In just a few years, Scottish dance music artist and DJ Calvin Harris has risen from indie artist producing solo tracks mixed at home, to international hitmaker teaming with chart-toppers Rihanna, Kylie Minogue and Kelis.
Though better known in the U.K., Harris broke out internationally in 2011 with two blockbuster tracks: Feel So Close and Rihanna's We Found Love.
Harris is back in the spotlight this fall with 18 Months, a new album that reflects the amazing success of the past year and a half. His third solo album, 18 Months includes new compositions and collaborations with the likes of Ellie Goulding, Florence Welsh, Ne-Yo and Dizzee Rascal, as well as tracks such as Bounce (featuring Kelis), Feels So Close and We Found Love.
Harris says he's proud of his new album and of the track Feels So Close, for which he performs the vocals, although he doesn't consider himself a great singer.
"By this stage, rather than getting shy about being a bad singer, I can just look at it objectively. If it sounds good, I know it sounds good," he told Jian Ghomeshi on CBC's cultural affairs show Q.
'Nothing’s fake [in Feels So Close]: it's real music, real melody and actual emotion. A lot of dance music now, it's about being in the club and popping bottles over this cheap-sounding synth that people can make so easily and get somebody else to mix. I'm not about that' —Calvin Harris
"I can listen to most things on the album and think 'Well, nobody did that before,'" he said.
In Feels So Close, "it's an emotional, almost an emo vocal. I can't remember the last time guitars were in dance music like that. Also, it's all real instruments. Nothing’s fake there: it's real music, real melody and actual emotion. A lot of dance music now, it's about being in the club and popping bottles over this cheap-sounding synth that people can make so easily and get somebody else to mix. I'm not about that."
Harris, 28, has been producing music tracks since his early teen years, when he felt like he was the only disco, soul and dance music aficionado in a small town filled with Oasis fans.
"I tried to go the indie route, but with the sort of music I was making, it was hard to know where to pitch it," he said, recalling that he began sending out demo CDs at age 15.
His luck changed when, in his early 20s, he began posting his tracks online via music-sharing site MySpace. He caught a break in connecting with a few A&R reps for EMI early on and, in 2006, signed a deal with the record label.
Though Harris admits some of that early work was "raw," he hasn't paid much attention to negative reviews by music critics, many of whom he believes have a chip on their shoulders about dance music and don't realize which dance producers are playing their own instruments and crafting their own arrangements and mixes.
"I don't need to really prove myself to anyone. The first album that came out, all the reviewers, they hated it. But I knew a lot of people liked it," he said.
"There's all these other real people who like the music and go to the shows and enjoy themselves. We all know that reviewers are failed musicians and all have huge chips on their shoulders about various things, mostly dance music because they see dance music as being a bunch of people who got lucky, whereas they [struggled] in their terrible band for 15 years and never got signed because they were awful," he quipped.
That the music he toils away on is being heard — is what Harris loves about his current success.
"[For years], I would make loads of tracks that I was really proud of and nobody would hear them apart from my mom's cat. And now, loads of people are going to hear them and judge them and that's great: I'm into that. Either they'll like them or they'll hate them, but the fact that they've heard it and I have a platform to unleash records onto so many people is crazy. It's amazing."
Harris talked to Q about growing up as a rare dance music fan in the small, southern Scottish town of Dumfries, the state of the electronic dance music (EDM) scene today, why his music works so well with female vocalists and his specific ingredients for a hit song.