Monday, 30th October 2017

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Existentialism is a constant: Prateek Kuhad

The singer on 'with you/for you', his new tour and making new music

  • Published 10.10.19, 6:36 PM
  • Updated 10.10.19, 7:06 PM
  • 6 mins read
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Prateek Kuhad (Image sourced by the correspondent)

The last time I caught up with Prateek Kuhad was on the evening of his performance in Calcutta back in December, with the reviews of cold/mess still streaming in steadily — including, of his own admission, messages as intense as “F*** you, Prateek!” for that six-minute affair shot in filter, throbbing with the yearning and complexities of modern love. We had chatted with him about what drives him and the looming sense of existentialism, over a few cigarettes in the crisp Calcutta winter. Since then, he has put out another video, has played around 40 shows already and is poised for another multi-city tour — and is “kind of looking forward to getting back on the road again”.

It’s no surprise that the overall scale of things for Prateek has changed drastically. “The overall scales have become bigger so I am more concerned about the shows and putting a lot behind it, in terms of production. You always try to do the best that you can in general. But this time, we have sponsors and stuff for the tour and so we can do a lot more than before. Otherwise the fundamentals of touring are pretty much the same but I am a little bit more mentally and emotionally prepared in general as I have done this kind of intense touring now and I know what to expect. So I can now prepare better in terms of putting in a better routine and being more disciplined on the road,” explained Prateek when we caught up with him over the phone.

Though the 29-year-old prefers intimate settings for his performances, his upcoming tour features a mix of indoor and outdoor locations across India and the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Netherlands and Belgium. “I still think it’s better in smaller rooms, which is what a lot of the places are for the India tour with 800-900 capacity auditoriums so it’s fairly intimate. And honestly, doing anything smaller than that does not make commercial sense for me any more. But being inside an auditorium is still quite intimate. That being said, a lot of people also like being outdoor and I have heard that from fans as well so I think it’s a split opinion when it comes to the listeners. I think I, personally, prefer playing indoor shows because it’s less stressful and people are seated and the vibe is more chill and the sound better,” added Prateek.

Given he is fresh from an international tour and is gearing for another, it begged the question of what the stark differences were between performing in the sub-continent and outside. While better infrastructure and sound facilities were some of the pros of performing abroad, it has its share of cons as well. “There are venues that are built specifically for live shows and bands with my kind of set-up, which is rare in India. So that difference can be felt fundamentally, in terms of even the basic sound crew on average and they know how to treat artistes. There’s also a whole business side of things that’s really set and more organised that way. That being said, the events are a lot rougher because you have to also do a lot of things yourself and there are certain things — like in the US, they don’t provide a backlight so you have to rent your own with literally cables and a drum kit that have to be arranged for.”

But the fate of a live act almost always depends as much on the spontaneity of the audience as the technical fundamentals as a crowd can often have a mind of its own. “In terms of the audience, I think it’s the same all over the world, really. Like this tour I did in Germany last year was just completely not my audience. I was opening for this other singer-songwriter called Charlie Winston and he had filled out almost all the places we had played. Nobody knew me but in some cities, people were super respectful but in some other cities, they were like really noisy and not listening to me at all. So I think the audiences can be really random all over the world and completely unpredictable.”

So does the randomness unsettle him? “No, not any more. It does not matter to me as much any more as I have now faced all kinds of situations — from nobody being interested to people being way too interested. Audiences have been very unpredictable, at least for me!” came the honest answer.

Life on the road has slowly become the norm of the day, especially for artistes such as Prateek, with time often becoming a cyclical loop. In December, the singer-songwriter had made plans of just staying in Delhi for a couple of months to write and though that ended up becoming part Delhi and part Los Angeles, Prateek has managed to squeeze out that time for himself. “I spent a lot of time staying in and writing. I wrote a bunch and just building my catalogue and doing little things. When it comes to making an album, it’s like I write a bunch and then I pick out what I like the most out of those and it can take a few months to get a perspective on what’s good, how to put it together and how to use what I have. So that process is still on. Before that, life on the road was really intense,” admits Prateek.

And this time off has left him looking forward to touring more. “I have had a long enough break — I have been travelling but it’s more like relaxed travelling for other stuff. In LA, I had this apartment and the weather was beautiful and I was writing a lot. It was a lot of alone time, I had a few friends who were just enough to not feel completely lonely but at the same time, not get swarmed by 100 people. I used to not like touring at all, especially two years ago. Slowly, I warmed up to the idea and now, I kind of enjoy it. I am kind of looking forward to getting back on the road again. And this is probably the first time I have ever had this feeling and it’s weirding me out,” he laughed.

But even within the alone time, he did manage to put out a new video for with you/for you, much to the delight of his fans. Turns out, it wasn’t really planned but as fate or the luck of his fans would have it, we got an almost four-minute video starring Prateek. “There was definitely pressure after cold/mess and I was wondering what was going to be even half as good. But a lot of it was in my head and I am not going to just stop putting out stuff and I had to at some point. I was in LA and this guy called Donald (Turner) hit me up on Instagram randomly and said he wanted to do something for that song. He had a cool concept which was easy and was supposed to take two days,” said Prateek.

After having listened to the story of how he had to be forced into doing a cameo in cold/mess, I, of course, had to ask him about his starring role in his latest. “There was not a lot of acting in with you/for you and after cold/mess, I realised that I would have to do it sooner than later since it was my music anyway. With this video, I had told Donald to cast someone else or to have a different concept. But he stuck to it, plus this video had me mostly playing music. So though I wasn’t very confident about it, I pushed myself to give it a shot anyway,” answered Prateek.

The ‘indie’ moniker is often a confusing one with many relating it to a certain kind of sound. I took the liberty of revisiting the question of his take on this tag, considering his commercial success. “I have actually been talking about this in general internally with my manager and just thinking about it too. I think the definition of ‘indie’ is so misunderstood because it was started when things were actually indie and now almost nothing is really indie, unless it’s actually indie. So I think we are just talking about scale and when you’re talking about that, I am definitely not at the biggest commercial scale possible but I am on average at a higher scale compared to most other ‘indie’ artistes. I definitely don’t fit the ‘indie’ bill any more as I had backing for with you/for you but technically, I am not signed to a major label. It’s not like I am doing DIY stuff any more. So I think I am somewhere in the middle,” is Prateek’s take on him being tagged as one. And how about the genre definition that ‘indie’ has slowly started getting identified as? “Genre-wise also I think people like to categorise everything into something or the other because then it’s easier to explain. And that’s the case even with my music. But I won’t really call it alternative or experimental — I pretty much make straight-up pop songs to a large degree in the sense that the production is not as pop as it means in India. But it is pretty acceptable stuff — it is the kind of music that I have always heard and liked listening to so it is the kind of music I make. F***! I don’t think I am making any sense!” he laughed.

Of Prateek’s own admission, the question of “what next?” often rears its head to plague him — “‘What next?’ is what I am working on right now. Existentialism has always been a running theme to my art in the past decade so there’s nothing new about that (laughs). There’s always a moment of doubt but I think all of us go through that. I have in general been over-analysing what the next step should be.

“But now I have been trying to just go back to the basics and just write good songs. I will definitely put out some music at some point because that’s the whole reason why I do what I do. I have always put out music sparingly because I just want everything to be perfect according to my dictionary and it’s a process that I like being personally involved with. But that being said, in the next couple of months, it’s just intense touring,” he signed off.