KSHMR Talks New Single, North American Tour, Production Techniques and 10 Years of KSHMR [Interview]

KSHMR has been entertaining dance music fans for the past decade. He’s made massive festival anthems like “Secrets,” “Megalodon” and “Karate”, he’s cultivated a conscious identity and sound based on his Indian heritage and he’s also a producer extraordinaire.

While KSHMR, whose real name is Niles Hollowell-Dhar, continued to put out some dance tunes in 2023, his main accomplishment last year was his Indian hip-hop album KARAM. Now, after a brief foray outside of dance music, KSHMR enters 2024 ready to dominate the EDM landscape. Not only did KSHMR just release his first single of the year “All Night” with gritney, KSHMR also just launched his new bi-weekly Dharma Radio show as well as embarking on a North American club tour.

We got the chance to chat with KSHMR ahead of his Los Angeles takeover March 8 & 9. Niles is truly one of the most thoughtful individuals in the dance music world and we had the pleasure of speaking with him about a number of topics. We discussed adapting to the current musical landscape, his musical rejuvenation after KARAM, the production of his latest single “All Night” and reflecting on 10 years of KSHMR. He even gave us a production deep dive on how to make tracks sound better in a live setting.

Hey Niles! Thanks for the chat, it’s always a pleasure. Tell us what has KSHMR been up to lately and how have you adapted to the ever changing musical landscape?

“Yeah, that’s been a tricky one, figuring out how I fit into it. There’s a lot of music out there that I like, that I really respect and admire. But, then I think about me doing it and it feels a bit forced. So, I’ve been trying to find that line of incorporating new sounds that I do enjoy and what my take on it is.

And, I was in a bit of a rut with it for a while, but in the last four or five months I found some songs that sort of reignited that passion again. It was nice making that hip-hop album in India that I made, because it got my head out of dance music completely. So coming back to dance music, it felt fresh again, inspired. The newest song, ‘All Night’, when I look at the scene, I really love the faster stuff.

When stuff started getting slower, or just groovy, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I was like, I don’t know, I don’t want to make drops that are just groovy with the bassline like a lot of house stuff. But, the Psy energy really appeals to me. That Eli Brown track, ‘Be the One’, I’m actually friends with the girl who wrote it. And it was interesting because throughout that process, she was like, how should I handle this? Because Eli had used a sample of hers to make that track, ‘Be the One’. And she was like is anyone going to know it’s me or how can I use this to get people to know I’m the singer on it, you might be interested in me too. I told her, you should just shout it from the mountain tops, let everyone know who’s listening. ‘Hey, if you like that song, just so you know, it’s me singing.’ Be annoying about it, it’s fine.

But, another thing you could do, is do a song sort of in that style, except this time you’ll be featured on it and everything. So, I actually made this beat, just for her to do that. Just kind of for Sarah, to have her song so she could ride the wave of the Eli Brown thing a little bit and have her own song to show for it. Then as it developed we were like, ah, maybe we’ll just make it a collaboration, make it like KSHMR and Sarah; on the track she goes by gritney, but her name is Sarah de Warren.

So yeah, part of me was like it’s kind of like the Eli Brown track, but I liked it so much, I was like, eh, it’s cool. I won’t mince words about the fact that it’s definitely inspired by that, and I wanted to do a track for Sarah that had that feel. So yeah, I’m really happy with that one, I’ve been playing it live.

There’s another track coming, it’s called ‘Happy’, it’s just a really beautiful song. It’s another one, I was like this is really beautiful, but how do I make this something I want to play live and something that fits in the world of KSHMR. Oftentimes, that’s just a process of the production; I remember Secrets even, I had the vocal and the chords, but then the production and what the style was going to be, it was probably about eight months before really cracking it.

So, Happy was another one, it didn’t take as long, but just knowing it was a beautiful song and just finding the right style to make it make sense for the show, and I think the version that we land on is something really special. So, that’ll be the next single.

And, this will be really interesting for all you music nerds out there; it’s in Phrygian. So there’s this really beautiful concept in music called plagal cadence, where if say you’re in C major, the sound of the F chord is supposed to be major, but then you could make it minor and then you resolve back to C. It has a very instantly recognizable like, we’re going to sleep kind of sound. It’s one of the most beautiful sets of two chords you can put together in all of music, I would say.

And it’s also special because it’s going out of key, so anytime something goes out of key and it works, my ears perk up, and I think most people who are interested in music are like, whoa, what’s the science of that? We’re all familiar with the seven chords that are afforded to us in a normal scale, but you can absolutely step out of those in interesting ways. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’ll sound bad. But, there are cases where it does work and it sounds good and it’s even more special because you broke the rules a little bit.

So this is a song that’s in Phrygian, which is an interesting scale, it usually sounds like Middle Eastern to people, or it sounds maybe kind of like heavy metal, it’s quite moody. And this plagal cadence thing worked within that scale, it was a nice thing, that feel that you don’t often get to put in dance music because it borders on a little movie sounding, yeah, it’s just moody, overly emotional.

