Pragnya Wakhlu Interview

Tell us a little about Pragnya Wakhlu, the artist. How would you describe the music you create? What is your creative process like?

So me as an artist is somebody who got into this field to express myself and to make a positive change with the music that I create. I believe in making music about things that I have been inspired by, whether its people or any social issues or things I see around me.

In the past two albums I have written about other things (other than love) that have inspired me. My first album, "Journey to the Sun" was written when I was transitioning from an Engineer into a Musician and the songs reflected that like "Free hugs", which was about spreading a little compassion and "Flying high and dry" inspired by a bumblebee (which defies the laws of physics and still flies).

"Rise" was the song featured in my first music video from the album and it was all about finding your true calling without getting bothered by other people's opinions.

My second album " Kahwa Speaks" was written with the purpose of shedding a positive light on Kashmir, which is where I am from. It was a Kashmiri-English fusion album and a lot of the original music touches upon the different aspects of Kashmiri culture and the themes are largely based on peace and togetherness.

The music that I create doesn't fall under any specific genre. Some are folk fusion, some are blues and there is even a rap song. So I think the music I end up creating is influenced by the many places I travel to. I was born in Pune and did my engineering there, then I worked in Infosys in Bangalore and then moved to Delhi. I have also lived in Seattle, USA.

All of these cities have an influence on the kind of music I listen to. All of that has blended into the music I create, so it's a bit of a fusion between my Indian influences. We have always spoken English at home, so the language is mostly English, but then there is also some Kashmiri as I wanted to go back to my roots.

And there is even Tibetian and Hindi in one song because I felt the need to talk about the Tibetian cause. So it doesn't fit into any specific mould and that can be challenging too when you are trying to pitch to the labels who sometimes want to put you in a box.

My creative process is often like I see something around me and get inspired to write about it. I write down the lyrics first and then I would compose a melody, but often you also happen to have this tune in your head and you got this particular hook and you work on that. I try to listen to what the tune is saying to you. So it works both ways for me.

There are a lot of songs that remain incomplete but sometimes when I switch off the phone and sit with it, refining and editing the lyrics, it comes through. Also before I record a song, I play it often on my shows to see the audiences' reaction to the songs and also ask around a bit for feedback. Now I have figured out which are the songs the audience likes and which ones don't work so well. So now I have a greater understanding (of what the audience want from me) because when you play live, you get to experience the actual feedback.

Your new single Fallin' from your upcoming album Lessons in love is out now. Tell us all about it.

When I actually wrote "Lessons in Love" I was very apprehensive about it initially because I went through a lot of experiences in my life and I felt I needed to write about them. Those experiences left me wondering what we can learn from each of these experiences and thats how "Lessons in Love" came about.

It's about learning something new about yourself each time. And actually, most of the songs are about things that didn’t happen, relationships that didn’t materialize. Initially I was a bit reluctant to put out these songs because after the Kashmiri-English album there was a big expectation from me to release another song with a social impact, but I feel that there can be different sides to an artist.

While there is one side which is always politically active, you can have other sides of you which just wants to express how you are truly feeling. This album has been intensely personal for me because I'm not used to writing songs about my personal feelings about a person, it has usually been about issues or things that I see.

I actually felt a little uncomfortable when I sang the song for the first time on stage but then I felt like the more vulnerable you are, the more relatable you are to people and if somebody else is feeling the same way, they'll know that its okay to feel the way they are feeling.

"Fallin'" is the first single from the album "Lessons in Love" and it is written about an unrealised relationship. Sometimes you have these feelings for somebody but they are already in a relationship with somebody else and may be they have that same feeling but its not something that can happen. The song talks about such a scenario.

There is a water based theme to this album and every song has an underwater based artwork which is highly influenced by whales (you will see that in the upcoming songs). This particular one has a girl underwater which symbolises a deep dive into emotions and that sometimes you don’t see what people are hiding under the surface.

When you take someone at face value you don’t really know about that person unless you really probe and dive deeper. There can be a lot more. A smiling person might be hiding something, you wont know until you ask. You have to accept and love yourself before you even get into a relationship. That’s what I learned working on this album.

Even though love is an unwavering favourite among most musicians, this is the first time you have experimented with the theme. What prompted this change?

This is an interesting question. This change was a way for me to stay authentic when people have certain expectations from you and your music has been a certain way. There is nothing inauthentic about the first two albums, it’s just that I feel there are different sides to a person and one needs to explore all dimensions.

With this album I wanted to challenge myself by barring my feelings for certain people and being okay about it. There is a constant need for everybody in society to put their best foot forward, whether it's in social media, putting up smiling photos and showing how happy they are.

I think there are a lot of grey areas in relationships, it’s not always black and white and that’s what I have talked about in this album. Everyone wants to imagine that their love story is like, "boy meets girl, you look at each other and the fireworks will fly and it will happen", but it doesn’t always work that way.

A lot of times you want something but you can’t have it, a lot of the songs are about that. The reason I decided to write about it was so I could help people feel that they are not the only ones who feel that way. Although this album might seem like it’s about other people, largely what I discovered in the end was that the most important person to love is yourself.

Tell us about the music video.

This is a zero budget music video unlike my previous ones which always had a budget. We were planning on shooting a proper video and then lockdown happened and it's good, because I think it forces you to think in a very creative and out of the box way.

In this video we have asked people what their interpretation of love is, what love is to them and we have got a lot of different answers from everyone. We asked people across the world to send us little videos of them holding up what they think their answer is and I guess it’s a lesson for everyone learning about this emotion and realising that it’s not one dimensional.

It can be multi dimensional and you don’t necessarily have to be in a relationship to be in love. You can be in love with your puppy, you can be in love with your guitar or music. I guess what I'm trying to say is that there can be different forms of love and that’s what you can expect to see in this video. I edited this myself, it’s my first time directing, storyboarding and editing, so it’s like an end to end project and its quite time consuming but very exciting and here’s hoping people like it.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has been a taxing experience for many in the independent music industry. Did you feel the heat while working on Lessons in love?

Actually the lockdown helped because I have been meaning to sit and work in the songs for a really long time but there was a flurry of activities, travelling, performing and I never got to just sit and work on the songs.

The lockdown has actually given me this opportunity because there is no expectation to be anywhere and it actually came as blessing for me because even the other musicians I work with are really busy artists and now they can also work on their parts and send it to me faster.

The only problem was that I don’t have a great microphone at home but had to make do with whatever I had. Keshav actually did a great job engineering it and making it sound good.

I guess we learned to be more creative and are coming up with innovative ways to record and I think this whole scenario has made musicians more self reliant which is probably a good thing because it is cheaper as well for us.

Lakshmi Venugopal, Srikiran K, Sreedevi Manohar