Prateek Kuhad makes subtle music for listeners who enjoy an emotional punch. As an indie artist who writes both in Hindi and English, the sentimental singer never set out to have his name in stadium lights. But his international appeal reached a fever pitch on December 31, when President Barack Obama named his track ‘cold/mess’ as one of his favourites of 2019.
“I don’t think I’ll sleep tonight,” Kuhad wrote to his 13,000 Twitter followers. “Totally flipping out. I have no idea how ‘cold/mess’ even reached him but thank you [Barack Obama], thank you universe. I didn’t think 2019 could’ve gotten better, but damn was I wrong.”
A self-professed introvert, Kuhad left India for America to study maths and economics at New York University before returning home. Songwriting inadvertently became an outlet for the 29 year old; his first EP, ‘Raat Raazi’, released in 2013, followed by ‘In Tokens & Charms’ in 2015 (and a deluxe version of it two years later). His latest EP, ‘cold/mess’, released in 2018.
Ahead of his sold-out show at The Rotunda in Dubai on January 24, the singer-songwriter tells us about impressing the former US president and getting better at looking people in the eye.
How did you find out that Barack Obama selected your song as one of his favourites of 2019? What was your reaction?
I was just at home, hanging out with my family when I got a message from someone informing me of it. My reaction was at first of utter disbelief followed by being completely overwhelmed.
You mentioned that your family is not a musical one at all… How was it like, being the only one who was musical in your household?
It’s great actually. I like doing my own thing and figuring things out on my own. Nobody in my family has any clue about how to go about being a musician so I tend to avoid getting unwarranted advice, which can get quite annoying.
In the beginning, did your family understand and accept your decision to leave the corporate world and pursue music professionally?
Yes, my family has actually been broadly quite supportive through it all.
You have quite the academic background, as well. Was music a plan B at the time, or was it always a plan A?
Music was never a plan at all, actually. I started doing it on the side a little bit through college and decided to just give it a shot around 2013 — almost as an experiment, disguised as a gap year. I was fully prepared to quit and get back to a more traditional career choice if things hadn’t worked out.
I’ve heard you describe yourself as an introvert, and you’ve spoken about social anxiety. How does that manifest for you, personally?
In all aspects, as it does for any introverted, socially anxious person. My social anxiety was quite debilitating at one point actually — to the extent that I couldn’t even smile or make direct eye contact with unfamiliar people. As I have grown older and have been more exposed to being in social situations, I’ve become a lot better at handling it and hiding that anxiety, so I think these days for the most part it doesn’t show that much. On the inside though, I’m still fairly anxious in new social situations.
Why is songwriting an important outlet for you?
I don’t really know why, but when I started writing initially I found it to be very cathartic. Over the years it has become more of a passion and more of a driving force for me to improve as an artist.
Was it a rewarding experience writing for Bollywood films, with both ‘Karwaan’ and ‘Baar Baar Dekho’?
Yes, writing for films and TV is challenging, but a very rewarding process for me. It’s different from writing for yourself, where you can write about anything, in any way. Writing for characters and situations in films is a whole other story where you have to put yourself in a fictional situation and write from a fictional character’s perspective. It required a more thorough understanding of one’s craft.
You’re considered an indie artist. Is it tough, to be independent in a world that tends to reward marketable art? Especially in India, where Bollywood is such a massive movement?
No, it is not tough. The landscape of the Indian media industry has changed drastically over the years making the life of an independent artist quite rewarding.
What are your plans for 2020? Are you working on a new EP/album?
I’m always writing songs and making records, but not really sure of any concrete release plans as of now. Stay tuned for some surprises.
Finally, any New Year resolutions for the year?
I don’t believe in New Year resolutions. I think it’s unnecessary. If you feel like doing something and have solid goals, there’s no ‘ideal’ time for it. You just need to go for it.