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One of Pramuk's performances at UMBC which honed his craft and helped form him into the artist he is today. Courtesy of Alexis Harris

Pramuk is developing and sharing his identity with a new EP

Pramuk Mohanlal-Vargas, also known mononymously as Pramuk, is a senior global studies and vocal performance double major. I sat down with him recently to talk about everything from the EP he has been working on to emotional vulnerability in music and what he finds appealing about Open Mic nights.

Thank you for sitting down with me today. So, how have you been recently, how have you been spending your time while we’re under social distancing policies?

Time management is something that’s so important to me in terms of productiveness. So I try to stay productive, I try to stay diligent in the work that I do at the moment. Most of that is music, because I’m developing my own brand, and I’m incorporating my own artistic idea. So that’s what I’ve mostly been putting my work into in the sense of creating that brand and my own artistic identity. 

Yeah, definitely. Okay, so turning now to your EP, I’m just curious about the origin. So what made you decide to start putting these songs together for this project?

So the origin of the project came about from a vision I’ve had, I would say since I started editing the first song, which I guess I’ll give out the name, it’s called “Something New,” which is, I guess is appropriate for the project. The idea for the project, actually, it’s something more of an inner-vision that I’ve always had, because I’m a musician. And I wanted to have sort of that release of artistic production. Like I want people to see what the music means to me. And I want them to find their own identity through that music. And that’s what I think, came from the writing of the songs themselves. It’s a piece of me, but at the same time, it should be a piece of whoever’s listening.

In terms of revealing what the music means to you and really trying to connect with people, that was one of my questions because for me, I’m not necessarily the “tell everybody what I’m exactly what I’m thinking” person. And so that’s interesting to me because I, very infrequently, will attempt to write music or even when I’m writing a story or something, I’ll put something in and then I’ll immediately erase it and backtrack like, “Ah, no, that’s not going in there, that’s like too deep into my thought process.” Or on the occasion that I actually manage to leave something down, I feel like I hit this wall where I’m like, “Okay, I had this one moment of honesty, where do I go from here? I don’t think I could keep that up for this entire thing.” So do you find that daunting to potentially make yourself vulnerable and let people into your head?

I definitely feel very vulnerable when I do that.  Does it feel daunting? Yes, because there’s always that… I feel like people have the slightest bit, at least the slightest bit of insecurity. So there’s gonna be that daunting aspect to releasing something that’s so close to you. If you write something that’s close to you, then yeah, there’s gonna be that aspect of, you know, what are people gonna think? What’s the judgment that’s gonna come out of it? But at the end of the day, you have to realize that there’s a positive outcome from it, if you think about it. And if you know that your pieces are special, you should be doing that because it’s going to help someone and you’re going to find accomplishment in it as well. So it’s very rewarding at the end of the day. 

I’m curious since some of the songs are a bit older, do you think that makes it easier to have bit of distance from some of the situations that you were writing about or is it kind of difficult to put yourself back in the mindset that you were in when you wrote them?

Oh, that’s a good question, actually. Because it’s been such a long time since I’ve written the songs that it can be difficult to think back to what I was thinking of when I was writing the song. But the good thing about what I did is that I wrote what the song means to me on a piece of paper, so I can remember what I was thinking when I wrote the song, and I can just go back to that idea in my mind whenever. It’s a good reference. And sometimes, you may not be feeling it that day because it’s been so long since you wrote the song that you’re not feeling what the song is about, but you may just find something that’s going on in your life at that moment that relates to the song and that inspires you again. So yeah, definitely having that resource of writing down what you think and having that with you, for years and years and keeping that safe helps.

Yeah, that makes sense. So the song that I am now the most familiar with, just because I’ve been listening to it a few times recently is “Pedal On” which you released in mid-July. So walk me through how that song came to be.

Sure. So “Pedal On” actually was written three years ago during winter break in Paraguay, which is where I’m from. And it blossomed from a conversation that I had with my grandmother. We talked about different life endeavors and loved ones in terms of valuing them and being in connection with them and knowing their care and, you know, affection for you. That’s so important to have in us as humans, we need that. [I had] just a genuine conversation with my grandmother, who is so close to not only me, but my brother, my mom and dad, because she always used to visit us when we were younger and we used to visit her back in Paraguay. But yeah, “Pedal On” was translated from a phrase she said to me in Spanish, which is “Seguir Adelante,” which means moving forward and accomplishing your goals like going towards that happiness and finding it. It’s sort of my way of translating it, but I formed that into a song and “Pedal On” is sort of a way of like, having a different type of title towards that idea because there’s so many songs that have that same idea like, okay, move on, things are gonna get better and things like that, but like mine has that differentiator. 

Yeah. So what has the reaction been like to the song?

