'Stranger Things' Composers on How the New Storylines Evolved the Music in Season 2 (Exclusive)
By Alex Ungerman
L: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for ASCAP, R: instagram.com/strangerthingstv
NOTE: This story contains light spoilers from Stranger Things 2.
During “Madmax,” the first episode of Stranger Things 2, a reprisal of the song “Kids” -- a standout track from the show’s season one debut episode -- evokes instant nostalgia and excitement for fans of the first season as the young cast -- namely, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp) -- are reintroduced to audiences. Later, one of the new songs, “Eulogy,” which was available on streaming services ahead of the season two premiere, calls forth a different, yet similarly passionate response.
The minds behind the music of Stranger Things, composersKyle Dixon and Michael Stein, admit to ET that the response has been pretty gratifying -- if a little surprising.
“It's pretty cool -- it's funny when you play a simple melody that people recognize, and connect with something we enjoy,” Dixon explains. “It's funny, because we enjoy playing the songs, but we would never necessarily remember them.”
At this year’s Creative Arts Emmy Awards, Dixon and Stein -- who also make music together as part of electronic band S U R V I V E -- won the award for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music, high praise for a creative endeavor that was a bit different than what they were used to.
“Sometimes [S U R V I V E] records take a really long time, and there's a huge complexity that goes into making those songs. With something like this show, and the story, [there are] these really simple melodies that are actually, a little bit more poppy than our actual band,” Stein notes. “It's kind of like, this thing that I took less time... [not in quality], but just with more of a deadline.”
For Stranger Things 2, Dixon and Stein were gifted with a clearer understanding of what the series is about, and how best to approach composing the score.
“You can't predict what your music's gonna need to be to support the screen until you actually have the picture. It's very difficult,” Stein says, revealing that there was a preliminary period when the duo was still trying to figure out the score’s aesthetic and sound -- before they knew exactly what would be seen onscreen. “Coming into [season] two, we kind of already established the tone of the music, and a lot of the melodies and the world that the music would live in. We knew there were a couple new characters, but we had to wait to see the stories to know how we could evolve the music, but keep it cohesive with the first season.”
The cohesion can be felt immediately, as the songs heighten on scale with the storylines, and, in keeping with the needle threaded through the first season, are able to evoke feelings of the past without treading into pure eighties referentialism.
In fact, with the record arriving prior to the second season, Dixon and Stein found themselves having to distance their music a bit from the show -- at least with regard to potential spoilers in the song titles.
“We changed some names. We had referred to some of the creatures and what their names were. We had a song called ‘Demodogs Attack.’ We had to change that.” Stein shares, with Dixon revealing that the title modified to “Sick of Cow.”
Now, with season two behind them, and no clear picture of what the third will entail (creators The Duffer Brothers have confirmed a season three is happening), Dixon and Stein are focusing their attention on a follow-up to S U R V I V E’s 2016 album, RR7349, as well as more composing projects.
“We've gotten some offers, [but] nothing official yet. There's some pretty interesting stuff,” Dixon says of projects they hope to work on next. “We're trying to see what makes sense, timeline-wise. But we are definitely looking to do other work.”
“We'd like to do a movie, ideally,” he adds. “Just 'cause that sounds like it'd be fun.”
In the meantime, the Stranger Things 2 soundtrack is set for a yet-to-be-formally-announced vinyl release, and on Nov. 8, Dixon and Stein are performing the music of Stranger Things at Los Angeles’ Ace Hotel. However, there are no current plans to take the soundtrack on the road outside of a few festival gigs. “The goal is to have it available before Christmas,” Dixon says of the vinyl release, which would fit nicely with the end date of Stranger Things 2.