The Rihanna song “We Found Love” has been a monster radio hit over the past year. But as happens more and more in the world of pop music, it’s not the song’s vocalist, but the producer behind it, who’s now in the spotlight.
Scottish-born DJ Calvin Harris is that producer. His new record, 18 Months, is a collection of the many songs he’s produced over the last year and a half. Harris says he first began tinkering with music production as a teenager in his bedroom.
“I just got obsessed with it and spent all my time trying to make songs,” he says. “I was doing it instead of going to high school, which I don’t recommend.”
Here, Harris speaks with NPR’s Guy Raz about chasing his favorite singers to collaborate, how European dance music infiltrated the US, and why his limited vocal range hasn’t kept him from singing.
On the song “Feel So Close” and his own singing voice
“It’s like the same way you experiment with sound — you know, experiment with synths and guitars and make them sound good. [After] 12 years of trying to make my voice sound good in the studio, I finally learned how to do that. I know how to treat my voice to make it sound as good as it possibly can — which is still not that good. There’s still a very limited range there, which is why I like working with other people — especially female singers, because they suit dance music a lot better. There’s only so much you can do with a male voice in dance music.”
On working with Florence Welch on “Sweet Nothing”
“I was chasing her to do a track for about two years. She’s in Florence and The Machine; they’re quite a kind of left-field indie band with these incredible songs, and she’s an amazing frontwoman, but she’d never done a dance record before. … I just really, really didn’t want her to do one with someone else if she was ever going to do one, because I thought I could do it better than anyone else could. I understand that world better than maybe some other DJs do. So I chased her, and eventually convinced her. It’s definitely my favorite track on the album.”
On 2009 as a turning point in American pop
“I know will.i.am had an obsession with European dance music, and he wanted to work with the DJs that were making it and make some for The Black Eyed Peas. He saw it as a futuristic experiment. So he worked with David Guetta for “I Gotta Feeling,” which I believe was their biggest selling record. David just timed it really well with the release of his own stuff. Also, Lady Gagacame along, and she was making [four-on-the-floor] music, which was also unusual. Those two records came along at the same time, and when radio started playing them at the same time and people liked them, it was kind of a snowball effect.”