Prateek Kuhad’s new album is about love. Music that dissects the flawed behaviours, bitter regrets, and inconsolable longing that make up the anatomy of the problems we build between ourselves and others, within our own heads. He opens an intimate window into his own struggles with romance and invites listeners along on a journey to travel through passion, heartbreak, and self-discovery. The stellar vocals and memorable instruments worm their way into the heart of the listener. The Way That Lovers Do is certainly worth a listen, or several dozen listens, and a few tears as well.

Prateek and I met at Soho House in Bombay, me sipping on my almond milk coffee, him nibbling on his egg white omelet and lemon broccoli, much before the release of his album. A member himself, we started off by chatting about the main members’ space on the eighth floor, where we were seated. With high ceilings, cut-glass chandeliers, and antique teak floors, we could see the sea and city on either side.

I remember talking to Kelly Wardingham, General Manager of the club about the diverse group of creatives they have on board as members, “Soho House has always been an inclusive community for all creatives and we try to find a diverse group of people from across the creative industries, from music, design, art, film, fashion, tech and media. We’re so happy to have wonderful musicians like Prateek Kuhad part of Soho House.”

With Prateek, the conversation proved to be a revelation of the artist he has become now. Admitting about his obsessive being in the beginning of his career, the millennial musician has evolved but is still earnest. Prateek is one of the most sincere artists of his times, with a voice of gold.

Excerpts from our conversation are below.

Hansika Lohani Mehtani: What do you remember of your beginnings?
Prateek Kuhad:
The very earliest thing that I can remember is like listening to Cliff Richard and Harry Belafonte because my mom listened to those two artists a lot. My mom’s a big Cliff Richard’s fan. And this was when I was five years old. I’ve been told that I was crazy for a Bollywood song called ILU ILU. I used to listen to it obsessively and watch that video repeatedly. I always had something to do with music. I used to sing. I wanted to learn the guitar when I was six or seven. But when I gave it a go, honestly, I didn’t like because as a kid there was a lot of physical discomfort, but I never stopped singing. I used to sing for my friends, at family gatherings.

My mom was the creative influence in the house. She’s a painter and a curator and used to run an art gallery that sold a lot of contemporary Indian artists.

HLM: But why did you choose to go to New York to study economics and math instead of pursuing music?
PK: I just didn’t think that I could take it up as a career. It was always going to be a hobby for me. I was seventeen then and in India there was this whole idea of “why would you pursue music?” Especially in Jaipur, there wasn’t a single person who would do that. So initially, I actually didn’t even put in too much time or effort and was doing it on the side for fun. Music was never the focus; I always wanted to get into finance and do a regular job. But around my third year of college at NYU, I met a lot of musicians which opened my mind.

HLM: Did you play your first ever gig in New York? 
My first gig ever was in India. Mostly my friends came for it. I didn’t even have that many original songs at that time, just played a few covers. Agents from booking agencies come for them. They used to take cover charges at the gate and then keep a cut. If you think about it, my friends were only paying to watch me. And there would be some like random, very few people who would trickle in. There were about four artists performing every night, just solo with only guitar and vocals. Then eventually my friends stopped coming. So then I would play shows to like two to three people, sometimes nobody, just empty spaces, lot of times.

HLM: How come you never thought of giving up? 
I was not doing it seriously; doing it just for fun. I don’t even remember where my mind space was at that time to be completely honest. I knew I didn’t want to do it full time and had put the airplane mode on this. Ultimately, I started writing songs, was recording them myself. Then later, someone I knew had opened a little studio and had a little mic and studio set up. I recorded a demo there, very casually. I used to hit up people on Craigslist for shows, to just come play with me. I played with an indie-pop band called The Color Bars from New York. I used to play guitar with them for a few gigs. Craigslist was good to connect and play with musicians since there wasn’t any social media then.

HLM: Why’d you decide to move back to India then? 
I was getting opportunities here. It just made sense to move here, and the indie scene was growing here. I remember I was in a very serious relationship that time with my college girlfriend and she inspired a lot of my music. It was very hard obviously but we both knew that it might not work out if I move, because how long can you keep doing long distance? I don’t know why but I remember this feeling that I need to go to India and do this because if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. I thought of giving music a year of my life. And things had started aligning. I started getting a few shows after my Raat Raazi video. And I had a few songs that I felt good about, so I decided to record them.

HLM: So, what is your idea of love? 
I’m still figuring it out honestly.

HLM: Are you doing it through your music?
No, not just through my music, through life... I think. Learning from my experiences, learning from other people’s experiences. It’s such a hard question.

HLM: There’s love but what else inspires you? Can you talk in context of your new album?
Informing my brain of something new, giving me new perspective. Like even this conversation is going to give me perspective about myself. Every interview I do, I’m like looking back. It makes me think of what happened during that time which invokes emotions. I’m constantly absorbing. I’m only always thinking about what happened to me. What did I do? Whom did I talk to? But I feel like the impactful things are relationships because they’re just legit. I feel relationships are like literally the most important things for humans and I don’t mean just romantic relationships, but they are the basis of everything that is built around them. These are primary things and drive us at some level. They mean a lot to everybody. And I think we don’t appreciate that.

We don’t really like to recognise that enough and we get caught up. A lot of times people get caught up with stuff that’s not related to that, like physical comforts or money, food, and it plays a role in your life. But none of it would matter if it weren’t for the relationships that you have. What really sustains you on a day-to-day basis is the people around you. I truly believe that. Maybe we just take it for granted. And it all boils down to love.

HLM: Then do you look to music for solace?
I have turned to music at points in my life to cope a little bit, but not always. Sometimes it has happened but like so many times it’s just been about writing a fun song. It’s a bit of both.

