Alex Moreland chats with Siddhartha Khosla about Marvel’s Runaways and more…
So, how did you first get involved with Marvel’s Runaways?
Well, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage are the creators of the show so we, you know, set up a meeting with them to talk about doing their show and we had a kinda common vision for what the music of the show should sound like. The score, which is what I’m responsible for, we had a nice conversation about the show and I read the script and that was it, I started working on the show. We just had a common vision for what the score of the show should sound like.
There was this desire to do something that was slightly different compared to what we’re used to seeing. Historically for kind of the Marvel projects, we opted to go for something that was not orchestral and something that was more analogue, synth based. Something that you might hear on you know on a personal record or something, like violator.
So how do you try to reflect character and themes through the music?
Well, it’s a good question and I don’t consciously go in and try to create themes for certain people or certain characters, I watch an episode, for example, without any music and I see if there’s some sort of thematic link that might help our story and so I kind of look for…um… I watch an episode through and I watch it dry with no music and so that gives me an idea of what kind of story we’re trying to tell with each episode and sometimes I’ll create a theme that kinda runs through the entire episode. If we’re trying to get to a certain point at the end and I feel like, you know, I want to tell a story through this one particular theme.
Alternatively, what’s usually working on the show too is creating themes for specific types of moments. There’s sort of sounds that I use for emotional scenes between the family and between the friends and there are certain other kinds of sounds and vibes that we’d use for pretty intense moments, the more thriller kind of moments. If there are any themes they’re kinda rooted in either one melodic thread that goes through an episode or there’s just a common sound I’m using for certain types of moment. You know, I pull out a different analogue with each keyboard for certain things.
Can you, I suppose, can you tell us a little bit more about style you’re going for with Runaways?
Yeah, I mean the style, I’m using vintage analogue synthesisers, these are like early 1980s synths, I’m not using any virtual instruments, it’s all the actual original analogue keyboards. There’s a warmth to these sounds. There’s an element of new wave in the sound. The only way I could describe it is there’s a sonic palate similar to what you might have heard on Violator, that’s the Depeche Mode album. So, it’s kinda got very warm analogue synth sounds all over it. Vintage Mooks as well, guitar… It’s glt this kind of… I could only describe it as if Martin Gore got to work on the show, it has that feeling to it.
You’re also scoring Me, Myself and I for CBS. So I was wondering how does your approach differ between programs, if at all?
Yeah, it differs. It’s very, very different. Me, Myself and I – that show is a show about one person and they show him in different times of his life. They show him as a young kid, they show him middle aged in his forties, and they show him in his fifties. And they jump cut through time back and forth, so that needed a more timer kind of sound score, but also plays with the comedy, plays with the levity without being over the top, comedy music. The sound is kind of melancholic, it’s got influences from Beach Boys, that sound era, and we just finished a mass recording session for that show. Drums, Timpani, the orchestral kind of drumming to give it that feeling of that sound era of the beach boys. So very different. There’s not a single commonality between the sounds of the score, no common thread. There’s the lyrical quality music and the emotional quality of the music.
How does that differ from your own music with Goldspot?
The thing that I bring into my scores, I’ve worked on This is Us as well and, I’m not sure if you know about that, if you’ve seen This is Us, but that show, particularly, has a very Goldspot kind of sound to it. And that’s more acoustic guitar driven and more kind of singer-songwriter driven and that’s the world I come from, how I started my career, as a singer songwriter. So, they’re very different. For Me Myself and I, there was a Goldspot Album called ‘The Elephant is Dancing’ that has a very kind of beachboys influence to it as well, so I guess on some level I’m drawing from some of my own experiences in the recording studio and knowing what to do and how to get things to sound a certain way.
The common thread that links to Goldspot for all of this is that when I approach my scores, I approach them as if I’m making an album for the show and there’s a lot of thought and care and love that gets put into this and as any composer does. I just treat it all as an album, I like creating my own sounds. I’m not heavily reliant on MIDI, I’m more a purest in the sense that I like the use the actual original instruments, which is what I would have done on my albums. So that’s the one common thread and sometimes some of my scores play like mini instrumental songs too and I think that’s where my songwriter background comes in. And sometimes they play like more traditional scores. Phonetically, some of it is very different to my albums. The approach is the same, it’s the idea of making a piece of art.
What would you say your musical influences are?
Generally, I grew up listening to – my parents left India in 1976 and came to the United States, and I was born soon after, and I grew up listening to old Hindi music, and that’s one of the biggest influences on me, because the melodies on some of those old Hindi songs were so prominent, and melody is kind of the centrepiece of anything that I do, more than lyrics and more than all the music that surrounds it. There’s a big band and just me, you know, of melody, and I thin listening to those old Hindi songs which were so strong and provocative of those melodies, kind of stuck with me. And then on the Western side, eventually there was The Smiths and The Cure, some New Wave bands like that as well.
