Just two weeks before the release of Harmonica Andromeda, the anticipation for KSHMR's highly anticipated debut album is starting to bubble over. The album will symbolize his sonic growth from 2014 to now, and how his Indian heritage influenced his journey as an artist.
Describing Harmonica Andromeda as "the most creative music" he has ever made, KSHMR is set to premiere his forthcoming debut album at Insomniac‘s Park ‘N Rave concert series on March 19th at San Bernardino's NOS Event Center, his very first show since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ahead of the album's release, EDM.com spoke with KSHMR about the goals of his Dharma Studio, his dream collaborators, and how his Indian roots impacted Harmonica Andromeda.
EDM.com: What significance does the name Harmonica Andromeda hold?
KSHMR: So one of the songs on the album is this sort of circus—a lot of the songs put you in a different place thematically, with the sort of culture they pull you into. So this one is like a carnival, circus kind of a vibe, and the main principle instrument on it is a harmonica. So in thinking of the story around it and thinking of a harmonica that has these magical qualities. So just on the fly, I called the idea Harmonica Andromeda, and that kind of became the jump-off point for where you’re going in this story, the rest of the places, a jungle, and all those places.
It all started from Harmonica Andromeda and there was something magical that stuck with me about this name. I am a big fan of little tiny things that seem like they would leave no imprint on this world, going into something big. It’s satisfying from a storytelling perspective. It’s picking something small like that and teaming it with Andromeda, something so massive and galactic. It’s also the name of the first song on the album.
EDM.com: You started releasing music under the KSHMR namesake back in 2014, and now your first album is set to come out this year in 2021. Why the long gap?
KSHMR: I did an EP called The Lion Across The Field and that was me experimenting. In dance music, it’s all very single-driven—like what’s your new single you can play out at festivals—and sometimes it also feels very utility-driven. It feels like I’m going to make a new song just so I can play it at the next show, so you’re making music that incorporates things like “Put your hands up” in it and stuff. So it’s solely for a festival crowd. The EP was the first time that I really focused on making music I wanted people to listen to outside of a festival.
As touring became a big part of my life, it was hard to go into that experimental mindset where I’m just spending time exploring different tempos. And I didn’t have the luxury—I had to constantly be making “the” next song. Because of quarantine, however, it took that decision of whether to play shows or make music out of the equation. It was decided for me. So I had so much time to experiment and I’m honestly very grateful I was able to explore so much. With music, I feel that if something doesn’t annoy me, it’s good. That’s sort of like the test it passes, and I’ve just never been less annoyed than by this new music (the album). I’ve never made so [many] consecutive minutes of music that doesn’t annoy me!
EDM.com: A new music video for “The World We Left Behind” is on the way. Tell us a little about it.
KSHMR: Video India mein banaya gaya hai (Translation: "The video has been made in India"). There’s something about this kid, the one you see on the album artwork, going on an adventure that I guess is—when I close my eyes and think in an abstract sense of how the album makes me feel—that’s who I’ve been following. That’s the story I’m trying to tell with the album.
I wanted the music videos to show the adventures of this kid, so I spent a lot of time writing out the story and it has to do with his relationship with his mom. And then taking her will and her direction for him which he doesn’t understand at first, and trying to fulfill that. And then going out in the world and trying to fulfill that while also carving out his own path. My relationship with my own mom is really special and also my dadima (grandma), who I mentioned. There’s a song on the album by my mom’s name called “Paula,” which is a song I wrote for her and also one I’m singing on. I’m not the best singer, but it comes from the heart.
EDM.com: Thinking back on 2020, what were your biggest lessons learned?
KSHMR: Apart from the silver lining, which was getting time to work on my music and the album, I think I developed an appreciation for the simple things. Like just going to the park every week with friends and throwing a ball around and playing sports and activities. So much of my time was consumed by touring and using the little time I had at home to make music, that I now came to understand how much I really enjoy activities as simple as going out and throwing a ball around with my friends. So now I carve out time for myself in the week to allow myself to do that.
Also, something I never did before was to respect the weekend as a time free from work. And because I love making music, I used to look at the weekend as just another day. I now take the weekends off and hang out with my friends, and my relationships with them have gotten so much closer as now they’re not just looking at the back of my head while I make music on my computer, I get to spend more time with them. I can tend to be quite a quiet person and I think it’s got me a little more open and more natural hanging out with people with no particular objective.
