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Tuned In Exclusive: This Is Us Composer Siddhartha Khosla on the Evolution of the Show’s Sound and More

Photo Credit: Alden Wallace

I’ve been hooked on this show since before it premiered. I remember seeing a teaser trailer for the series months before the premiere and, even then, knew the show would become must see TV for me. Not only was I interested in watching anything (and everything) from the team behind Crazy, Stupid, Love., but this seemed like a show where I’d come to know and love the characters. And after the departure of Parenthood, I was looking for another show revolving around a family. I think one thing that surprises me with every single episode is how much I am invested in this family and how much I root for them, no matter their faults. So when I got the chance to interview the show’s composer, I jumped at the chance.

You may already know Siddhartha Khosla because of his critically-acclaimed band Goldspot. Not only did he move to Los Angeles right after college to break into the business, but as we talked, I discovered an old connection between him and the show’s creator, Dan Fogelman. We also discussed how composing of the show has evolved since the early episodes, how much he’s inspired in this golden age of television and what it means to him — professionally and personally — to work on a show like this.

TV GOODNESS: How did you hear about This Is Us and what made you want to be involved?

Siddhartha Khosla: “Dan and I are actually college buddies. We both moved out to Los Angeles to start our respective careers, mine in being a singer/songwriter in a band and he, obviously, went on to become an incredibly well established and accomplished writer.

A few years back Dan called me up one day and asked me to work on his television show and happily did it. It was so much fun. Then I just started scoring other projects. Dan reached out to me last year right during the pilot stage of This Is Us and sent me a script. I read the script before I saw any footage from any of the filming or any cut or anything and was blown away by the script.

Dan Fogelman. Photo Credit: Chris Haston/NBC

I’m a huge fan of his writing to begin with. He’s an incredibly gifted and beautiful and thoughtful writer. He asked me to see if it inspired anything and I wrote a piece of music based on the script. I know he ended up really loving that piece as did the other producers involved on the show, Glenn Ficcara and John Requa.

Glenn and John and Dan had worked on Crazy, Stupid, Love. together. Glenn and John directed and Dan wrote that, so they were involved in this project as well. I guess the piece of music I wrote really connected with the guys and that was it. Then I started working on the pilot and it’s been an incredible time and experience since then.”

TV GOODNESS: It seems like this show would be so much fun to work on because of all the time periods. Tell me a little bit about how you approach doing the music and your process.

Siddhartha: “At the core of the show, just from the script and the direction and the writing, all of it, the acting, the show is not filled with the bells and whistles that you tend to see on television. There are no explosions, there’s no sci-fi element to it, though I’m a huge fan of a bunch of shows like that.

But this show at its core is simple without being simplistic. I think that alone was enough for me to inform the direction I took with the score and with the music. So the sound of the score is really organic. It’s a lot of home-grown sounds. It’s me an acoustic guitar, my piano. I play percussion on a wooden table that I have at home. A lot of the percussion sounds are me tapping on my leg or tapping on my acoustic guitar.

There’s something very simple and honest about it. The show comes from such an honest place, it’s important that the music also delivers that honesty and stays true to the entire vibe of the show. So I opted for something very organic, very home-grown and that’s been the sound of the show.”

TV GOODNESS: Do you have any favorite cues or musical moments you can talk about?

Siddhartha: “Yeah. It tends to be a favorite scene of many people generally. I love the Kevin painting cue in episode 5 [“The Game Plan“] where Kevin is talking to Randall’s girls about death.

He has this beautifully delivered monologue where he talks about how we’re all part of this painting and this painting is life and even if we’re not here anymore we’re still part of the painting. That was an incredibly emotional monologue delivered by Justin Hartley and it’s just beautifully shot and edited and written.

The piece of music that we have in there is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done because it just seems to weave in and out of Justin’s stunning monologue in a way that’s just…I don’t know. I remember working on that scene crying literally almost every single time I sat down to work on it. There’s just no other way to describe it. I must have cried probably at least 10 times working on that scene. And that’s one of my favorite.

I’m also a big fan of some of the work that happens in Episode 12 and 13. [Last night]’s episode is one of my favorite scenes. I can’t really give away too much but there’s a particularly cathartic moment and I was really proud of the work I did in this episode as well.”

TV GOODNESS: I was going to ask about what’s coming up musically for the show, but I’m sure you probably can’t tell me much.

Siddhartha: “No, I can tell you. Musically, the sound of the show has evolved a lot from the beginning to where it is now. You asked, and I didn’t answer your question before, about jumping in time. Early in the season it was really important to help establish these transitions from past to present and present to past.

Photo Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

If you started watching the show from the beginning, you would know immediately from the end of the pilot that this was going to be a show that would jump in time. From Mandy [Moore] and Milo [Ventimiglia]’s characters, from Jack and Rebecca as parents to the kids today. So there were moments earlier in the first few episodes that really did have to score those moments that brought us from present to past and past to present, that I opted for something atmospheric and something that felt timeless at the same time that helped transitions.

So if you listen carefully to what happens you’ll hear these atmospheric, ethereal cues that take us through time. But as the season’s progressed I don’t do it as much. It’s established now that we do this, we jump in time. To remind the audience [of] that every time it’s happens, it becomes overdone.

