Born of a search for one’s cultural identity, Goldspot is the creative brainchild of Siddhartha Khosla. Tastemaker DJ Nic Harcourt of KCRW (on his show ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’) first introduced the New York-based band way back in 2005. He famously called the band’s album And the Elephant is Dancing ‘a classic and timeless gem’, describing the band’s sound to be ‘…as if George Harrison never left India.’ Siddhartha Khosla speaks to Emaho about the band’s upcoming album Aerogramme, the emotionally charged brewing process behind Goldspot’s eclectic music and a quaint little moment he shared with Bjork.
Emaho : Your music is such a potpourri of genres and has yet succeeded in being earnest without confusing your international audiences. Emotionally charged lyrics are set off by catchy light tunes – how do you manage to pull these musical acrobatics off?
Years ago, when I first starting writing songs, I found the task of merging the different genres quite challenging. But after writing a lot, I eventually found my voice. And I think that’s the trick — finding your voice. I believe the best way to achieve this is to be honest in your lyrics, in spite of how scary that can be. I also grew up listening to old Bollywood classics and western groups like the Beatles, R.E.M., The Smiths & The Cure, so what comes naturally to me – both melodically & musically – is to pay homage to all these influences.
Emaho : There is so much melancholy in some of the ballads. I feel that some of this is influenced by the Kishore Kumar/McCartney style of singing. Is all the music based on personal experience? Tell us a little about your song-writing process and how it’s evolved since 2001.
The only way I can be truly honest in my music is to write stuff based on my personal experiences. I don’t really have a process — sometimes I’ll come up with a drum loop and create an instrumental piece around it and add vocals later. At other times, I’ll have a five-minute moment of inspiration where it all comes out at once. I also believe that songwriting isn’t just the words, melody & music, but the production of it all. We spend a lot of effort in creating original sounds that help evoke a certain emotion — and that feeling has now become an important part of the overall sound.
Emaho : I had the opportunity to catch a live Goldspot show when you came to India last year. It was so full of energy and you guys looked like you were having a lot of fun. The mood was really infectious, and I remember how the crowd became happily involved over the course of the performance. How does the band get pumped up before going on? Do you have any pre-gig rituals?
My pre-gig ritual is quite uneventful. I tend to get in my head a lot, and it can be really annoying. Not sure if it’s nerves, or me just getting focused. Probably not the answer you’re looking for but it’s the truth!
Video Courtesy – Goldspot
Emaho : Tell us about an interesting incident from a tour that stands out in your mind.
While we were on tour in London, I saw Bjork in our hotel lobby. I went up to her, told her how much I loved her music and shamelessly handed her a Goldspot CD. She then held my hand and sang “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang to me. That was really cool.
Emaho : Your ‘Indianness’ has had such an irrevocable influence on the sound of Goldspot. But I’ve read about how your experience of initial migration to the States was not easy, as is generally the case with kids shifting from one place to another that’s drastically different. How did you finally make peace with your cultural identity and how have you channelled this into your music?
Early on in my childhood, I used to feel as if I lived two different cultural lives – I was an American with my friends at school and an Indian with my family at home. It was not until high school that I really understood the beauty of both cultures, and officially came to terms with the fact that what I liked was a combination of both. And the most accurate reflection of how Indian or American I feel I am is in my music.
Emaho : Who would you say are your main influences?
Kishore Kumar, Mohd. Rafi, The Beatles, The Smiths & The Cure. And yes, Nic Harcourt’s always been such a huge supporter. He helped jump-start my career. I’m so fortunate to have had his support.
Emaho : With And the Elephant is Dancing, you had the chance to work with producer Jeff Peters, of Beach Boys fame. What was that like?
Jeff and I have worked together on every Goldspot record to date. I credit Jeff for teaching me how to sing into a microphone. He’s got amazing ears, has worked with many legendary artists, and is easily one of the best music engineers in the world.
Emaho : Your album artwork is very much like your music – original, kooky and so vibrant. How do you communicate your ideas to Salvador Lavado and how long have you been working with him?
Sal, like Jeff, has worked on every Goldspot record. He’s a brilliant artist based out of the UK. We have a very simple process — I send him music, he listens, and sends back finished artwork. He’s got complete creative freedom in the process, and I think that’s why the artwork is so stunning. His genius is in making the artwork look like what the music sounds.
Emaho : I loved the video for ‘Ina Mina Dika’. Who is the beautiful and talented Indian classical dancer, and who conceptualised the entire thing? Also, can you tell us something about your association with the 2009 film Today’s Special.
The video was directed by Nick Collett – a talented film and television director out of the UK. Nick also directed the “Rewind” video, as well as the upcoming video for our new single “The Border Line.” Nick came up with the idea and we were fortunate to have the incredibly gifted Payal Kadakia star in the video.
After hearing my last album And The Elephant is Dancing, the producers of Today’s Special reached out to me and asked me to provide the soundtrack to the film. One the songs that I did for the film was the cover of “Ina Mina Dika.”
Emaho : Your music has been featured in films and television shows like The OC, How I Met Your Mother, The President is Coming, How Do You Know, the Apple iPad ad…the list goes on. Are there any more placements in film/television/advertising in the pipeline?
There’s a couple of new projects I’m really excited about — I just composed the closing song for the musical movie Basmati Blues, starring Donald Sutherland & Brie Larson, and set for release in 2014. I’m also composing the music for the ABC comedy series The Neighbors.
Emaho : Your new single was released recently. It’s an upbeat pop-rock tune hinting at a sense of nostalgia and transience. What is it really about? Is this more of what we’re going to be seeing in the August release of Aerogramme?
The new album — out at the end of August — is the story of my parents’ journey from India to the US in the late 1970s. They came here with literally 8 dollars in their pockets and a dream of making a new life in America. But living that dream wasn’t easy. My Dad detailed their experiences in letters that he wrote on paper napkins. His plan was to send the letters to his family back in India, but he never did. I got to read the letters over the past few years, and it inspired this album. The new single “The Border Line” is a part of that story, and I’m excited for you all to hear it!
Emaho : Produced by Jeff Peters again, and mixed by Justin Gerrish who’s worked with the likes of Vampire Weekend, The Strokes and Weezer – how was your experience of working with him on Aerogramme?
We experimented a lot with different sounds and rhythms. Jeff & Justin were amazing to work with, and I believe we’ve created the most epic Goldspot album to date.
Art & Culture Interviewed by Aditi