With its vivid 1980s setting and rampant pop cultural reference points, the Netflix series Stranger Things has proven to be an important new platform for numerous musical artists of that decade, as seen from the recent burst of renewed popularity for Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” both of which were prominently featured in the show’s fourth season.
You can now add “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” Journey’s 1983 smash, to the list of ’80s classics finding a new generation of listeners via its appearance in this season of the series. But unlike the Bush and Metallica anthems, which were included largely in their original form, “Separate Ways” was drastically remixed by Bryce Miller and Alloy Tracks—initially for use in the series’ trailer, and then for the dramatic cliffhanger conclusion to Episode 8. The latter “Extended Remix” of the song was also created with input from former Journey lead singer Steve Perry, whose soaring vocals graced the original track.
Perry, Miller, and Alloy Tracks founder Troy MacCubbin recently spoke with us about their haunting remixes of “Separate Ways,” which bookend Legacy Recordings’ new Stranger Things: Soundtrack from the Netflix Series, Season 4. They not only gave us a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the process of breathing new life into a 40-year-old track, but also offered some interesting thoughts on why Stranger Things and the music used in the series resonate so deeply with audiences in 2022.
How did these remixes of “Separate Ways” come about?
Troy MacCubbin: Well, Bobby Gumm and Adam Finklestein at Trailer Park [the production house that cuts the trailers for Stranger Things], we’ve been working with them for a while now. They sent over Stranger Things, which we were so excited about, and their ideas for possible songs that could be remixed for the trailer. I think Trailer Park mentioned “Separate Ways” to us, and Bryce said, “Yeah, ’Separate Ways’ would be an awesome track.” And then we kind of went off from there…
So your first remix of the song was done specifically to suit the trailer’s needs?
Bryce Miller: Yes, exactly. That really gave me the opportunity to incorporate the analog synths and textures that are used in the Stranger Things score, and try and match this remix to really fit the sound of the show.
“I can’t think of any other show that bridges the gap between children and parents in this kind of emotional way, where the characters are living on the edge of their own fears and the music is intertwined emotionally with all of it.”— Steve Perry
At what point did Steve get involved?
Troy: Well, at the time I was in Nashville, and I get this call from a number I didn’t recognize. The person on the other end rattled off something and then mentioned Stranger Things, so I thought it was Netflix calling to talk about what we had done. He’s like, “You guys did such an amazing job, I want to learn more about what you guys did.” And after 15 minutes, he’s about to hang up, and I’m like, “Um, can you tell me who this is again?” And he’s like, “It’s Steve Perry—the guy who sang the song!” [Laughs.]
And at that point I was like, “Wow, oh my God, Steve, you’re a fuckin’ legend! I can’t believe I’m talking to Steve Perry!” We were over the moon because, throughout our careers, we haven’t ever had the actual singer from any of the songs that we’ve trailer-ized over the years call and give us feedback and want to be involved. And then Steve just took it to the next level, because he was like, “Well, what else can we do?”
Steve, take me back to when you first heard what they’d done with “Separate Ways,” and your initial reaction.
Steve Perry: Well, you know, I still own all my songwriting; the other [Journey] members involved have since sold their songwriting. So I was contacted to approve the use of it. I was sent this trailer version, and I was absolutely stunned by the feeling that I got from it. Because it was so organic and analog-y, and I was stunned that the vocal was emotionally that good. [Laughs.]
“We were over the moon because, throughout our careers, we haven’t ever had the actual singer from any of the songs that we’ve trailer-ized over the years call and give us feedback and want to be involved.”— Troy MacCubbin
You gotta remember, I did that vocal, like, years ago, and back then I was struggling to be heard amongst incredible amounts of instruments—analog synths, many, many guitars, and drums. So when I heard that Bryce had taken [my vocal track] out like he did, and there were certain harmonics that I think he had accentuated, with certain echoes that were just touching me emotionally that I wish I would’ve had on the original, I turned to my girlfriend and I said, “You know, I never heard the vocal without all that stuff around it, it really, emotionally, sounds so different than I remember it—and in a positive way!” I was blown away with what they had done, and I just wanted to get to know them and talk to them more.
A week or so later, I got Bryce’s number from Troy. I called him up and said, “Look, I have this idea—just for fun, let’s see if we can extend it.” Bryce already had a lot of different versions of his remix saved, which we were able to apply to that extended mix. In one day, we put this mock together and sent it to the music supervisor for Stranger Things. Within a few days the Duffers came back to us like, “We’ve got to have this on the record!” So now, all of a sudden, we’re mastering it down for the soundtrack!
