For 26-year-old Calvin Harris, the last few years have been nothing short of a whirlwind.
It’s often said the road to stardom can be ‘paved with gold’, but the journey is usually hidden. For 26-year-old Calvin Harris, the last few years have been nothing short of a whirlwind. It’s a ‘bedroom producer to worldwide dance hit’ tale, but for the star of the story it has been a bona fide journey of self-discovery. Importantly, however, throughout it all, it’s Harris’ musical talent and personality that have shone through.
The Calvin Harris story starts in his childhood home of Dumfries, Scotland. As a fresh-faced teenager he started producing tracks in his bedroom and, by the time he was 18, he had a single out under the moniker ‘Stouffer’. The next few years brought more singles but his major label breakthrough came in 2006 when he was discovered via his MySpace page. His first album, I Created Disco, caused a stir with its title, but Harris carried on, un-phased.
The journey continued with his sophomore album last year, Ready For The Weekend. It was pure club fodder and the singles came with some massive remixes; Deadmau5 for I’m Not Alone, David Guetta for Flashback, and Laidback Luke for You Used To Hold Me. Since then Harris has been moving away from his live shows and concentrating on DJ sets. Joining me on the phone from Sao Paolo while on tour in South America, it’s asked of Harris what his perspective on the last few years is.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride for sure!” he replies. “There have been times when I thought that I was completely done with music. But there have been others when I have felt really good about it. It’s an odd journey in life.”
It seems like the last year has brought a maturity and a realisation for Harris about his music career. “DJing is different and it has given me a new perspective on things,” he agrees. “This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I need to keep on for years to come.”
And he is learning from some of the biggest names in dance music: “I did four shows recently with Paul Oakenfold and he was sharing stories with me from the birth of house music. Ultimately, he absolutely loves music and people like that succeed because they love it. They give everything that they have to give to music. It’s a calling,” muses Harris as he goes quiet in reflection.
Perspective can be hard to come by in the situations that major artists find themselves in. There are people all around them who end up as ‘yes men’ and there’s surreal experiences to experience all the time. Picture this: 30,000 people screaming your name in South America at a festival, it’s 8am in the morning and you walk on stage. “It’s insane!” affirms Harris. “We had a full night’s sleep and then got up in the morning to play the show.”
Quite the different experience than playing a club show. “I love it – it was a great show. I couldn’t believe the amount of people who stuck around to see my set. That was definitely one of the more interesting ones,” he grins. “We’re back to club shows tomorrow night and any regular club show is always a thrill.”
Since the release of Ready For The Weekend Harris has been using his DJ sets to preview new material. “The main problem with a big gap between releases is that pressure builds on you – it’s quite intense. It doesn’t help the creative process taking a big break. You need to be out there playing the tunes and testing them.”
There has been a lot of talk about a new album and Harris is adamant it will sort itself out. “I’m working on stuff all the time,” he explains. “I want to put something out at the start of next year. But I’m working with singers and other artists now so that I can focus my energy on production and DJing, and trying to make good music.”
Harris has also decided to move away from singing on his own tracks so that he can concentrate on what he is good at – production. And that even extends to the work he has done with big name artists in the past like Kylie Minogue. “I’m done with other people’s music,” he says. “It’s time to focus on my own stuff for a while. It’s easy to get carried away when huge pop stars or celebrities want to work with you. In my experience it’s a lot of pain for relatively little artistic or even financial rewards.
“I much prefer,” he adds, “having complete creative control and doing my own stuff. I can still fulfill the ambition to work with other people but that way they’re my own edits.”
Harris’ massive hit with Dizzee Rascal, Dance Wiv Me, confirms his assertion that collaboration on his own terms results in great tunes. Released in mid-2008 the song spent four weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart and it became the twelfth biggest-selling single in the UK in 2008.
Ultimately, it’s a simple equation for Harris: “I just want to make things that I enjoy creating. They should be tunes that make me happy, make others happy and make them want to dance.
“Club music is where it’s properly at now,” he adds. “I have never been a top 10 artist outside of the UK which has been frustrating. But even though it’s nice to have one eye on the charts I haven’t been paying as much attention lately because I have been away from the UK on tour.”
And the biggest challenge for Harris? That one’s simple. “I need to do something noteworthy and define my existence. I like making big tunes that people recognise and sing along to.”
CALVIN HARRIS headlines the STEREOSONIC 2010 festival, which takes place at the Melbourne Showgrounds this Saturday December 4. He’s there alongside Teisto, Major Lazer SS, Infected Mushroom, Wiley and the cream of international electronic/dance/club artists. All tickets and info from stereosonic.com.au. CALVIN HARRIS’ latest album, Ready For The Weekend is out now through Sony.