Siddhartha Khosla and Taylor Goldsmith have found an endearing and enduring friendship forged through their collaboration in writing music for This Is Us. Emmy-nominated for “The Forever Now,” a ballad performed by star Mandy Moore during one of the final episodes of the long-running series, Khosla reworked the melody of the show’s signature theme paired with Goldsmith’s lyrics exploring love, loss, and the inevitable passage of time through the eyes of a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
In an interview with Awards Daily, the duo detail the challenge of creating a track that would serve as a musical bookend to a series with deeply personal roots and recount the connections that led to their collaborations and the lasting friendship forged as forged as a result.
Awards Daily: Sidd, talk to me about coming back to This Is Us, knowing it’s the final season.
Siddhartha Khosla: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been the composer of the show for six seasons. I feel like, in terms of just a piece of art we put out into the world, I feel like we stuck the landing. I thought we ended the series so beautifully and gracefully. I’m very proud of what Dan Fogelman did and what we all did together.
AD: And how would you describe the journey of the show, musically?
SK: You know, there was a moment in season one; it was episode 13; Dan always refers to it, in terms of the score of the show, as the transformative moment for the music of the show. It was this scene where Kate was in that weight loss camp. And then she’s hitting the sticks on the mat; she has this flashback to her dad’s funeral. And we’re seeing Jack’s funeral for the first time. I remember getting that footage, and it was just silent footage. There was nothing there for like a minute and a half. And I wrote what we now lovingly call Jack’s theme.
It had this very Indian sound to it. I don’t know how else to describe it. My parents were from India. I grew up in the U.S., and lived in India as a kid, before I came back to the U.S., Indian music is just in my blood. I was the kid that would sing at temple on Sundays. It’s a big part of who I am, but musically I don’t bring that sound into anything I ever do. For some reason, this show is about the larger connectivity of life; about this idea that seemingly small decisions can be made by your ancestors that end up having lasting effects through the generations that follow. It’s this idea that we are interconnected. All of that brought me back to my family as a kid and thinking about the choices my parents made to come to this country. Had they not done that, I would’ve probably not become a composer. I think for me, that made me tap into something that I hadn’t tapped into before.
It was also at that moment that I realized that Dan Fogelman was really writing his family story. I’ve known Dan. since college; we were hallmates freshman year, and we were roommates sophomore year. I’ve seen him go through life’s challenges, tragedies, and joys. I saw him lose his mother at a very young age. And so I started writing the music for him.
I was like, ‘I’m writing it for my friend.’ And I think of those two things together changed the sound of the show. The sound evolved from something that was me on the acoustic guitar to all of a sudden playing percussion on wooden tables, me singing on the score. It ended up becoming a very cinematic experience by the end; there were big pads and strings and pianos and a very wide, almost Brian Eno sort of palette by the end of the whole thing. In my mind, that’s the inspiration for me.
AD: This Is Us has become famous for making people cry. I think the score is a huge part of that, the music hits at exactly the right moment. The score evokes so much emotion. Is that sort of deliberate, or is it because you’re just pouring so much of your soul into it, and that depth comes across and connects with viewers?
SK: I think it’s what you just said. You know, no one’s ever said that to me. It’s interesting. I think it’s smart. Yeah, it’s emotional because I’m pouring my whole self into it. Every note of that, I played every note of that score for six seasons. Except for like the cello. I had a cellist that played, but everything else I made myself, here in my little studio, and I played myself. I felt like I was making a record a week; I was so proud of the work that we did and proud of the collaboration. I sacrificed weekends and holidays and so much stuff to work on this show, and it’s because I loved it so much. I was just addicted to the show. Every day I woke up excited to work. I was so proud of the show, and it was a family. It was as if we had another family, you know? [This Is Us] was about this family on screen, the Pearsons, but really, it was also about one behind the scenes. We all worked together to make something special You can’t beat that.
AD: How did the two of you connect and begin this now multi-part collaboration?
SK: So, first of all, I was a fan. Before Taylor and I ever met, I was a fan of Taylor’s when I lived on the east coast. My favorite records were Dawes records of the last ten years. I just loved him. I was just always just moved by his songwriting, the band, and just the whole thing. I just loved it so much.
There was this fancy event our first year of This Is Us, and I was performing some music from the show. I think Mandy got up there and did a cover. And Taylor was there, and I met Taylor that night. And we sort of made what felt like, and what could have been a typical Hollywood promise of, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta work together one day on something.’ And just left it at that. And Taylor was like, ‘Yeah, we should, that’d be awesome.’ And I remember just feeling so excited that he would be willing to even consider it. But it was so early; we had nothing to work on, but just this idea that maybe we would one day.