I think the direction has been so strong and the writing and editing and acting is so strong at this point that it’s obvious when we’re going back in time. The characters are so well established at this point that we don’t have to constantly remind the audience, ‘Hey, we’re going back. This is now Rebecca and Jack and they’re the parents.’ We know who they are at this point.

So that’s been a really fun part of the show because we’ve taken the audience on this journey and people are so invested in these characters and feel like they’re part of their own family that I don’t need to remind them of who everybody is anymore. So a lot of my focus now in the second half of the season are on a lot of these big montages that are happening as well.

There are a lot of big emotional moments that are happening the second half of the season. I can really score to picture and really get the emotion that Dan Fogelman wants to get out of some of these scenes. So musically it’s heavier, it’s more emotional, it’s even more cathartic. The second half has been really a wonderful and welcome challenge for me. It’s been so much fun and gratifying musically to work on.”

Photo Credit: Alden Wallace

TV GOODNESS: I know you also compose for The Royals and recently you also worked on Grandfathered and The Neighbors and you also have your own band, Goldspot. How does having your own band influence how you go about doing music for the shows and how do you pick the shows you want to do?

Siddhartha: “That’s a good question. I started my career as a singer/songwriter of the band Goldspot and I’ve made a bunch of records and a number of albums, toured around the world and had record releases. That has been an incredibly important part of who I am as a musician.

I started doing a lot of scoring over the last four or five years and it’s helped me a lot because a lot of producers and directors and writers that I’ve worked with, there seems to be this move to think outside the box sometimes on score and do something that’s slightly different and not the traditional type of score, we’ve heard, especially on television, because now we’re in the golden age of television.

There’s a desire to constantly push the limits with whatever we do. So my band work has really helped me here because people that I’ve worked with, some of them have heard my music on KCRW or other radio stations ‘cause I’ve lived in that NPR world much of my career with my music. They’ve listened and heard it. And, to them, they like some of my music in terms of how I just naturally write. They like me to bring that aesthetic, sometimes, into my scores.

The most important thing, obviously, is being able to tailor to the needs of the writers and directors and creators of these projects, but then I’m often asked to do my own thing as well. That tends to be the way I write, what comes from my heart and my soul, which is my band music as well. So, it’s great.

There have been a couple times where they’ve used some of my Goldspot songs as well on the show. It seems to fit within the vibe of the show and the score and the sound of the show. It’s been great. It’s been really special. Being able to bring that skill from my songwriting work and Goldspot and production work in there, it somehow finds it way into these scores sometimes in a really cool and special way.”

TV GOODNESS: Do you have anything else coming up people can look forward to?

Siddhartha: “Yeah. I scored two movies this part year, one called Fat Camp, which is coming out sometime this year. There’s another movie called Liv: The Sounding. I also wrote original songs for this Brie Larson musical movie called Basmati Blues that’s coming out this year as well. So there’s a bunch of fun stuff that’s coming up.

The only [other thing] I wanted to share is just that there’s very few moments in your career where you feel…I’m proud of every project I’ve worked on. They’re all special in their own way, but This Is Us, particularly, I feel like I’m being able to put some of my best work I’ve ever done into something and that feels really special, that I’m also given liberty to go out on a limb and take a chance and take some risks with the score and do something different and special go certain places.

I don’t know, I think that gives a composer a lot of confidence to continue to push and be as interesting and original and beautiful of a score as you ca possibly can be. It’s been a really inspired project to be part of. I’ve had such a fortunate run with the show and I’m glad so many people have connected to it. I’m just really honored and really humbled to be part of this project.”

Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

TV GOODNESS: That’s great to hear and it’s apparent how many people are connecting with the show. It got renewed for two seasons, right? That’s insane and awesome.

Siddhartha: “Yeah. That’s rare in network land, but it’s nice to see. When Dan called me originally to work on the show, there was actually one thing I didn’t share with you that’s important. In our early conversations about the show and about music and what we would do, all that we spoke about was, ‘Let’s just do something elevated here. That’s it. Whatever it is, let’s make it incredibly elevated.’ And I think it shows.

It feels like you’re watching a one-hour movie every week. There’s something filmic and cinematic about it, the relationships, stories, all of it. And then to see it on network television on top of it, it just makes it that much more special.

It’s exciting for me as a composer and I’m sure for the writers on the show and everyone else involved that we are in this golden age of television where show’s like this are happening and being created. I think it’s pushing everybody, so that’s why we see so many great shows out there right now. A lot of people are trying to make really elevated, beautiful stuff. Artistically people are pushing boundaries and not just on this show, on other shows as well. You can feel it and it’s really special to be part of this. I’m so happy this is happening. It’s very special.”

Edited for space and content.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.

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4 Comments

  1. Kara,

    Great Q&A! Did you ask him or did he mention where you can buy or download some of his songs that have been played on the show?

    • TV Goodness says:

      Thank you! I did not, but I think if you want to tweet at him he’ll let you know. His twitter is @SiddKhoslaMusic.

    • Jennifer Pyken says:

      We will be releasing a soundtrack on UME in the Fall. Also, check out Tunefind.com for a weekly song list.

      Jen
      Music Supervisor – This Is Us

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