‘I don’t want to be in any sort of bubble’

Delhi-based singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad talks to us about his weekend gig in the city and his open-ended approach to writing

Singer-songwriters — the male ones, usually armed with an acoustic guitar, maybe a peculiar hat or some other accessory, and a whole bundle of emotions — don’t actually sing. We all know that. Really, they ‘croon’. This is not to say that it’s necessarily a negative trait. Delhi-based Prateek Kuhad, 26, does it too, and he does a good job of it. An earnest, committed, vulnerable vocal delivery forms the essence of his sound, presented mostly atop sinuous, elastic guitar lines on an acoustic guitar and the occasional refrain on the drums to channel the music.

Touring the world

The music is stripped down and minimal, leaning towards folksy pop-rock with a clear emphasis on the voice. It’s earned Kuhad a fairly large fan-following across the country. He’s only just returned from a series of gigs in Singapore and Australia. He was invited for Bigsound, a music conference and festival held in Brisbane, and ended up playing three more shows in Australia, as well as a further four in Singapore, including a slot at the Music Matters festival.

Kuhad is now setting off on another quick tour, titled ‘Prateek Kuhad in Concert’, that sees him play in Mumbai this weekend (the tickets for which are already sold out), following which he’ll head back to New Delhi to perform at the Kamani Auditorium on September 28.

The playlist

He’ll be playing with his full band, consisting of Nikhil Vasudevan on the drums, and Dhruv Bhola, who handles guitar, bass, and keyboard duties. Kuhad is particularly excited about the fact that he’ll get to play an acoustic baby grand piano on stage for this particular gig, instead of a keyboard. “Sonically, you can’t reproduce the same sound with anything else,” he says. He has prepared a special 90-minute set, which will see him playing pretty much all his old songs. Kuhad sings in both Hindi and English, and his debut full-length, In Tokens & Charms, came out last year (in addition to further EPs and singles), so he’ll mostly cover his entire discography over the course of the evening. “We’ll play a bunch of the older stuff with newer arrangements. They’ll be fresher renditions of those songs,” says the singer.

There are six or seven new songs as well, he tells me, so there’s that to look forward to. “I’m trying to make the set as unique as I can,” he says. The direction of the new songs is a gradual progression of his past stuff, but he feels there’s been a subtle shift in his songwriting. “I’ve started writing a lot more on the piano, so there’s a newer direction compositionally. The way I structure my chord progressions and melodies… rhythmically, I play the piano very differently from the way I play the guitar, so that changes the vibe of the songs,” he says.

Change of location

Kuhad’s music, given how minimal the arrangements tend to be, has an oft-cited quality of intimacy, further enriched by the unselfconscious style of singing. Conveying that coziness, that warmth, in a large setting — like the 600-seater auditorium in Mumbai where he’s playing — sounds like a daunting task compared to, say, the imposed claustrophobia of a smaller pub gig. Kuhad disagrees though; he thrives in such settings. “Everything is less chaotic. The sound is always great, even visually… it’s a space built for that.” In pubs, he feels, the attention of the audience wavers depending on the intensity of the song — all the more important, given that he has a lot of gentle, understated tracks — as people are distracted. “It’s fine,” he clarifies, “people like to go out, get a drink. But it does hinder the experience. It just depends on what you’re doing, on whether you have good songs.” Beyond the music and the live act, they’ve also worked out a stage set-up and lighting to add to that relaxed air.

Bilingual approach

Kuhad’s approach to composition is quite straightforward: he’s always writing. He’s got a whole bank of songs lying around. For In Tokens & Charms, Kuhad had a full inventory of songs, out of which he picked a bunch he liked and was confident about. “They worked together as an entity; that’s an important factor,” he says.

He wants to put out new music at some point next year, but he doesn’t want the process to be artificial in any way, instead preferring to reach a point where the music sort of comes together and makes sense. “It’s not something you can really force beyond a certain point. You have it at the back of your mind sometimes, so I’m pushing myself to release something. But I don’t like ‘writing for an album’ forcefully. I try to judge the songs once they’re there, and see if I like them,” says Kuhad.

The words and the melody tend to accompany each other, and he’s usually just looking for that one spark, that one special line, from where he crafts the song, building a structure and turning it into a complete piece. It’s only then that the processes of arrangement and production enter the fray.

Kuhad is also proficient at writing in both Hindi and English: “For me, songwriting is songwriting. I’ve listened to a lot of both Hindi and English music.” The mechanics of the two languages — the way the words work and how they reside within the melody, the tone, the inflection, the phonetics — work differently, which Kuhad acknowledges. But choosing how to approach these intricacies is something that’s practically ingrained in him. He’s gone through the whole Indipop and Hindi-rock phase, reserving a special affection for Strings — “I was obsessed with them,” he recounts. So, he’s developed a grasp of said mechanics. “You instinctively know how to go about it. I don’t think about that a lot; it comes very naturally.”

It’s something that’s helped him make a mark in the world of commercial Bollywood music as well. Kuhad has sung a duet with Jasleen Royal, called ‘Kho Gaye Hum Kahan’, a soft, tentative, contemplative acoustic piece, featured on the soundtrack for the film Baar Baar Dekho, for which he’s also written the lyrics. It’s a new avenue for him, and one he’s excited to explore. “I just want to do good work,” he says, discussing the possibility of delving into Bollywood, “I’m totally open to whatever comes my way, whether it’s the indie scene, commercial music, or Bollywood. I don’t want to be in any sort of bubble.”

The author is a freelance writer

Prateek Kuhad will be in concert at the Sophia Bhabha auditorium at 8 p.m. on Saturday

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 8:44:35 PM |

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