Looking For Alaska is a drama from Hulu based on John Green’s novel of the same name that centers around the lives of teenagers at a boarding school in Alabama. Filling the world with an emotional soundscape is This Is Us composer Siddhartha Khosla’s job.
Miles “Pudge” Halter (Charlie Plummer, Boardwalk Empire) is a teenager from Florida who’s sent to Alabama to spend his days studying at Culver Creek Academy. Miles meets a cohort of characters at the school, including “The Colonel” and a girl named Alaska (Kristine Froseth, The Society). Together, these young adults learn about life and love. So far, the reaction to the series has been spectacular.
The world is in the midst of managing COVID-19. Siddhartha shares his thoughts on the global pandemic. “In this crazy time we’re all living in right now, part of me feels uncomfortable having conversations about my work when there are so many bigger problems that people in the world are facing right now.”
But he asserts another truth “… we have to continue to live our lives as much as we can too.”
Measures taken in countries around the world have certainly changed the way we’re living life. “It’s a very strange time.”
About Looking For Alaska
Looking For Alaska was going to be a movie for years. After repeated delays, producers Josh Schwartz (Gossip Girl) and Stephanie Savage (Runaways) hit the ground running when Hulu picked it up as a mini-series. But long before it was in production the show found its composer. “Josh, Stephanie, and I worked together several times over the last few years on so many different projects. The first thing we started working on together was Marvel’s Runaways, and that lead to this.”
For Siddhartha, creating the score meant more than he expected. “Working on that show was such a special experience for me. I loved every minute of it. I loved getting together with Josh and Stephanie and our whole team to talk about episodes and where music would need to go.”
Looking For Alaska takes place in 2005. Siddhartha explains how the period played in the score. “Josh and I spoke a lot about tone and music and score. There were definitely influences from all different directions. One of my favorite bands that I was listening to back in 2005 was Sigur Ros. So, in the palette, I wanted to make sure I was very atmospheric and ethereal when needed and sweeping and epic when we also needed to be as well. More of the broad stroke, Sigur Ros approach. That lends itself really nicely for this. It was a super-creative project to work on.”
To achieve the sounds on Looking For Alaska, Siddhartha says he used, “Piano, atmospheric tones made with real instruments that I run through various reverb and echo chambers and all sorts of different effects to give that wide, cinematic feel. I’m singing on the score as well …”
A textured dramatic narrative, Looking For Alaska’s score from Siddhartha features “… several signature themes that weave in and out during the show.”
Siddhartha’s voice crackles with excitement when he talks about Looking For Alaska. “It’s a dream project for me. It was really deep in my wheelhouse. It was a deeply emotional show. I was able to pull from all sorts of interesting influences.”
The score for This Is Us, a show that features an array of time periods, is intentionally made to feel timeless. It’s a “… classic sound. You can’t really put a stamp on where it came from …”
The same goes for Looking For Alaska. Siddhartha says, “I don’t think I really grounded the score in 2005.”
Siddhartha takes us deeper into his creative process. “I like to immerse myself in my score as much as possible. Knowing this took place in 2005,” Siddhartha thought, “… let me hear what I was listening to in 2005 to kind of put myself in an emotional space.”
For Siddhartha, this helps him “… draw more from the emotional weight of what people were listening to back then.”
Looking For Alaska features songs deeply rooted in the era, and that’s thanks to music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas. So, how does one aim for timelessness? “It’s all very subjective. For me, timeless means using instrumentation that was around 50 years ago, 80 years ago, and that will continue to be around years from now. That’s timeless. An acoustic guitar, piano, voice, cellos; those are very organic sounds. If I’m rooted in organic sounds, not drawing from something that’s trendy, because then all of a sudden, there’s a timestamp on it.”
Siddhartha continues, “I think creating your own palette in your own original voice keeps things timeless. I don’t think someone listens to the This Is Us score and says ‘It sounds like this, or it sounds like that.’”
After four seasons, Siddhartha says, “I feel like it sounds like me. It sounds like what comes out of my soul. I think that’s important to maintain artistic integrity and to also feel classic and timeless.”
This Is Us just completed it’s fourth season on NBC. Series ratings are going strong, and so are the creative juices behind the show. “… it’s probably our most ambitious and biggest season yet. It’s been a really wonderful ride this season. The finale was epic and sweeping and big and expansive. That’s where the show continues to go.”
The evolution towards a big-screen feel on television has made This Is Us ��… really fun for me,” says Siddhartha.
Siddhartha asserts, “The score’s gotten more cinematic than ever.”
COVID-19 has changed a lot of ways people do business. Fortunately, working remotely is much more common today and easier to do now than ever. Siddhartha says, “On This Is Us, there’s a lot of cello work happening, and Ginger Murphy plays cello on the score. She does a phenomenal job. She and her husband, who’s a musician as well, they are recording and doing some arrangements from afar. I’ve never recorded Ginger in person once. This is the time when we can do more of that.”
Productions are at a standstill at the moment, but the creative process never stops. “In this off time, I’m continuing to write. I’m flirting with writing a little a classical record.”
So, what’s the remake that would get Siddhartha’s attention? “I think, E.T.. If there was an E.T. remake, that would be something that would excite me. I would love to do that.”
For now, Siddhartha ends our interview by saying, “… we should all stay safe. And who knows, maybe I’ll write a score for a project that doesn’t exist.”
Are you a fan of This Is Us? Will you be watching Looking For Alaska?
Thanks to Siddhartha Khosla and Rhapsody PR for making this interview possible.
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