Composer Jon Ekstrand Discusses the Music of ‘Morbius’
Ekstrand wanted parts of the score to sound like a swarm of bats.
For composer Jon Ekstrand, the decision to go dark with the music of Morbius was an easy one. Not only are there horror elements baked into the very DNA of the titular vampiric Spider-Man villain, but it is also a style and palette that the Swedish composer finds himself particularly adept at. Armed with a veritable army of analog synths, modern musical technology, and a wealth of experience, Ekstrand’s penchant for the atmospheric and sinister made him the perfect sonic mastermind to unleash upon Marvel’s latest cinematic endeavor.
Having previously collaborated with Morbius director Daniel Espinosa on projects like Life, Child 44, and Snabba Cash, the pair’s reunion came as no surprise. However, neither could have predicted the nearly 4-year wild ride that Morbius would take them on. Despite having to navigate countless delays, release postponements, and extremely long-distance creative relationships, Ekstrand ultimately delivered a score that swirls around the film like a deliciously dark velvet cloak. Injected with homages and hints to horror classics and 90s electronic dance music, the music of Morbius is truly unlike anything Marvel has ever put forth before.
In celebration of the film’s recent theatrical release (finally!), we invited Ekstrand back into the bat cave with us to discuss the music of Morbius, his love for horror, and how his ongoing professional relationship with Espinosa ultimately benefits them both.
Dread Central: It’s no secret that this movie was in production for quite a while. When did you first get involved and what was your initial approach to scoring the film?
Jon Ekstrand: Daniel [Espinosa] and I, we’ve worked together on several of his films. I think he approached me (it’s been so many years now), maybe three, three and a half years ago? So, he approached me and said he was going to do this Morbius superhero movie. And, to be honest, I kind of forgot who Morbius was. I had to look it up. Then when I saw him in the Spider-man comics, I of course remembered him.
It’s a really cool opportunity to do a superhero movie and I thought it was especially cool with Morbius since that is a dark character, an anti-hero. And, that kind of suits me and the type of music that I like to write. There are not that many major chords in my music. It’s mainly dark. From the get-go, we decided quite quickly that we wanted to do a synth-heavy score that was really driving.
We also wanted to pick elements from bat sounds to try and make the work sometimes sound like a swarm of bats. We wanted to try those kinds of things. So, we created a lot of sounds that could resemble sonar and stuff like that. That was quite early on. Also, one of the main things that we had to call on—or at least I had—was references to the kinds of movies that I liked when I was a teenager. I grew up in the 80s and I love John Carpenter movies so that was a huge influence on me. It has been all my life. I love those movies still. It was a big thing from the get-go to have this be an homage to those kinds of movies.
DC: I would love to talk about that a little bit more. One thing that really surprised me about this score is just how hard it leans into those horror elements and musically embraces the horror genre.
JE: We decided quite early to make Morbius a horror character. That was the initial movie that we worked on and I think that was the cool thing about actually doing that. We really tried to make the character scary as much as possible. He is an anti-hero and he is experimenting with bats and that’s maybe not the most ethical thing to do. He’s already doing these things and then he becomes a monster. So, everything pointed toward that for both me and Daniel. And also, we thought it would be really cool to do that because there haven’t really been any superhero movies that point in that direction with the score. That really try to go horror; at least that I have heard or seen. I think I’ve seen most of them by now, but there are probably some movies I missed. There’s quite a lot now. [Laughs]
DC: Vampires have quite the cinematic legacy and Morbius certainly falls into that category as well. Did you find yourself referencing or calling upon any of these films for inspiration?
JE: I mean, I’ve also loved vampire movies since I was a kid. I remember seeing Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was in my late teens. For me, that was fantastic. The costumes and everything. Also, Wojciech Kilar’s score that he made for that one is just amazing. It really has the classical tone of a horror score, I think. I have always been inspired by that score and I always listen to it because I just think it’s a great score. So I think it’s always been there, dwelling in the background.
