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Artistes need to amp up their skills to become more self-sufficient: Pragnya Wakhlu | Indie Music Artist Interviews

Artistes need to amp up their skills to become more self-sufficient: Pragnya Wakhlu

By - Vijayalakshmi Narayanan

JUNE 10,2020

Pragnya Wakhlu

Lockdown has had a flipside for most of us. But on the brighter side, the period has proved to be very instrumental in helping many of us become more self-reliant or rightly put by our Prime Minister, ‘Aatma Nirbhar’. Taking the ride quite seriously, former Radio City Freedom Awards winner and singer/songwriter Pragnya Wakhlu went a step further and strung together creative forces across three varying timezones, to collaborate over her first DIY music video, for her latest single, ‘Fallin’.

What’s interesting is that the said music video has been shot on zero budget and entirely on smartphones. The video is featured on the artiste’s YouTube channel. Despite the technical and infrastructural constraints, Pragnya dissects the process of capturing the message that she wanted to convey through her song, in an elaborate chat with me, for Radio City Freedom.

‘Fallin’ talks about the universal peace and comfort that people seek in the arms of their loved ones. What was your core thought while writing this song?

: ‘Fallin’ is a song I wrote way back in 2017 about the possibility of a relationship that might not happen but still harbouring the hope that maybe someday the person might change their mind. I was a bit apprehensive about singing the song (and even the other songs I had written for Lessons in Love) in public because it almost felt like I was reading my diary out to people. My songs in the past have been about everything else in the world I’m inspired by except love. Initially I was not sure if I was comfortable with baring my heart open to strangers and exposing my vulnerabilities. But then I realized that when you are open about singing about emotions that make you feel vulnerable, it also shows people your authenticity and that it’s ok to talk about things that make you feel not necessarily “Happy” all the time the way we see people’s lives on social media, and maybe if we normalize it, it will be ok for other people to open up and talk about their feelings too.

I hope that with this song, one can help express their feelings about someone that went through a similar experience. I knew at the time of writing it that I wanted the song to be a soft and emotive ballad. I’m glad all the musicians I’ve worked with have really brought that out with their playing.

You released an interesting music video, a DIY which has been shot at zero cost, with the help of friends from three different countries. How tedious was the process

: ‘Fallin’ is unlike all the music videos I’ve released so far where there were professionals behind the camera and directing the video. It was my first and only zero budget music video, entirely shot on cellphones. It was a huge learning process for me both creatively and as a director and editor of my first music video. The original plan was to shoot a professional music video but then lockdown happened and plans changed. The idea changed from what it was supposed to be in the original and sort of evolved during lockdown.

The initial planning of the video started with me just putting my thoughts down in an excel sheet on what the potential ideas and scenes would be. Then I put down a list of all the possible people that I knew and also some that I needed to reach out to. I wanted to be inclusive of all types of relationships and also wanted the LGBTQ community to be represented. So I reached out to some friends who spoke to their friends and that’s how everyone ended up being in our video as well.

The rest of the cast are all friends and family from 3 different countries, i.e USA, India and Singapore that shared something creative they were doing with their loved ones in lockdown to stay upbeat and their answer to what Love is. I think everyone’s answers are very reflective of their individual journeys. It was interesting to see so many different perspectives to the same emotion.

Shooting my scenes for the video was quite a challenge as I didn’t have a tripod and I live alone so I had to shoot all the scenes by myself.  I was literally balancing the phone on the edges of different things to shoot and I can’t even count the number of times the phone fell down and I had to restart the process. It was challenging but a great learning. An interesting spin off that happened from the shooting was that the neighbours saw me singing on the terrace with the guitar and asked me to start taking guitar lessons for their son! Haha!

After receiving all the footage, the interesting part was to weave the stories we received together in a meaningful way. I’m not a professional video editor but I have worked on some smaller videos I shot on Adobe Premiere Pro, so I was alternating between doing video tutorials each time the rendering was happening for a small portion of the video and then applying the learnings to the video. I also kept talking to my friends who have a film background over the phone if I got stuck and they really helped me out.

One of the most important lessons I learnt in this whole process was that if you really set your mind to a goal you can achieve it irrespective of the challenges that the world presents before you.

This whole process also reminded me a bit of life. You may start off with a grand plan for something but at the end you may end up with something totally different. And you have to make the best of what you have and make meaning out of it. It could still be something that ends up touching people’s hearts.

I’m also really blessed that everyone that featured in the video shared some really unique, quirky and creative videos that have really brought an authenticity and real world charm to this video.

The track features some of Delhi’s best home-grown talents on board. A word for all of them?

: I am truly blessed to work with such an awesome team of musicians and buddies on this track.

Naren Chettri, who plays drums and percussions on the track is an awesome drummer and plays drums for our band the Kahwa Speak Ensemble. Being more of a folk-rock musician, Naren doesn’t typically play traditional brush grooves but I really trust his musicality and sense of rhythm. He added his own unique flavor to the song and came up with a really unconventional groove with the brushes. He’s also a very on-point drummer with a great attitude so it was awesome having him play on the track.

