Meet Siddhartha Khosla, Emmy-nominated music composer behind the theme of Only Murders in the Building

With Only Murders in the Building, Indian-American Siddhartha Khosla managed to deliver a career-defining Hitchkonian score right after hitting a career-high with his sweeping work on This is Us.

Poulomi Das December 05, 2021 11:02:09 IST
Meet Siddhartha Khosla, Emmy-nominated music composer behind the theme of Only Murders in the Building

Siddhartha Khosla

When Siddhartha Khosla started composing the music of NBC’s This is Us in 2017, he had no clue that the show was going to break records, his score would blow up, or that it would result in three consecutive Emmy nominations for him.

At that point, the Indian American musician — also a part of the indie-pop band Goldspot — had already been around in the industry for over a decade, quietly writing music for several television series, including How I Met Your Mother and The O.C. But no project has quite managed to catapult him into fame like This is Us — it was as if the world finally discovered the musician inside him even though he had been there all along.

By Khosla’s own admission, it was the “the gig of a lifetime.” If you would think that the musician hit his creative peak with the sentimental, timeless score in This is Us, you would not entirely be wrong. Khosla thought so too.

And then came along Only Murders in the Building, the breakout Hulu true-crime comedy series that stars Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. The eclectic show, which concluded its first season last month, is great fun, delicately balancing its theatrical excesses with a strong emotional core. But its secret weapon is undoubtedly its immensely hummable title theme that aptly manages to condense the whimsical quality of Only Murders in the Building.

In the three months since the show premiered on Hulu, the title theme has quickly amassed a loyal fandom, becoming a pop-culture currency in the same vein as Nicholas Britell’s unforgettable Succession theme. Khosla has been flooded with compliments. “People have tagged me on social media to tell me that the theme 'slaps.' I had no idea what ‘slaps’ meant until a lot of people kept repeating it to describe the theme,” Khosla tells me from Los Angeles. “I had to look it up, and it's a huge compliment apparently.”

It certainly is a testament to Khosla’s achievement. As is the case with Succession, it is impossible to talk about Only Murders in the Building without also talking about its title theme. Most artists spend their whole careers trying to replicate the essence of their greatest work.

With Only Murders in the Building, Khosla on the other hand, managed to deliver a career-defining Hitchkonian score right after hitting a career-high with his sweeping work on This is Us.

“Who knows, maybe we can have multiple gigs of a lifetime,” Khosla says.

Only Murders in the Building came to Khosla last year during the pandemic when he was holed up in his apartment writing a modern classical instrumental record just to keep himself busy.

This is Us creator Dan Fogelman, who also happens to be Khosla’s close friend and an executive producer on Only Murders in the Building, introduced the musician to the co-creator of the show, John Hoffman. “John and I immediately connected over a Zoom call, and hit it off. I was given an advance copy of the script, and after reading it, I was absolutely in love with the project. It was pure magic.”

On the call with Hoffman, Khosla played a couple of pieces from the pandemic record he had decided to make. One of those pieces ultimately ended up as the main title theme of Only Murders in the Building. “When I played the piece for John, he instantly claimed it as the show’s theme. A lot of it was about being at the right place at the right time with the right people collaborating together,” Khosla recounts. “The theme song is much like my personality — quirky but emotional, melancholic but silly.”

Khosla’s parents immigrated to the US in the '70s with eight dollars in their pockets. But living the American dream turned out to be harder than they expected. Both of them were juggling being in school and working full time to sustain themselves. So when Khosla was born, they decided to send him back to his grandparents in India. Although he is not classically trained, it is these early years that he spent in the country that forged his relationship with music. Growing up, the musician had an appetite for both Kishore Kumar and The Beatles.

Honouring this duality of musical influences that has shaped him has often been the cornerstone of Khosla’s musical output. Take for instance, Goldspot’s boisterous reworking of the 1957 classic 'Eena Meena Deeka' (Aasha). The band’s version remains indebted to Hindi film music while also adopting a low-key psychedelic rock vibe. And in the music video, Khosla channels the swagger of The Beatles guitarist George Harrison. Similarly, if you listen closely to the This is Us score, you will hear the tanpura. It is the distinctive nature of Khosla’s musical language that makes it stand out.

Meet Siddhartha Khosla Emmynominated music composer behind the theme of Only Murders in the Building

Still from Only Murders in the Building

There is no better evidence of that fact than Only Murders in the Building. Revolving around the murder of Tim Kono, Only Murders in the Building sees three true-crime nuts team up to hunt Kono’s murderer while recording a true-crime podcast about the case in real-time. Over time, the show goes from being musically inclined to being defined by its music.

It helped that Khosla correctly understood the assignment given that the score is a cornucopia of riches. It is minimal and calculated — there are no vocals on the title track besides constant humming (Khosla’s own voice) which ebb and flow with the title animation. To mimic the spirit of street performers in New York — the setting of the show — Khosla enlisted drummer James McAlister to hit sticks on Home Depot buckets, and made it sound as if the title track opens with drums. That the track also hides possibly the biggest clue pointing towards the identity of Kono’s murderer only reiterates its efficiency.

Still, the biggest musical highlight of Only Murders in the Building, which has Sting, an attractive bassoonist, and several podcast themes in the mix, is that Khosla is acutely aware of when to reign in. It is evidenced in how he eschews using music as comic interludes. “A show like this didn't need the comedy to be punched up by the score,” Khosla explains. “When you’ve got comedic greats and writing as strong as it is in a show, you can just focus on scoring the emotional and dramatic beats of the story."

Only Murders in the Building is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

Poulomi Das is a film and culture writer, critic, and programmer. Follow more of her writing on Twitter.

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