But then, I also think it is just the portraying of the monster that rises again, you know? He’s alive! I think that has been a big influence on the score and keeping all those movies in it. You know, Frankenstein’s Monster, the experimenting, Jekyll & Hyde, and so on. It’s always been there a little bit throughout the process and they will always be in there in the background.
DC: You’ve used the term anti-hero a couple of times to describe the character of Michael Morbius. He’s this character that is neither fully good nor fully bad and we see him struggle with that while literally and figuratively transforming. How did you approach scoring his character and mirror that delicate balance within his music?
JE: Oh, that’s a hard question. But, I think the initial idea was to be really ballsy around the character and how he is presented throughout. We wanted to keep the kind of John Carpenter presentation of the main cue so that you’d really be like, “Here is Morbius!” And there are several points in the movie where we do that. I think that’s probably one of the most prominent things that we really tried to grab onto and make him always a little bit scarier. And also to give him a build that highlights his potential.
DC: This score is really synth-heavy, but perhaps not in the way people might assume. Rather than having an 80s neon-drenched nostalgia vibe, this has a little grittier, 90s sound. What is your personal relationship with this era of electronic music and why did you choose to utilize this particular tonal palette?
JE: For me, it was during the 90s that I really started appreciating music. I was also heavily into electronic music. So, I’m really glad you say this because it is, of course, supposed to be an homage to The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, and stuff like that. I grew up listening to that music and I really enjoyed it. That was one of the main things I really wanted to accomplish with this score. I didn’t want to do the 80s kind of sound because it becomes a little bit softer and nice. It’s a little bit more…nostalgic and suburban. I would even say it’s a little bit comforting. But I think the 90s are more like, “Let’s go to raves.” [Laughs] So, that was a big inspiration. And also because I still listen to that music and love it.
DC: Historically, electronic music has often been used in film music to represent the future, the other, or something supernatural or otherworldly while orchestral music tends to connect to humanity. While these idea has certainly evolved, these ideas still work really well in certain instances — like Morbius. Was this an idea you were consciously thinking about while composing?
JE: It is a concept we are thinking about. Especially here because he’s mixing his blood. It’s a really close connection that starts you thinking like that. And then of course we started thinking about the pulses of blood and bloodstreams and using some of our arpeggiators to almost describe the DNA changes you see on the screen. It also becomes like, laboratory sounds and so on. And also, without spoiling, the circles of bats around Michael Morbius are this whirlwind of things to build upon this. So, definitely. We use this element almost as a trick to subconsciously convey the two worlds trying to take over.
DC: You’ve worked with Daniel many times before this. As this was the first Marvel adventure for both of you, I have to imagine it was nice having that pre-established dynamic to lean on. What was it like working with him on this and do you feel like that was an asset?
JE: Yeah, I think so. We did this during the pandemic and of course, we couldn’t travel. So, Daniel was in L.A. and I was here in my studio in Stockholm. Everything logistically was so much harder. So it was really good to have Daniel that is a director that I can trust and then he could trust me and so on. I think it was good in many ways. It’s always nice to work with somebody that you have made a lot of movies together because there is a certain security in it. You feel that you have a backup and you can also present really crappy music to them and they won’t say, “What is this?! You’re fired!” Because they know you can just rewrite it. It’s a much better thing and you can have a more open dialogue. And I can also help him out and have good discussions without feeling that I have to step on somebody’s toes. We know each other so well.
DC: Are you at all interested in scoring a full-out, full-on horror movie? I feel like your sound is perfect for it.
JE: That’s the thing! This is going to sound a little bit like selling myself, but I think that is the thing I was meant to compose actually. And I have never, ever gotten the chance. When I did Life, it was a little bit sci-fi horror, and then also this, but I would love to do horror movies. Definitely. So anybody that reads this that is making a great horror movie, please contact me. And if A24 wants to do something, they can absolutely call me. [Laughs]
Morbius is currently playing in theaters worldwide.