HLM: Do the songs in the album come together as it progresses for the larger theme of the artist’s vision?
 For In Tokens and Charm [Prateek’s first album], I didn’t care about the flow or the narrative beyond a point. I just tried to make sure that there’s nothing throwing it off, but I wasn’t obsessive about the order or the flow of the album. But it was different with Cold Mess. I had a very strong narrative in my head about it. That was an exception because it was purely lyrical. It had nothing to do with how the music sounded, it was to do with what the songs were saying with their words. With the new record, it’s more about the sound and how it feels in terms of the music mostly.

HLM: Did the melody come to you first or did the lyrics?
Usually, it happens simultaneously, words and melody. Usually, I’m on the guitar or the piano, and I’m just trying to blurt out stuff. I just sing out whatever I’m feeling naturally. Sometimes it’s a nice melody with gibberish but I’m always trying to sing and there’s always one or two words that make sense. I usually try to find a line that’s impactful. Sometimes it’s the beginning of a song, sometimes the first line, and sometimes it’s the chorus. So my process is not that linear like you write the words, then you think about the melody or you write the melody, then you think about the words.

HLM: How would you describe its sound in your own words?
: It’s just tough to describe it sound wise. It’s just very free. I didn’t try to stick to a certain thing this time. In terms of sound, it’s very liberal. We didn’t limit ourselves thinking what fits my vibe. We started producing and just took it as it came. We were like, let’s just see what works and we threw everything at it and then took out stuff that didn’t work. The process was like that.

HLM: Over the years, do you think you have evolved as a musician?
I mean, I’m a lot better as a musician than I used to be. And just keep getting better.

HLM: But you’ve called yourself a very awkward musician on stage before and you come across as much calmer now.
Yeah. I was extremely awkward. I had extreme social anxiety, so not just at concerts, but like at any social situations. And the moment I started creating music, there were a lot of social situations. There were after parties, events, and constant meetings. It was very hard. I just didn’t want to do this for a while. I mean I loved writing music and creating music. I have always loved that. I still love it. Like making an album is just one of the best things in the world. It’s like one of the few things that I do for the sake of it. There are very few things we do in this world for the sake of it. We get caught up with so much and I feel lucky that I still do that for the sake of it. Like I’ll write a song. I just feel good about writing that song, whether anybody’s heard it or not. And I didn’t know that there’s all this other stuff you must do — photo shoots, be fashionable, et cetera. It took me a while to get used to it.

I think I had a lot of hang-ups and ego issues for no reason. I had so many complicated emotions in the beginning because I felt like I just wanted to be in the studio and not do all this stuff. But at the same time, I had to do that stuff because the only way to make money was shows. So I was very conflicted. I told myself that this is how I spread my music. And how people will listen to it.

HLM: Tell me is there something you do right before you get on stage?
I usually have a drink, just to like calm myself down. It honestly depends. I don’t during day shows, but at night usually I do that. Other than that, I’d usually go over the set list once to be sure I know everything. I hang out with my band, chat, be in a good zone, nothing hectic.

HLM: How would you explain your music sensibility to someone who is new to your music?
I would want listeners to listen to my past work before listening to this album.

HLM: I think you’re saying that because it’s a departure from what you’ve done before.
I don’t know if I would call it a complete departure. I thought of it to be a departure but I was working with this song writer who is a friend of mine in LA and we were talking about the new music we have to share. We both felt our respective work was a departure for us but when we played it out, it felt like our work only. It had our vibe. I think that vibe remains at some level and you can identify that it’s my song, which I think is a good thing, because that means that I’m doing it in my own way. I don’t know if it’s good or bad but at least it’s something that’s me, which I feel confident saying about this album — it’s very me.

HLM: I feel like you plan everything about your life. 
I’m the kind of guy who is invariably early for meetings. I have to consciously try to get late. I don’t know how I get early everywhere. I’m a little OCD about certain things. I’m trying to shed that more and more because I don’t think it’s a very useful thing beyond a point. You need to have certain amount of order, but if you start obsessing over things, it’s like an endless pit of misery.

HLM: But are you a perfectionist for your art as well?
When it comes to my music, I am allowed to obsess over it as much as possible. I will delay my release date; I’ll do anything but avoid major screw ups. I’ve learnt to look over minor errors. But like earlier, I used to be obsessive to the point that even if I was ten percent not happy with some something, I would not want to do it again. But now I have started letting that go a little bit.

HLM: Do you think you’ve gotten where you envisioned yourself to be?
In a way, yes. And in a way, it’s a lot more than I ever envisioned because, what happens is, you have dreams and then you wake up the next morning feeling that’s never going to happen. Certain days, you’re full of hope and you feel like you can conquer the world and certain days you’re full of self-doubt. So, both happens in reality. That’s whyit just feels like at some points in my life, I never expected this to happen. You always hope when you put out a new piece of music that everybody will go crazy listening to it. And it doesn’t happen every time. Every time, there’s a bit of a dip. It sucks!

HLM: And before we close this, what is your idea of success?
I want everybody to love my music. Just literally everybody in the world, obviously. And beyond that, I just want to be comfortable. I want to make enough money with which I can just like take care of myself and my family and whoever else that I love that needs me to be there for them. I think money just buys you freedom. It just gives you a lot of flexibility to do certain things. And other than that, I hope I stay on the right path and put out stuff that I truly believe in. I keep reminding myself that the reason I started doing this is because I love doing it. The attention, the money and the success are great but it’s just a bonus.

Ultimately, what I’m going to die with and what I can sustain is what I love doing. That’s why I said, I want to keep doing it for the sake of doing it.

Text Hansika Lohani Mehtani 
Photography Karan Kumar Sachdev
Fashion Stylist Vrinda Narang
Artist Management Bigbadwolf
Artist Publicity Dreamnhustlemedia