But, in the case of this song, I think I was able to get it just right in the pocket of having that emotion but also working well as a dance song. I did that one with Tiina, who I also did “Do Bad Well” with, she’s a great singer. It’s very focused on her vocal the whole time, her vocal is like the drop, it’s the verse, it’s everything, it’s beautiful.”

You’re currently on your North American club tour. How’s it been going so far and tell us what kind of preparation goes into your own headline tour as opposed to pulling up to a festival and playing an hour-long set?

“You know, there was a time when I was getting prepared for a tour it was sort of incremental. Like I would take the songs and edits that I had that worked, I’d mostly keep them, maybe do a couple of new things. It was hard to justify spending a lot of time going back to songs like Secrets and doing a new edit or a new mix, when I was feeling a lot of pressure to make new music. So going back to these old songs and doing edits of them, it seemed frivolous.

But, this tour, something changed, I was just sick of it. I was like, look I’ve been playing this fucking edit too much, I’m scrapping all this shit! I’m still playing the songs that people are familiar with, but I put a new edit, remix, mashup on just about everything. And what comes out of that is cool because I end up producing essentially remixes of old tracks. Sometimes the remixes end up being really cool and maybe I would even put those out, maybe when the tour is done or halfway through.

There’s so many edits and remixes now, and it’s also been a big driver for me to take the little demos that I have, that aren’t quite ready yet and them ready enough to play live, because playing IDs, new tracks, that feedback that you get from the crowd instantly informs your decision making when it comes to the production of the track. So, yeah, these sets were supposed to be 75 minutes and I had to push it to 90 minutes because there’s so much new music. I used to say absolutely not, nothing over 75 minutes, now I’m asking them for more time. It just feels like I have so much music I want to play for people. It’s a great feeling, honestly, you feel revitalized, it’s nice.”

Has that ever happened, or what’s the feeling like where you play something new for the first time and maybe it doesn’t get the reaction you were expecting?

“Yeah, it’s horrific, you know. Yeah, it feels bad, to be fair, I think you have to take the average of a few different cities, how they’re reacting. Because for that crowd, at that time you played it, with that soundsystem, maybe something just didn’t click. So, that doesn’t mean abandon it, you go to the next city. But, if there’s something about the mix that you can tell, then you can fix it. Sometimes it’ll just kill my enthusiasm for a song altogether and that’s happened before too.

One thing from a production perspective I’ve definitely noticed is things that sound good in the studio with a lot of bass, cannot translate if you haven’t left a little space. Having more space between a kick, meaning maybe your kick is a little shorter and the sub, creating that space, oftentimes for live works better. Like in the studio, where everything is perfectly treated, having the kick fill all those low frequencies and then the bass comes in right when the kick stops, seems like the right idea, you have this never-ending sub, that’s what you want. But, for live, there’s going to be so much bass, the bass is going to be accentuated, it’s going to be exaggerated, that making kind of cautious decisions, maybe a shorter kick, maybe the bass takes longer to sidechain in and things like that kind of compensate for the fact that there’s probably going to be an exaggerated representation of the bass when you go to play it live.

But, in the case of playing it live, creating that separation, you can do it the right way, which is to open up the project and actually mix it differently. But, the other way that you could do, is just put LFO Tool on a track, make sure it’s only affecting the sub and you can just carve out a different shape for it. So if the kick and the sub are really fat and there’s no space between them that low end frequency is just going to look like a sausage kind of. So you use LFO Tool to essentially carve out a little dip in the kick to stop it and halfway through the beat you can lift the sub back in. And if you don’t want to go back into the project, you just want to get a rough idea of what a shorter kick and more space might sound like, you can do that!

I’ve been doing that, and you can quickly get just a slightly different mix and see how that feels, and if that is a good idea, you can go back into your project and do a proper mix that way. But, as I’m playing things live, if I had the opportunity to go to a club before it opens, like I’ve done before, and have them let me play music through the speakers, that’s probably the main thing I would focus on. How long does this kick need to be to make it sound like it’s bangin’ and how loud does a sub really need to be.

Because some great songs that sound really punchy, really big, like ‘Push Up’ by Creeds. Yeah, that track is really interesting, really loud kick, sub is not that loud, and sub has a big separation from the kick. So, when I saw how well that works live, it made me rethink what I thought I knew a lot about. Maybe a kick could be a lot louder, sometimes it doesn’t need to be that loud. And if I go and get to test things in a club, that’s mostly what I’m checking for. That’s a long-winded way of answering your question. How does it feel when something doesn’t work? It’s not only the problem, but I’m offering the solution, too.”

Speaking of festivals, Ultra Miami is just around the corner. How does it feel to be back in Miami and what can fans expect on the main stage? Are you playing any other shows for Miami Music Week?

“Yeah, it feels great to be coming back to Ultra. I think the last time I played I did the orchestral show, and I’ve done that twice now in Miami. This time just doing a normal DJ set on the main stage and I think it’s probably going to be like everything I’ve learned from on tour, what’s working and what’s not. All of the new music that I’ll be testing on tour, I’ll get it in a really good place to present it at Ultra Miami. That’s kind of my plan.”

Will you be playing any other shows during Miami Music Week at all?

