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:: Spotlight :: Calvin Harris - From supermarkets to SonyBMG

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Calvin Harris has burst onto the scene with music that makes people dance. He comes from Scotland and is just 23 years of age. The DJ/producer has just released his debut album “I Created Disco”, and he has already scored highliy with two singles “Acceptable In The 80s” and “The Girls”. Such was the impact of these songs that he is greater demand for production duties and also toured with notable acts Faithless and Groove Armada earlier this year. I caught up with Calvin whilst he was in Melbourne for a brief promotional tour.

You were all set for a great career in the fruit and vegetable section of Marks & Spencer until you got the publishing deal last year. The surge in popularity has happened very quickly. Tell us about these times?

It sure has come a long way quickly. I worked in supermarkets ever since I left school and almost made it to supervisor of the fruit and vegetable department of one supermarket. Then all of a sudden this happened.

You sent many demos to record labels over several years in trying to get noticed…Was a signing inevitable?

Part of me thought that something was going to happen eventually. As you get older you think it’s going to be less and less likely. I tried various techniques in order to get signed. I had been making music since age 14 and since 16 was sending out CDs to record labels. I would get some encouragement; enough to want to move to London and set up a band. I then looked for someone to sing on my backing tracks. That backfired and I ended up working in another supermarket; not earning enough money to live there. I returned to Scotland. I simply worked away at home after a break, making tracks for fun. I joined Myspace and within three months I got offered a record deal. If you are making songs that you think are strong, on a bi-weekly basis, and getting no response, it is very frustrating. Myspace is such an easy platform to get noticed.

Such is the impact of Myspace…

For sure. You can get all the info you need and have the tracks playing in the background. You can see how many fans they have and what they look like. It’s almost perfect.

The album has some excellent qualities yet I get the feeling that some will love it for its creativity and others will dislike it. What has been the reaction in the UK?

Back in the UK I’ve had mixed reviews because some people just don’t get the point. Like you said, “You’ll probably love it straight away or you’ll hate it.” Some of the UK media can’t understand it and have the necessary fun with it.

You've done well with the vinyl pressings for each single…

“Acceptable……” has been on vinyl since December 2006 (about 1000 copies were pressed) and then Vegas had a vinyl pressing.

Is it easier to undertake a Do-It-Yourself approach - being a one-man operation - these days?

There have been mixed results with the Do-It-Yourself approach. Some people pretend they do, but in fact they have a producer backing them. I’ve done this completely myself, but then I couldn’t have set up my band without signing to a label. It was expensive to set up and with the rehearsal time we had to book. I was lucky enough to get signed without the live work, which you’d normally need to do.

Tell us about the recording. How do you go about it?

I started off with the instrumental (as I am not a singer) and was looking for singers all the time. I couldn’t find anyone, especially when I moved back home. I wrote lyrics in a way which I could almost get away with singing myself, and I just repeated lots of things (laughs) and tried not to ruin it.

How does the live show work?

I have a drummer, bassist, guitarist, and keyboardist, with three keyboards set out with all the samples. It still sounds like a CD but it’s full of sound. I’m at the front with a little keyboard as well, with some riffs and backing vocals on it. It’s been great at the big festivals, since more people know who we are now. We’ll possibly do a December/January tour of Australia.

What are your musical influences?

I have a strong collection of influences – Jamiroquai being the main one. The first CD I bought was his first album. I was obsessed with it. I also got into the Spin Doctors. They had great basslines, which I’m really into. Their bass guitarist was brilliant. Then, when I started making music at age 14, I started listening to dance music, particularly house and old underground sounds, before moving into soul and then Herbie Hancock. I also listened to a lot of Prince and David Bowie.

You have the label Fly Eye. What are your plans for it?

At the moment, I’ll work on my own things. But it’s all in place and I might leave it for a while before working on other small vinyl releases. It’s good to have the system in place.

I understand that you've been approached to do some songs for various vocalists, including Kylie Minogue's new album…

We did six songs for Kylie Minogue of which two made the short list. There’s a good possibility of one making the final cut. There was talk of working with Kelis but we’ve been so busy. I want to promote this record to death first.

How were the big shows with Faithless and Groove Armada this year? Did they give you greater confidence in your own abilities?

Faithless are very polished while Groove Armada have a very human quality. It’s good for us because we’re not phased playing to big crowds of 5,000-10,000 people, as we’ve done with Faithless. They were important gigs. We had some good discussions with Groove Armada. It was great to meet them.

Tell us about Glastonbury and the mud?

Yes, we played there this year. There is just a different sort of mud there, unlike anywhere else. It was way deep and it looked like chocolate sauce. It sprays everywhere.

You are a dot tv person (www.calvinharris.tv), not a dot com…

I started the website three years ago before Myspace and I felt like putting dot tv

How are you coping with the change in fortunes?

It’s all good fun, although a little weird being stopped in the street in my home town, and being asked for photos. The interaction with fans is very important and Myspace allows that.

"The Girls" video shoot looked like great fun…

It was a 20-hour shoot for The Girls video. It was great to see the girls in tight leotards

What are your plans for the rest of this year?

I might be going to America later this year. The interest has been very strong there.

"I Created Disco" is out now through Red/SonyBMG.

For more information, visit

www.calvinharris.tv