When I think about Prateek a few words immediately come to mind: Honesty. Transparency. Brave. Smiles! Apparently I’m in pretty good company since The Boston Globe said this of Prateek: “Not just any guy with a guitar… Prateek’s honest, elegant songcraft and luminous voice capture the ear and heart immediately.” There’s that word again. Honesty with a capital H. I’ve encountered Prateek many times over the course of the past few years and was finally able to book him for a couple of little outdoor festivals last summer/fall. I’m hoping that he’ll be sticking around the greater Boston area so that we can enjoy him when live music becomes normal again.. Prateek has an engaging personality and sings songs from the bottom of his heart. He’s believable and very real. He’s not afraid to talk about what’s going on with himself and the audience lets him in with lots of genuine love.
Take a listen to Prateek on his website or over on Spotify or wherever you stream music. Better yet, grab a copy of one of his CDs for your very own! Not only does he have plenty of original music but seek out his amazing cover of John Prine’s “Speed at the Sound of Loneliness.” Here’s another link to places where you can discover Prateek music.
Here’s a video of Prateek singing, playing and whistling his song “Springtime.”
I’m always interested in hearing about my interviewee’s early recollections of music. What did you embrace as a young person?
I was exposed to a lot of different music as a kid. When I was an infant, it most mostly European classical and opera, with a lot of Tom Chapin tapes during car rides. As I got older, my dad introduced me to a lot of his favorite bands. He was really into 60s and 70s rock and pop, so that included Peter, Paul & Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John, Eric Clapton, and The Beatles. I started getting into rock and metal on my own, and ended up getting into Van Halen, Alice In Chains, Green Day, bands like that. I also started getting into some older blues stuff – Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy in particular. When I made the decision to start writing my own music in college, I really got into Josh Ritter and Ryan Adams. So I’ve been a little all over the place.
Any other kind of music make an impression on you?
As for Indian music, I’ve had a bit of an interesting relationship with it. Growing up, I always considered Indian Classical music and Bollywood music to be my parent’s music. I considered myself primarily an American, so I gravitated towards American pop and rock – and really white American pop and rock at that. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve regretted turning my back on Indian music the way I did. Making a lot of Indian and South Asian friends as an adult has slowly reintroduced me to some of the music I overlooked as a child.
I hear all kinds of influences in your music ranging from Delta blues to folk to r&b to folk music. Who and what influenced you the most as you started to make plans to give music a try.
A lot of different artists for sure. Ryan Adams and Josh Ritter at the start. But also Big Bill Broonzy, Jason Isbell, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Reverend Gary Davis, tons of stuff. I always listened to tons of different music and admired artists that could write seemingly vastly different songs that still sounded like them – tying many different influences together, like you said. The guy who I’ve looked up to when it comes to that blending of styles and influences is John Fullbright. He does that brilliantly.
What about actual music education? Were you self-taught or did you take lessons or actually attend a music school?
I took guitar lessons as a teenager and a few voice lessons in college. I was also lucky enough to attend a summer songwriting workshop at Berklee College of Music. Those gave me the push to start singing and writing my own material. From then on, I was partially self-taught, partially YouTube-taught, if that makes sense.
One of the things I like about your performances and your records is that it feels to me that you have good control over the power of your voice. You know when to be quiet and you know when to belt it out. Do you plan your live shows so that the audience can experience a range of types of songs and vibes?
Yes! Something that I internalized from a very young age was the power of dynamics in music. I was in the school band for years, and my high school band director was ferocious about teaching us dynamics and how they contributed to the emotion conveyed by a piece. When I started writing my own material, I learned, like every solo artist does, that dynamics are absolutely key because you and your chosen instrument(s) are constant. You need dynamics to keep the audience engaged in what you’re doing because too much consistency is dull.
I’ve known you for several years now and it’s interesting watching how you change like a chameleon. There’s always something new that I experience when I see you in person. New hair color (or no hair now) a different kind of song or seeing how much more comfortable you seem on stage. You’re don’t accept the status quo as okay. Do you enjoy experimenting with new looks and new sounds?
Haha, I’d say so. I was scared of trying new things as a kid so I suppose I’m making up for lost time now. I guess I’m also figuring out who I am as a person and as an artist, so that’s entailed a lot of experimenting and a lot of change.
Your song “The Gang’s All Gone” got quite a bit of press when you released it. Making a statement about boredom and how easy it is to drink a life away when you’re not paying attention…. Tell us the story about how that song came about.
“The Gang’s All Gone” came from a few things. My brother lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan for a little over a year while working at his first job. He struggles pretty heavily with depression, as do I, and being far from where he grew up wasn’t helping that at all. So he developed a bit of a drinking problem. With time, and therapy, and some really supportive friends, he overcame that. But a lot of the friends he made while he lived in Michigan were pretty hardcore alcoholics and they didn’t overcome their issues quite so easily. My brother told me stories about those friends while he was living there and after he moved away from there, and, as his over-protective older brother, I found myself sharing his frustration with their spiraling…
At the same time, I was seeing a similar kind of spiraling in my friend group as well. A couple of my friends had that same combination of mental illness and drinking problems and this was the first time in my life I’d really seen what that looked like, up close and personal. So with my brother telling me about his friend’s issues and me seeing the same issues in my own friends, I got a little frustrated. It honestly pissed me off seeing people struggle when they so badly needed help and refusing to ask for that help. Instead they’d get in a fight, or lash out at a friend, or hurt themselves. Eventually, all the feelings I had about all this poured out into that song. I wrote it pretty quickly, in about a week, and I’ve never looked back.
Some of my favorite lines of a song this year are in your song “Springtime.“
“So give me blue skies in a bottle and give me sunshine in a pill/
Gimme smiles, gimme laughter in a jar I can keep on my window sill“
The song is deceptively simple in its own way but it covers some mighty powerful emotions. The arrangement is wonderful too. On your live album, you say that the song is about seasonal depression. Have you had fans react to it in a deep way?
Yes! So much. I actually had someone message me after a show telling me they’d never heard someone talk about seasonal depression before and that was a revelation for them and their own mental health. It was nuts, and I’m so glad that something I did helped them
Your bravery shows through in the fact that you whistle in several songs. That’s to be commended as far as I’m concerned. A well-placed whistling solo adds a lot to a song. Were you always a good whistler? What’s your secret? 😉
I actually used to be horrible at it! What ended up happening was that I started learning to play the harmonica. You have to get pretty good at pursing your lips if you want to play the harmonica seriously. Eventually however, I realized that there were a lot of singer-songwriters playing the guitar and harmonica, so I dropped the harmonica and tried whistling again. To my surprise, I was way better at it than I used to be. So I stuck with that and found it added some much-needed humor to my shows.
How are you doing during this surreal COVID crisis? Are you finding new ways to connect with music fans and friends?
I am! Thank you for asking. It’s been very weird having to not go outside and see people for our collective safety. I tend to isolate quite a bit, but not even having the option to leave the house for a while was painful.
However, I’ve been getting into live-streaming shows more and more and that’s been really great. I know it’s not the same as a live show, but it’s still enabled some very meaningful connection with friends and fans. I’ve also been a fan of some video-game live-streamers, so getting to do a little bit of what they do has been exciting.