Goldspot: Dancing Elephants and Retro-Bollywood
Photographs courtesy of Goldspot.
Los Angeles-based band Goldspot has been hailed as one of the best bands to come out of the U.S. in recent years, and their Bollywood-tinged pop classiness is always a pleasant encounter. We caught up with Siddhartha Khosla, lead singer of Goldspot, for an exclusive interview about their band name and influences, Modest Mouse, their new album, and much more. Read on.
What’s has Goldspot been up to lately?
Goldspot’s new album ‘And the Elephant Is Dancing’ was released worldwide on November 1. We’ve been touring the U.S. in support of the new release. I just finished doing the original soundtrack for a great film called Today’s Special, which stars Aasif Mandvi (from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart), Naseeruddin Shah, and Madhur Jaffrey. The film premiered at the London Film Festival this past week, and will be featured in a film festival in Mumbai later this month.
Tell us about your band. How did you guys meet?
I started the band in London almost 10 years ago with one of my closest friends from childhood. Since then, I’ve worked with different musician friends in Los Angeles, Austin, and New York.
Sid, being of Indian origin, how much does Bollywood music influence the sound of Goldspot? Do you listen to Indian film music or watch Bollywood movies yourself?
Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh — these were the singers that inspired me most, and I credit my parents for playing their beautiful songs all throughout my childhood. As I got older, I began exploring bands like The Beatles, REM, The Cure, The Smiths, and so what I do now is a judicious mix of all those influences. Indian music from the ’60s has been my biggest influence. The melodies and string arrangements were so memorable, and so I try to bring that influence into my music as much as possible.
Your audience out in the U.S. may not be aware of the origins of your band name, but most Indians do know that “Goldspot” is actually the name of an old Indian fizzy drink from the ’90s. Were the other guys in the band okay with being named after an obscure soft drink from India? Were there any other names that you guys were tossing around during your formation?
The very first name of Goldspot was “Kingfisher”, actually. But we didn’t love the name, and one day we decided to go to a library in Los Angeles and we vowed that we wouldn’t leave until we came up with something. We all sat there in our respective cubes, and finally I came to the guys and said, “I got it. Goldspot.” It just seemed to click, and we stuck with it. When I told them the origins of the name — that it was my favourite drink as a child in India — they loved it even more.
You have performed at several venues in India over the past few years: at the One Tree Music Festival, at Hard Rock Café, at M.M.R.D.A. Grounds. How was the response from the Indian crowd different from the response you usually get back at home in Los Angeles, or out in Europe and other places?
There’s nothing like touring in India — every time I go to India to perform, I feel like I’m truly living my dream as a musician. My greatest influences are from India, and so going back and performing is truly special. The Indian audiences have embraced our band, and for that I’m grateful. Some of the greatest shows we’ve had have been there, and that is a testament to how passionate fans are out there. We hope to come to India more often.
I sometimes imagine I’m Kishore Kumar circa 2009 in an indie rock band, and just go from there.
An endearing video of you strumming the Hindi version of “Friday” to geese in a park has been floating around on the Internet for quite a while. Do you prefer the Hindi version or the English one? Are there any plans to release more songs in Hindi?
You know, the Hindi version of “Friday” was done on a whim, actually. An amazing poet and author, Arun Krishnan, was responsible for the translation, and it sang so well that we had to release it as a single. One day, my friend Raj and I went to a park in London and he filmed me performing the song. The geese were a great audience. I do plan on doing Hindi versions of my songs, as long as they stay true to the original. I actually like the Hindi version of “Friday” as much as the original English version. Both are pretty cool.
You took Modest Mouse’s “Float On” and did the unimaginable with it: you turned a Modest Mouse song into a happy pop track. What was it like to have your cover feature on The O.C., and later on The O.C. soundtrack? Walk us through your experience.
The music supervisor for The O.C. is a fan of the band, and she had already featured “Time Bomb” on the show. One day, she approached us about doing a cover of “Float On” for the show, we agreed and then basically made it into a Goldspot song. Recording it was quite a bit of fun, and the key to making that song was making sure that we didn’t take ourselves too seriously.
Do you find that you keep returning to certain thematic elements in your songwriting process?
I’ve never really thought about the themes, and instead write about whatever comes to me, really. My new album is basically a snapshot of a difficult personal year in my life, and I essentially wrote it to help myself get through whatever it was that I going through. It was quite therapeutic, actually. I sometimes imagine I’m Kishore Kumar circa 2009 in an indie rock band, and just go from there.
Ever since Vh1 India first played the music video for “Friday” in its India Rules feature, I have been a huge fan of your music. Some of my favourite tracks are “It’s Getting Old”, “Rewind”, and of course, the pop classic “Friday”. Tell us more about these songs.
Well, thanks for being a huge fan. ”Friday” was originally a joke song that I had written years ago, and one day it resurfaced on my computer. I listened to it and thought: “this is actually a half-way decent song with a good melody”, and decided to finish it. Good thing I did, as it was instrumental in paving the way for us. ”It’s Getting Old” is a fun dance track that I wrote around a drum beat that my drummer Ramy came up with, and is always a great live track. “Rewind” is actually my favourite song from that album, and is a perfect example of the retro-Bollywood sound that I love.
What comes first, the melody or the words?
I’d say that melody is generally the guide in my songwriting. Lyrics tend to come later in the process. But there are times, like on the new album, where I really felt the need to say something first, and the music and melody came later.
When did you first know that music is what you wanted to do with your life? Were there any other jobs and careers that you went through before forming Goldspot?
I’ve been singing since i was seven; my mom would hand me lyrics to a bhajan and say, “Here, sing this.” So music became such an important part of me, that I could never really let it go. I thought that I’d do something with history at some point — teach, or maybe go into law, but those didn’t come naturally to me, and so I stuck with what made me happy. I had a day job out in Los Angeles while I was trying to get my band going — I worked for AT&T Wireless and tried to convince town councils to put up fake trees called monopalms so that cellular companies could make sure their customers had cell phone coverage. But I ended up spending a lot of time writing lyrics in my cubicle!
You’ve worked with A R Rahman and his Bollywood orchestra in Chennai for the recording of your album, ‘Tally of the Yes Men’. What was it like to work with such a legendary musician? Did the encounter influence the sound on the album?
Although we never worked directly with A R, we worked with Srinivasa Murthy (orchestral director for the Chennai Orchestra) and the Chennai Orchestra. The experience was magical, as these musicians brilliantly brought in S D Burman-style arrangements and performances to the songs. Murthy was brilliant in his direction, and to have the Chennai Orchestra players play on our album was incredible. They added such depth to the music and made it more emotional. They appear on the new album, as well.
What indie bands would you recommend to our readers? Are there any current favourites?
I love Sufjan Stevens, and think that he writes honest and cool music.
Your new album, ‘And the Elephant Is Dancing’, is due to be released pretty soon. Give us an overview of the sound on your sophomore album. How is it similar, and how is different, from ‘Tally of the Yes Men’?
The new album is the album I’ve always wanted to make — from the heart, honest, and not really trendy. A critic recently described it as “southern California meets psychedelic George Harrison meets a 1960′s Indian film”, and I think that’s spot on. A fan described it as “retro-Bollywood”, and that’s pretty accurate too. It’s definitely a throwback to the 1960s, and in a very cool way, I think.
Thanks a lot for the interview. Before signing off, are there any words that you’d like to add for our readers and your considerable fan base in India?
I’d like to thank all our fans in India, and for all the support you’ve given us. We hope to be back soon. The new album is available directly from MySpace and Facebook, and will be on iTunes this month. We’re working a release in India, as well, so hang tight!