genre, Furlong says “being relentless” is crucial for anyone trying to make it in the music business, something he’s learned personally.
“You might write 100 or 200 songs in a year and for every ‘yes’ you’ve got a hundred ‘no’s,’” he reveals. “I care about the songs I write and most of them come from a place that’s really personal, so when someone smashes it and says it’s not good enough, it takes a toll on you.”
While he admits he’s learning how to better handle the disappointments of the industry, he jokes that he might have developed a secret weapon: “The minute I started growing my beard, I felt this confidence of not giving a fuck. It’s a reminder to myself to do things that matter to me instead of trying to please others. It’s been kind of nice.”
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in its original format in the new issue of Variance.