(Original Photo By: Jasmine Safaeian)
Throughout history, some of the greatest musical minds have given every fiber of their being to becoming the best artist possible. Whether it is classical artists like Mozart and Beethoven to more modern geniuses like David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, the greatest artists are driven by something different than everyone else. In the EDM world, Niles Hollowell-Dhar, aka producer/DJ extraordinaire, KSHMR is one of those artists. After a successful career as a producer, Niles debuted the KSHMR brand in 2014. Since then, he has left an indelible mark on the industry with his The Lion Across the Field EP and collaborations with the likes of Tiësto, Dillon Francis, Shaun Frank, and Bassjackers. Niles tells us about the slow, but deep dive into music in his youth.
“My childhood dreams consisted of being an author. I also wanted to be a football player, but I stopped growing. I didn’t think I was big enough. I fell deeper into music with the more hardships I experienced. It became a place for me to clarify my thoughts by hearing other people speak through lyrics and instrumentals. Soon enough I wanted to make music. As a kid I was always really obsessed with taking something that I liked and doing it myself, and with music, it was just like that. I was really concerned with the final product…not just making a song, but I was obsessed with it being on a CD. I would spend just as much time figuring out how to burn songs to a CD, how to put a nice label on it, and putting it in people’s hands at school.”
His father’s side of the family is Indian. The name KSHMR is derived from the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India; he has always tried to give back to his roots. Anyone who follows his music knows that his Indian heritage is well represented. As can be the case with more traditional cultures, his dad’s side of the family was not really up for Niles’ career choice. However, through self-confidence, he proved his family wrong.
“My Indian relatives were really not excited about me pursuing music. There wasn’t an exact moment where it was difficult or it presented an obstacle to me, but family doubting that I could make a comfortable living from music always lingered. I can’t really say it was a big hurdle because for some reason, I just knew they were all wrong. A lot of confident people end up achieving their dreams. You may think they are arrogant, but you just know they’re probably going to win…I think internally I knew. I had such a high stamina for working and finishing song after song so I just knew that I would be okay.
People say successful musicians are lucky, but it’s not true. There might be some luck in the opportunities you receive or in terms of how much longevity you have, but I’ve seen the least likely candidates stick with it and find success. I think everybody who puts in the hard work and follows through will succeed in one way or another. They’ll at least live a fulfilling life doing what they love, which is success in its own right. Some people become disenchanted or are driven by fear and divert their attention to something else. Then they’re surprised that they end up doing what does not make them happy for the rest of their life.”
Niles admits that he did not know what he wanted to do right off the bat. He says he was an angry and angsty teen. This was partly fueled by his parents’ divorce, which, despite the trauma of it, Niles says was a formative time. Aren’t we all a little angsty at that point in our lives?
“The biggest struggle in my life was when my parents split up. I was maybe 11 years old and I didn’t really get to see my dad for a while. I was really an angry kid. I think I was very confused. It was probably the single most potent contributor to my obsession with music. It was a very difficult time. At that point in my life I don’t think I could have imagined being a relatively normal happy person. Everything was gloomy for me at that point, I was a pretty dark kid, and even reveled in being dark and tormented. So that was really difficult. It’s easy to say now that it’s over, but looking back I wouldn’t change anything. I wouldn’t be who I am today without that experience. I have a good relationship with my dad now, which is amazing.”
Fast forward a decade or so and a once frustrated teen has now become a world-class producer/DJ. How does one maintain that edge and that chip on their shoulder to motivate them to go that extra mile? For someone like Niles, it comes easy. The pursuit of perfection and the constant struggle of self-improvement are motivators. But even someone as focused and as brilliant as Niles can become distracted. As he puts it, a little bit of paranoia and fear can be healthy.
“I was just having a conversation with my manager about time management and finding enough time to maintain and evolve my brand. It becomes difficult because with the popularity that I received from all the songs I made at first, I lost a lot of my time. Songs lead to shows and constant traveling, interviewing, meeting fans, etc. and before I know it the very thing that made me popular could very quickly kill my career. I think that’s something I constantly have to be aware of because this happens with many artists. The ones who rise to the top the quickest can also be the first to fall. The candle can burn fast on both ends.
I have to be very conscious of that. I also have to be conscious of feeding too much into my own hype, and resting on my laurels. These are challenges that every artist endures. I think I have a healthy paranoia. It’s responsible for the success that I’ve had over the last few years. I say healthy because paranoia is what drives me to work harder every day. I fear being inadequate, but I also don’t let it consume me. Having success can make you complacent and forget about the challenges you had to overcome in the beginning. I want the whole journey to be difficult because that’s what makes all of this worthwhile.”
Although Niles has a laser focus on his music and what he’s working on, that doesn’t mean that he can’t stop and smell the roses. As much as his mind is constantly on his music, he said that he’s been deeply moved by the fan love he’s experienced. Like many artists, he has actually had a more personal experience with his legions of fans online than in-person.
“For my birthday this year some of my fans did something really special. They created a video that featured people saying happy birthday to me and sharing how much I meant to them. Sometimes I forget that my fans are real people because I only see their little avatars online, but this reminded me. I felt a huge sense of gratitude rush over me because who has the stamina to support somebody so relentlessly and so unconditionally? Watching this video showed me how incredible my fans are and it even made me cry a little. It meant a lot.”
We’re in an era where “staying woke” is important. Few artists in EDM achieve this the way that KSHMR does. He’s raising awareness while, at the same time, lighting up the charts. He loves to inspire new artists and fans alike. If more people were like Niles, the world would be a far better place.