The name Scott Harris may not ring a bell to even the most dedicated pop radio listeners. But anyone who has ever belted out a Shawn Mendes chorus while cruising down the highway, or cranked up the Chainsmokers’ Grammy-Award-winning “Don’t Let Me Down” to liven up a social gathering is familiar with Harris’s work.
Harris, 32, a Brooklyn resident who was raised in Oceanside, won a Grammy earlier this month for co-writing the Chainsmokers’ 2016 smash-hit single, which was named the year’s Best Dance Recording. “Don’t Let Me Down” peaked at No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and also reached the top 10 in several other countries, including Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The 2002 Oceanside High School grad had previously co-written 12 songs on Mendes’s 2015 album “Handwritten,” including “Life of the Party.” The song was first released a year prior on the Canadian-born teen singer’s extended play, which quickly jumped to the top spot on the iTunes Top Albums chart.
“From that moment, more doors started opening and people wanted to collaborate,” Harris said. “It’s all about people kind of hearing your music. The best way to hear your music is to have it in a very large space, like being on the front page of iTunes and No. 1.”
Harris kept writing, later doing a session with the Chainsmokers after his friend, Emily Warren, a co-writer of “Don’t Let Me Down,” introduced them. The two writers visited the apartment of the duo’s Drew Taggert and wrote the hit song in less than five hours, Harris said.
Originally meant to be an anthem for Coachella, the annual music and arts festival in California, the song’s inspiration, Harris said, came after he, Warren and a bunch of friends went to the event but couldn’t find one other.
“We kind of had the idea of you can’t find your friends, you’re lost, and that’s kind of what the song is about,” Harris said. With that concept, Taggert laid down a beat, and as they finished the session, he told Harris and Warren that they had created something special. “When you have a song do something that magical,” Harris said, “it kind of creates this bond that is kind of indescribable.”
Harris, whose father was a jazz musician, said he began making his own melodies on the piano at age 5 or so. In high school, he and a few friends formed a band called Low Tide, which played gigs around Oceanside. “I didn’t really know what I was doing at all,” he said. “I just kind of liked playing three chords on the guitar and putting words to them.”
He later toured as the Scott Harris Project while majoring in music business at SUNY Oneonta. Harris traveled around the country, playing in front of crowds ranging from 300 to 3,000 people, he said, but realized he didn’t want to be a touring musician forever. He discovered the possibility of writing songs for other artists, and jumped into the songwriting world.
Starting in 2011, he helped write tunes for Stephen Jerzak, Krewella and Jessie J, before collaborating with Mendes. After “Don’t Let Me Down,” he followed up by co-writing 10 songs on Mendes’s album “Illuminate” — released last September — featuring “Treat You Better,” which climbed to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
But the Grammy is his career highlight to date. He said he found out about the honor before the Feb. 12 awards show, when Warren and the Chainsmokers began frantically texting him. Then his phone died, he said with a laugh.
“It kind of just feels like all the stars aligned for it to happen …,” Harris said. “But in reality, when you write songs everyday with really talented people, then anything is possible.”
He currently works with Warner/Chappell Music, the global publishing company of Warner Music Group, and spends half his time in Los Angeles, the Mecca of the pop music industry. He said he typically begins listening to music he is working on or that people send him in the morning, and writes from the early afternoon until sometimes late at night.
The challenge, he said, is repeatedly finding inspiration. “When you write a song every single day, it’s like, how do you come up with something new to say?” Harris said. “For me, it’s like … how did Paul McCartney and John Lennon do it? How did Brian Wilson do it? How does Kanye do it?”
Sometimes Harris is in a room full of writers, creating a potential song for an artist to be named later. Other times, he sits with a musician, trying to channel what it is he or she wants to convey. “It’s kind of like a mini therapy session, so to speak, before you do anything,” he says, adding that he dreams of one day working with music icons Ed Sheeran and Adele.
Though some people may not know his name, Harris is fine with that. He enjoys being part of a small collection of writers who produce music behind-the-scenes.
“The fact that we can walk down the street and go to the coffee shop is awesome,” he said. “When I’m with artists like Shawn and there’s 16-year-old girls flocking outside the hotel, I’m not that jealous of that.”