The Newton Brothers Talk Netflix’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE From Director Mike Flanagan
John Andrew Grush (Andy) & Taylor Newton Stewart are collectively known as The Newton Brothers. The Newton Brothers are notable composers, producers, conductors, and multi-instrumentalists best known for their scores in the pyshco-horror thriller genre in motion pictures such as: Oculus, Gerald’s Game, The Bye Bye Man, Ouija: Origin of Evil and most recently, Netflix’s EXTINCTION and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE.
Prior to the release of director Mike Flanagan‘s series on October 12, I recently spoke with the composers.
Andy and Taylor have been scoring films together for over 10 years The partnership began in 2007. Both were learning and making music from a young age, educated and inspired by such wide-ranging influences as Puccini operas, John Williams film scores, and albums by Kraftwerk. “I began classical piano lessons when I was five,” says Andy, “and went from recitals to playing guitar to being in a band to becoming a musical director. And Taylor’s mother was a classically trained opera singer, so we’re both film nerds at heart.” STAR WARS is why Andy wanted to get into composing for films. “I saw STAR WARS and my uncle was a session piano player in LA and he showed me how to play a basic version of it and that pretty much was it for me. I saw John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl recently and it was pretty awesome. I feel like I was crying for many of the cues.” For Taylor, the draw to scoring for cinema was just as strong. “For me E.T. was the first film and VERTIGO was the second film.”
Between the two, they play piano, guitar, bass, clarinet, flute, accordion, sax, harmonica, percussion, organ, kazoo, and cello. They fuse their classical education with a skill and savvy in electronics and manipulated sounds, to contribute distinct music to a diverse spectrum of film projects and capitalize on having two musical heads. They recently lent their Newtonian approach to score the Netflix movie EXTINCTION for Universal Pictures (Directed by Ben Young, starring Mike Pena and Lizzy Caplan) and the acclaimed Shirley Jackson novel THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (Exec Produced by Mike Flanagan, Trevor Macy & Steven Spielberg).
The use of piano conveys a haunting theme in their scores with Mike Flanagan’s Oujia, Gerald’s Game, and now THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. On collaborating on another film, Taylor says, “there’s a short-hand on anyone you get to know well. We’ve worked with Mike long enough now to know what he wants, while pushing the limit and we go through that process early on. We usually discuss the film, we’ve read the script and talked to Mike and then Andy and I do our separate ideas and we don’t talk about what the other is doing. Afterwards we meet and filter what we like and don’t like before it ever goes to Mike.” “The collaboration between Taylor and I really forces us to push our ideas early on,” says Andy. “It’s always easy to pull back on those ideas and rein them in, but we literally talk about pushing boundaries every time we start a new film.” Adds Taylor, “Mike is also an incredible musician and piano player, and sometimes he’ll even suggest things – even a melody – so it’s very different working with him than any other director. He edits the movie as he’s shooting it so there is a lot of thought that goes into it.”
The various emotional cues in THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, as with EXTINCTION, set the tone. With the combination of piano, strings and cello, many cues, such as “Beginning of the End” track, are heartfelt and very personal. The Newton Brothers scores transcend the genre to where you don’t feel as if you’re watching a horror film or a sci-fi film. “It’s such a unique and beautiful story, while being terrifying at the same time. We tried to stay way from those scary moments and play on the emotion and sentiment. In a film you have 90 to 120 minutes and here we had ten hours of music to tell the story,” says Andy.
As with their work on the film HUSH, there is a lofty, ethereal theme that runs through their music with the use of a synthesizer. “Certain directors gravitate towards a sound and we try to put as much melody into films, like horror movies, and tones are great and we tend to come back to a certain instrument. With EXTINCTION, with HILL HOUSE, piano has been a common denominator,” says Andy. “The piano is so classic and timeless and when you’re scoring a story you have to be super aware that it doesn’t get too dressed up with the sound of it. We’re there to gently support the story and journey.”
“The Red Room” cue in HILL HOUSE exudes color and is HUGE part of the upcoming Netflix series. Taylor says, “We composed 7 1/2 hours of music and it’s a big part of the story. And audiences will find out what it’ll mean in hour nine.”
EXTINCTION had a terrific end title song “Don’t Wake Me Up.” Andy says, “We decided to add it in the middle of the night and decided to explore it as a song instead of just music for the ending titles. We brought in a lyricist and JoJo was a perfect fit to sing the song. It’s so good and was really fun to work on.”
Another recent project has been INTO THE DARK (2018). The Newton Brothers composed the main theme and first episode of the HULU series. INTO THE DARK is a horror event series from prolific, award-winning producer, Jason Blum’s independent TV studio. The series includes 12 super-sized episodes, with a new installment released each month inspired by a holiday and will feature Blumhouse’s signature genre/thriller spin on the story.
With THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, audiences should expect an emotional rollercoaster. The score plays into the emotion of love, loss, and fear. With emotionally charged scenes shrouded in frightful tension building, audiences will be clamoring for tissue and something to help brace themselves with for those heart thumping moments this score compliments so well. “We’ve seen the whole first season and were really involved to going to every dub session. We wanted to make sure our score translated along with the visuals. Mike’s series is pretty awesome.”
Watch the THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE series: https://www.netflix.com/title/80189221
Watch EXTINCTION: https://www.netflix.com/title/80236421
Listen to the Newton Brothers score on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7dlJy6RJTqYprtHmWYBOv3