EDM.com: What kind of an influence did your visits to India as a child play on your journey as KSHMR?
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KSHMR: When I was young, I was just told that I’m a Kashmiri. But then in America being told I’m a Kashmiri Bhramin priest, and when you hear it as a kid, it doesn’t really affect you or mean anything to you. But my relationship with my dad and my grandparents was always very powerful. Each and every visit always stood out to me, but then as an American going to India, of course it’s going to stand out to you—it’s a whole new world. But to be honest, at that time it was not something I really cared about and just something in the background.
As I began to grow older, and it was time for me to go to college, I told my family I didn’t want to and I wanted to do just do music. This set off a lot of alarms for my dad and for my grandpa of course. So they had me go to India and they started by telling me it was just for a couple of weeks, and then I stayed there for the entire summer. And the goal was that my dadaji (grandpa) was going to teach me time management, which was basically managing music as a hobby along with school, which would be the main thing.
Well, we know that didn’t work, but in the process, I got to travel all over India with my dadaji and dadima. I got to see snow in India for the first time, we got to see so many hill stations and so many temples. I feel like I’ve seen all the temples in India. We went to Agra, where my dadaji got into an argument since they wanted me to go through the foreigner line to visit the Taj Mahal. I remember things like that and I guess I remember them more so because I felt like an outsider, and in America, I felt like an outsider too.
I remember this line from the movie Selena, where she says something like, "In America I’m too Mexican, but in Mexico, I’m not Mexican enough," or something like that. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I felt like when I came to India and was really accepted and I could connect with people. In India, if you aren’t coming as a musician or something, it’s a very busy place, and it can feel a little lonely. And my world in India was very small and limited to my grandparent’s colony, but when I started to come to India for music, I went to places like Goa, got to spend more time in Mumbai, and discovered a whole different side of India.
EDM.com: What’s your favorite Indian food?
KSHMR: I have to say it’s probably Tandoori Murgh. A tandoor is hard to do at home, but I’ve made Butter Chicken and stuff, and it’s not too hard but it takes time. However, it’s all worth it. I’ll say it’s tandoori chicken, but I also miss a yellow chicken my grandma made for me. I don’t know what it was called but it had a lot of ghee!
EDM.com: When you started Dharma Studio, what was the idea behind it? And what can we expect from it in the future?
KSHMR: For me, the world of producers, that community is very important. When I think of who I am at the end of the day, it’s not a DJ—I’m a producer. What I would want to be written on my tombstone when I’m gone is that I mattered to the world of producing, because that’s my whole world.
So, Dharma Studio is a place to get tutorials from me. I like to give lessons, and it’s really fun for me to talk about music concepts. If I’m making a song, I like to write the idea down and try to remember it but also feel like that would be really cool to share with people. You also get little samples—I’m known for the sample packs I put out. You also get templates and other tools and resources that are very helpful for aspiring producers. We are not really charging much for it, it’s really just enough to keep the bills paid and the lights on. What we are trying to offer people takes a whole team, so this is just enough to cover overheads and to be able to keep providing great things for people. It’s something I want to keep growing.
As a label, if we just keep telling people "hey there’s new music, hey you should hear this or buy this or stream this," it feels a little one-sided. So I like this idea that we’re showing you how the songs get made and offering you an insight, rather than just demanding that you consume or buy.
EDM.com: What is the highlight of your career as KSHMR?
KSHMR: At Sunburn Festival in Goa, India, I brought my grandpa up on stage with me. And we played some really old Indian music we would listen to when I was young in front of thousands of people. And it’s safe to say after that he was a believer in my career as a musician.
EDM.com: If you had the opportunity to collaborate with literally any artist, dead or alive, who would that be and why?
KSHMR: I’ll say Paul McCartney in his prime. I would say John Lennon, but I was always a Paul guy. John seemed a little more cynical and jaded to me, so I’ll say Paul. I’m also a big fan and I love guys like Eminem, but there are some people who just seem like they have their thing and you’re like, "What could I possibly do with them?" The Beatles, what makes them so impressive is how they adapted to so many different styles, from country music to Indian music. So I think I could possibly do something interesting with them considering Paul is still putting out music to this date.
Harmonica Andromeda will release on March 19th via Spinnin' Records.