For season two of This Is Us, Dan, had this idea, this scene where Rebecca is exploring her journey as a songwriter and wanting to be like the next Joni Mitchell. That was her dream. And we needed a song that she wrote and sent to the record company that got her this huge meeting. At that point, I was like, ‘I have to call Taylor.’ There were multiple reasons. He’s such a gifted songwriter. And lyrically, just so brilliant and one of the best out there, period. And then on top of that, and this didn’t occur to me until after, but it was probably a meta experience for him. He’s starting to write a song with me about the character that his wife plays.
Taylor Goldsmith: And not only about her, but from her character’s mouth, which was so cool because for so long, Mandy had been talking through Rebecca. We’d be up late; she’d finish a script. And she’d be talking herself through it, and I was just kind of witness to it. I had this front row seat to Mandy building that character. That was really cool, just as a fan of the show. There are dimensions to this character that she has to invent in order to show up on set. And watching her do all that and then getting asked to create something that is ostensibly from her brain was such a thrill.
SK: And that was a special gift that we had. Not only his songwriting talent but also the access and that window into Rebecca’s soul; no one had that perspective except for Taylor. So that was very cool. And we got to employ that multiple times in the show.
TG: Yeah, This might be cheesy, and I don’t know about you, Sidd, but there’s always a lot of people collaborating. There are hundreds of people writing songs in L.A. But I think like one thing that kept Sidd and I doing this and over and over again and enjoying it so much and really being proud of what we were doing, I think it was because we’re very busy, so we don’t get to hang out as much as we’d like, but we had our friendship first. I think the fact that there’s that foundational friendship and wanting to hang out more than we do. It makes the collaboration so thrilling. Because there are definitely times when you collaborate, and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I love that guy, but that’s work.’ Whereas our energy is so fun, at least for me, really brings a lot more to the equation.
SK: It feels like we’re a little band. You know how you have your friends from high school or college, and afterward, you just stay with and you play music? And sometimes it hits and you make it and you play together? I never really had that. I came close to it at one point in my band career. I don’t really have this collaboration with anybody else, frankly. This is special. It feels like buddies just making music together; there’s no pressure, you know? We trust each other. We have a lot in common in terms of how we see music.
AD: Taylor, how did you approach the songwriting process for “The Forever Now.” What themes were you balancing, going in with the knowledge that the song was going to be for one of the final episodes of This Is Us?
TG: Yeah, it’s a cool question because there were so many challenges going on at once. On the one hand, how do you make a statement that can have implications for every theme of the show? How do you have it come from Rebecca’s mouth? She’s a songwriter, but she didn’t become Joni Mitchell. She didn’t become Bob Dylan. It’s a sad way to put it, but she was a failed songwriter through a certain lens. She’s going to have a certain vocabulary as a songwriter, but, and then even further than that, she’s someone well into her seventies, who’s dying from Alzheimer’s. So, how do we balance all these things to make it feel real and believable? But also allow the song to have the gravitas that we all wanted to have. So that was really hard. I honestly feel like I got really lucky because when Sidd explained to me what was going to happen and that it was going be over the This Is Us theme that I was already deeply familiar with, obviously. As he was talking to me about it and I was sitting at the counter in my house with my guitar. I wrote the chorus pretty much immediately and sent it to Sidd 15 minutes later or something. It was, it was pretty quick. I was crossing my fingers for a ‘first thought, best thought’ moment. And I was like, ‘Does this do it?’
And I struggled for a long time with how to crack the verses. So it wasn’t like the whole thing showed up ready, made on arrival, but the chorus did, so that felt like a blessing because I think if I were to have spent too much time thinking about which themes to touch on or how gently or how aggressively to do it, I would’ve gotten lost really fast. So, I feel like the fact that the chorus just came and it worked; I just feel very lucky.
SK: Yeah, he just sent me like right away, ‘I get this moment with you forever now.” Right away, you read that you know it’s right.
And I’m always like, ‘How is he going to fit that lyric into this melody?’ It’s always a tough thing to do as a songwriter.
I don’t know how you feel, Taylor, but like anytime I was writing songs in my band, oftentimes I would think in terms of melody, and I would sit there for weeks trying to be like, ‘I love this melody, but how do I fit these words into this melody without messing up the meter and the phrasing and all of this.’
Taylor is such a gifted, melodic writer to be able to work with the theme. We did modify the melody too. It’s a little different. And honestly, I think, ultimately, the melody became even better than it originally had been.