Bryce, how did you approach that first remix for the trailer?
Bryce: Funny enough, one of the first things that Steve wanted to ask me was where I got this isolated vocal; because, as far as we know, it’s not available. I used a piece of software that uses artificial intelligence to pull the vocal away from the instrumental. And hearing those vocals isolated for the first time, just hearing the lead line, I felt something that I hadn’t felt in the song before. And I think that’s kind of what led to how the remix begins, which is just creating a bed of drone for that vocal to sit on top of, and not getting in the way—just letting this emotion come through.
“I’m not trying to just take the original song and slap a few new elements on it to make it louder or more cinematic. I really like to look into the song, and find the musical and vocal ideas that can be given new meaning.”— Bryce Miller
I think what’s the most fun about working on remixes like this is, I’m not trying to just take the original song and slap a few new elements on it to make it louder or more cinematic. I really like to look into the song, and find the musical and vocal ideas that can be given new meaning. And I think that when you pull Steve’s vocals away from the rock track, you find all this emotion and sadness in it. And then be able to take the lead synth line and the lead guitar solo away from their rock world and blow ’em out into big orchestral arrangements…it’s just so satisfying to take the music that the guys in Journey had written and hear it in a totally new context.
Steve: I just wanna say that there’s musical contributions that people can make, but then there’s emotional contributions—and what Bryce and Troy have done is, they picked up on the deeper, emotional, buried-in-there potential contribution that they could pull out of it. They really reached for more emotion than I even knew was in there. When Bryce started arranging it, he took certain melody things that were always there, like guitar lines or things that we had worked on back in the day, and just expanded on ’em in a different way. And so it became a new version of itself, emotionally. I mean, I knew it was good, but I didn’t think it was that emotional. [Laughs.]
Steve, were you already a fan of Stranger Things?
Steve: Yes. I love the show. The first time I saw and heard the trailer [with “Separate Ways”], I kind of lost my mind because it was so powerful. The Duffers are great filmmakers, and what Troy and Bryce were reaching for really fit the filmmakers’ emotional requirements. It’s not easy for people to do trailers and add a connective tissue to the story and the emotion of the show. Most people do trailers and they’re just hack trailers—they get that one voice, like [growls] “He’s back! And he’s angry!” [Laughs.]
“What Bryce and Troy have done is, they picked up on the deeper, emotional, buried-in-there potential contribution that they could pull out of it.”— Steve Perry
“Separate Ways,” “Running Up That Hill” and “Master of Puppets” have all gotten a huge boost from this season. Do you see any common thread that connects these very different tracks?
Steve: I mean, the soundtrack has Musical Youth on there, “Pass the Dutchie,” and it’s got “Wipeout” by The Surfaris! Somehow they all work in the show, because the Duffers have this incredible sense of humor about themselves, and their darkness is so deep. The one that I scratched my head about—and then I thought, “No, I guess it’s cool”—was when they’re gonna jump in the airplane with the crazy Russian pilot and they’re playing “Traveling Man” by Ricky Nelson?
Troy: Just the fact that these songs are coming back and being discovered by a new generation—I’ve got a six-year-old and an 11-year-old, and now suddenly every time I talk to Steve on the phone, they’re like, “Did you just speak to Steve Perry? Oh my god, are you gonna see him?” [Laughs.]
Steve: I can’t think of any other show that bridges the gap between children and parents in this kind of emotional way, where the characters are living on the edge of their own fears as they’re facing the bigger fears and the music is intertwined emotionally with all of it. And with the music comes even more of that, because the emotion of the music, no matter what it is, is already in the tracks.
Steve, this is not the first time a Journey track has wound up in a key position in a major TV show…
Steve: Well, no. And by the way, now that you mentioned that, I really think that this is the next equivalent of a Sopranos moment for a whole new generation. Like, how Troy was talking about his children—my doctor calls me all the time and puts his 16-year-old on the phone with me, because she can’t believe that I know her dad. But they’re watching the show together, and he told me the other day that when they were watching Episode 8 and our song came on, she cried. He said, “I’ve never seen her cry like that!”
Did this experience make you want to mess around with some of your other old tracks in a similar way?
Steve: 100 percent. Troy and Bryce and I, this isn’t the last of us!
Bryce: We’re a band now! FL