Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein grew up fascinated by sound. Their early experiments with electronic music may not have impressed their teachers, but the Dallas born-and-bred half of Austin synth band Survive have impressed millions of fans after composing the score for the Netflix Original sci-fi drama, Stranger Things.
Stein grew up in North Dallas and went to school at Newman Smith, while Dixon grew up in Love Field and went to school at WT White.
Since the show premiered on July 15, Dixon and Stein have enjoyed droves of publicity. They are currently working on their next album, slated for a 2017 release. The duo spoke with us about growing up in Dallas and scoring the opportunity of a lifetime while preparing for a tour to support their band’s new album RR7349.
Dallas Observer: Were you guys involved in the Dallas music scene when you were younger?
Michael Stein: I got a drum kit in fifth grade and I continued to play it, but I never like performed or anything, and then later in high school I got some recording equipment and would screw around with my effects processor and had no idea how to play notes on any instrument.
Kyle Dixon: I listened to a lot of music, but I didn’t really make any music. I guess I started making a little bit of music at the end of high school, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I mean, I didn’t know how to play shit. I wanted to learn music so I tried to get into the music theory class at WT White. I got kicked out because I didn’t get along with the teacher very well. I didn’t play any instruments so they were kind of hesitant to put me in there because I was trying to do stuff with like sampling and like a laptop you know, but I didn’t know how to play anything. That lasted all of about two months, maybe.
So how did your current sound come about?
MS: I started being able to experiment with a little bit more abstract ways of making music, honestly like effects processors and weirder ways, especially when I first got to start playing with synthesizers. It was more about the interactions and experimenting. Eventually, once you make all these sounds and you're like, “Holy shit, these sounds are so good,” you’re going to turn those noises into music.
KD: We also obviously have an appreciation with textural and weirder stuff, so we try to incorporate that. Essentially, my process is running stuff through effects and messing it up as much as I can using plugins to get either field recording or acoustic instruments to sound weirder. I did that for a while and I realized at some point, “Wait, all this music that I like is synthesizer music, why don’t I have any synthesizers?” And since then I never really stopped buying them.
MS: I used to take my drum kit around and go to find these like huge tunnels. I'd go into there with my tape recorder, sample my drums and other shit that I could play with this speaker and it would just sound so messed up when you played it. I would pop balloons, I had a song where I would pop a balloon and just use it as a snare, like before we started the band, just like weird stuff.
KD: We should do more of that stuff again.
MS: I know. It was so cool.
So how did Survive come about?
KD: I left Dallas in 2002 and went to school in San Marcos. At the very end of high school and at the beginning of college is when I started actually making recordings. I did that for a little bit but I still wasn’t very serious. Then Michael and I got back in touch when he came through town and realized we were both doing music and we decided we should try to work on some stuff together. We recorded Survive songs one at a time when he came into Austin.
MS: You were active though as a performer, Kyle.
KD: Yeah, I played in a few bands in San Marcos. I don’t know, I did a little bit. Survive is the first one I would consider to be a real thing.
MS: Survive was the first time that I was forced to set up my stuff and go on stage and I was so fucking nervous, I was like shaking. I was kind of forced; I was definitely more of a studio person.
Survive doesn’t actually do many live shows. Do you think the publicity you’ve gained from Stranger Things will change that?
KD: I don’t think Stranger Things is going to change the amount of shows that we play. The fact that we have a new album coming out is going to make us play more shows. I guess it is kind of a conscious decision not to play shows as often, because it’s kind of a big production for us and we have to tear down our studios. Like Michael was saying, we like to be in the studio, so it’s kind of a hassle. We don’t like playing shows unless it’s worth it for some reason. Austin has so many shows that people are not as excited to go to a show. They can go to two to four shows, three nights out of a week. There’s a show every night; it’s saturated so we try not to play as often in Austin.
Had you worked on TV or movie scores before the offer to do Stranger Things? How was this experience different from other music you make?
KD: In a lot of ways it was pretty similar, we just got to use a wider range of material that normally wouldn’t come out on a Survive album, just to help tell the story. There’s more happy or sentimental things that we wouldn’t release on a Survive album, it just doesn’t necessarily fit with the aesthetic of the band.
MS: The song format can change, because you’re making events happen to something that’s happening on the screen. Some of the stuff has to be more organic. We’re making these compositions that are like 30 seconds long, and that’s very different. It’s very fast. It would be nice to complete some of those.
KD: It makes it a lot easier because you know what’s going to happen. It kind of makes a lot of decisions for you.
So was working on Stranger Things just another project for you, or was this a big thing from the start?
KD: Are you kidding me? It’s a Netflix Original show. Yeah we quit our jobs to do this. I mean we didn’t know it was going to be as popular as it is, but we knew this was an opportunity we’ve been waiting for our whole lives. We’re going to take it and we’re going to go for it.
MS: We’ve been going to movies and walking out and being like “Man that score was great, but why aren’t we doing this?” It’s been something we’ve been thinking about for the longest time, ever since the beginning.
KD: We finally got a chance to do it.
MS: We just didn’t really know how to get into it; we lucked out.
MS: When we were approached with what their ideas for this show were, we were like, “Holy shit this is like way more in the vein of anything we would want to do.”
So what’s the next step for you?
KD: We have a West Coast run in early October following the release of the album. There is a soundtrack for Stranger Things that’s coming out and that’s the immediate focus, to get that to a point where it can come out.
MS: We have another record. We’re in the studio working on that here and there which is pretty much already configured song-wise. We just need to flesh it out.
KD: We’re hoping to get that out in 2017, so we got most of the next album that’s going to come out on Relapse mostly there. So once we finish the tour, or maybe before then, we’ll get that moving on that a little more.
Survive’s newest album RR7349, comes out Sept. 30.