Kunal Nayyar leads with his heart in his Guest DJ set, a rather interesting twist since his character, Raj, on the comedy The Big Bang Theory can't even talk to women. Nayyar loves voices that tell stories – from Irish folksingers to Thom Yorke – and shares some of the hip hop artists that defined his experiences growing up in New Delhi. The Big Bang Theory airs Thursday nights on CBS.
Marion Hodges: Hi I'm Marion Hodges and I'm here with actor Kunal Nayyar who plays Raj on the hugely popular TV series The Big Bang Theory. Today we will be playing excerpts of songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. First of all Kunal, thanks so much for coming out here and doing this for us.
Kunal Nayyar: Thank you so much for having me. It's really cool to be here, man. It's fun to share – I'm sort of nervous to share my music because sometimes it can be a very intimate experience that someone has with their choice in music. But we'll see, we'll see what people think.
MH: So what song do you want to share with us first?
KN: Let's start off with "California Love." "California Love" came out, I'm not even sure of the year, but I would listen to it in India I remember, or I'd play it on CD, and it would just completely get me pumped about life. I don't know why, there was something in the beat.
And then when I actually moved to Los Angeles five years ago, I would play it, it would come on, and I would actually be in California. You know, my life over here has been actually very incredible. I've been very blessed and very lucky. So hearing that song all the way in New Delhi and then hearing that song actually being in California, it's just sort of serendipitous.
MH: Yeah, I can imagine it would have the kind of a surreal quality to it.
KN: Yeah, I don't know anyone who hates that song. Whenever it comes on it's like, cool, just roll down your windows, lean back in your chairs.
Song: Tupac – California Love
MH: All right, you just heard Tupac doing California Love. We're going to get into some more music, so tell us about the next song that we're going to hear.
KN: "Say It to Me Now," by Glen Hansard. They (Swell Season) were in the movie Once and that's when I first heard their music. Small move from Ireland, these two musicians, I think it was made for $100,000, and then I saw it and it was amazing. And they won the Oscar for "Falling Slowly," the song. So I fell in love with their music, he calls it folk rock.
I love it, people who can belt. I love voices that can belt. He has an amazing voice, he just tells a story in his voice.
So I went and saw them at the Greek in LA. I had just gotten out of a serious relationship two days before and I had two tickets, she was supposed to come with me and it didn't work out, obviously, so I was sad over there alone.
And when he came to play it, he unplugged his guitar and he sat on the edge of the stage and he just sang it acoustic without a mic. So you can imagine all the people there. I just remember being swept up in this wave of emotion and music and sort of the spirit in the theater was awe and love and positivity and it was sort just an amalgamation of a lot of emotion. It was - just hear his voice, I mean it's unbelievable.
Song: Glen Hansard – Say It to Me Now
MH: You just heard Glen Hansard doing "Say It to Me Now." You're listening to the Guest DJ Project on KCRW.com. Kunal what are going to hear to next?
KN: Let's listen to "Eve is the Apple of My Eye," by Bell X 1. This song…it's a little difficult to describe how this song came into my life because I'm not really sure of the circumstances. I do remember I was in Philadelphia in grad school at the time and I had just moved into a three-bedroom house and I was on the top floor and I had a lovely little room to myself and it was just right and I had decorated it and I had lit some incense and I was going to spend a lovely day by myself.
Then a friend of mine said listen to this song and I played it, and it felt very new, a new start for me. And it was a beautiful melody, just a gorgeous melody. And at the time I wasn't really listening to the lyrics, it was more just the melody of the song and the circumstances. I felt alive in a way that I hadn't felt in a while because I was in graduate school and I was working very hard and you don't have time to take for yourself when you're studying, and this to me was one of those moments where I felt alive. Like when you listen to this song, just close your eyes listen to the riff and then just listen to his voice come in.
Maybe it will affect you the same way, or maybe not. But it's the most beautiful melody maybe I've heard in my whole life.
Song: Bell X 1 -- Eve is the Apple of My Eye
MH: We've just heard "Eve is the Apple of My Eye" from Bell X 1. We're here with Kunal Nayyar. What are going to hear now?
I went to an all-boys school in New Delhi, India. And we very all about brotherhood and brothers and very emotional about the seniors leaving and the juniors taking over the seniors spot now and we're the ones that are going to keep the pride of our school alive.
When I look back now, it's silly. But when you're young you get caught up in emotions that seem so real at the time -- that you look back on that you can laugh at -- but at the time I really thought this was it, like this was the most emotional moment of my life.
So we threw a party for the seniors and then they gave a speech and then they played this song, "I'll be Missing You." Of course, I didn't really know the situation of this song. I had known, but I didn't have a personal affiliation to the band or to P. Diddy or anything, but I remember when this song played I was on the shoulders of this one senior who I really looked up to and he put me up on his shoulders and he was like crying and singing this song and it was like amazing and I was like weeping and having the best moment of my life. You know, I'll never forget it. It was truly wonderful, and there's a lot of emotion behind this song because someone lost someone very dear to them.
Song: Puff Daddy – I'll Be Missing You
MH: We've just heard P.Diddy or Puff Daddy or Sean Combs, or…
KN: Sean Puffy Combs. I wish I was called Puffy. That would be so cool.
MH: I think your own nickname, your own kind of hip hop name.
KN: My name is Slender Wrist
MH: I like it.
KN: Slender Wrist, that's pretty cool.
MH: All right Slender Wrist, let's get in to our next song.
KN: God, I feel like every story's about a girl.
But I started dating this really cool girl, and I could not believe that she liked me. She liked me and I was like "she likes me!" I was so surprised. It was my junior year, her senior year, and she was leaving college. And before she left, things didn't work out and she started seeing someone else. I obviously got really upset but, two months later, I drove her back to her parents' house to say goodbye to her, and had a six-hour drive back to Portland, Oregon and I had this song on repeat.
And it's about, what I've heard, is Radiohead's Thom Yorke read an article about a little kid who got lost in the attic and survived on chips, potato crisps and lollipops. And I was very emotional at the time, and his voice too is one that tells stories and can tell a whole life, I think, in even just a song. So I was very emotional, it was a sad moment, but it was one of those moments that it sort of it hurt so good – (laughs) I'm such an actor – "it hurt so good." But anyway, this is one of my probably all time favorite songs.
Song: Radiohead – True Love Waits
MH: You kind of touched on it intro-ing that Radiohead song, that a lot of your songs are about relationships and women. And I know your character on Big Bang Theory has trouble talking to women.
KN: Yeah, he can't talk to women unless he's drunk. Which is fun, it's always fun to play a character that has an obstacle because I think that's where comedy lies is overcoming obstacles. So it's fun. I've had some success with girls and I've also had lots of failures with girls. So, I think, especially while growing up, a lot of my emotion was fueled by love, fueled by heartache. And like I said, as you grow older you look back at some of that stuff and you laugh at it, but at the moment it was supposed to be the most important moment of your life.
MH: Well, Kunal, thanks so much again. It was great to have you. We definitely, well I definitely want you to come back so we'll see what we can do.
KN: We'll see.
MH: For a complete track listing and to find these songs on line go to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject.