“Sometimes, it’s important to let go and move on”: Prateek Kuhad goes OnRecord
Kunal Bambawale · September 03, 2018 · 6 Minute Read
Prateek Kuhad’s cold / mess EP just reached a million plays on Saavn. We managed to track down the talented singer/songwriter for a conversation about the record, and its significance to him as an artist.
What does it take for you to write songs, and perform them? Did it require courage, initially? Has your fear lessened or grown with time?
Writing songs and performing them are two really different things for me.
Writing comes to me very naturally. It’s just what I’ve always really liked to do, and I still do. Songwriting kind of keeps me going, and gets me through difficult days.
Sometimes it makes me happy, sometimes it makes me sad, but I need to write frequently to keep my sanity. I still feel the same way about writing today as I did seven years ago, when I started writing properly.
With performing it’s a different story.
It was quite challenging in the beginning, because opening up to strangers and being out in the open with my feelings is not my comfort zone. I used to be a really private person, but with time, and all the touring over the years, I’ve changed. Today, I’m a lot more comfortable socially — and hence on stage as well. It’s still not my preferred place to be, though!
What does the cold / mess EP represent to you as an artist and as a professional? How would you describe its significance or importance at this stage in your career?
It’s the same as all my previous releases, really.
I mean, you write songs, and then sometimes they come together to tell fragments of a story from your life.
cold / mess came together to tell a loose narrative, a personal one. It’s new for me. We worked hard on the production and the detailing, and while it’s not perfect, I can safely say I feel quite proud of it — at least today!
Tell us a bit about the recording process in Nashville, mixing process in New York, and everything that went into making this record – especially since you’ve been performing some of the songs for a while now.
As a record, cold / mess ended up almost conceptualizing itself.
I didn’t ever think, when I put these songs together into an EP, that they necessarily had a common thread or any thematic consistency.
But when I had to write a note about the EP — for my producers, for press, it forced me to think about the songs more deeply. It struck me how, collectively, they were surprisingly telling a bit of a story — or if ‘story’ is too strong a word, at least somewhat of a narrative. That’s always a nice thing for a record to have.
Then it was about figuring out where to record it, mix it, and stuff like that. I had worked with Peter Groenwald, and Konrad Snyder the previous summer, and the three of us got along so well (creatively and otherwise). I reached out to both of them about working on the EP with me as co-producers. They also happen to be co-songwriters on one of the tracks (“with you/for you”), so it made a lot of sense. But more than that, I just had a good feeling about it.
After that, it was around two weeks of nonstop studio time, which despite being exhausting, is (after the songwriting bit) my favourite part of being a musician. It was stressful and amazing at the same time.
Then there was about a week of mixing at a studio in New York with Warren Riker — he’s a boss mix engineer who was actually recommended by Neal from Artist Originals.
I had a chat with Warren, and he was super excited, and I got a good vibe from him, so we decided to bring him on board as well. Warren mixed the whole record pretty much entirely analog — Neve board, riding faders, outboard gear and even real reverbs recorded in the empty stairways behind the studio. I think the analog approach adds a lot of character to this record.
As an artist with a devoted following, your actions now carry more weight than the average person. For example, someone might be majorly bummed if you were too exhausted to sign an autograph after a show – through no real fault of your own.
You’re still very much a down-to-earth, laid-back guy. How are you dealing with the responsibility of being the center of this community, and the center of attention more frequently than not?
It doesn’t really feel like I have to really “deal” with anything yet.
It’s not that frequently that it happens, and to be honest I don’t really feel like the “center of this community.” If a fan asks me for an autograph or a photo after a show, I literally never say no. If the same thing happens in public, then I feel like it’s really my call, because that’s my personal time.
I really value and respect my fans — and I can usually tell the genuine ones apart from the ones who just want a photo because it’s ‘cool’ to get a photo with me (at least in their heads)!
Your vocal performance has evolved over time. Would you say you’re a better singer and performer now than you were in 2013, or is it that you’re better at locating and communicating specific emotions within yourself?
A bit of both. You know, I’m not a very good singer, but I think I can emote my songs well because I — more often than not — believe in them.
My overall skills as a singer have definitely improved over time — the more you sing, the better you get, but I think the reason a lot of people think I’m a good singer is because I communicate my songs well.
The songs on cold/mess appear to be written about someone – a “you” appears in all the lyrics. Who is the “you” – or is it a few different “you”s?
It’s primarily about one “you,” and cold / mess comprises fragments of memories that try to loosely narrate this story centered around me and her. There is another person who happens to be in that story, so a little bit is about another “you”.
In summary: it’s mainly about one “you,” and very slightly about another “you”.
In the millions of dualities that comprise life in India, one of the major ones is the “English/Indian language-speaker” divide. Native English speakers rarely feel entirely comfortable in non-English speaking spaces, while I presume that non-native speakers, of Rajasthani or Hindi or Kannada or whichever other Indian language they primarily speak, don’t feel entirely comfortable in English-speaking spaces.
Are you completely bilingual? How has this affected your experiences as an Indian and as an artist? How do you think your ability to write, compose, and perform in two languages has affected your career trajectory thus far?
While what you say in the earlier paragraph might be true to some extent it’s not the whole story.
Firstly, there’s a whole bunch of the population where people are equally comfortable in both spaces. Secondly, I think the concept of language as a barrier is mostly in our heads. It’s more to do with what that kind of person is that creates barriers and our perception of them — a perception that we’ve been conditioned into mostly by society.
Yes, I can speak, write and think in both Hindi and English quite interchangeably. I don’t really think about it much.
In fact, I actively try and push myself (and everyone around me) to not think about it too much. I am first and foremost a songwriter — I write songs to express something — and in what language that is expressed is quite irrelevant, as long as I’m communicating my point.
I think it has helped to a certain degree, because in India there are some people who prefer just listening to only Hindi songs, or only English songs, and then there are others who will listen to both. So a lot of people who would not be open to following a songwriter who writes primarily in English are open to listening to me – and vice versa.
A lot has to do with the kind of environment we’ve grown up in, and that conditioning. Certain people will subconsciously respond to a certain language because of their upbringing, peer groups, and so on. I can’t really predict or control that, so I don’t like to ponder it too much.
It’s quite simple to me: when I started actively writing in both languages, it was because I could. I just figured that I have a decent control over both languages – why should I limit myself?
Why do you think people listen to or enjoy your music?
There are so many different reasons to listen to music — even for me! There’s no one singular reason.
I think sometimes, you listen to music when you want to feel something very strongly, and other times, when you don’t want to feel anything at all.
Can you share a personal experience that readers might find inspiring, motivating, and fuel for them to face the challenges and obstacles along the way in their own personal journeys?
I don’t think I have anything that intense really or any particular story. There are good days and bad days and I think you just have to be aware of your past, present and future. Just be aware, be realistic and think independently — sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do.
I feel like the concept of ‘motivation’ and ‘inspiration’ in our society is so uni-dimensional. We think that the only way to fight obstacles is to keep going on endlessly and ‘never giving up’.
While sometimes the hardest thing to do is fighting for something, other times the hardest thing to do, is to give up, because we get so attached to a goal, that giving that up seems like the worst thing possible. Sometimes, it’s important to realize when it is time to let go of something and move on.