Retcon X and Arenal talk to AiPT! about their new Legion-inspired album.
Since their debut in 1963, the X-Men have sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them. But you know what? Here at AiPT!, we’ve got nothing but love for Marvel’s mighty mutants! To celebrate the long-awaited return of Uncanny X-Men, AiPT! Brings you UNCANNY X-MONTH: 30 days of original X-Men content. Hope you survive the experience…As we approach the end of Uncanny X-Month, we’ve covered a pretty wide breadth of the mutant side of the Marvel Universe. From in-depth discussions of mutant genealogy, to exclusive reveals and previews, to a one on one (on one) interview with the creative team behind the relaunched Uncanny X-Men, we at AiPT! have touched on just about every aspect of mutant fandom out there… well that is, except for music. Call it a result of comics as a medium, but music hasn’t always played an important part in the X-mythos. That’s all set to change, however, as emerging producers Jeremiah “Retcon X” Panich, and Adam “Arenal” Reck are creating the soundtrack to the mutant evolution. On their latest collaboration, “The Division,” the duo explores the world of FX’s Legion via aural soundscapes inspired by the show’s depiction of Professor Xavier’s troubled son, David. AiPT! recently spoke to both to see what makes them tick, and exactly how one writes a soundtrack to the X-Men.
AiPT!: So why the X-Men?
Retcon X: It’s always been the X-Men, really. They’re the only superheroes I’ve ever cared about. Like so many X-Men fans, collecting X-Men comics started as a childhood obsession. Although I did stop collecting during my college years, it was my wife’s grandfather who reignited that passion in me. He owned a local comic shop in the early ’90s and we would always talk about classic X-Men stories and what was happening in the comic industry during those years. Before he passed in 2016, he gave me a ton of comics that he had saved over the years. Then one day, as I was reading through my collection, I began thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a soundtrack that went along with all these great stories.” And that’s what I’ve been trying to do with my music.
Arenal: I’ve been an X-Men fan since I was about 8 years old and got a JC Penney Christmas Catalog sample pack of random comic books with Uncanny #185 and Classic X-Men #44 in it. Lately, I’ve gotten back into it in a big way with my Bish & Jubez webcomic and the Battle of the Atom podcast. But unlike Jeremiah, I’ve never done any comic book-themed music before this project. My music brain and my comic book brain don’t usually work together.
AiPT!: What led to your collaboration on the Legion-themed “The Division”?
Retcon X: Originally, I wanted to reach out to Adam to see if he would be interested in collaborating on a few songs based on the mid-’90s X-Men crossover event: “The Phalanx Covenant.” However, after listening to him and Zack review it on Battle of the Atom, I thought maybe I should find something else for inspiration. Then one night I was watching an episode of Legion and decided that I wanted to do something a little darker and trippy. So, I contacted Adam the next day. I really dig the vibe of his music and I thought we could make something cool.
Arenal: When Jeremiah released “So Bright,” his Dazzler-inspired disco track, I really wanted to remix it in a French house style, so I did a draft and reached out and he released it. So when he came back to me and said he had this idea for a Legion-inspired EP, I was all in immediately. I hadn’t worked on much music all year, and I love the Legion TV show, so this seemed like an amazing opportunity. I’m really grateful we didn’t do “The Phalanx Covenant.” I have no idea what that would have sounded like.
AiPT!: As X-Fans, do you have a favorite era/author/artist?
Retcon X: Early ’90s X-books are very special to me, specifically, Larry Hama’s run on Wolverine and Fabian Nicieza’s X-Men run. That being said, I really love what’s been happening with the X-Men since IVX and I’m excited about the team writing Uncanny X-Men.
Arenal: I have huge nostalgia for the ’80s and early ’90s eras. Classic Claremont still holds up for me, but I’m also a big fan of the Bendis run. Chris Bachalo and Art Adams are probably my favorite X-artists. But honestly, doing the podcast, I have favorites that run the gamut.
AiPT!: With song titles like “White Room,” “She Moves Me (With Her Mind)” and, perhaps most tellingly “Phoenix Rising,” it’s clear the Jean Grey/Phoenix is a big influence on your work. Considering you also have songs that hint toward her pseudo-son, Cable, what is it about the Summers/Grey family that captured your attention?
Retcon X: I am a big fan of both Jean Grey and Cable, but with my first EP, my goal was to write a song for each of the seven “ResurrXion” books that were launching in the spring of 2017 (including Cable and Jean Grey). So I was just anticipating what was coming based on what Marvel had announced in their previews.
With my second EP, I was drawing inspiration from the stories that were resonating with me in the midst of “ResurrXion.” I was especially captivated by the story Dennis Hopeless was telling with young Jean and the excitement that was building toward OG Jean’s return.
Arenal: I know this is more of a Retcon X question, but I just want to say that “White Room” is probably my favorite track from the album. It was one that really pushed how we collaborated and Jeremiah ended up making me rethink the piece from the ground up. It started as this very glitchy, over-compressed thing, and he opened it up into something so much more. I love the way it turned out.
AiPT: Are there any characters/arcs/storylines you’re keen to work into your music?
Retcon X: I do have a few past X-Men events that I’m hoping to tackle but I haven’t settled on anything specific just yet. Although, I always love an alternate timeline story so maybe I’ll explore one of those next.
Arenal: Maybe an “Age of X-Man” piece?
AiPT!: Sonically, your sound harkens back to everything from the mathy guitar-heavy rock of Mars Volta and Minus the Bear, to some of the abstract aural soundscapes of Johnny Greenwood’s solo stuff, the straight percussive movements of a Venetian Snares record, to maybe even a hint of mid ’90s Jim Johnston WWF theme music. How do you approach songwriting for this project?
Retcon X: For me, my songwriting has always taken inspiration from the visual arts. Whether it’s an image in my mind, a film, or a comic book, my music is a response to what I see. I’m constantly trying to make a soundtrack for the world around me. Although my process is different for every song it is usually pretty slow.
Working with Adam on this project was awesome because, not only is he a very talented musician, he was also churning out songs and ideas left and right. It was challenging trying to keep up with his pace. Not surprising, though, seeing as a day or two after I pitched him the idea for the project he sent me “1 + 1 ≠ 2” – when I first listened to it I was like, “Oh this is gonna be fun.”
Arenal: The music I’ve made as Arenal has been really influenced by minimal techno, ambient, and even drone, whereas I think Jeremiah’s influences are much more movie score and post-rock, so the part of this project that was the most fun was seeing how our contrasting styles could complement and play off of each other. I did look for inspiration in Jeff Russo’s score for the show, but I like that what we came up with feels original and is clearly created by both of us. I mean, if you hear an arpeggiated synth, you know it’s me. If you hear a beautiful string melody, it’s Jeremiah. But I love the way those things melded into something new that neither of us would have done on our own.
AiPT!: What’s next for the Retcon X/Arenal collaboration?
Retcon X: I don’t know what’s next but I’m definitely looking forward to another collaboration.
Arenal: I am very slowly working on material for a new album, but I absolutely want to work with Jeremiah again. I think he brings out things in my production and my composition style that I never even thought about before. So we’ll see!