Jamming with Stevie Wonder’s band, talent scouting in desi land and the art of the hustle
Guitarist Nipun Nair flew from Chennai to California for music education three years ago. Little did he know at the time that he would return home with Stevie Wonder’s brother, Calvin Hardaway, as his agent. Or dream of sharing a stage with Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame legends Hall & Oates in California just a few months ago. Back in the country to do some talent scouting as the head of indigenous section of Epic Music in Los Angeles, it’s evident that a whole lot has changed since those early days with his band in college, Public Issue.
If you’re a musician fretting over how to get noticed, perhaps do it close to Nipun’s fretboard at the gig at Bay 146 this weekend. He’s got that 24 Karat Magic all right.
So before we ask you anything else. How did you manage to get Stevie Wonder’s brother as your agent?
Soon after I started studying at the Musicians Institute in LA, I also started a 10-piece band with a horn section and percussion, called Groove Martini. And one of the big plans we had was a giant Vegas headlining show that I began collaborating on with a famous dancer on SoulTrain from back in the day. While putting that together, I mentioned to him about how much we loved playing Stevie Wonder songs… And he said: ‘Oh, I’m very close to Stevie’s family… ’And I said WHAT? It just so happened that the next day, Stevie Wonder’s brother Calvin Hardaway was putting together a record label showcase. And that’s how it all started.
Talk about crazy coincidences.
The story actually gets better. Stevie Wonder’s band was also at the showcase, and we all ended up jamming together. Later, when we began discussing future plans with for the band, Calvin mentioned that we remind him of Stevie in his younger days!
Tell us about your move from Chennai to California. And how life has changed for you, musically and otherwise?
Moving to Los Angeles from Chennai was not what I expected it to be and was initially very rough. Hollywood (the neighbourhood) isn’t at all as glamourous as it looks on television… It really tests you. But the more you endure, the smaller the industry becomes, and slowly, you start to see that it’s a small circle. Once you get your foot in the door though, the opportunities just cascade.
You recently shared a stage with bigwigs like Hall and Oates and Michael McDonald. What wasthat like?
That was an absolutely incredible moment. We were opening for these legends on a huge stage with over 10,000 people in the audience. The gig was the Blue Sun Music Festival in California, and at the time, the band was not even six months old.
Groove Martini looks like a pretty global family of musicians.
We’ve got musicians from Kazhakhstan, Singapore, Korea, America and of course, India. The lead vocalist Suvi Suresh is from Chennai as well. My business partner Leo Goh and I started out initially to get together a diverse lineup — a horn section, percussion, keys… but all the different nationalities have now become part of our USP.
Are there any solo projects in the works?
I was at The Staples Center, one of my dream venues last month, for a Latin pop artiste called Anthony Cruz. Playing for 21,000 people is incredibly exciting and humbling at the same time. Apart from that, I am also an in-house recording artist for a very large hip-hop / World Music production company here called Boku. I have two band tours coming up later this year, one with a classic rock band called Rio Bravo and the other with an electro funk project. There’s also composing TV commercials and film scores and heading the indigenous music department at Epic Music, LA, to represent talent from India.
You’ve gone from Chennai musician to international performer, band manager and talent scout in three years. What’s your secret?
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in Hollywood, it’s that the hustle never stops!
Catch Nipun Nair and Friends tonight at Bay 146, Savera Hotel, 9 pm.