LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Scottish DJ Calvin Harris may not be the most recognizable face in the U.S. music scene, but after writing Rihanna’s biggest chart hit and with two other top 20 singles, Harris is fast becoming a chart staple.
Harris, 28, found success in the UK over the last five years before storming the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this year with “We Found Love,” a dance-infused dark love song featuring Rihanna’s vocals that became one of 2012’s biggest hits.
The DJ, who released album “18 Months” in November featuring other hits “Feels So Close” and “Let’s Go,” sat down with Reuters to talk about his U.S. breakthrough.
Q: Did you ever think “We Found Love” was going to be one of the biggest hits in the U.S. this year, and what do you think of the growing British presence in the U.S. music charts?
A: “I hoped that it would do really well, but you can’t predict writing Rihanna’s biggest-ever record, else you’re an egomaniac. Couldn’t have predicted that - that was a surprise. It’s nice that British music is getting played over here, it seems like everyone has a more even playing field than before.”
Q: Why do you think dance music is becoming such a big part of the U.S. scene?
A: “The people to thank are probably the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga. They were the first two American mainstream acts to have that house beat in their songs, whereas before, it was all hip hop. I remember Ne-Yo, when ‘Closer’ came out ... and it bombed here but in the UK it was number 1, it was massive ... Black Eyed Peas’ ‘I Got a Feeling’ and (Lady Gaga‘s) ‘Poker Face’ that was pushed really hard, and once they were huge, huge hits ... radio stations wanted more and there was plenty of it because it’s been going on for years.”
Q: There are a lot of DJs coming into the mainstream scene now. How do you make yourself stand out in a saturated market?
A: “I like making dance records with lyrical depth. I also like the music to sound rich and full and have real instruments, and not be that kind of synthetic sound, combined with lyrics about popping bottles, being in the club ... I like them to be the sort of lyrics you can find in another genre because I think dance music historically, the lyrics have been banal and I‘m not into that. I like making actual songs but also something that still works on the dance floor.”
Q: Your new album “18 Months” has songs that span different sounds within the dance-pop genre. Were any tracks challenging?
A: “The two most challenging mixes were the tracks with Example and Florence (Welch), because I think the key is to make it sound like there isn’t that much going on when actually there is ... it was a more difficult mix because it was more dynamic.”
Q: Some critics say that you use well-known artists like Rihanna or Florence just so you can get hits. What do you say to people who think you’ve sold out?
A: ”Critics don’t buy albums, they’re also almost 90 percent either failed musicians or they don’t know better than anyone else. Also, I don’t like them. What’s the point of a critic? ... I ‘sold out’ when I signed a major record deal, which was in 2006. People didn’t say I sold out then ... so don’t accuse me of selling out now. It’s very very late to do that.
“If Florence Welch wants to do a track with me, I‘m going to say no and use someone unknown? ... I want to do a track with people I like, not people I haven’t heard of before.”
Q: Some of your music videos have been provocative. “We Found Love” features domestic abuse and drug use, and Florence Welch’s “Sweet Nothing” has violence. Do you think music videos have to provoke to be noticed?
A: “I like videos to be seen by all and the guy who’s done my videos since ‘Bounce,’ Vince Haycock, I forever censor him ... But recently, I’ve let him do whatever he wants and it’s more fun, I’ve discovered, to make whatever video he wants to make ... I guess you’re more likely to get more views if someone is getting smacked in the face with a chair ... ‘Sweet Nothing’ was great, but there was a lot that was cut out, like a brutal fight scene at the end ... it got cut out because I couldn’t watch it, and the soundtrack was my music. There’s obviously a boundary. I’ve not had any naked people in my videos yet.”
Q: A lot of DJs are now collaborating with brand names in sponsorship deals. Are you doing anything similar?
A: “I‘m genuinely just making music, I‘m trying to make it good. I know these guys with their headphones and their logos and their gimmicks - you can take that route but I think it’s just added pressure to uphold something ... Other people do it much better than me because they’re more like personalities.”
Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy, editing by Jill Serjeant and Nick Zieminski