KSHMR: ‘The Trick is to Be the Crazy One’
The Indian-American producer tells us the secret to finding global success, making his grandfather proud and his collaboration with Sonu Nigam
It’s safe to say that 2017 has been Niles Hollowell-Dhar’s year. With tours across Japan, Mexico, Thailand, the U.S.A.. a mainstage at Tomorrowland and more, the Indian-American producer better known as KSHMR also launched his own label Dharma Worldwide and his second EP Materia. However the most significant event for him and fans alike would probably have to be his his first-ever India tour. “I’m feeling like it’s been a long time coming,” he told Rolling Stone India right before embarking on the six-city tour. “Especially because of my heritage and the support I’ve received from India.”
The KSHMR India tour which started on October 20th in New Delhi and ended on October 29th in Mumbai saw several superstar guests on the lineup, including desi bass producer Nucleya, Goa-based DJ Anish Sood, American producer Jai Wolf and more. The kickoff show in New Delhi raised donations for nonprofit organization CRY (Child Rights and You) and even featured an orchestra and dancers joining the producer onstage. While KSHMR came back to India with a mission to give back, it also meant giving back in terms of entertainment and quality rather than blind money-making. “First we had to check who is available,” he says about choosing the right artists to support him on his maiden India tour. “From there it became a question of whose music I love the most and who would complement the show best—It’s not just a motley crew of people that I thought would sell tickets. The lineup was decided on who could bring in some magic.”
Like he did last year, KSHMR continued the tradition of bringing his very supportive grandfather to his shows with the first gig in New Delhi. “He was really excited,” KSHMR says. “I think he was kind of annoyed that [the India tour] didn’t happen sooner.” In fact, he reveals that his grandfather is an important part of several decisions made around this tour, including the partnership with CRY. “I consulted with my dadaji and asked him what organizations would be good to support and from that list we did some research and landed on CRY,” he explains. “I know he’s proud… it’s sort of my way of giving back to him. I think he’s really excited about what I do with music and being a part of it.”
His grandfather’s presence went from stage to studio too, when the producer teamed up with Bollywood singer-composer Sonu Nigam for his latest collaboration, “Underwater.” The collaboration came about when a friend introduced the two after learning KSHMR’s grandfather was a big fan. “We hung out for a couple of hours, played music and talked… And when this tour came around I thought it would be great to have a collaboration with someone from India and he was the first person that I thought of.” Nigam liked the song idea KSHMR sent him and after a few last-minute flight changes, the two met in Los Angeles to record the song which was released on October 13th. “He might be the nicest person I’ve ever met in my whole life,” adds KSHMR. Nigam even joined the producer onstage at the Mumbai concert to perform “Underwater.”
While his grandfather is now perhaps his biggest fan, I ask if there was ever a time when he was opposed to KSHMR pursuing music. “Yeah,” the producer says with a laugh. “It was a tough pill for him to swallow, and for my dad.” Like most Indian families, they thought music would be a great ‘hobby’ and he needed to take up a more conventional means of income instead. “I think now he’ll admit he was wrong, but he’s not really wrong in the sense where he grew up and the time he grew up in,” says KSHMR. “And who knows, if they didn’t oppose it the way did, music would not have seemed so exotic and I wouldn’t have had such a fetish for it.”
Is this an Indian tendency or is there an apprehension across cultures and borders about unconventional jobs? “Well it’s interesting, because in America I see a little bit of a problem with everybody thinking they’re going to be a movie producer, or a big DJ,” he says. “You’re encouraged to be the next Steve Jobs or whatever. And that’s great! But you have to match it with the hard work. On the Indian side, the same thing seems completely unrealistic and in a country of over a billion people… you can see why.” He adds there are only a handful of famous artists which means statistically, the likelihood of someone succeeding is pretty low.
“But the trick is to be the crazy one who doesn’t care,” he says. “And maybe the crazy ones who stay on the treadmill when everybody else falls off, win the marathon.” He is firm in the belief that people who stick with it, end up finding a place in music. Maybe they’re not Justin Bieber, but maybe they could be Justin Bieber’s songwriter or producer. “I’ve never seen a person do it and do it and do it and nothing happens.” KSHMR was one half of the now-disbanded EDM duo The Cataracts and explains that success doesn’t always come in the form you expect it to–his whole vision of what would happen and how it would happen took a lot of twists or turns.
With his third India appearance out of the way, KSHMR wants to focus on his label and work on a new EP before he comes back, which may be as soon as December. “I’m putting together what will probably be the sequel to [debut EP] Pardesi,” he reveals. “It’s going to be all different tempos. With Materia, I did electro house and that’s my bread and butter but it’s so fun for me to slow it down and try more ‘listening’ music. I’m really just having fun with that.” He adds that he wants to start bringing in more organic instruments with dance music and create brand new blends. “Real instruments speak to you like a human, they evoke more pain. In dance music we have to strive to make it more human.”
Watch KSHMR’s “Underwater” feat. Sonu Nigam below: