There’s always something special in meeting an artist (or artists in this case) that believes so much in what they do. That’s why we were so excited to meet with Nikhil Pradip and Dhananj Shivganesh, otherwise known as indie-pop duo The Fortune. This new world of video calls can so often feel impersonal and artificial, but this was far from the case with them as we discussed their meteoric rise, the joys of global collaboration and so much more in this exclusive interview.
The Curve: Why, after so many years, did you decide to officially form The Fortune?
Nikhil: The Fortune has been around since 2013 if I remember correctly, we started as a three-person group originally. So, in Kerala we had this private tutoring and so we met each other there and he [Dhananj] asked me to rap. Basically, I was into rap at that time and a common friend of ours asked me whether I could like spit out a few lines and so I did a small cover version of the Busta Rhymes part from “Look at Me Now”. Yeah, and I also did the Lil Wayne portion of that. So, after that I was like yeah and we shared our Contacts and I think April 2013 we launched our first song, which is kind of like, how do you want to call it? (he laughs) You know how the first song is going to sound. So, we made that song with a producer from Kerala, then we made and released four songs and there were two others that are still not released, and we have no plans to either.
The Curve: Do you ever go back and listen to them?
Dhananj: Yeah, sometimes I go back and listen to them.
Nikhil: No! It’s like OK I started here but I’m working in the music industry at the moment so every time I hear my own songs, it’s like a cringe factor for me. You know we were excited about the music at that time, but looking back, you know obviously we both improved a lot. Then we didn’t talk to each other from 2014 to 2020. Then Dhananj texted me saying he had some free time and asked if I wanted to start The Fortune again. We tried to get in touch with our singer, Ashiq, but he’s running a company now and doesn’t have the time. We thought, why not collaborate with other people, like a peer-to-peer collaboration? We scouted Instagram and Fiverr and eventually released our first song in September 2020. Our aim since then has just been to release one good song every month.
TC: Your breakout song was called “Covid Unnis”. What inspired that song and how did it come about?
D: I guess I’ll be in a better place to answer that one. So, as a resident doctor, I was working in the COVID-19 ICU and it was a very depressing situation where so many people were dying, and I just felt as though there should be more awareness about this. I thought maybe we can give something more from our part, so this is actually the only song in our repertoire that is not in English because I wanted to do it in the local languages so that it reaches more people in India. So, I made the beat, and I also did the Tamil part in that song. We also wanted input from a Malayalam artist, who was Earthgrime, and maybe something in Hindi too, so I contacted this guy called Qafilah who’s from Kashmir and he wrote a rap and really helped change the song.
TC: And then your most recent single “Lost” came out just a little while ago. Can you tell me the story behind that one?
D: OK, uh, to be really honest. It come from a heartbreak “someone” had.
TC: I won’t ask any more about that I swear!
D: That “person” was like really into this girl and then got dumped and things got very bad. So, it’s just a like an output of that emotion that he or she had over it. It’s not one of us, so we wanted to make sure that it’s not about us, so I wanted to do it from a female perspective. We’re huge fans of Chelsea Cutler so we wanted to find a voice similar to hers and then, out of the blue, we got a DM from someone saying they would like to work with us, and we listened to her singles and that’s how Julia Nem ended up on our song. The lyrics were my own concept but I gave it to a friend in Delhi called The Earflower Experiment who did a fantastic job with them.
N: Then I played the guitar parts and gave the bass part to a student I teach. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so the vocals took a bit of time to get right. I’m not someone who believes you can just fix it all in post and, if you’re a singer, it’s kind of your job to sing properly.
TC: Did you ever get to meet Julia in person?
N: No, I’ve never met her.
D: Apart from Nikhil, I’ve never actually met anyone we’ve worked with. Julia is from Russia and it can sometimes be a challenge working with people so far away.
TC: You guys have worked with a lot of people from all over the world like Julia on “Lost”, and also Lucia Valdes on your song “Not Here for You”. Do you feel like they bring something special to your music?
D: I have to say of course, because they all have their own cultural background and grew up singing particular types of songs and that reflects in our songs as well. Like the slang that Julia or Lucia uses is not like an American or British singer. So, there is a unique vibe to it that no one else could bring to the music.
TC: Do you find yourself getting more listeners in the countries that your singers are from as well?
D: Uh, maybe a few, not much, but like from Guatemala (where Lucia Valdes is from), Russia we had a few listeners and stuff and from the US with Shawn O’Donnell, he got us a lot of listeners from Pennsylvania where he’s from.
TC: Which artists do you both look to for inspiration?
D: My inspirations have changed from when we started in 2013 to now. I was a big fan of Usher and lots of the pop music from back then. Nowadays, I move more and more towards the independent artists like I’ve been obsessed recently with this guy, Ben Kessler. Then there’s Chelsea Cutler as well as all the more popular artists today like The Weeknd, Billie Eilish and Bruno Mars. I just find that so much effort has been put into independent music and it really shows.
N: There’s someone from every genre really. So, I started with Eminem and Doctor Dre. I like the production, old school with that typical rock snare and hip-hop kick. Then I kind of drifted into 808 Mafia during 2012 and around the time we first started The Fortune. There were also these two kids from Sweden called Severo who were making remixes of songs and they were like 12 years old and their level of production was way higher than mine. Aside from that, I’m a huge metalhead as well so I listen to like a lot of old school metal and classic rock like Metallica, then the newer ones like Hollywood Undead, Breaking Benjamin and Three Days Grace.
“I just find that so much effort has been put into independent music and it really shows.“
TC: So, working as a duo. What are the pros and are there any cons?
D: Well, he’s always into the technical parts of the song, and I lean more towards the overall aesthetics and how the song should feel and what emotions I want to carry through. I can tell him “bro, this mix is great, but it’s not what I meant in my mind or it’s not what I wanted to put across” and at the same time when the production is somewhat weaker my side, he’ll be able to let me know and tell me, and he sometimes he does some of the production himself. We can critically talk shit about each other and then make something good out of it.
N: That’s true, but sometimes he can call me at weird times like when I’m working! Apart from that, there are no issues.
TC: You guys have just come out of nowhere in a way. You announced the group in September 2020 and in just a few months you’ve been featured in Rolling Stone India and on official Spotify playlists. What is it about your music that you think makes it so unique or special?
N: We’re still rising right now and, I feel, our best song so far is the song we have under production right now called “Roll it Back”. So, I’m waiting for that and, fingers crossed, it will reach better places. I know my mixes aren’t perfect right now because I experiment a lot in my work with The Fortune so I can learn and grow.
D: I don’t know how much of a rise we really had, but I feel like we have been doing something pretty good with collaborating with others and the marketing too. I didn’t know anything about blogs and how to get your music out there. I did some digging into how other artists did it and then found contacts in Rolling Stone and learnt how to send our music to Spotify and blogs. At the start, I didn’t even know what a press release or an EPK was!
TC: What are your goals in the next six months, and the next two years?
N: Am I being brutally honest with this? (he laughs)
N: Okay then. So, in the next couple of years, we would really like to make some money from this. We’ve invested a lot of time, manpower and money into this. Some of the artists we work with, we pay them for their time. In the short term though, I’m excited for “Roll it Back” and I think that song can really go places. If more and more people are listening to and enjoying our music, then I’m happy.
D: I agree with him, seeing my Spotify and finding that there are 1400 people who listen to my music every month I’m like “wow”. We started with nothing and knew no one in the music industry and to reach here means a lot.
“We started with nothing and knew no one in the music industry and to reach here means a lot.”
TC: Some people have a concert or a talk show or somewhere they could be, or play, and then they would know they’ve made it. Do you guys have anywhere like that?
D: Yeah! Grammys!
N: You know the Grammys are expensive right? They’re not free. As long as people are listening and giving us positive comments then I’m happy.
D: Everybody can dream though.
TC: Before we wrap it up, do you have any advice for anyone in the same position you guys were in a few months ago? Maybe someone who has music they want to release and doesn’t know where to start and who to talk to?
N: Well, I follow Nike a lot, so just do it. Don’t care about the quality in the beginning and just build a network of people who will listen to your work and just get feedback from them. This can just be your friends or anyone because, ultimately, the goal is to have your music listened to by common people and not just people in music. Work around any creative blocks you may have, but make sure that you finish each project you start so you build up that commitment to what you do. You’re not racing to get signed or anything, you’re just putting your music out there. Just get feedback and use that to improve your craft.
D: Yeah, it’s all about building that community around your music. Even if you start with ten followers, they’ll enjoy the growth you go through and they’ll want to listen to the music you put out. Find some contacts and treat each song like an asset. You never know which one could be a hit so market them all well and don’t feel disappointed if something doesn’t blow up straight away.
N: Also, learn a little bit of music theory. Not too much, but just enough so that you can put the ideas in your head into practice.
The Fortune’s next single is an acoustic rendition of their ballad, “Lost”, and we’re so proud to exclusively announce the featured artist. “Lost – Acoustic” features the vocal talents of Delhi-based singer Aronjoy “Amie” Das and is out now on all streaming platforms.
You can follow The Fortune’s journey here: