The horror film fandom has been on the edge of its seat for X, director Ti West’s first full-length feature since his 2016 Western In a Valley of Violence. The A24 film is more than a love letter to the greatest horror films of all time — it paves a creative, innovative, and shocking path all of its own.
The same can be said of its score, which was created in a collaboration between legendary horror composer Tyler Bates and goth rock queen Chelsea Wolfe, alongside composer/producer Ben Chisholm. X’s accompanying lush score is perfect for the envelope-pushing, star-studded film.
Set in 1979, X tells the story of a group of aspiring filmmakers and stars (including Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, and Kid Cudi) who head deep into rural Texas to create the ultimate porn film. Things take a sinister turn when the owners of their rental home discover their plans.
As the X Original Motion Picture Soundtrack arrives on vinyl today (May 3rd), Bates and Wolfe have answered all of our questions about the origins of the score and their creative process. Check out the Q&A below.
There are so many iconic songs and sounds from horror films. When tasked with scoring X, did you feel inspired by any classic horror scores or soundtracks?
Tyler Bates: When we first spitballed score concepts with Ti West, it was unanimously apparent that we wanted to create a vocal-centric score framed with organic synthesizers and atmospheres that evoke a sonic aesthetic of ’70s arthouse horror films. The third substantial component of the score are the wakka wakka guitars — which provide a propulsive element to some of the more disturbing scenes in the film — and seventies porn music altogether. The combination of these ideas places our score somewhere between Rosemary’s Baby and Debbie Does Dallas.
Given that both of you come from different compositional backgrounds, how did you get your songwriting styles to collaborate/mesh together?
Chelsea Wolfe: I’ve always approached writing music in a sort of cinematic way, at least in my own head! Often I write with my eyes closed, envisioning a scene or shapes or colors. Tyler has so much experience in this realm of film music that he taught Ben [Chisholm] and I a lot during the process, and I think our styles meshed quite naturally.
Were there any scenes in the film that were particularly exciting to score?
Wolfe: For me, it was trying to capture both the euphoria Pearl was feeling as she touched Maxine’s sleeping skin, and the horror on behalf of Maxine at being touched without her consent. It was challenging, but with Tyler’s help, it became this sort of swirling of both energies that made sense.
Bates: This is an extremely cringe-y moment in the movie. Compositionally, our goal was to underscore Pearl’s desperate desire for intimacy and to express her sensuality. It just so happens that this scenario is about as wrong as it could be. The shock and horror Maxine feels once she is awakened is relatable on the most primal level so we balanced Chelsea’s vocals with discordant atmospheres that we created specifically for this sequence.
What drew you both to the story of X?
Wolfe: I liked that beyond being a unique and interesting slasher film, it also gets us to think about our internalized ageism. I also loved Maxine’s determination; her mirror self-affirmations are the best.
Bates: This film explores unfulfilled dreams, the challenges of growing old, and how we grapple with our sense of self-worth and our desirability to others. That’s a horror show unto itself!
Chelsea, how did you have to modify your songwriting creative process to adapt to a score? Did you find that there was a learning curve?
Wolfe: My voice became my main contribution to the score. For me, it was about tapping into some really intrinsic and guttural vocalizations that weren’t always necessarily singing, but just capturing a nostalgia or a deep-rooted feeling that a certain character might be having. I wanted to provide a lot of vocal source material to build pieces around.
How hands-on was Ti West in conceptualizing the score?
Bates: Ti is always hands-on with every aspect of his films, and this is no different. Ti tends to offer concise direction based on the unique talents and characteristics of his collaborators. In this instance, Ti related specifically to Chelsea’s voice, and also to aspects of my past film work and guitar-playing. This approach keeps the energy of the creative process flowing, because we as composers were given the opportunity to explore our own characteristics in the creation of this score specifically.
Chelsea, did you find that any of your previous releases inspired the work for X?
Wolfe: I’ve always thought of my voice as my main instrument, even though I play guitar in my band as well. In the past I’ve used screaming, breathing, etc. as textural and rhythmic elements in my own songs. That sort of thing was useful for working on X.
Lastly, how did it feel to see the final product come together on the big screen?
Wolfe: It was so special for me, as it was my first time being involved in a film score. It felt strange to see and hear the final cut for the first time alongside an entire audience, but it was also interesting to experience their reactions to things I knew were coming. I had a lot of fun watching it, and felt a lot of gratitude towards Tyler and Ti for having me be part of this project.
Bates: The timing of this project was serendipitous. Just after Chelsea, Ben and I collaborated on the song “Diana” for the Dark Nights Death Metal soundtrack, Ti sent me the X script. I called him and floated the idea of Chelsea and I working together on the score. It wasn’t long before the conceptual body of work was sketched out, but in all, we developed the music for many months before the score was completed. We love the movie, and we are also excited that A24 is releasing our score in a wicked vinyl package.
The X Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is available now.