Emmy-Nominated Composer Got His Start In Bergen County
After growing up with a dream of being a singer/songwriter, Siddhartha Khosla has created a perfect harmony in his career, becoming an Emmy-nominated composer.
With work ranging from shows like “How I Met Your Mother” to “This Is Us” to Hulu’s “Looking for Alaska,” Khosla has become well-known in his industry for compelling pieces. His roots in music stem much further back though.
As a young child, he was encouraged by his mom to pursue singing and grew up singing at the Hindu temple his family went to in New Jersey. In high school, he had a band with his friends at Englewood’s Dwight-Englewood School: The Hip Hop Hindus. In college, he sang a Capella with a group called Off the Beat at the University of Pennsylvania. It was with the band he started after college, Goldspot, though that helped launch his career.
He was signed to Mercury Records under Universal Music Group and while the band is still alive, his career shifted channels into composing. Goldspot songs were already being featured in television shows like “The O.C.” and “How I Met Your Mother,” so the evolution felt natural for him. It was his college roommate and close friend Dan Fogelman, a River Vale native, the creator of “This Is Us” and the writer of screenplays such as “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Cars,” that helped push Khosla’s career even further.
The two started working together on Fogelman’s show “The Neighbor,” a science fiction sitcom on ABC that aired from 2012-2014. From there, the two old friends began to work more frequently together.
“And then Dan wrote ‘This Is Us’ and asked me to be a part of that. He had believed in me early on when I didn’t know what my next step would be and he encouraged me,” Khosla said. “It led to me doing work with him and all these other kinds of people for movies and TV. My first experience [with ‘This Is Us’] was Dan giving me a script for the show. It was called the Untitled Dan Fogelman Project at that time, and he gave me the script and I wrote a piece of music based on that and that’s what got me the job for the show.”
The show itself has evolved in many ways too and being close friends with Fogelman through the years has affected how he goes about composing the scores and pieces for NBC’s award-winning drama.
“‘This Is Us’ is a special show. It’s very rare you have something so artful and something so critically and commercially loved. It’s very strange and unique experience and we all put a lot of love into the show; it’s a team effort. It’s a beautiful collaboration,” he said. “Dan created the show and he’s been very open with his own life tragedies that have informed that show.
“He lost his mom when he was young, suddenly, and he’s talked about that as one of the things that have informed elements of the show, and he’s also one of my close friends so I’ve seen and experienced some of the high and lows with him so when I write music for the show, I write it for him as much as I write it for what’s happening on the screen. So, there’s also a deeper, more meta kind of experience I have with the show. It’s very special and it allows me to tap into a deeper emotional space with the music, just because of that relationship with Dan.”
When approaching how to score films or episodes for shows like “This Is Us” or Hulu’s new young adult drama “Looking for Alaska,” Khosla prefers to see the script first and begin with his guitar. He will watch an episode without the music placed in and strum along as he watches and inject the music as he goes along.
“This Is Us” is currently on its fourth season, and its themes have helped broaden Khosla’s musical palette. And, in season 3, with its episode “Songbird Road, Part 1,” the tone shifted to be partially a military drama as it delved further into the past of one of its main character Jack and his time serving in Vietnam. It is with this episode too, with its harrowing and tension-fueled moments, that Khosla received an Emmy nomination.
“When I got the nomination though, it was really special. It was really nice to be recognized by my peers for the work I do. There were a lot of sleepless nights I put into this show and long weekends and sacrificing time with my family to work on the show, so it’s nice when you get that kind of accolade and acknowledgement,” he said. “[The episode] was dark, harrowing and frightening, so I got to stretch in a way that was very special. It was an incredibly written episode by Kevin Fall and Dan Fogelman’s vision for it was incredible, and Chris Koch directed it, and it felt like you were watching a beautiful military drama on television.”
Khosla’s latest project, Hulu’s “Looking for Alaska,” also explored a new creative avenue for his scores as well.
“It’s a very atmospheric movie score. The idea was I wanted to relive that feeling of being in high school where every emotion is really heightened. Heartbreak feels like the end of the world; joy feels heavenly. Every experience is heightened, so I wanted the score to evoke that, and I wanted the score to reflect that,” he said. “The score supported the more emotional beats of the shows. I think it’s one of the best young adult stories ever told and I don’t say that easily. It’s artfully beautifully done.”
Looking back at his influences and inspirations for his music, Khosla says some influences include The Beatles to composers like Alexander Desplat, as well as Sufjan Stevens and Andrew Bird. Additionally, while the inspiration comes from so many places, a heavy influence comes from his upbringing. He credits much of his inspirations to where he has come, as well as his family and friends – many of which, he said, are from New Jersey and where he grew up.
“That’s been the most important thing for me, keeping those friendship and family relationships from my childhood strong and that’s what’s gotten me to where I am,” Khosla said.
Additionally, it is his parents and his background that inspire him so much. His parents had come to America from India in the late 1970s with $8, he explained, and when they had him, they had him live in India for some time with his grandparents as it was too much for them to take care of him.
“As a kid, I was exposed to Indian music. I grew up singing that, so for me that influence is there – it’s in my blood. It makes its way into the ‘This Is Us’ score a lot. There’s a lot of Indian influence in that score you may not even recognize but it’s subtly there,” he said.
Khosla is very proud of his background and of his parents’ journeys. While he has faced diversity and discrimination – record label executives had gone so far as to tell him they didn’t think they would be able to market an Indian person as lead singer of a band when he was trying to get signed with Goldspot – he believes he is stronger because of that struggle.
“Those moments made me stronger,” he said. “I ended up getting a record deal. We were signed to Mercury Records under Universal as an artist, so I overcame some of it. They stay with you though on some level, and they inform you. They kind of make you realize that what makes you special as an artist is that very identity that sometimes is the thing that people can have trouble embracing, but if you stay true to that identity and you stay true to who you are, it makes your art that much better.”
With his musical roots so firmly in his heritage and background and his talent well known, in November 2013, he was invited as the musical guest for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Diwali celebration at the White House. His parents, wife and his sister and her husband were all there. He felt a sense of awe as he saw his parents who had come to this country with so little watch him perform in the White House, he said.
“That’s something my kids will always know: their dad performed in the Obama White House. He was one of the greatest presidents in our history so that was very special,” he added.
In a career that, according to him, allows him to keep multiple dreams alive as a singer/songwriter and composer, he is content and looking towards future projects with excitement.
“I hope I can continue to make artful music I’m proud of and that I believe in and continue doing this for as long as I can,” said Khosla. “These industries are fickle, and there’s ebbs and flows in this. Right now, things are going very well, and I hope that continues. I hope I can just make sure I’m continually working and relevant, and I’m going to make sure I appreciate every moment.”
“This Is Us” is currently on NBC on its fourth season. “Looking for Alaska,” as well as Marvel’s “Runaways,” is available on Hulu, and other credits include “Beats” on Netflix, the upcoming Disney + series “Love, Simon,” as well as ABC’s “The Kids are Alright” and CW’s “Nancy Drew.”
By Tara DeLorenzo