Calvin Harris On That Difficult 2nd Album

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“What I’m into at the moment”, says Calvin Harris, “is the idea of the stadium dance. Playing football stadiums with massive riffs, big hands-in-the-air anthems. The whole minimal thing has passed, for me”. A bold ambition, but such boldness is justifiable, coming from a man who ascended from the bedroom to the big time in the blink of an eye. At least, that’s how it appeared from the outside, back there in 2007.

Text Courtesy of Sony Music / Columbia Records

He may have barely turned 23 when he first hit the charts, but Calvin Harris had been making music, legend has it, since the age of 15 on an old Amiga computer in the Scottish town of Dumfries, when he wasn’t stacking shelves at the local Marks & Spencer. “It seems like I came from nowhere”, Calvin Harris admits, “but it didn’t feel like that for me. I had a successful record after having lots of unsuccessful records.”

These early recordings, for the benefit of trainspotters, include the single ‘Da Bongos/Brighter Days’ under the name Stouffer on the Prima Facie label in 2002, and a track called ‘Let Me Know’ with singer Ayah (on the Unambombers’ Electric Soul 2 compilation) in 2004.

It was when Harris hit upon what would become his trademark sound – irresistibly infectious dance-pop tunes built from juicy staccato synths and squelchy electro bass lines- that he caught the public’s imagination, 1st with breakthrough anthem ‘Acceptable In The 80s’ (given release in March 2007 by Columbia Records, who had clocked his growing popularity on Myspace), then the even bigger follow-up ‘The Girls’, and then his non-stop house party of debut album, I Created Disco.

I Created Disco went on to sell over 100,000 copies in the UK alone, earning it a gold disc. Among his growing legion of admirers are Dragonette, who recorded a slyly affectionate cover of ‘The Girl’ (‘The Boys’), not to mention the scores of imitators who wanted that Calvin Harris sound.

The smart way to get it, of course, was to go straight to the man himself, which is exactly what a certain Antipodean pop goddess did. When Calvin Harris got the call to meet up with Kylie Minogue with a view to a collaboration, he decided to calm his nerves with booze.

“That’s when I was in my Jack Daniels phase. I only had a couple. It didn’t work. It just made me a little bit drunk, but equally nervous. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.”

2 of the Calvin-produced tracks, ‘Heart Beat Rock’ and the single ‘In My Arms’, made it onto Kylie’s album X. Other artists seeking Calvin’s console wizardry have included Example, The Mitchell Brothers and Sophie Ellis Bextor.”

One Calvin track, however, cannot go unmentioned. “Dizzee texted me”, he recalls, “Saying he’d done this acapella over someone else’s music, but his verse was too good for their music, so could he do it with me instead?” He laughs at the memory of the Rascal’s cheek. “So I spent a long time on it, to make sure it lived up to his expectations. I sent him the track, and he called me at 2 in the morning to say it was amazing, so I knew it was good.”

Good enough to top the charts for 4 consecutive weeks and become one of the biggest selling singles of 2008, not to mention Calvin’s first #1 record, taking Calvin Harris’ records sales to over 1 million copies.

‘Dance Wiv Me’ came in the middle of the year when he began to write the as-yet-untitled successor to I Created Disco. “My second album was supposed to come out in 2008, but I realised I had about a week to do it. So I decided not to do anything.” Rather than rush things, Calvin locked himself away, “in the dark in a small purple room for the best part of the year and a half.”

Taking breaks, Harris has been spinning tunes in Hong Kong, Australia, Milan, Belgium, “any countries where we couldn’t take a six-piece band.” It’s proven a valuable experience. “It’s nice to be exposed to dance music, to hear what’s going off in clubs these days.”

It has changed his approach to recording. “Now I’ve decided the new one’s going to be a big commercial dance record. By which I mean it’s going to sound commercial, not that I’m expecting it to sell loads of copies.”

The first taster of the updated Calvin Harris sound has done precisely that. The lead single ‘I’m Not Alone’ from new album Ready For The Weekend, went straight to the charts at the top, his 2nd #1 record. Harris calls it “a big stadium dance tune, somewhere between Snow Patrol, Faithless and Grandaddy”, but at least twice as good as that description makes it sound.

It begins with Calvin Harris himself, fronting the song alone with the words “Can you stay up for the weekend and blame God for looking old?”, his voice naked and untreated. A brave move. “I had no choice,” he explains. “The only way that was going to work was with a really stark beginning. I had to just go for it.”

It’s a fascinating case of mixed messages: expressions of self doubt set against a monumental rave riff. “The whole track’s a light and shade thing,” Calvin explains, “2 styles put together. I find it quite hard to write a happy-happy lyric now, for some reason. I don’t know why that is, to be honest with you. Maybe it’s staying in a room for a huge amount of time on your own, and that’s reflected in the lyrics!”

A more straightforwardly upbeat track is ‘Ready For The Weekend’, featuring the formidable lungs of Mary Pearce, profilic backing singer for the likes of Beverly Knight, Lionel Richie and Chaka Khan. It has a handbag house piano riff, and the girl friendly chorus “I put on my shoes and I’m ready for the weekend”. “It’s the happiest, most joyful song I’ve done so far. It’s got a diva on it, and I’ve always wanted to do a song with a diva. It’s the ultimate dance music cliché, but done in a slightly different way,” Calvin explains.

“That’s definitely the idea,” he confirms. “I wanted to make something I would be proud of: This is as good as I can do’. So I just don’t have that one album to my name that I’m not particularly pleased with.”

If it sounds strange to hear Calvin distancing himself from a record as successful as I Created Disco, it’s a symptom of his perfectionism. “The last one was done before I was signed, so I cut corners and didn’t work as hard as I should have done. I’m pleased that i managed to record it in the circumstances in which I did it, but if I were to re-record it, it would sound pretty different now.

“There is more of a range of songs to this one. The last album, you heard 2 or 3 songs and you’d pretty much them all. This one’s more varied and more interesting all round. The first one I’ve used as many instruments as I can get my hands on.”

When pushed for a description of the overall feel and mood, Calvin opts for “classic dance music in a modern environment”. He explains, “The thing I like about dance music is you can borrow from all different genres of music, all different instruments, and turn it into a dance track. In the first place, dance music seemed so varied to me, as opposed to being limited by a band with guitars, like you get with indie and whatever. I’m trying to make dance tunes that don’t seem like they are dance tunes, but hopefully work. I’m trying to make something that someone either hasn’t heard for ages, or has never heard before. Hopefully the latter.”

Ready For The Weekend is out now on Sony Music. Cop a listen then check on our Calvin at