It’s been super great. Honestly, I could not have asked for a better reaction, especially from friends and family in Paraguay. They’ve been sharing it like crazy during the first week, and they’re still listening to it these past couple of days. They’re still telling me “I love the song.” And I literally called my grandmother yesterday, too, and she’s like, “I love your music. Keep doing it.” It makes her so happy, I just know from her voice. So, honestly, the song has been so great in terms of reception and in terms of accomplishment for myself.

Since all the songs are done being recorded, what do you think was  the easiest song and the hardest song from start to finish, with the writing and in terms of recording it?

Actually there’s a song that I had written as a songwriting challenge where we were prompted with different words and we had to come up with our own creative interpretations of them. So, one of them is actually a song that I performed for an open mic just yesterday. And it has, I want to say six or seven chords in it. So I think that’s one of the most difficult songs. It’s difficult to play at the same time because I’m also doing so much with the strumming and the changing of the chords and remembering all the lyrics because there’s a jumble of lyrics in the song. And there’s also a loop station that I’m adding on. There’s a lot that’s going on. So yeah, that’s one of the most complicated but at the same time fun songs to play. 

How has the pandemic affected the process of putting this EP together?

Right. The pandemic has definitely affected the process in terms of releasing it as soon as I want it to be released. It’s pushed it back. And being in connection with my producer, which is my main person who I go to has been difficult because of social distancing, you know, and keeping ourselves and our family members and our friends safe by doing all that that we need to do. It has definitely affected the EP. It’s also helped me in a way because I’m figuring out more of what I need to be doing on my own. In my own time, I’m figuring out the ideas about the EP, like, who I should be targeting as my audience, what I should be thinking about in terms of when I release a specific song, what I should tell everybody about it. You know, it’s something that’s balanced in a way. 

So, who are some of your inspirations? Which artists do you think have influenced your musical style the most?

Growing up, I listened to Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, those are the top three that you know my mom and dad played in the car and at home and sort of sparked my interest in music and then as I got older, I listened to a lot of different genres. A bunch of different genres of music, like I was in that punk phase for a while, I was in that r&b phase. Then I got more interested in classical music like what I’m doing now at UMBC.. And then in my own personal leisure time I listen to acoustic soft folk pop music, and I think that’s where I found my vocal style is folk pop music.

It can make for an interesting style when you have so many, like different inspirations and when you have really experimented in and gone through different styles of music, because it really opens you up and you can incorporate different things. 


You mentioned playing “Am I,” which you said was a technically difficult song, at an open mic. And I know you love to go to open mics, and that’s something that you’re well known for. You’re always inviting people to come to them, or even to perform. So what about the experience of an open mic draws you in? 

That’s a great question. I think what draws me in about open mics is the chance to see everybody else perform what they created. Even if it’s a cover song, or if it’s something that someone else has created, it’s still you, in a way, you’re still performing it, and it’s you on that stage. So it’s so cool to see that come to life. And to see how it affects everyone else. So there’s a lot of your own interests in watching an artistic performance. And at the same time, there’s also a societal and communal aspect to it. You’re with people and you feel the same vibrations in the room. And by chance, there’s going to be that one performer who just blows you away in terms of, you know, their own creative mindsets and  what they bring to the room and there’s always like that aspect of you never know what you’re gonna get.

Is there any song you feel like you would probably never do it at an Open Mic, just because it gets done so much?

There are definitely some songs I’d say that I wouldn’t want to sing because they’re repeated a lot, but at the same time, I try to bring my own creative vision to the songs that I performed. To answer your question, I would probably say “Toxic” by Britney Spears is not something that I would probably sing. Because it’s performed so much, and I’ve seen so many covers of that song. But people can bring their own interpretations to songs and that’s what’s so cool about covers. It’s the artistic sort of interpretation of a person.

My final question is, if you could say something to other artists at UMBC, especially, you know, anyone just starting out what would you want to say?

I would say, don’t be afraid of being who you are with people because you’re going to find those who, you know, respect your ideals and your own personality. So find what you’re passionate about, because that’s what’s gonna drive you and find your purpose. Whatever it is, try to, you know, find the best purpose that you think you have. And just work really hard towards that. Even if you don’t know your major, try to seek anything that would be of interest to you and if you don’t know then just go to different clubs or organizations and talk to people. You’re never going to know until you go and do it.

And for the artists out there, who are starting out or just wanting to show what they have. Same thing. Don’t be afraid of doing what you do. Because what you do can be something magnificent and can change society for the better and can, you know, shape someone’s mood for the day. And always be a learner. Don’t be afraid of seeking that extra knowledge that can boost your career. Like for me classical music was something I never thought I would be doing at all. But it’s helped me so much in terms of realizing what’s on the page and broadening my musical horizon. So definitely seek that extra new idea or learning experience.

You can find Pramuk’s debut single “Pedal On” on music streaming platforms and learn more about Pramuk and his music on Instagram @pramukmusic or on his website