Calvin Harris leaps forward with '18 Months'
Posted October 29, 2012
Making chart-topping electronic dance music isn't Scottish music producer Calvin Harris' only talent: He's also an excellent grocery store clerk.
"Before I was signed (to a record deal on Columbia), I worked in a succession of supermarkets," he says. "I was very good at it because I'm really tall and could help old ladies reach their cans of beans." But with his highly anticipated third album 18 Months, out Tuesday, he needn't worry about returning to the supermarket track anytime soon.
Fresh off a string of high-profile festivals -- Lollapalooza, Made in America, Coachella -- he landed the coveted house DJ gig at September's MTV Video Music Awards. His single Let's Go with Ne-Yo has sold 780,000 downloads and peaked at No. 17 on Billboard's Hot 100, while Feel So Close hit No. 12 and sold 2.1 million copies.
"After the success of similar EDM artists like David Guetta and Skrillex, the stage has really been set for Calvin Harris to break through big time in America," says Keith Caulfield, Billboard's associate director of charts/retail. "He stands to be Guetta 2.0."
Not that Harris misses life in anonymity. "I can't think of a single thing I could possibly miss from those days -- it was horrible," he says. "I worked at a fish factory for about a year after school and got laid off on my birthday."
Now Harris, 28, is one of the most prominent names in dance music, recruiting heavy hitters from all over the musical spectrum for his new album, among them pop stars Ellie Goulding (I Need Your Love) and Florence Welch (Sweet Nothing), rapper Dizzee Rascal (Here 2 China) and R&B singer Ne-Yo (Let's Go). Also included is his collaboration with Rihanna, on 2011 powerhouse pop hit We Found Love, the smash that made him an EDM superstar.
"I enjoy working with Dizzee Rascal. We've known each other for years and he knows how I work, I know how he works," Harris says. "But the most challenging tracks to make, where I had to chase down the artist and convince them to work with me, were the most rewarding."
On EDM site Beatport, "Harris has been a rising star, he's not an overnight sensation," says Clark Warner, Beatport's executive creative director. "He's been experimenting with sound as a DJ, a remix artist, a songwriter, and really is one of the top gun-for-hire producers. He's mastered the sound to be successful. His music is full of catchy hooks, playful and polished."
Before he transitioned to the turntables, Harris was Adam Richard Wiles from Dumfries, Scotland. "When I was 19, I was a soul singer doing R&B music and thought I needed a new name," he says. "I decided to use a combination of R&B singer Calvin Richardson and producer Andre Harris. I thought the result sounded like a proper name."
Fans can thank his older brother Ed for turning Harris onto dance music. "When I was 15, my brother left for university and he left an old Amiga 500 computer behind, and I started making simple music on it," he says. "I've been making dance music ever since." In fact, he wrote his debut album, I Created Disco, on that Amiga. "In the late '90s, I listened to a lot of disco house. I'm a big fan of Daft Punk and Armand Van Helden," he says. "That's how I fell in love with dance music."
In 2006, his music on MySpace pricked the ears of EMI music, which signed him to a publishing deal. As he rose through the ranks, he gained a little notoriety for his blunt honesty and unwillingness to compromise his sound.
In 2008, he turned down an offer to remix a Lady Gaga song. "At the time, she wasn't that well-known," he says. "A year later, she's the biggest thing." He also famously got into a tiff with Katy Perry during her California Dreams tour, canceling his opening slot mid-tour. In 2009, Simon Cowell banned him from U.K.'s X Factor for life after he mocked Irish duo Jedward, known for their gravity-defying blond hairdos, by jumping on stage wearing a pineapple on his head during a performance.
Now that Harris has carved out a solid spot in the EDM hierachy, he can afford to break bad now and then. "There's more dance music out there than there used to be, but I still think that finding a good dance record is a big thing and there are only a handful of people that are being watched," he says. "Everyone else is filler."
But Harris still has difficulty grasping his fame. "Sometimes (during shows), I wonder, what are all these people doing here?"
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