It’s tough to be good at something, whether it’s dribbling a ball, playing an instrument, writing a book, there’s a level of difficulty involved in things. However, it’s even more difficult to go from good to great. In 2018 we saw just that as producer/DJ Niles Hollowell-Dhar, better know as KSHMR, took the dance music world by storm. A slew of releases, his own record label, and legendary performances at all of the world’s top festivals, 2018 was truly the year of KSHMR. Like Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo, this year saw the producer reach new heights and truly leave his mark on the industry.
Today, KSHMR releases his newest track, “Magic,” a delightful mix of big room festival energy with a pop sensibility, the vocal hook is addictive. We got the chance to talk to Niles before his show at Exchange LA on Halloween. We touched on a wide array of topics, from “Magic” to his new tour, to even deeper topics such as mental health and staying relevant. Talking to Niles in person, his creativity and knack for telling a story is clear. Here’s what he had to say.
Check out KSHMR’s newest single “Magic” out now on Dharma Worldwide.
Hey Niles, it’s been a huge year for you. Tell me about some of the highlights and some of the achievements you’re most proud of?
“Man, I was really proud of taking the time off in the first half of the year and allowing myself to just make new music and create. Because the tour life had taken over like it does for so many DJs, I was just going show to show to show. So it was really nice to do that, to just record with all sort of different instrument players, some of that led to my own music, some of that led to Sounds of KSHMR Volume 3. I would probably say the song I’m most proud of this year is ‘Carry Me Home.’ I was doing a lot of experimenting and tried some different things that I know threw some of my fans off, but of the experimentation, I would say that’s the one I’m most proud of.”
Your new song “Magic” comes out Friday (today). Tell me a little about the song, how did it come about and how do you feel about the final product?
“The song came about originally with Adrian Lux. He and I got in the studio, maybe two years ago, and we started the idea. He came with the vocal and I tried so many things on the production, I think he gave up at a certain point because it seemed like we just weren’t figuring out the right direction for it. But, on my own, I just never gave up on the song, and eventually I made the version that you hear now. I asked Adrian if I had his blessing to put it out as me because at that point we hadn’t worked on it too much together. He said, yeah that’s cool, I just want to do a remix. I said that’s great, do a remix, and I’ll promote it as well. He’s a really talented guy, it’s kind of a shame we couldn’t have properly done the song together, but I’m really thankful that he allowed me to take it and do my production on it.”
You’re hitting the road for the Giant tour. What’s special about this one and what can fans expect to see that’s a little different?
“Well, since my first show, I’ve done this storytelling element, where there’s basically a comic book that shows up on the screen and it has a voiceover that tells you the story and you see different scenes. This was the first time with the Giant tour that we tell the story about a giant and a little girl. And this story is fully animated, so whereas the other ones were like a comic book, still images, this one is fully animated, moving the whole time. We got this amazing production house to do it and it was what I always wanted but didn’t have the financing to accomplish. But, we were able to finally do it and for the Giant tour it’s all about this giant who falls from the sky, he’s got a big chip on his shoulder, he’s been through a lot, but he meets this little girl, and together they really turn things around. Not just for themselves, but for the whole world, it’s a beautiful story.”
That’s something that’s really cool about your live sets, how there’s a whole sort of KSHMR mythology, how did that develop and how is it evolving as you go along?
“I’ll tell you, I came from the Cataracs, where our big song was ‘Like a G6’ and so much of what we did was about the clubs. I felt like I was taking on this persona that really had nothing to do with who I was. When I sat down and thought about it, really I was a producer at heart, and what I could do was sit down with a computer and different instruments and I could create this world. So, when I came up with KSHMR, it really wasn’t a concept about me, it was a concept about this world I wanted to show people and that I really believed was interesting and exciting. So that was sort of the beginning and the whole ethos of everything I’ve done as KSHMR. Not to put the focus on me, I’ve really refrained from showing my face, I didn’t want that to be a big part of it. I wanted to focus really on the world of KSHMR and to create and author, this mythology, that’s a good word.”
You as a person, how have you adapted to it as you’ve become more known as KSHMR?
“It feels really good, I’ve heard people say, it’s hard to become successful and then twice as hard to keep your success, and I think that’s true. You start to get more offers for shows, and the money’s so good that you can’t imagine turning it down. So you find yourself in a little bit of a bind where being practical can collide and potentially interfere with being creative, which is how you start. You start in a very creative place with nothing to lose really, and the machine can get so big around your project as it becomes more successful that you do have more to lose. And you have to bravely, and I’m not always capable of this, but you have to bravely behave as someone with nothing to lose, although you do. And it’s hard not to develop some attachment to your success, the wealth that comes with your success, and to remember that what got you successful was that feeling of youth and a sort of clean slate. To keep re-imagining yourself is difficult, because you get scared of losing what you have. But, you have to lose that fear in order to reach new levels of excitement. No matter how successful somebody is, they could be miserable if they are not accelerating. Their speed might seem to you like light speed, like a hundred thousand miles an hour, but if they don’t feel that they’re accelerating to something, it can feel like nothing at all. People are surprised, they see really successful people get depressed and even kill themselves. I’ll tell ya, it doesn’t surprise me that much. I’m not there, I’m not miserable, but I understand.”
For you, how do you maintain that balance and maintain a personal identity aside from a professional one?
“Well, I started going to therapy, that’s helped. I’ve got a good therapist and she kind of walks me back to my instincts. And I have a good team around me, not a bunch of yes-men, but people who give me honest opinions, and I try to encourage that, I try to stay grounded in that and the philosophy that I subscribe to when I originally started.”
Tell me about some of your favorite L.A. spots, what do you like best about the city?
“Well, let’s just talk about where we are right now. We’re in downtown, this is where I first lived when I moved to L.A. It can be a sketchy place, it felt like New York City, but it’s where we really grinded and I found my first taste of success in L.A. I think it’s kind of fitting, because, when people don’t deserve it quite yet, they can often get lost in the glitz and glamour of L.A. You haven’t really accomplished shit yet, but you find yourself around all these successful people and kind of mingling and pretending that you’re one of them. Where I lived at first was a real shithole and I think that was fitting for where I was at in my career, I’m kind of thankful for that.”
Looking ahead to next year what else are you hoping to accomplish and where do you see yourself?
“I hope to think more and more about my real core fans, because I feel like they’re a reflection of me. They’re like me looking into the mirror of what I value most and I hope to do a lot for them and really be there for them and keep delivering what I think makes KSHMR special. What’s given me their attention and devotion, keep doing that.”