A Passage to Indie

Class of ’98 | Believe it or not, there are plenty of people at Penn who look like rock stars. Limber and pouty in skinny jeans and perfect, tousled hair, they glide up and down Locust Walk looking alternately disappointed and nervy. Some even look pretty good holding a guitar. But generally that’s where the similarities end—as anyone who has ever been to an open-mic night in a College House can attest.

Though Siddhartha Khosla C’98 fits the tall-dark-handsome-band-dude archetype, he has also carved out a name for himself as songwriter and frontman for Goldspot. The band, which shares its name with a now-defunct brand of Indian soda pop, has a sound similar to that of The Smiths or Yo La Tengo (or The Cure—but with less of that whole angry eyeliner thing). Khosla describes their vibe as “post-punk Bollywood and pop.”

He was raised in northern New Jersey, on a musical diet of Bollywood, in a household where Indian music was the choice du jour, every jour. “My parents had these old cassettes that they would play constantly—from classic Indian movies of the ’60s and ’70s,” he says. “Listening to those tapes taught me how to sing.”

At Penn, he continued to discover what he could do musically—first in Off the Beat, then as the first musical director of Penn Masala, the Hindi a cappella group. He insists he “had no idea” what he wanted to do after college, though his double major in political science and history made law school seem a
sensible choice.

“My buddy Chris Lavigne [C’98] and I were studying for the LSAT,” he recalls. “We had been extremely neurotic about the whole process, trying to get our bodies, our minds ready. It’s funny, thinking back, how serious we were about this test. It was our world. But then we went to take the exam and the proctor ended all the sections early. I looked at Chris like, ‘What are we going to do?’ because we just hadn’t finished.”

Lavigne went on to law school, notes Khosla. “Now he’s doing really well, and I was like, ‘I’m moving to London and I’m starting my music career.’ And I never looked back.”

He cancelled his scores, tossed his law-school applications, and bought a one-way ticket to London. His parents were less than thrilled.

“I told them I was going to try this out for a little while, just for a few months,” he says.

Those few months turned into seven years—during which time he wrote and played for  anyone who would listen. Bartending helped pay the bills, something at which he admits to being “terrible.” (“I got fired because I couldn’t make any drinks—and apparently that’s kind of a prerequisite for being a bartender.”) It wasn’t until his British visa expired, forcing him to leave the country, that things started looking up.

He moved to Los Angeles, where he met Ramy Antoun, a drummer who had worked with the Black Eyed Peas and Seal. Together they became a fixture on the underground indie-music scene.

“We were writing, and working with different musicians, and really trying to find our sound,” says Khosla. They found it, and their debut, Tally of the Yes Men, is the result. The record, initially released independently, caught the attention of a local DJ.

“Universal had heard about us through this DJ,” he says, “and the next thing you know Mercury Records, one of their labels, bought the album.” Khosla found himself headed to London again—only this time, bartending was not on the agenda.

Tally of the Yes Men is a neat, thoughtful album. Two of its tracks (the easy, unfussy “Friday” and “Rewind”) feature a full Bollywood ensemble. The men recorded them in the Indian city of Chennai, with A.R. Rahman’s orchestra. Khosla sings one track in perfect Hindi, in a way that suggests he would have no trouble finding his way around a ghazal. But he also counts REM and Radiohead among his influences, and says that if he owned an iPod, there would probably be a lot of Beatles tracks on his playlist.

Tally—which the U.K.’s Sunday Times recently named one of the top 10 albums of 2007—is scheduled to be released in India this year (through Sony BMG) and worldwide (including the U.S.) in the spring.

Khosla says the group is busy in the studio, recording their second full-length LP, which he says will be “deeper, richer, more song-driven.” After that it’s back on the road—something the boys got their first taste of this past year, when they spent months touring Europe.

Last summer, in fact, Goldspot had the honor of being the first group to play at the O2 arena—South London’s much-hyped new entertainment center and architectural magnum opus.

“We opened up for Bon Jovi, and played for 20,000 people,” Khosla recalls. “That was insane. Just nuts. We don’t fit into that at all.”

Yet.

—Hilal Nakiboglu Isler GrEd’05


Profiles : Events :
Notes : Obituaries

John Jones WG’72 is rebuilding Iraq
Helen Gym C’93 GEd’96 advocates for education
Roy Vongtama C’96 is a doctor—and plays one, too
Siddhartha Khosla C’98 rocks Bollywood-style and beyond
Stephanie Sy C’99 covers China for ABC News

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Last modified 03/02/08