Sonic Shori and I met in SAM and when I moved to Delhi in 2011, we formed our first band FRUZU in Delhi and played a lot of gigs together. He’s very well acquainted with my music right from the first album. He played bass on our last album Kahwa Speaks. I love his creativity and versatility as a musician and his openness to experimenting across genres (which probably comes from his playing with different bands playing music from jazz to Bollywood to rock)

I think both Rythem Bansal (Keys) and Abhay Sharma (Sax)have done a fantastic job with bringing out the emotion of the song in their respective solos on the track.

Not only is Rythem a very accomplished jazz pianist but there’s a lot of feel in his playing. I remember the first time I was listening to his parts in the song and I had tears streaming down my face because it really sounded so pretty and something really touches your heart when he plays that solo. Sonic and Rythem together were very instrumental in arranging the bridge section of the song during our first jam together.

I’ve always admired Abhay’s playing and I reached out to him on Instagram about the track. When you listen to him you can recognise right away that he’s a guy that practices a lot and loves making music. Abhay’s parts have really taken the track to a new high. I think he’s executed them beautifully. I think he’s one of the most humble musicians I know who has talent of another level. It’s been great working with him on this one.

Keshav Dhar (Mix and Master) had asked me to record the vocals for this track at home so I could be in a familiar environment and be more at ease while recording. I recorded the vocals in lockdown on a really old microphone I had at home. I had to literally wait for the dogs outside to stop barking and record at midnight in my little room in Delhi. Keshav magically transformed it to sound as if it’s a studio recording. If you hear the track you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s a home recording in a room with no sound-proofing. That’s testament enough to how good he is at his work. I love the direction he’s given the track with the mix. He’s also one of the most patient guys I know to work with. It’s been great working with him.

Also a shoutout to Shailendra Wakhlu our guitarist who was supposed to play on the track but couldn't because of the lockdown. He was there throughout the practices. He'll definitely be playing on the other songs in the album.

Also, a thank you to my recording engineers Abhishek Sekhri , Aarv Bajaj and Avneesh Mathroo at Kinstsugi studios in Delhi. We had a great time recording most of our tracks with them.

In your opinion, how can artistes use the quarantine period to their benefit?

: I think quarantine is a great time for artists to get a lot of practice in and work on honing their skills as musicians. For me I found this to be a very creative and productive time; primarily because I was travelling for work a lot and was finally in one place and was able to work on unfinished projects in solitude. What often happens with the regular schedule of live gigs is that the focus is on performance and practicing a setlist for the gig, jams, marketing the gig etc. This quiet, less busy time is the best time for creation. Working on new songs and just doing what we love doing best, making music.

I also think all of us artists need to amp up our skills in other areas to become more self-sufficient. Artists can do online courses on mixing their music, video editing, music marketing and social media to improve their skills in other areas.

Lastly, what’s the plan for ‘Lessons in Love’?

: ‘Fallin’ was the first single from the album. I plan to release another two singles and then the full album before the end of this year possibly around September. I wrote a new Hindi song during the lockdown and I’m planning to release that as the next single and eventually have it as a part of the album.

The songs on this album are definitely more jazz and funk based. The mood is nostalgic and slightly melancholic on some tracks. I am collaborating with this wonderful jazz guitarist I met from Australia Marcos Villata on a song and Shailendra (Wakhlu) This past year I’ve been very inspired by whale sounds and whale calls. I find their sound very haunting and the calls have a very ancient quality. It sounds very deep.

One of the tracks on the album is called ‘Whale song’ and Marcos and I figured out a way to simulate whale calls on the guitar (using volume control with a string bend and reverb and a bit of a flanger effect). I’m quite excited about that one.

The visuals on the album all have an aquatic theme that’s meant to signify emotions that run under the surface. Like the iceberg concept; what’s visible to the eye is just the tip but there’s a whole unexplored side to a person that you don’t see, unless you decide to dig deeper and ask questions. This album is about taking a deep dive into emotions that lie deeper under the surface and exploring them while being comfortable in doing so.

Most of the songs for this album had actually been written between 2016 to 2019.

Whenever I write new material I first play them at my live gigs to see how the audience responds to it, to gauge their reactions mainly. Is it a song that they connect with? Does it tell a story? Does it move them somehow? It gives me an idea of what people like and what works. I think I took time to take these tunes from scratches to the studio because I needed to get a little more confident singing these songs live to people first. It felt weird the first time I played them to an audience, because they were very personal thoughts being expressed in the song. I felt vulnerable. I also felt that maybe people had a certain expectation from me and my music, thematically and lyrically, to write about positive, uplifting things (a lot of them wanted me to focus on writing Kashmiri music only after Kahwa Speaks) and I wasn’t sure how they would react to this slightly melancholic expression of my feelings.

But I decided that if that is one form of expression, this is another. It isn’t authentic to only show one side of yourself to people. I want them to see the other side of me through this album both lyrically and musically.

‘Fallin’ is now playing on Radio City Freedom.

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