“You know, there was talk about doing, but these shows would be at like 5 AM, and I also gotta think about me, my kind of show, and in Miami with that crowd, 5 AM, am I the right DJ? So, there were a couple of things that we discussed, but I ended up deciding it wasn’t the right thing. I wouldn’t want to hear a KSHMR set at 5 AM, I’m off my you know what. It’s not the vibe.”

2024 will mark 10 years of KSHMR, reflect on your musical journey for us. How have you grown and evolved as an artist over a decade? Do you have anything special planned to celebrate?

“Yeah, that’s really wild, 10 years since my first show. I was putting out music for about a year before that, I was an anonymous thing and not playing any shows yet. Yeah, it’s been a wild journey. I think I came in with a really concise vision of being this dark, cinematic, mysterious guy. Back then I was riding the wave of songs like “Tsunami”, “Megalodon”, even all the way up until “Secrets”. Somewhere around there more of the Indian side came out with songs like “Jammu” and “Kashmir” and I really leaned into that. And, there’s been these different waves,

Harmonica Andromeda album was again a wave, just going to different tempos and really taking the cinematic and organic stuff and taking it to its extreme of what if a song had three different twists in it. In a way, just an absolute showcase of what I was capable of production-wise. I had a lot of fun making that. Another wave was going to India and doing that, I think it’s been a lot of really great waves and that’s all you can hope for. I guess I’m really proud of the challenges and the way that the team and I have faced them and made something really fun and interesting out of them.

Like, even the orchestral show, originally it was sort of a challenge because Ultra was going to give me either not-a-great set on the main stage, or they said why don’t you do the live stage, and that was kind of like, are they just throwing us on the live stage? But, then the wheels got turning on what that could mean and it led to one of my favorite shows to play now, the live orchestral shows.

Another thing was how we’re going to present the show in general, then the Animated Story idea came about, then thinking it’ll be so cool if we translated that into the different languages of the countries I’m performing in. There’s just a lot of challenges that led to fun ideas that led to a lot of work, but it’s such a great feeling when your work seems to be for something that you believe in. You know, that feeling of you want to stay up all night, you want to stay up all weekend. I really love that feeling when there’s such a singular, clear purpose to your life.

The KSHMR project has presented so many of those amazing experiences and challenges, so I’m really grateful for it. And, all the guys that helped me along the way, before my production skill was even really as good as the songs were. The reason the songs were good is because of how many great people collaborated with me. Bassjackers, R3HAB, Tiesto, 7 Skies, all of these guys.

So, I’ve been really fortunate in that sense, and now I’m in this period of like, well, everybody into dance music kinda knows who I am and I’ll probably never be that hot, rising guy like I was, so now it’s almost a relief, there’s not the pressure to be that, you can just find new waves, do things that excite you and keep it rockin’.”

What other music and touring do you have in store for 2024?

“Yeah, there’s going to be Europe in the summer, that’s typically what I do, I spend a lot of time in Europe. I think probably more India is going to be coming around, India is always a big one for me, it feels like a homecoming. Yeah, you know, there’s always fucking shows. I’m just focused on what’s in front of me, which is the North American tour.”

I always like to ask this in interviews. Do you have any current book or streaming recommendations?

“It’s been a while since I had a book that I really loved. But, streaming recommendations, American Nightmare on Netflix, that is a wild story, that’s a really good one. For people who are fans of sci-fi, ‘Severance’ is a really good show.

Sometimes this show gets boring, but altogether I do love it. It’s called ‘For All Mankind’, it’s like historical fiction, it’s kind of like in the High Castle, where it reimagines a critical event in history and then all of the events that emerged from that even being slightly different from the version that we’re familiar with. In this case, it’s Russia beating us to the moon. Not only do they beat us to the moon, but they put a woman on the moon, so this has a dramatic impact on the view of women in society and the amount of investment that the American government makes into NASA. So, by the 90s people are driving electric cars and there’s been all this investment in science.

So it does a really beautiful job of sort of reimagining history in a way that’s not cheesy, it’s kind of subtle and it’s trippy to think how things could have been slightly different. I really took it too heart that we lost the moon race and so they just started plowing money into science which ends up having a lot of great consequences, you get a female president, a lot of cool, interesting things happen.”

Anything else you want to say to all the fans out there?

“Yeah, I just can’t wait for all of you guys to hear this new music, and if you come to the shows, you’ll hear it first.”

Check out the latest from KSHMR & gritney “All Night” out now on Dharma. Get your tickets for one of KSHMR’s two upcoming Los Angeles shows here. Remaining tour dates below.

March 1 – Harbour Event & Convention Centre – Vancouver, BC
March 2 – Prysm – Chicago, IL
March 8 – Academy – Los Angeles, CA
March 9 – The Vermont – Los Angeles, CA
March 15 – New City Gas – Montreal, QC
March 16 – Harrah’s Pool After Dark – Atlantic City, NJ
March 23 – Ultra Music Festival – Miami, FL
March 29 – NOTO – Houston, TX
March 30 – The Great Hall – Brooklyn, NY
April 5 – The Church Nightclub – Denver, CO

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