A conversation with one of the Indie scenes’ pre-eminent rocker chicks about her influences, inspirations and plans for the future.
At MBRB, we seek to speak with artists that are attempting to create something unique, and to curate their experiences for you. In some cases it is because we like their body of work, and in other instances their spirit. With Pragnya Wakhlu- a rising singer, songwriter and composer- we are most excited about her strong desire to choose her own interesting narrative, her constant endeavour to improve and reinvent herself, and also- quite simply- her sweet sweet music.
In a long Skype conversation, we talked about what it is like to be an Indie musician in this highly Bollywood-centric music market and what’s next on the anvil for her- and came back extremely impressed!
Pragnya, could you tell us a little bit about your journey as a musician, and how you’ve balanced it with a full time career so far?
I was an Engineer with Infosys when I decided I wanted to pursue music full time in 2008. Since then, I have balanced my creative urges with a career by founding Mousai- a company that uses music and movement to facilitate creative expression and to unblock your fears. Later I joined the Pragati Leadership team as a business development consultant and facilitator. However, more recently I’ve decided to focus all my energies towards creating a new form of music through my next release.
When we listened to your music, what we found interesting was that your lyrics were mostly in English. Was this something you decided on consciously, or is that just how it happened?
I write all my songs myself, and since I think in English, my lyrics inevitably end up being in that language. But it is interesting that you mention this. For my next project, I am focusing primarily on replicating my sound in my mother-tongue Kashmiri fused with English. Unfortunately, Kashmiri as a language is dying, and internationally, there has been a lot of research on preserving and teaching languages through song (the Germans do that at school!). I am working towards writing songs with modern influences, but with words in Kashmiri, so that they may appeal to a large cross-section, and also perhaps encourage people to learn and interact with the language.
Pragnya, in your music, you have a very nice singer-songwriter vibe. Do you prefer performing solo or with a band, and what kind of arenas do you enjoy performing in?
I perform both with a backing band, and as a solo artist. My band ‘FRUZU’ is currently in the process of recording our first EP. When performing alone, I enjoy the intimacy of an interactive medium-sized venue, and when playing with the band I enjoy big stages. My dream has always been to perform on large stages to a huge crowd, and hopefully, I will get there one day. Over the last couple of years, I have had the good fortune to be invited to many music festivals- most recently I performed at the Storm Festival in Bangalore. Festivals are always been great fun as the crowd is there for the music.
Could you tell us your musical influences. Who are some of the artists you enjoy listening to and learning from?
On the Indian scene, I really like Indian Ocean, The Raghu Dixit Project, Papon, Anushka Shankar and Swarathma. I especially like to watch them perform live and learn from their stage craft, the way they hold their audiences spell bound and engage with them . Internationally, my favourite artist is KT Turnstall. I also really like Coldplay and the classic rock acts such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and the Doors (I heard a lot of them when working at Bangalore!).
Actually- to me- music depends so much on your mood! I love listening to Bahamas or Vanessa da Mata in the morning. Oddly, I find music distracting so I don’t really listen to a lot of it at work. I also enjoy listening to artists such as David Guetta and FloRida at the gym.
So really, it is a motley mix of influences and tastes!
Pragnya, what is life like for an Indie Music artist? What does one need to do to stay relevant and successful?
Personally, I noticed a lot of momentum in my career once I released my album. That’s when the offers to perform and the recognition started coming in.
I think it is absolutely imperative that artists invest in themselves if they want to be successful and creatively fulfilled.
There is money in performing gigs singing covers to minus 1 tracks, going to parties, playing hit songs, but is that really all one aspires to do? The endeavour should always be to improve yourself as an artist. Over the past six months I have deliberately taken time off to learn production skills, worked with vocal coaches and guitarists to improve my skill levels, and really think about what sound I want for my next album. I have also spent a lot of time observing and learning from seasoned acts.
I like to set goals for the music I make. My first goal was to release an album, then get nominated for the Jack Daniels Rock Awards & then the GIMA Awards;and all of theat happened as per plan. At the GIMA awards, the jury comprises of the stalwarts from the music industry- and to have them recognise you and your sound is an award in itself.
My next goal is to release my Kashmiri album which is a project that is closer to my heart than any other work that I have done in the past.
Over the last few years we’ve noticed many Indie acts such as Papon or Bonnie Chakraborty supplement their independent music with Bollywood playback- is that something you are personally open to?
I am definitely open to exploring Bollywood – because one popular song brings you so much recognition and credibility. But I have not really actively seeked opportunities. Part of it is because I am not really in Mumbai.One needs to consistently be in the circuit and the heat of the industry to make the right contacts and make a breakthrough.
The truth is that life as a musician is fun, but also difficult. It is not particularly easy to be sustainable or to keep creating music without too many fixed revenue streams. Live shows bring you money but album sales will not cover your expenses. Our music is our calling card, and different artists have different opinions on whether we should allow an audience to sample it for free or not. I wrestle with those decisions every day also. But most of all, I create music for the joy it brings to me and those around me.
Thanks Pragnya! Pragnya has curated a list of peppy spring music for us here. We wish her all the best with her upcoming album.