X-MEN ’97 Composer Taylor Newton Stewart on Making Marvelous Mutant Music

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X-Men ’97 has been a sensation since premiering on Disney+ last month, transcending just a quick nostalgia fix and proving itself to be top-tier Marvel storytelling. The animation is great, the voice-acting is spot-on, and so is the show’s musical score. We don’t just mean the immaculately re-created classic theme song either. This is all thanks to composers the Newton Brothers, known for their music in projects like Doctor Sleep and The Haunting of Hill House. We chatted with the musical duo’s Taylor Newton Stewart (who despite his name, is not siblings with his creative partner John Andrew Grush) about working on X-Men ’97.

Marvel Animation

Nerdist: Your credits before coming on to this project don’t suggest scoring an animated Marvel show. How did X-Men ’97 come about for you and your musical collaborator, John Andrew Grush?

Taylor Newton Stewart: So we’re big, big fans of the original X-Men: The Animated Series, and we had heard that they were redoing it. We submitted a demo, and the showrunner at the time was a fan of ours from Doctor Sleep and other projects we’ve done. Even though the genre was very different, they gave us a chance to put together a demo, and that’s how we got it.

The original X-Men theme is one of the most iconic animated TV themes ever. You’ve largely kept it intact for the new show, but if you listen closely, you can hear little differences, like it has a more dramatic lead-up. Were you nervous about making even the slightest changes to such a well-known theme song?

Stewart: Of course, I mean as you just said, you know, we wanted to pay tribute to it. And when you get something wrong, the fans will let you know. So we really wanted to do right by that. Also, speaking with the creatives at Marvel and the team, there was a very sort of specific direction they wanted to go on that.

Is there a character in season one you particularly liked writing music for?

X-Men '97's Magneto, both as a villain and in his heroic costume.
Marvel Animation

Stewart: You know, it’s an interesting thing. I think Andy and I would go back [and forth] on this because there would be characters we would want to write for, and then it would change based on the episode and what was happening. I think overall for me, Magneto was probably at the top. But it did fluctuate a lot with other characters too. Like even writing for Nightcrawler, that was so much fun. So I think it does shift and does change. But I’m a little biased towards Magneto.

Speaking of Magneto, I feel the most dramatic musical moment came when he had his big scene at the United Nations in episode two’s climax, lifting the tribunal into the sky. What was your inspiration when coming up with the score for this scene?

Magneto at the climax of X-Men '97 episode two, Mutant Liberation Now.
Marvel Animation

Stewart: What we do for a lot of our shows or movies is, we write a suite of themes, ideas, and concepts before we get a locked picture. Sometimes it’s off a script, sometimes it’s animatics. And then from that point, we go into our studio and come up with different sorts of themes and ideas for the characters. In the case of Magneto, we had sort of an “angry Magneto suite,” and then we had more of an emotional one. And that the sequence when we put it into the show just fit so perfectly that it required very little adjusting. It all just worked.

Is there anything from all your horror film scoring experiences you brought to something that will be watched by at least some kids who aren’t the horror demographic? Because the third episode has the Goblin Queen doing some pretty supernatural and horror-esque things in it.

The clone of Jean Grey becomes the Goblin Queen in the third episode of X-Men '97
Marvel Animation

Stewart: When we went out beginning early in our careers, we weren’t seeking out horror, it just kind of happened. Although we’re big fans of certain horror projects, we’re more just fans of cinema. But I think, over years of working on stuff, you acquire knowledge in certain areas. And of course that’s gonna spill out into a horror show, you’re gonna have that kind of come in. But we drew actually a lot from more ’80s horror for that particular episode—Hellraiser, The Thing, even like Michael Jackson’s Thriller. There are certain vibes and tonalities that you grew up with. When you become an adult, you can’t help but have it sort of spill in.

Like I said, your resume has a lot of horror on it, especially a lot of Mike Flanagan horror. But X-Men ’97 is your first step into the superhero genre. Are you fans of comic-related material overall, or was X-Men ’97 just a chance for you to stretch your wings?

We were, yeah. Andy actually got into the comics, which led him to the show. I actually was a fan of the show first, and then I got into comics when I was a kid or early teen.

My understanding is that season two of X-Men ’97 is mostly done from a production standpoint. Have you started scoring the second season?

a crippled Sentinel fires on the X-Men in the first episode of X-Men '97.
Marvel Animation

Stewart: No, we haven’t started in the second season. We’ve just more had open conversations with general direction and stuff. But we’re still in the early days of season two.

Eventually, there’s going to be a live-action X-Men reboot in the MCU. Is this a challenge you would be willing to take should the opportunity come up?

Stewart: I mean, we would obviously love that opportunity. Whether it’s animation or films, we sort of approach it very much the same way. By sticking to themes and trying to lock down the characters. And I think just in general in that world, I don’t know if they’re wanting to connect themes or they’re gonna wanna start fresh, I don’t know, but obviously that would be very exciting to have that, especially if they’re taking tones and stuff from the animated series in terms of sticking to the comic books.

The X-Men get ready to fight the Sentinels in this scene from X-Men '97.
Marvel Animation

I think everyone at Marvel Studios, they’re all such fans. I’ll be on Zoom calls and I’ll see action figures [in the background] and they just love the properties, they love it. So I think when you have people who are doing the projects that are that fans, it’s always in good hands. And I think it’s when it’s not in those hands, that’s when you have trouble. Luckily we’ve been fortunate enough to work with people who really, really care about it.

X-Men ’97 drops new episodes every Wednesday on Disney+.



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