Interview: Calvin Harris
Thu, 24 Apr 2008 08:09:23
Calvin Harris Videos
Calvin Harris admits he's not the greatest singer in the world. He also admits he's not the greatest musician in the world. That said, he's got nearly a million friends on MySpace and is approaching 2,500,000 page visits. Yes, we're talking about that Calvin Harris, he of such tremendous social-networking Internet buzz that Sony Music couldn't help but offer him a recording contract. The real irony? Harris is also quick to admit that he's not the most social person in the world. Given all his admitted deficiencies, he really isn't all that when it comes to self-promotion, either. Fortunately, that's where his music comes in.
His music will never be mistaken for rocket science, and nobody will ever accuse him of being pretentious. Think of Calvin Harris as a piece of Hubba Bubba bubble gum. He may look a little square on the outside, but once you sink your teeth into the lush, neo-disco, electro-pop ditties on his "I Created Disco" debut, you'll experience a sugary-sweet taste explosion that is delightful in its dumbed-down simplicity; "Accepted In The '80s" bounces playfully beneath Harris's falsetto pitch and Right Said Fred-styled lower register, "The Girls" pounces with a bolder electro feel, boasting an "I get all the girls, I get all the girls" sing-along chorus that is as infectious as it is absurd, and "Colours" is a giddy little ode to women who aren't afraid to fashion a little (you guessed it) color into their wardrobe (he's from Scotland, which explains his U.K.-preferred spelling of the song title).
Scheduled to headline the Coachella Gobi stage Saturday, April 26, Harris has a plum timeslot, ending just in time for fans to make the short pilgrimage over to the main stage and not miss a second of the purple one himself, Prince. Not bad for a guy whose pre-Coachella American performances can be counted on one hand. His interview style is much like his performances and songwriting savvy: He says he doesn't try to be funny, but does try to sound like someone who thinks he's funny. If that makes any sense to you at all, you'll probably get a kick out of Calvin Harris…
Do you consider yourself an electronic artist, or do you write songs the more traditional way?
Well, I could never sit in front of a computer and successfully make anything that I think sounds interesting, so I have to sit down with an instrument to have a shot. I had a guitar from when I was six or seven, and really got into bass guitar from Stuart Zender of Jamiroquai, I really liked them as a kid and he's my favorite bass player. So I can play a bit of bass. The thing about using a computer is you can think up the bass lines, and even if you can't play them or they're unplayable, you can manipulate them and make them sound like you played them. So I do that a lot. Especially when I'm doing things like playing drums, where I can pretty much only play one thing at a time – lots of snare, lots of high hat, and then cut it all together.
Are you self-taught?
I had guitar lessons when I was in school, but they weren't so much lessons as much as I would go in and we'd look at a chart. I can hear something and play it, I'm one of those people.
Before you got signed, you had your own label…
Well, not so much. I started a label, but then a week later I got signed by Sony, fortunately, because I've tried to press something up myself before and I ended up with 1,000 12" vinyls in my bedroom–and I've still got them. The business side is not a talent of mine, so I was very fortunate to get picked up by Sony and have them do all the work.
For all your buzz and hype, you don't seem to have much "artist" attitude.
I think part of that is because I don't see myself as an artist, because I'm not. I'm not one of those people who used to sing for their mom’s friends after dinner, and I wasn't a child prodigy where people went, "Oh, listen to his wonderful voice," because I couldn't sing. You can tell on the record I'm struggling, but obviously then, on the equipment I was using, I didn't have auto tune. If I could have done that I probably would have. The reason I started singing was because I couldn’t find anyone else to sing, and that was the truth. Now, with this next album, it will be a mix of me getting guest vocalists and me getting by myself.
You have a band, right?
Yeah, we have a band when we play live, so it's really just a case of trying to work out what I’m going to get people to play so it sounds like it should.
So the band's more of a work in progress?
Yeah, and it takes quite a bit of work on my part, and it's a bit time consuming for me. We've done lots of good gigs, but there are sometimes I just think, "What is this all for, why don't I just go home and sit and write music…”
You're not a big fan of the business side, you're not a fan of putting the band together…
The whole band side of it is rewarding in a sense… Certainly not financially, but it's nice to go out and sort of play to people and let the people know what you look like. People who bought the records or saw the videos can get the wrong impression, so it’s nice to go out and meet people. It's something I wasn't always good at. Being in a band is like being sociable, and it’s something that is quite alien to me, so it's nice.
Unless I missed something, you haven’t spent that much time in America yet…
No, we've hardly been here. Only twice before, and we only played once in L.A. and once in New York. We wanted to do a tour here, but we couldn't afford it because we spent the majority of the tour support in rehearsals… Which looking back, was a mistake. [Laughing]
So you went from two shows in America, to closing the Gobi Tent at Coachella and, essentially, being the warm-up act for Prince, since he takes the main stage immediately after your set ends.
That's something that's a relief, more than anything, because it would have been a bad thing being on at the same time as Prince. Honestly, I was prepared to go out there and say to whoever was there, six or seven people, "Listen, do you realize Prince is on over there? I won't be offended, leave…"
"I don't know what drugs you guys are on, but Prince is on at another stage…"
Exactly, I’ll carry you over there so you don't miss it, let's go watch Prince…
What can people expect from your show? You sing…
Yeah, I sing, and I've got four very attractive bandmates, so if you're not feeling the music you can at least watch them perform.
Male or female?
Uhm… Male. I had to think about that! I'm not sure about one of them, but he tells me he's male. It's an energetic show. There's a lot of leaping about. Not on purpose, but I'm not a good dancer and that really comes through in the show, so a lot of people find that entertaining.
Well I'm not a good dancer either, but I'm more than happy to embarrass myself trying—especially at Coachella.
We'll be in the same boat, then! If anything, if I can get empathy, that's fine, I'm happy with that!
You've got everything for the people from the '80s. What do you have for those of us from another decade?
I seem to spend most of my life at the moment explaining this! I should have put a disclaimer on the album saying, "These aren't the opinions of the artist or Sony BMG." Next time, I'm going to do that when I'm talking about more shocking things…
Yes, a disclaimer saying your lyrics aren't your opinion. That should go over well. Or, you can just make it an ongoing song on each record. The next record can have "Accepted In the '70s."
Yeah, that's not a suggestion I'll be doing…
Okay, so it's not the best advice in the world.
Don't worry, I'll gloss over it…
Do you plan on touring America beyond Coachella?
Well, no plans apart from in my head… Next year I'd definitely like to do a proper tour. There's another band on my label called Does It Offend You, Yeah? and they're at the same stage that I was last year, kind of, and they're doing a nice long tour in America. I'm insanely jealous of the fact that they get to do that and I didn't, so I'd like to do that next year with the second album, if I can.
You've got a small handful of dates around Coachella, that's almost a tour.
We're doing L.A. and San Francisco before Coachella, then New York the night after Coachella. We'll be there long enough to see Prince, then we'll go. He's the only reason I'm there! [Laughing] I'm sure our gig will go alright, but Prince is the one I'm most concerned about. [Laughing]
In case he doesn't do all his hits, maybe you should throw a few Prince covers into your set.
Oh, that is the worst idea I've ever heard in my life! Me murdering two Prince songs, like “I Would Die For You.”
I'm sure you can come up with some good dance moves for “Darling Nikki.”
I’m sure I could, but it would be a definite lowlight of the festival!
What was a worse idea, you doing Prince covers, or recording a song called, "Accepted In The '70s"?
I think they're both about even! They're about 1 ½ out of 10, you'd have to really scrape the barrel for worse ideas than those.