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On the bus with Prateek Kuhad

The singer-songwriter on his love for intimate venues, Instagram, and his recent Bollywood experience

Photo: Mohit Kapil
Photo: Mohit Kapil

One of the most popular singer-songwriters in the Indian independent music industry, Prateek Kuhad has the rare ability to switch seamlessly between Hindi and English songs. He’s also among the busiest musicians on the scene. Over the past nine months, Delhi-based Kuhad has opened for American pop singer Mike Posner during his three-city tour in January; signed a songwriting publishing deal with US-based Cutcraft Music Group; completed a sold-out three-city tour of limited-capacity venues across the country; released the well-received singles Tum Jab Paas and You Are Mine; and made his playback singing debut with the track Udi in the film Gurgaon.

Earlier this month, he played at the latest edition of the popular annual gig series Red Bull Tour Bus Off The Roof. We caught up with Kuhad before the show and spoke to him about his inclination for intimate venues, his love for Instagram and his Bollywood experience. Edited excerpts:

You’re somebody who likes playing at intimate, sit-down venues the most. How do you psych yourself for large, outdoor gigs such as Off The Roof?

I don’t really prepare myself. I’ve played a fair number of these 1,000-2,000 people shows. You kind of know what to expect in terms of the sound on stage (and) the vibe with the audience. The reason I like intimate shows is that they’re less daunting. Maybe it’s the proximity or something about it (that’s) easier, more comfortable. Actually, my favourite way of playing is completely unamplified, acoustic in the true sense, no mixers, no public address systems, just straight guitar and voice with 20 people in a nice-sounding room.

On a recent Facebook live chat, you said you prefer writing songs to performing. Has playing live gotten easier over the years? There are gigs during which you barely talk to the audience.

I don’t quite agree with that whole approach of talking too much to the crowd. A lot of the acts that I’ve really enjoyed have literally said nothing and just played their songs back to back. Initially when I started out, everybody said, “You should talk to the crowd more". That’s the prevailing sentiment, especially in this country. Audience interaction is key. I tried to do it and it would be a disaster. I would freeze, mumble, say really awkward things. Not bad, just weird. That anxiety and nervousness has reduced considerably and now I think I talk more than I ever have. I still can’t say I love performing live. That would be a stretch.

In contrast, you’re great at handling social media, and are always updating fans about what you’re up to. Do you enjoy the veil it offers?

It’s ideal. The internet is such a goldmine for really introverted people. Social anxiety is being in the presence of a lot of people where you feel you’re not wanted or you’re not included. The internet cuts that off. I primarily use Instagram because I realized I really like taking and putting up pictures. I don’t have to write anything; I can express myself in a more abstract form where I don’t have to say much.

One of the things that’s unique about you as an artist is your ability to switch seamlessly between English and Hindi tunes.

I want there to be a scenario where people stop thinking about language. I honestly think anybody who can write songs in English and if they’re Indian and understand Hindi, they can probably write in Hindi. My Hindi was terrible. I could speak it because I’m from Jaipur (but) I stopped studying Hindi in the eighth grade and I took French. I was really surprised when I started writing in Hindi. I don’t have good control over the language at all. I got really inspired by (the film) Pyaasa and the music in that (and) wanted to write songs like that.

Your album ‘In Tokens And Charms’ (2015) could loosely be termed a relationship record. Do you explore new themes on the English EP scheduled for release early next year?

They’re all love songs. I’ve been single for about a year now, so a lot of the new songs are about my last relationship. I’m kind of 75% over it now.

What was the playback singing experience like?

I’ve only done one playback song (for Gurgaon), which I didn’t write. Honestly, I didn’t like it so much. You’re kind of like a keyboard operator. Your producer and your composer are telling you that you need to hit exactly that note there. They were really nice, and I don’t want to come across as a jerk, but to me that process doesn’t work. I think it defeats the purpose of getting me on board. If I’m coming on board, I’m not going to change your tune completely, but I need to have some freedom to be able to express myself. Singing my own song is a lot different because I have the freedom to sing it the way I want. With (Kho Gaye Hum Kahan, which was on the soundtrack of the 2016 film) Baar Baar Dekho, I sang it the way I wanted. There were suggestions, but it was a creative process. (Singer) Jasleen (Royal) and I were both collectively in charge.

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