Composer Siddhartha Khosla is one of the hardest working musicians in the game. Whether it’s playing with his band Goldspot or crafting scores for the hottest shows on television (“This Is Us,” Marvel’s “Runaways”), he’s devoted his career to delivering some of the most impactful pieces of music today. We chatted with him all things “This Is Us,” how his Indian background influenced his sounds, and shout outs from a few famous friends.
Congrats on being a part of one of the biggest television dramas today, “This Is Us.” Truly one of my favorite series in the last few years. As a composer, you play an integral role in its storytelling. Creator Dan Fogelman even called your music the show’s secret weapon! So you’re Indian American. Let’s talk about how your cultural background influenced the music.
My parents came to the U.S. in the late ‘70s and they came here with literally eight dollars. They lived that quintessential immigrant story of coming from nothing. They went to school full time while working until I was born. They had to make the tough decision to send me to live with my grandparents in India without them. At that time, I was exposed to so much beautiful Indian music. My mom would send me cassette tapes with her voice on it. It was like sending letters but through cassette. She would sing to me old Hindi music and at that time in my life there was a lot of Indian influence. When I came back to the U.S. I listened to what my parents listened to. That music is in my blood and is always in my blood. When I write for my band Goldspot there’s a big Indian influence. This season of “This Is Us” I tapped into that more. The show became about this larger connectivity of life and the idea of karma and how the action of ancestors affect you, and your actions affect your descendants. There’s something karmic about that so I brought in some Indian sounds. You can hear it in the percussion melodies, in the vocal melodies, in the cello melodies. These are very classical Indian melodies and sounds.
What was the first instrument you picked up as a child?
My voice! I think that counts, right?
Hey, it counts! A few days ago cast member Mandy Moore called your music the “magic ingredient.” Coming from a fellow musician, what was your initial reaction?
It was very humbling to see Mandy Moore say that. Not only that, but Justin Hartley also mentioned something. It goes to show how supportive the cast and crew of “This Is Us” are with each other. The music plays a big role and it’s amazing to see them tweet about the music.
So, you’ve also been credited not just for the scores but in songwriting as well, lyrically, with the show’s music. Any favorite pieces from the first two seasons of “This Is Us”?
My best two pieces of work come from the big “Super Bowl Sunday” episode of Season two. One is the fire scene where fans finally learn how Jack dies after almost two years of wondering. That scene was outside the usual palette of the show. It was intense and dark and like a thriller. He wakes up to the house on fire and he’s running room to room. It’s a six minute scene. There’s a frenetic energy to the score. I was asked to do something out of the box, so there are notes out of tune. We wanted to make the audience feel what Jack was feeling. But Jack emerges from the house and we go into this epic version of Jack’s theme, and you hear the Indian influences. That same theme is played later on when Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore, has to tell her kids that their father has died. That’s another six minute score that underscores an entire slow motion montage of her telling the kids. We flash forward to the older kids and see how this has affected them. That score is the moment that changed the Pearson kids forever. Those two scores were the culmination of percussion and cellos and the way I envisioned the sound of the show being.
Do you work with a team of instrumentalists?
On this show I play everything except for the cello. We had a cellist named Ginger Murphy who we hired to play when appropriate.
Now let’s talk Marvel. I love Marvel anything, film or television. You compose for Marvel’s “Runaways.” How did you land that gig?
It was fortunate timing. I just came off of season one of “This Is Us” and Marvel was looking for someone to score this superhero series. I have a background in working with analog synths and I love new wave, The Cure, The Smiths, Depeche Mode. It was the right timing. I met Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz and also connected with the show’s music supervisor. I had a really great year with these shows. I suppose I was the right person at the right time for these shows.
“Runaways” has a more electronic sound, which is a stark contrast to the softer, emotional acoustic identity of “This Is Us.” Do your approaches differ?
Every showrunner is different. The material is vastly different. On “Runaways” I read the script and in my original meeting with Stephanie and Josh, I pitched to them an idea about having an all analog, synthesizer based score. I felt it was appropriate for the material and they were on board as well. It was about understanding the needs of the showrunners and what I liked. The show needed to feel like the ultimate rebellion. They are basically at war with their parents after finding out they’re evil. There’s something wonderfully rebellious about some of the sounds you could get out of analog synth. It’s cool and warm when it needs to be and can hit the emotional stuff when it needs to.
What’s your creative process like every day? I know some musicians will lock themselves away to complete an album. As a composer, do you have a process? Do you get to go out and walk around and get inspired, or is the work load so fast and consistent you have to churn songs out quickly?
It depends on the day. I always like to go out and clear my head in the morning and work out. There are days where I get up and it’s right into the studio and I don’t leave until the next day. It all depends on what’s on my plate. Last year, I scored four shows at the same time and it was hard to get out of the house.
What’s the best advice you can give a young musician starting out or who’s fresh out of college interested in a career in film and television music?
The best advice I can give is to keep on writing and never stop writing. When you stop writing you stop honing that muscle which is what will sustain you in this industry. When you don’t have the work and you are trying to find work, that is your opportunity to spend time to find your sound and write, write, write. To me, finding your sound is the most important thing because you need to have a voice. The way you find your voice is to write a lot and trying not to sound like someone else. Do what makes you distinctly you. When you are in the throes of it and are buried in work then you don’t have time to really think. Hopefully by then, you know your sound. You’ll be in situations where you are interviewed for a job on a show and the producers ask to hear your work, and you can say, “Here’s what I’ve been writing.”
Whose scores have you admired in the last few years?
I never look at a movie or show and think, “I wish I wrote that score.” If I like something it’s inevitably because I like what the composer has done. I admire Alexandre Desplat’s music. He’s probably the composer I model myself after if I can think of how I want my career to be shaped, just the range he has about a composer. There’s something unique about everything he does. It’s quirky when it needs to be and beautiful when it has to be. That’s how I like to work.
Follow Siddhartha Khosla on Twitter at @SiddKhoslaMusic.
by Erman Baradi
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