What would be your desert island discs?
My desert island discs would be Vauxhall and I by Morrissey. It would be Sgt. Pepper and Revolver. And Kiss me, Kiss me, Kiss me by the Cure.
Good choices, good choices. Now I was reading about a story you told in another interview a while back, about how you wanted to release your first album featuring backing tracks from the Chennai Orchestra quite specifically, rather than the New York Philharmonic. I was wondering, is that attention to detail and vision you had quite important to preserve?
Yeah, you know, it is. For me, the most important thing is I think when you have a vision for something, it’s important to see it through. And if you don’t see it through, you end up ultimately with a watered now version of your original vision. Now, that’s not saying that the vision can’t change or evolve, and I understand that, but most of the time if I hear something in my head, I want it to get the idea fully across, and I like to see that vision through.
So, on my first album, when we got our record deal with Mercury, I wanted to put the orchestra on some piece of some of the songs. And I was living in Los Angeles at the time and the record company was like “Hey, why don’t you use the LA Philharmonic, or any other orchestral group out here?” and what I needed while I was recording was something that ultimately the orchestra in Chennai would have understood, like the expression and the inflection. I mean, it’s something very something in Indian music that’s a very difficult thing for, you know, unless you spent your entire life doing that, you wouldn’t know exactly what it was supposed to be.
So, my producer and I love Chennai and recorded strings there, in a studio with a big orchestra. So that I helped get behind and I heard the final product and it was really beautiful and I was excited. So, you know, I’m a fan of seeing the vision through for that reason. There are certain elements of what I try to do that can only be achieved in certain ways. For example, I can’t get any of the sound that I’m going for if I used a MIDI keyboard to try and recreate some of the analogue synthesisers, it wouldn’t sound the same. And I think that people feel it without knowing why they feel it, but there’s a difference. So yeah, I think that’s just my desire to be the purest about something. I like going to the real thing when I can.
Alright, excellent. Now, I was wondering, how did you first get into sort of scoring television, and do you have any advice for people looking to follow in your career path?
I mean, yeah, the way I got started was I was a singer-songwriter in a band. I did that for many years, you know, making albums and releasing them and touring as a musician, and getting my music out there. And so much of what I did in the early years of the band is so important because a) it taught me how to write songs. It taught me how to produce songs. It taught me how to record and engineer my own work. It taught me how to, you know, use pro tools and recording software and I didn’t think those tools would be so important until know, where I’m constantly in a situation where I’m having to produce and record, and write my own material on very, very tight schedules. You know, I have a week to record for the show that I work on, and so you have to be your own engineer, your own producer, your own mixer sometimes.
One lesson is that anything you can do as a musician, outside of scoring, outside of television, all of that is training, you know. And there’s so much that you should learn as a singer-songwriter or a musician, or whatever you do, learning all these other tools is important, because it’ll come in handy later. So for me, spending so many years as a musician, and I’ve developed kind of a strong fanbase among lots of different people, including directors and producers of film and television. And they’ll be listening to my stuff on the radio, or coming to my shows. And so those things, they’re relationships that develop from there as well, and so that’s one way that really helped me get hired on projects.
My first start was actually my friend from college, Dan Fogelman, who’s a successful screenwriter, and he wrote ‘Cars’, and ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’, and he is one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood today. He had been doing a bunch of TV shows and films, but we never worked together, because I was always touring or making albums, and you know, that’s what I was doing. And he called me and said “Hey, will you come and compose my show?” And I kinda didn’t know what to think, because I thought I wouldn’t know what I was doing. And I did, and I said “Sure, I’ll do it.” And I did it and it kind of led to so many other projects. So that was a personal relationship that helped start it, but it was also, you know, years of work as a singer-songwriter that gave my friend Dan the confidence to hire me as well. So, he’d heard my music for years, he heard my album, he liked what I was doing. He wanted that sensibility that I knew I would work.
One final question. What is the main thing you’d hope someone takes away from listening to your music?
Well I think when you’re watching these shows and films, the key with the score is, the best reason of doing these scores, is the feeling. To aim to kind of not even know it’s there. Because great score, I think, feels a bit under the skin, and it makes you feel something without forcing it on you. That subtlety is one of the most beautiful parts of the score, when a lot of people feel it so well. And then there are the other side where my score plays like a central role in the scene, sometimes without dialogue or covering a silent montage. I think it’s important to have a melodic hook that remains as earworms. So, for me, the most successful scores are scores that can make you feel something without hitting you over the head with it. And then, when you are hit over the head with it, you always remember those melodies.
Excellent! Siddhartha Khosla, thank you very much!