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S U R V I V EPhotography Dylan O’Connor

Listen to the brooding new album by S U R V I V E

We speak to the Austin four-piece as they release their second album RR7349 just months after their breakout score for Netflix series Stranger Things

S U R V I V E’s Kyle Dixon is hungover. That much he makes clear from the start of our interview. What I have to discover for myself, though, is that eight weeks after the band’s work on the Stranger Things score afforded them more attention than they’d ever had before, he’s tired of talking about it. “I thought this was gonna be more of a band-related interview?” Dixon asks wearily when I bring up the show.

It’s understandable that Dixon might not want the series to detract focus from the band – only two of their four members (Dixon, alongside Michael Stein) worked on the Stranger Things, and since its release back in July, the show has dominated most discussions about S U R V I V E. Still, it would feel like something of a disservice to skirt around the topic entirely, particularly given that the brilliant score still bears all the hallmarks of the Austin synth band. The show itself, about a young boy who goes missing under mysterious circumstances, achieved that most impossible of feats – the reputation of a cult classic, and the viewing figures of a mainstream hit. Set in the early 80s, it leant heavily on nostalgic homages to the likes of E.T. and Stand By Me, whilst also being sinister and, at times, properly scary. S U R V I V E’s pitch-perfect score captured the show’s contradictory tone perfectly.

The band might not want it to overshadow their other work, but fans of the show’s distinctive soundscape will find much to enjoy in their second album, the pulsating, expansive RR7349. Some tracks are just brooding enough to glue you to the spot, others are just glitchy enough to spook you into dancing. To mark the release of RR7349, the full band – Kyle Dixon, Michael Stein, Adam Jones, and Mark Donica, all speaking over Skype from different parts of the US – how their music translates live, the narrative of wordless music, and why you should never, ever sample movie clips.

How have the last few months been since Stranger Things came out, for you as a band?

Kyle Dixon: We're a lot busier. More people know about us. We're selling records, shows. We’re busy. 

So the album was named after the catalogue number – was the reason behind that a creative one, or an aesthetic one?

Kyle Dixon: The catalogue number is an aesthetic choice. It also just makes it a lot easier to name albums – you don’t have to worry about what to call them, they name themselves.

Mark Donica: We’ve done that with all of our releases. They all just have the catalogue number. It makes it a lot easier to name your record, and it also just has a cool aesthetic. 

Michael Stein: It also makes our discography a bit confusing, which is fun for us. 

When you’re performing live shows, how does the atmosphere of the music translate? Are there things you can and can’t do in a live setting?

Kyle Dixon: Generally I think the songs sound a little better live. Maybe not all of them, but there’s a little variation which is good. It’s louder.

Adam Jones: We usually play as much as possible live, or like, almost everything you’re hearing is played by somebody with their hands on a piece of gear. 

Kyle Dixon: Obviously the drum machine’s not played live. It plays itself. The parts that each member will play live is dictated by what equipment they have onstage with them, because certain equipment can only do certain things or is better at certain things, so a lot of the times the parts that we play in a live show may not be what we wrote on the song.

Michael Stein: We definitely embellish more live. We’ll play more random stuff… blah blah blah. 

“There are certain songs which are like, ‘This is a fucking night time murder song’” – Adam Jones, S U R V I V E

Do you still have specific narratives in mind when you're making a song, despite the fact that your music doesn’t have lyrics?

Michael Stein: That’s an interesting question.

Kyle Dixon: I think we just try to write catchy tunes. Or I mean, they’re not always catchy, but we just try to write stuff that we think sounds good and is memorable. I don’t think we really think about a narrative in the same way that a vocal-based band would think about it. 

Adam Jones: It depends what you define ‘narrative’ to mean. There are certain songs which are like, ‘This is a fucking night time murder song,’ so there is some aspect of narrative. It’s kind of like a clip from a narrative. 

Kyle Dixon: It’s a narrative, in a way, I don’t know… (noise off-screen) Who’s doing cocaine?

Adam Jones: (joking) Oh sorry, I’m in a dirty spot.

Kyle Dixon: It’s, like, noon.

Adam Jones: Sorry, I won’t make any noises.

Kyle Dixon: It’s so early for that.

Adam Jones: Hey man, I’ve been on the road! I’ve just been travelling across the country for the past two weeks, I’m a little worn out.

Your music’s very atmospheric. Do you feel like there's an ideal setting for people to listen to it?

Michael Stein: I don’t particularly care, as long as they’re listening.

Kyle Dixon: On drugs.

Michael Stein: Yeah, sure. 

Adam Jones: I’d say in the car. Driving is where people relate to it a lot – driving at night.

Michael Stein: People tell us they like to listen to our music when they’re doing yoga, which is bizarre to me. More people have said that than anything else, which is super confusing. People who don’t know each other. They’re like, ‘Hey, your music’s great to do yoga to.’

You once were asked to give advice to bands, and said, ‘Don’t do vocal samples, don’t sample movies and put that in your song.’ Why not?

Adam Jones: It’s cheesy as fuck!

Kyle Dixon: It’s just cheesy. Like, come on. I can’t really explain. It’s just...

Michael Stein: It just doesn’t fit with what we’re trying to do.

Mark Donica: It’s a quick way to cheapen something. We don’t sample anything. We just sample our songs. 

“There’s maybe like, two horror nods on here, but we weren’t really trying to do anything specifically inspired by horror movies” – Mark Donica, S U R V I V E

The press release said the album was inspired by horror scores. Were there any horror films or scores in particular that influenced it?

Kyle Dixon: No. 

Mark Donica: There’s maybe like, two horror nods on here, but we weren’t really trying to do anything specifically inspired by horror movies.

Kyle Dixon: It wasn’t a conscious choice. It was just, we made a song and it sounded like it could be in a horror movie. 

Adam Jones: Yeah, we’re not obsessed with some particular movie that was influential on this album or anything. 

Mark Donica: Except for Jurassic Park. I was picturing a lot of Jurassic Park scenes while writing some of that stuff.

What are you most excited for people to hear? 

Kyle Dixon: I dunno, I think all the songs are good. 

Mark Donica: I’m waiting for people to hear the whole thing. Not to separate the individual singles that have been coming out with what the whole album is. We didn’t really want to present anything as a single – I feel like each song is its own song, so when people finally get to listen to the whole thing it’ll be nice. 

So do you prefer people to listen to your albums all in one go?

Kyle Dixon: I think for the last album that was a thing, but this one’s a collection of songs, not necessarily one piece that goes up and down like the first album. So I don’t personally think that it’s that important what order people listen to the songs in. But that’s just me.

Adam Jones: I agree. I’m just ready for people to start hearing it.

Relapse Records release RR7349 on September 30