Calvin Harris, Alter Ego

by John Dugan

Back in 2008, I sat down with Calvin Harris in Miami before taking in a modestly attended live band set. In 2012, Harris pulled in $42 million dollars as a DJ. 

Time Out Chicago, 2008. 

One of our missions at this year’s Winter Music Conference was to meet Calvin Harris in between the live sets he and his band played in Miami. The Scottish singer’s I Created Disco was our favorite crossover record of 2007—full of pop hooks, party-boy attitude and banging beats on tunes like “Acceptable in the ’80s” and “Colours”—in which the singer advises ladies against a monochrome palette. We figured that when we found Harris—who recently recorded with Kylie Minogue—surely we would be buried in an avalanche of babes, bottles and controlled substances.Instead, we ended up in a swag room in a hotel penthouse chatting with a polite young guy who likes the Sugababes. Could this really bethe Calvin Harris? Read on.

Time Out Chicago: There’s a sense of humor on your record—do you think the album will translate in the U.S.?
Calvin Harris: There’s two reasons I don’t think it translates. The album is not very focused; it’s all over the place and people like something that’s concise.… Also, I haven’t been here much. I haven’t had a chance to speak to anyone at great length. Hopefully I’ll right the wrongs with the second album.

TOC: You seem to have come out of nowhere. How were you discovered?
Calvin Harris: After many years of sending demo CDs and stuff, I gave up sending demo CDs. It was pretty much on MySpace—trying to meet a guy that wrote a song that I liked by the Sugababes. I was into [reaching out to] people that were in the music industry and making them my private showbiz friends, to get me on to people’s records and stuff.

TOC: Were you taking that approach as a songwriter?
Calvin Harris: I was thinking of myself then as a producer. It was only once I got signed to a record deal that things became a bit confused. When I got signed, I was a producer making backing tracks. So I added this guy, who works for EMI publishing—which was ideal—and he liked it, so that’s how it all started. They set about getting me a record deal and they did that with Sony and now they think I’m a artist. Within months, I was starting a band and being a frontman, trying to learn those skills.

TOC: So, this wasn’t your life dream?
Calvin Harris: Far from it. I was singing on the songs because I couldn’t find anyone else to sing on them. I guess it’s quite obvious why they would see me as a singer. It kind of got out of control.

TOC: Maybe what you do stands out because you weren’t intending for it to be the final product?
Calvin Harris: There’s no showboating; there’s no sort of Mariah Carey vocal gymnastics or anything like that.

TOC: You could do actual gymnastics…
Calvin Harris: That’s incredible, like Pink. She does that! I saw a video of her at Wembley Arena— she was up in the sky upside down singing on a trapeze.

TOC: Is there an autobiographical quality to the album?
Calvin Harris: It’s all made-up stuff. I’ve not done or thought any of those things on the album. It’s kinda funny.

TOC: What inspires your songs?
Calvin Harris: I try not to write funny songs, or things that are ironic, but I think they kind of are. Which is strange, because it’s not what I intended. I think my default method is to try and adopt somebody else’s outlook on life so that I don’t get found out. And nobody really knows who or what I am, which is bad, because I end up acting like a fucking idiot and people think I’m an absolute prat.

TOC: Can you give an example?
Calvin Harris: With the song “The Girls,” I thought it was so clearly made up and clearly not the case, you know. It just seemed obvious. I guess people who saw the video or heard the song thought, Who the fuck does this guy think he is? There are whole album reviews based around that one song. [They said] “He thought he could do this and this and this, mix it and produce it and it would still be good, well it’s not, it’s a one out of ten,” stuff like that.

TOC: Did you consider using a different name?
Calvin Harris: It isn’t my real name. I could tell you my real name, but I don’t see the point. It’s Adam.

I Created Disco 

is out now on Almost Gold.