‘Stranger Things’ composers talk intense new soundtrack for season 2: “It’s pretty wild”

"There was a lot of really crazy shit"

For a year that’s seen the inauguration of Donald Trump, triggering of Article 50 and North Korean ballistic missile testing, it’s fair to say things seem a little Upside Down right now. Whether or not that’s up to the immeasurable success of Netflix ‘80s nostalgia show Stranger Things remains to be seen, but you can rest assured things will only be getting weirder when the new season drops this Friday (October 27).

Unlike those of other binge-fest boxsets, the theme tune for Stranger Things is not one you want to skip. An ethereal, pulsating synth track written by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of the Austin band S U R V I V E, the song picked up the Emmy for ‘Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music’ earlier this year.

On Friday we’ll get a whole series worth of new music from the duo. We caught up with Kyle and Michael to chat through the sound of the new season, how things have changed since the show was released last year, and their upcoming Stranger Things show at LA’s Ace Hotel.

When we chatted last year I don’t think anyone was quite prepared for the cultural phenomenon Stranger Things would become. Did it take you by surprise?

Both: “Absolutely.”

Kyle: “Everyone was surprised by how well it did. I think everyone felt good about what they were doing, but you can never really tell when something’s going to catch on”

Michael: “We were both really stoked to be doing the work we were doing. I think the whole team feels very passionate about this project, which is a good feeling when you’re with them.”

What was it like winning the Emmy? Were you quietly confident?

Kyle: “I didn’t want to get my hopes up… we were up against some really stiff competition. I didn’t expect to win, but I think if we hadn’t I’d have been a little bit jaded.”

Michael: “It was one of the most talked about and trending theme songs. It was the only theme song that broke into popular culture… It does feel like a huge accomplishment.”

Kyle: “When they started playing the theme song it was like my head went blank. It was crazy. It was a really really bizarre moment, and then you have to go up there and accept an Emmy from Tom Hanks, then give a speech, then go immediately into more interviews straight after that. So it was a pretty surreal situation.”

Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein

Michael Stein (L) and Kyle Dixon hold their Emmy Awards

In November you’re playing Stranger Things music live at the Ace Hotel Theatre in LA. How will you bring the series to life?

Kyle: “I think there will be a visual aspect to it, but I think it’s primarily going to be music, mainly from the new season.”

Stranger Things Season 2: New Release Date, Cast, Trailers, Artwork & Plot hints

How did you begin to start writing that new soundtrack and build on the success of the score you wrote for the first season?

Kyle: The [season two] story kind of called for some new types of sounds, so there’s a lot of new stuff that’s quite a bit different than what we heard last year”.

Michael: “With the show, as much as it’s rooted in ’80s nostalgic stuff and borrowing stuff from the past, we still have this clean slate where we get to set a standard.”

Kyle: “The story’s pretty weird. We had to make some pretty insane music for it. There was a lot of really crazy shit.”

What kind of crazy shit?

Kyle:  “Well there’s new characters. Things are not OK in Hawkins. Everyone’s dealing with the fallout of what happened”

Michael: “Questions will be answered. Some of them.”

Kyle: “I’ll say this – if you were scared by last year, you’ll probably be terrified by this year.”

Michael: “It’s pretty suspenseful. There are some cliffhangers that really cliffhang.”

What’s the new sound like? Creepier? Darker? Faster paced?

Kyle: “I think all the old elements are still there. I don’t know if faster paced is the right word. It’s definitely dark and creepy still. There’s a lot of tension, and we’ve tried to do our take on some action, which ended up being different than what we would have imagined, had we been asked ‘What would action music sound like?’’ two years ago.”

Michael: “There’s a growing development of the style, trying to meet the needs of the directors and producers for a scene. I would almost argue that we’ve stepped into new genre territory at times.”

Kyle: “It’s pretty wild.”

Michael: “You’d score it one way and they’d be like, ‘We need it more like a pressure cooker,’ so you’d say, ‘You mean this needs to sound like a washing machine?’ So you compose something that’s really arrhythmic and jarring. But there are many facets to this score. It still has everything people liked about the first one, and some of that has matured a little bit too. So it’s kind of a new sonic.”

The new season is set in 1984 – a huge year for pop with the likes of Prince, Madonna and even the Ghostbusters theme tune. Is that reflected in the score?

Kyle: “Short answer – no. But there’s music from the time period in the show.”

Michael: “I still think our music will weave with the soundtrack well. They’re stuck together, they’re cohesive; electronic and synth-led.”

All the ’80s tracks from Stranger Things season one and two are available in this 30-track compilation album, available for pre-order now. 

Stranger Things Season 2 is released on Netflix this Friday (October 27)