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For the Record: Nikhil D’Souza

Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Nikhil D’souza tells us why he’s been making frequent trips to Nashville and co-writing with seasoned songwriters for his debut

Nirmika Singh Nov 23, 2015
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Nikhil_Dsouza_20 by Avijit Pathak

Nikhil Dsouza. Photo: Avijit Pathak


Popular indie singer-songwriter Nikhil D’souza has seen it all ”“ performing to packed venues, causing fangirls to go into a tizzy by singing their favorite ballads and even crossing over from the indie circuit to mainstream Bollywood to deliver a quick hit [he sang the still-popular “Sham” from the 2009 film Aisha, among other hits.] For the past two years, D’souza — the original poster boy of Indian singer-songwriters singing in English ”“ has been kicking ass tad differently. He’s been travelling to Nashville, USA, working closely with his co-writer Jeff Cohen and recording tracks for his upcoming debut EP.

Having been a successful indie artist in India, D’souza admits that he didn’t think he needed to work with a co-writer, but his manager Colleen Zulian urged him to meet Cohen [who is also his publisher now]. So in 2013, D’souza travelled to Nashville for one week. “We knocked off five songs and even had time to go to some nice restaurants,” he says. Since then, his trips to Tennessee’s music hub have been gradually getting longer, the last one being a good one-month-long affair. He says, “This was my first experience of co-writing. In America, most artists work with songwriters; it is rare that an artist works on his project start to finish without one. But in India, as an artist, you spend hours, days and months on a song, and once you’re done, you introduce it to a band. And then try and get a gig at, say, Blue Frog, or maybe cut an album or EP. But who’s talking about it, who’s licensing it to film and TV; there aren’t any people for these kinds of things here in India.”

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By the looks of it, D’souza has a big plan. And a meticulously planned course of action for the upcoming record. The tentatively self-titled EP has been mastered [“We just need a few photographs for the cover, that’s it,” he says] but D’souza is biding his time till February-March to secure an O1 artist visa to the US so that the album is released there first. “We’re also planning a tour around that time,” he says.

The singer, who was the winner of the South Asian Soloist title at the pan-Asian music reality show SUTASI in 2009, says that in Nashville, he had to do a fair amount of unlearning along with a lot of learning. “I had the habit of using complex metaphors in my lyrics to such an extent that people couldn’t understand them. When I met my co-writers there, they asked me ”˜Why are you saying it like that. Say it in simple words.’ The thing is  — you have three minutes on the radio, you need to get to the chorus fast,” says D’souza, who played at the Kolkata edition of NH7 Weekender festival last month and is booked for the Bengaluru leg of the festival in December.

D’souza’s upcoming EP has five songs that touch upon the themes of love, lust and life in general. While “Because Because Because” is finding the reason to be or not be with someone, “A Simple Kind of Love,” is about simplifying things to stay happy. ““Beautiful Mind” is about coveting someone who’s with someone else who’s close to you. “Basically, someone like your brother’s girlfriend,” says D’souza. No, he doesn’t have a brother, he clarifies. The other two songs are called ”˜These Days,” and “Still in Love.” Says D’souza. “”˜Still in Love’ was the first song I presented to Jeff. I had the verse and chorus worked out for this song when I met him.” Has the hard work, patience and decision to take an unusual route to release music paid off? It’s probably too early for a verdict but D’souza says, “This EP is something I am very proud of.”

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