Pop-Culturalist Chats with Siddhartha Khosla
Like millions of others, we are huge fans of This is Us. The television drama packed an emotional wallop for viewers every week in season 1. You can partly thank Siddhartha Khosla for those moments.
An accomplished musician, Siddhartha Khosla is a member of the indie rock band Goldspot. Once some of his music from the band got picked up for use in television shows like How I Met Your Mother, his career path took an unexpected turn to composing music for film and television. Fast forward to one of his current projects: scoring for This is Us. Combined with the terrific story lines and brilliant acting, his heart-stirring music makes everything on screen grasp viewers by their heart strings. So, naturally, we were excited to chat with him about how he creates music and what inspires him.
P-C: How did you transition from being in Goldspot to composing for film and television?
Siddhartha: For many years, I’ve had songs of mine from my own band placed in television and film like How I Met Your Mother and The O.C.. At the same time, I was making music and albums and touring. Maybe four or five years ago Dan Fogelman, who is the creator of This is Us, created another show for ABC [The Neighbors]. He called me and asked me if I wanted to score his show. At the time, I didn’t know if I wanted to do it or not. I didn’t think that I was going to score. I just didn’t know what the next step would be, but, I took that gig, and I loved it. It started a whole career for me scoring in television and film. And now Dan and I work together on This is Us which is really special.
P-C: What are the biggest challenges for scoring for film and TV rather than just writing your own music?
Siddhartha: I guess the differences for me are that when I’m writing my own music for Goldspot it’s a reflection of me and my own voice and stuff that I want to write about. It’s also not nearly as collaborative as [composing for TV/film] is. Scoring for film and television is way more collaborative. You’re helping someone else with their vision as opposed to you seeing your own. It’s kind of nice because, in this world, I can be inspired by other people’s experiences and stories; then I write music around that to help them tell their story. So the challenge around that—if it is a challenge—is that I’m telling somebody else’s story and not my story. Ultimately, I have to serve their vision more than mine. But I enjoy that collaboration; that’s fun.
P-C: So, can you explain the process of scoring This is Us?
Siddhartha: When I’m writing the score it’s inspired by Dan’s story and inspired by the visual I see. I’ll get an episode of the show without any music on it, and I’ll have to write the music for it. Sometimes, I’ll write global music pieces around an event that I know is going to happen or a story line that’s about to unfold. Now, at this point, I can write for the show kind of in a vacuum without any picture. I know what the sounds of the show are now. More often than not, though, I’m seeing picture, and I’m letting it inspire me. I pick up the guitar and watch an episode and pick up a microphone and put it in front of me and start playing and humming along.
It’s collaborative in the sense that it’s a marriage between Dan and the writers’ words, all of these wonderful performances by great actors, and my music. We meet; it’s kind of nice. Their work inspires me to do what I’m doing. Their performances are so nuanced, and I have to dance around that and make sure [the music] is a good fit.
P-C: Do you have a favorite character or particular type of emotional moment that you like scoring for?
Siddhartha: No, not particularly. This time for [season 2 of] the show, I’m writing less character-driven themes. It’s more about the larger theme of the show and how the characters are connected. I guess one of my favorite scenes that I scored [in season 1] was Kate in pound class in episode 13 when she has this flashback to her dad’s funeral. That was an incredibly emotional moment for the show because that’s the first time we saw Jack’s funeral, and it was the first time we found out when he died in the lives of these kids. That was haunting—just that idea of when he passed away. I had to write an emotional piece of music that drove us through his funeral. It was a pretty emotional piece to write. I got teary-eyed because the picture itself was so moving already.
P-C: You’ve also composed for other shows and films that are a variety of genres. I’m assuming that they allow you to explore different facets and types of music. That said, is there a certain type of project you’re hoping you get to work on in the future so that you can try composing a different sound?
Siddhartha: Yeah, I spent some of my childhood in India, and I love old Indian music so much. Listening to all of that was what I grew up on—it would be awesome to do that. It’s very specific, but at some point I would love to do some sort of score that revolves around old Indian music and old Bollywood music…big orchestra with very emotive, expressive parts. It would be fun for me to do because I know it so well. It’d be special.
P-C: What’s your favorite part of scoring?
Siddhartha: I really enjoy finding emotions in very simplistic ways. I love being able to evoke an emotion without having to do much, you know? I think that’s a fun challenge. I think that we are geared and wired to be moved by stuff that’s sweeping and meant to make us feel a particular thing. I love when emotion in music—in storytelling, in anything—just comes out naturally, You’re not forced to feel a certain way. On This is Us I get to do that. I feel like I get to be another character on set. The music is performing with the actors. Doing less can be really successful emotionally, and I love when I can achieve that.
P-C: What or who are your biggest influences?
Siddhartha: In my Goldspot world…well Goldspot is a part of me so it’s all tied together, so I’d say just great songwriters that I grew up listening to and loved. I loved The Beatles. I love old Indian music. A lot of that stuff is melody driven; it’s about these memorable melodies. I’m just a sucker for a good melody. I like the idea of ear-worms. So much of my influences are these musicians and singer-songwriters—like George Harrison outside The Beatles—that I try to apply that in my work now. I like having memorable melodic moments in pieces.
P-C: Do you have a dream collaborator?
Siddhartha: Paul McCartney
P-C: What upcoming projects are you working on?
Siddhartha: I have a new series for Marvel called Runaways. And a new CBS show called Me, Myself & I. I’m also going into the fourth season of The Royals, and there’s the new season of This is Us. There’s a movie I scored last year called The Sounding that’s been doing really well at indie film festivals, which is exciting. It’s a heavy drama about a woman who does not speak, and she lives off the coast of Maine with grandfather. Hopefully that will get some sort of distribution at some point.
Pop-Culturalist Speed Round
Guilty pleasure TV show or movie
Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. I could watch back-to-back episodes of that.
Favorite Thing to Read
The Atlantic magazine
Artist you can listen to on repeat
Someone You Would Like to Meet Someday
In a another life: Mahatma Gandhi.
I’m a good Indian food cook.