Coming fresh off the success of his “break-up album”, the six-song extended play cold/mess, that shot up to the number one spot on iTunes India’s all-genre album chart after its release in July, singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad fit snugly into the space of Little Things. The new season of the Dice Media-produced series looks at the challenges faced by a young urban couple, Dhruv (Dhruv Sehgal, also writer) and Kavya (Mithila Palkar). The series was released on Netflix on October 5.
The little things that coagulate underneath a relationship but are ignored, and then, the little things that keep a relationship together through thick and thin form the crux of the eight-episode series. Kuhad’s promotional song Pause urges the lovers to take a moment and soak in the beauty amidst a whirlwind of emotions.
The trademark wispy vocals, the sublime musical arrangements and the conscious attempt to keep the song’s inherent sentimentality have been a steady accompaniment in Kuhad’s music. Is all his output – both his non-film work and others – simply collated from a ready bank of songs? No, the 28-year-old composer said. With Little Things season two, as it was with Karwaan, Kuhad was briefed about the “vibe” of the story, which helped him find his musical direction.
“The concept was to make a song around the difficult things in a relationship that blow up and become tough and complicated as they grow,” Kuhad said. “These are things we don’t want to talk about but we should.”
Kuhad’s songs used to be guitar-based since the time of his earliest songs, such as Something Wrong (2011) and Raat Raazi (2013). In the past two years, however, Kuhad shifted to writing songs more on the piano as he got better with the instrument. This shows in cold/mess. More so on Pause, which is predominantly his vocals over a piano arpeggio.
“The songwriting process for the piano doesn’t change from how it is with the guitar,” Kuhad spoke of the change in his instrument of choice. “But how I wrote songs become different. Majorly, though, it helped me get out of a rut. After three-four years of guitar, just hearing my new work began to feel like deja vu. With Little Things, since I just knew this has to be a piano song, I sat on the piano and it happened naturally.”
Kuhad is one of India’s most popular independent artists, and is loved by young crowds for his heart-touching lyrics and the lightness of his music. Dreamy fans turn to his music to feel “the feels.” Is it because of the accessible musicality of his soft-pop? There’s such a distinctive uniformity in his music that it’s difficult to say where one song stops and the other begins.
Or are his lyrics really awe-inspiring poetry? Sample Pause: “I could never speak in tunes before / For you I could write a symphony / If only you could sing along / It doesn’t even need to be in key.”
“For me, the lyrics come first,” Kuhad said. “That’s the most important. Then, the production. And then, the music.” The melody acts as the vessel to push forward the lyrics for the composer. “Sometimes, melody comes first too,” he said. “Sometimes, I twist the melody depending on a new word that I have changed. So I decide the melody in a way to see how to deliver this new word better.”
Also stark is the lack of variation, and his disinterest in experimenting with his singing style. What Kuhad does with his voice concerns him less than his songwriting. “With so many rehearsals and shows over the years, you sing so much that you know what flows and what doesn’t in terms of how you emote with your voice,” he said.
With two hit EPs and one album behind him, a bunch of hit songs in English and Hindi, a few outings in Hindi films, concerts in India and abroad, Kuhad has comfortably found his space in the independent music scene. He frequently does house concerts where there are intimate gatherings with less than 50 people. Subscribers to his mailing list were the first to receive a copy of cold/mess before it was officially launched.
Kuhad has developed a passionate fanbase, the majority of which is female. As an example, in one interview done by a woman, half the conversation revolved around his love life. “I guess it’s understandable because most of my popular songs are like dedicatedly love songs,” Kuhad said. “There’s just no other angle to them. So it makes sense for people to ask me about that.”
Does the content of his songs (the sentimental lyrics, for one) also lead to people imagining Kuhad’s inner life in a certain way? “There’s definitely a part of me in my music because a lot of it comes from my personal life,” he said. “So I get that a listener may have an image of me that’s introverted, shy, sensitive, romantic, whatever. But there are other sides to me too. I am not all my music. I am sure there’s more to me.”
But left to himself, Kuhad would rather not know what his idols are really like. “It’s good I don’t know how Elliot Smith or Kurt Cobain were really like,” Kuhad said. “And I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know what Bob Dylan is really like, who is still around. What if I get disappointed?”
Meanwhile, Kuhad’s soaring popularity and his very vocal fanbase are often the butt of jokes on the internet. Kuhad is aware of the jabs. Around the time Pause hit the internet, Kuhad even retweeted a snarky one that called the collaboration between him and Little Things “DDLJ for the South Bombay kids”.
Worse taunts have come his way, Kuhad said, but that is par for the course when it comes to online feedback. “To say that only South Bombay or South Delhi kids listen to me is inaccurate first of all,” Kuhad said. “When I play in tiny cities like Indore or Nagpur, the audience sings with me to cold/mess or Raat Raazi.”
On his part, he said, his job stops at putting out the music in every available place, be it on the web or in music stores, and then, if a select group of listeners love him more than others, that cannot be helped by him. “I keep getting insulted and I retweet everything that mentions me – good, bad and ugly,” Kuhad said, and then he recalled one of his favourite ones: “I remember someone writing that the best insult today is calling someone Prateek Kuhad’s target audience. I liked that.”