Interview: S U R V I V E discuss Stranger Things, their surging popularity, and warm synth sounds

When the sci-fi horror series Stranger Things hit Netflix back in July, it became an instant sensation. People couldn’t stop talking about the storyline, the visuals, and the soundtrack that accompanied it. There was already a nostalgic craving for vintage ’80s suspense, but this took that satisfaction to another level entirely, and the show became a cultural phenomenon. As episodes were being binge watched by millions, their ears were captivated by the synthy sounds glossed over each scene, an eerie and captivating sonic underworld crafted by members of Austin electronic music group S U R V I V E.

Still riding the wave of attention from Stranger Things, S U R V I V E played a sold out show at Great Scott in Allston this past Wednesday (November 2) for one of the most anticipated shows of the year. It was a packed house that had most of the attendees arriving early to catch the opener Dust Witch from Northampton for a complete experience. With a live set-up of four synthesizers straight across the stage, S U R V I V E captivated the room, while at the same time, the legendary Game 7 of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians was on the TV screens near the bar. S U R V I V E’s four-synth arsenal invaded the room with electronic resonance. There was definitely a groovy vibe throughout their set and the way they delivered their material to the masses was purely excellent.

Before S U R V I V E took the stage, Vanyaland with band members Michael Stein, Kyle Dixon, Adam Jones, and Mark Donica about how the they originally got involved with Stranger Things, the popular practice of people dressing up as the characters at their shows, what initially inspired their sound, and the whether or not they’ll be part of season two of the series.

Rob Duguay: First things first, how was S U R V I V E approached with scoring Stranger Things? Did someone from the series contact you guys or did you already know the people behind the series beforehand?

Kyle: The Duffer Brothers reached out to us through email. The used a song from our first LP for a mock trailer they did. It was basically a mood board trailer type of thing that they used to pitch the concept. They reached out to see if we were still a band, then we started setting up music and that’s how it happened.

What initially inspired the band’s sound when Survive started out in 2009? There’s definitely a John Carpenter and Wes Craven influence being sensed. Is there anything more than that you guys delved into? Like Goblin for example?

Kyle: Yeah, there are those influences, but they weren’t super big on the influences list when we started the band.

Adam: We definitely like all that music but I wouldn’t say that we heard those and we were just like “Oh, we need to make music like that.”

Mark: We were into a lot of stuff that was happening currently at that time also that was synth related. Stuff like Valerie and Kavinsky, we all listen to a lot of other electronic music that’s maybe even more dancy along with rap music.

Michael: Italo disco.

Like Giorgio Moroder?

Michael: Not that kind of Italo disco.

Mark: But like you’re obsessed with it.

Michael: Moroder has great shit, his production is amazing.

Kyle: We were listening to a lot of old prog too, Space Art was a big influence.

Mark: There was a lot of stuff on Soulseek we were downloading including Space Art but also a lot of old disco records. Stuff that sounded warm, fat, fuzzy and analog. Massive spectrum and swishing it all together into art.

Adam: We kind of knew what we wanted to sound like with our tones and stuff. Maybe even before we actually quite knew the exact way to make that. I think that’s why we’re a band. We all sort of agreed on a similar kind of vibe and mood, then we just went forth from there while trying to figure out how to do it.

That’s how some of the best bands create, when everyone is on the same page and everyone is digging the music their making.

Kyle: One thing I will say about the motivation for starting the band was that we wanted to make a synthesizer band.

Adam: A full band.

Kyle: Not just one person doing synths and tweaking sounds, we wanted to have four people on stage playing keyboards loud.

Mark: While also doing it live and spontaneous.

Adam: Not just a producer project or something like that.

Kyle: Most or all of the writing takes place in the studio so it’s not in a live setting so much. We wanted to be able to bring it to the stage and that was very much the ultimate goal we had in mind when we started.

It sounds like the goal has been achieved. So far on this tour following the success of Stranger Things and with a lot of people knowing that S U R V I V E was involved with it, has anybody came to a show dressed up as Eleven or as any of the other characters on the show?

Adam: Yeah, definitely.

Michael: On Halloween.

Mark: Yeah it was just Halloween [laughs].

Adam: We just got done with a set of shows over Halloween weekend and it was on a Monday so from Friday through Monday people were dressing up at all the shows. There were definitely tons of Stranger Things costumes and everything. A couple of shows even had the alphabet wall with the Christmas lights on it.

How did you guys first handle the success of the series after it started rolling on Netflix?

Mark: It was surprising.

Adam: Nobody knew it was going to be a hit show until it came out.

Michael: It was a big surprise.

Adam: I think we all knew that it was the kind of TV, film or whatever that we might on our personal time but whether or not that translates to mass appeal was kind of a guessing game. We were just hoping I guess.

In September S U R V I V E put out a new record titled RR7349. It’s the band’s eighth release that has the title made up of a serial number. What made you guys want to do it that way? Was it all due to randomness or was there any concept behind that?

Mark: I think it just kind of happened that way because we didn’t really feel like naming our albums.

Kyle: To be clear, it’s the catalog number. That’s all it is.

Adam: The label gives us the title of the record basically.

Kyle: It’s usually an abbreviated version of the label’s name and the actual number of the release.

Michael: With our latest album being released off of Relapse Records.

Adam: It’s the 7,349th record they’ve released. We decided to take a step back from naming the releases and give it something that’s like cool but also being pretty anonymous.

Less stress too.

Adam: We have a hard enough time naming our song names.

Michael: We’re not predefinining the listener’s experience by giving it some kind of concept.

It sounds simpler that way.

Michael: I like it that way.

How has it been with your hometown fans in Austin with all the added success S U R V I V E has gotten this year? Has there been any changes in your fan base at all since the ones who have stuck by the band since ’09? Have they appreciated your success?

Adam: Definitely. We’ve been drawing big crowds at home for a long time and now they’re even bigger. It’s like our normal hometown audience that’s been supporting us for a while plus a whole bunch of people we didn’t know before.

Obviously you guys will probably be scoring the upcoming second season of Stranger Things right? Has it been set up already?

Adam: I don’t know if it’s official.

Has S U R V I V E been offered anything else from other films, any TV shows or anything else since Stranger Things?

Kyle: There have been a few random things.

Adam: No big projects in the works yet, but probably. I would say stay tuned.

Follow Rob Duguay on Twitter @RobDuguay.