TG: I feel like Sidd has this really cool melody first, Brian Wilson kind of mentality. The series of notes and the rhythm, and the phrases are always so beautiful. And so central to the meaning and the meat of it. And I think I come from the school of Bruce Springsteen, where it’s more lyric first. So, I feel like with our powers combined, it’s sort of like, ‘Oh, we’re doing both of these things at once.’
AD: Taylor, as you mentioned, ‘The Forever Now’ is performed from Rebecca’s perspective. What’s it like to write a song for Mandy knowing how much this character and this performance has meant to her over the years?
TG: Yeah, it’s coming out of Mandy’s mouth, so I want it to be something that she is proud of and identifies with. That’s the fascinating thing, and if Dan were here, I don’t know if he would agree with this, but I think, my impression is that these characters start out as… the creator of the show owns these characters. And then as the seasons go on that possession is sort of shared. By the sixth season, Rebecca belongs to Dan and belongs to Mandy, maybe just as much. So when we write these words and when we sing this song, she has total veto power. Mandy knows this woman’s brain and especially what state she’s in. There’s always that part of me that’s sort of looking over my shoulder, like, ‘What do you think? And really holding on to dear life based on how she feels. if she were to be like, ‘That’s not it.’ I’m not going to defend it, you know? Because it has to feel authentic to her. And Dan too, of course, she’s the one that’s in the same house as me, while I’m working on the lyrics. [Laughs].
AD: Taylor, I have to ask you about the opening line, because it sort of stopped me in my tracks. ‘They say time will tell, but I think it likes to keep secrets.’ How did that come about? There are so many layers to that lyric.
TG: If This Is Us were an action movie, that could be like the tagline. [Goldsmith imitates movie trailer voiceovers]
SK: Oh, that so good! [Laughs]
TG: I mean, the show is so deep and has so much that it is achieved. There’s so much that it asks and even attempts to answer. It can’t be summed up in one little phrase, but to me, that is a big part of what the whole show is. It’s a family accepting each other rather than fully comprehending each other. There’s a lot about each individual relationship that isn’t necessarily always shared with everyone else, whether that’s Jack and Rebecca or, Randall and Rebecca or Randall and Kate, there are always private aspects of the Pearsons. Some of that stuff never is fully revealed. And I feel like that goes for any family.
So I feel like that line, whether or not someone agrees with that line as an objective truth in our world, that feels like an objective truth in the Pearson world. I was beating my head against the wall for a long time, “How do we write a first verse? What’s a good first line. This has to be really good.’ And then when that line showed up, it still wasn’t done, but I felt like, ‘Okay, now I know that we’re at least going to get there.’
AD: I have to let you both go, but do you have any final thoughts as you close the book on This Is Us?
SK: I’m just so proud of our collaborations. It always feels like we are presenting the best versions of these songs we can, like, I don’t think we left anything on the table on this. Or any of the others, frankly. I sometimes will look back on my career and think, ‘I could have written that differently’ Or, ‘I wish I have done that.’ But, I feel like we didn’t leave anything on the table on any of the songs. We did three for This Is Us. ‘The Forever Now’ ended up number one in the charts. Yeah. That’s crazy. I know that there’s a power to television and This Is Us was a very popular show, obviously, but we had songs on this show before, but this one really connected. And I think it connected because Mandy delivered such a transcendent, incredible performance that it affected people.
TG: Right, The other half of writing a song is the performing of it and the producing of it. And the way that Mandy sang it, the way that Sidd captured it, and recorded, and produced—that has as much to do with why it’s effective as anything else. A lot of credit goes there.
SK: When America got to see Rebecca Pearson up there with Alzheimer’s, get up on that piano and fumble for a minute and then find it and then perform it. That was special. Mandy’s performance in the scene is a live, single-take performance that doesn’t happen on TV. I’d say 99% of the time with TV and film; you keep the sort of prerecorded thing because it sounds good, But, Dan and I would have these conversations all the time. We always made it a point to get Mandy’s live performance on set. Because she can sing so beautifully. And when she’s in a room full of people, just let her do her thing because it’s magic when she does her thing. And the fact that we captured that, and that was a single performance on an SM 58 mic that she’s singing into. That’s actually the feed that you hear; that’s her live. That’s pretty extraordinary. It’s a big testament to Mandy.
AD: I think transcendent is really the perfect way to describe it. Thank you both so much. I so appreciate it. And I’ll see you on the press tour for the This Is Us action reboot. [Laughs],
SK: [Laughs]. Absolutely, Shadan!