Composer Prateek Rajagopal on Journeying Through Different Worlds of Music
The Muscat/Mumbai-bred, Los Angeles-based guitarist talks about current projects and the road to becoming a professional
At some point in the last few months, Prateek Rajagopal realized he was writing bad death metal. It’s tough to imagine, considering the guitarist has been serving up cutthroat riffs for bands like Gutslit. As it turns out, he was caught in the middle of what he used to do much more often and what he currently does regularly – metal and composing for screen, respectively. “To find that balance between writing a good metal track and also making it work to picture, it took time,” he says over a phone call.
In 2019, Rajagopal – who grew up in Muscat, studied and played music in Mumbai – moved to Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and it came on the back of spending a couple of years diving into the world of composing for ads, films and more. “Writing ad music, that basically was my biggest turning point, because I realized how one day you could write in one genre, and the next day, you could write in another genre,” he says.
Although his deepest allegiances as a riffmaster and composer lie with artists such as Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt or Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, it was sometime in 2015 – after working some regular jobs in banking and even marketing – that Rajagopal came off Gutslit’s Europe tour and realized he’d like to be a full-time professional musician. He saw producer-bassist Ashwin Shriyan and bandmate in instrumental metal act The Minerva Conduct as a reference point of young artists making it in the recording and engineering world. Rajagopal says, “I knew very early on that I want to be a writer. I wanted to use guitar to write and not to just play solos and not to just become the fastest shredder or whatever.”
He went home to Muscat and convinced his family to give composing and producing fulltime a shot. “I told my mom, ‘I think I want to do this.’ And she’s like, ‘Are you sure?’ I said yes and she said, ‘Okay, let’s give it a year.’ It’s been six years now,” Rajagopal says with a laugh.
Although it wasn’t intentional at the time, one of the composer’s favorite albums growing up was Metallica’s seminal live record S&M. Watching the thrash metal titans build their songs into new versions with the San Francisco Symphony, Rajagopal says it likely made an impact on his subconscious as well. Now, as a composer, recordist and conductor himself, he’s taken on all kinds of music scoring gigs – from ambient-leaning eeriness for the film A Mother’s Soliloquy in 2019 to animated film Just a Father in 2020. “Generally when I work with directors, I like to start writing music from the script and from conversation,” he says.
The competition in the showbiz hub of Los Angeles can be cutthroat, but Rajagopal seems to have centered himself when it comes to thinking about anxieties and difficulties that come with the job. “I realize I should be making music all the time, because it’s never ending. The amount you can learn from being in this space,” he adds.
If the pressures of clinching a project isn’t enough, there’s also working under demanding deadlines. For 2020 crime/drama film Harami (which stars Bollywood actor Emraan Hashmi), Rajagopal composed a track called “Sharminda Hoon” within weeks. He recalls, “I’d just graduated, and then all of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh shit, I have to write a Hindi song!’ I had two days to write this song after the lyrics and everything and it reminded me of my time composing for ads. I finished and thought, ‘Wow, I can still do that.’”
The death metal score, on the other hand, is for friend and filmmaker/actor/musician Riley Lynch, son of famed American auteur David Lynch. “The end of his film, the last two to three minutes, is just like this whole balls to the wall death metal track,” Rajagopal says. Outside of these, there’s a concert piece written for an orchestra or chamber ensemble, which will have its world premiere in June.
It’s all kinds of oscillating between styles for the composer at the moment, who’s also finishing aiding a film score for Wayfarer Studios in Los Angeles. “I bought a small digital mellotron for it,” Rajagopal says. At the same time, there’s work ongoing remotely to complete Gutslit’s upcoming album, with additional production being helmed by Ashwin Shriyan. “I wake up every morning, and now with Gutslit, we are essentially just pushing the album to the finish line,” Rajagopal says.