My songs have connected strangers: Kunaal Vermaa
With the release of his new song, Yaadein, Kunaal Vermaa opens up about his songwriting, his present day collaborations and how he cherishes the simplicity of life
Sri Madhopur, a quaint city nestled in the quiet corners of Rajasthan, offered an unconventional start for songwriter Kunaal Vermaa. In its idyllic setting, cultural exposure was a rare commodity, and the music industry seemed like a distant dream. Yet, here was a young man driven by an unrelenting desire to venture beyond the confines of his hometown.
Kunaal’s first stride towards realising his aspirations led him to the vibrant city of Jaipur. In the midst of its bustling streets and swarming life, he essayed on a jaunt of self-discovery and resilience. His initial foray involved working as a scanner and experimenting with Photoshop. Simultaneously, he nurtured a budding fascination for design. His pursuit, driven by an insatiable curiosity and an unswervingly open mind, commenced at this juncture.
His latest song, Yaadein, exhibits his lyrical prowess and musical mastery. Composed, sung, and penned by Kunaal himself, the song promises to be a heartfelt addition to his ever-evolving musical roving. He shares that his philosophy revolves around the elegance of simplicity and transparency.
The challenge lies in conveying the deepest feelings with clarity, a task he masters effortlessly. Despite not being heavily influenced by his native Rajasthani culture, Kunaal has immersed himself in Urdu literature, ghazals, and diverse musical traditions — as if, these are the pillars of his identity.
Unfortunately, Mumbai’s rapid pace and relentless work have taken a toll, prompting him to reconsider and prioritise his well-being. When it comes to relaxing, he seeks comfort in ordinary pastimes.“I like farming, playing cricket, billiards, and, of course, spending quality time with my friends and family,” he tells us, emphasising the joy he derives from exploring new places and savouring culinary delights during his downtime.
Excerpts from our conversation:
From your early days in Sri Madhopur to becoming a renowned name in the Indian music industry — how does it feel?
Sri Madhopur is a small city in Neem Ka Thana district in Rajasthan. There are not many cultural or musical impulses or any contacts and sources from the big entertainment industries. I was unsure what I should do. At first, I thought I would move to Jaipur from my hometown and experience life in a big city — learn the process of survival of a small towner. That was my first target. I knew a little bit about computers as I had one at my home. I worked as a scanner, tried my hand at Photoshop and wanted to learn design in Jaipur.
Hasi Ban Gaye from Hamari Adhuri Kahani was your debut song as a lyricist. How did this opportunity come about?
Hasi Ban Gaye happened when I shifted to Jaipur after getting into writing. A lot of people told me the same too. However, in the midst of it all, I did feel lonely, isolated and uncertain about my career and life, in a nutshell. I always talked very little. I’d rather pen down my thoughts. When I started putting it all out on social media, a lot of upcoming composers began reaching out to me. That’s when I decided that I should be involved in songwriting because composers are willing to meet me. So, why not learn music from them too? Thoda musical ho jaate hain and let’s see where it takes me. I shifted from writing to songwriting. When Mahesh Bhatt listened to it at first, he wanted to meet me. By that time, I was working on a lot of other albums and songs of regional films. Then, Mumbai happened and hence, my first song.
Can you share some of your favourite collaborations with musicians and composers in the industry?
In India, I have worked with almost all artistes. I have also been involved in international collaborations. I keep working with Arijit (Singh) every now and then. Also, my collaborations with Ed Sheeran for 2 Step which featured Armaan (Malik) and Marshmello for Biba felt fulfilling. Others include the Indian version of Dua Lipa’s Levitating. All of it makes me feel that I’ve raised my bar as an artiste too. I love working with Shreya (Ghoshal), and I love working with Mohit Suri — be it Malang, Ek Villain, Humari Adhoori Kahaani and so on. Unki har film mein mere gaane hote hain (all his films have my songs) and it feels beautiful.
How does your poetry impact your songwriting, and vice versa?
First was poetry, and then songwriting happened to me. Now that I’m a songwriter, even poetry feels like music to me! In my life, there’s a constant transition from music to poetry and back again. I believe in simple, yet impactful language. Less is more — especially now when people appreciate simplicity. The most challenging thing to do is to convey your deepest and darkest emotions with utmost clarity. But thankfully, things have been working seamlessly.
What advice would you give to those who aspire to follow a similar path in the music industry?
A lot of young lyricists keep asking me the same thing. If you want to pursue the art form, live your life as a writer. You can always learn the skills but your emotions will come if you live like a writer. You have to connect emotionally with the ordinary things around you with their extraordinary stories. Take every bit of it to your heart and pen down every ounce of your heartache, despair, and hurt. The gods might witness what you’ve gained and what you’ve lost, but you must never be defeated. Trust the process. Songwriting also involves meeting due deadlines, establishing rapport with composers, and handling the pressure of music labels — which you will eventually learn with practice.
How important is it for you to preserve and promote the cultural essence of your native place?
I wasn’t influenced as much by the Rajasthani culture as I have been by Urdu literature, ghazals, Pakistani, and Indian music, the gharanas and even commercial Bollywood songs. I have immersed myself so much into all of it, that now, these complete me and have become my true artistic essence.
In the fast-paced world of the music industry, how do you take care of yourself?
Sadly, I don’t. Mumbai is full of speed. I regret that I am not being able to stay that healthy in it. Now that I think of it, I will be working on it quite seriously. I want a healthy life because I barely get to sleep properly amidst all the work and pressure. I’ve become so preoccupied with chasing and fulfilling my dreams that I have been ignoring my health.
If you could sum up your artistic journey in one sentence, what would it be?
I have heard that my music has connected strangers. Music is the most special thing in a person’s life. The same sentiment holds true in my life too. When I retire or depart from this incredible world, I would want to be known and remembered for my style. They say an artiste can be recognised just by his style. My works should have the whole of Kunaal Vermaa in them. People should feel, ‘Oh! A Kunaal Vermaa song.’ I want to scale that height wherein a person can close their eyes and immediately identify with my song. I want to be known as a songwriter before a poet — I believe in my songwriting most passionately. I want to make a mark as a songwriter and carry that legacy forward.
Yaadein is streaming on all platforms. — firstname.lastname@example.org @PaulChokita