Across the past five years and twenty five releases, Speedy Wunderground - the label run by producer Dan Carey - has become a brilliantly unique outlier in the label world, creating spontaneous, unusual recordings, put together in a day and featuring unlikely collaborations as well as the brightest new, young talent.
In the notes section of the Soundcloud link to the label’s first release, ‘I Go Out’ by Steve Mason & Emiliana Torrini, the idea of the releases is outlined succinctly in a handful of quotes: “Recording of all records will be done in one day and finish before midnight. The recordings will be a snapshot of the day. Mixing will be done the day following the recording, also in one day only. This will prevent over-cooking and ‘faff’.
“There will be no lunch break during recording and mixing days.”
“Speedy Wunderground work quickly. There will be as a little delay as possible between recording and release. Speedy Wunderground records will not sit on the shelf gathering dust waiting to be released.
“Speedy Wunderground will release each year’s recordings as a compilation at the end of the year.”
“Speedy Wunderground Records will not be slow.”
Over the past half a decade, this mission statement has proved brilliantly accurate. Sharing songs from Kate Tempest, TOY and Natasha Khan (Bat For Lashes), Childhood, Teleman and more, the label’s spontaneity and convention-swerving way of working has spawned a bucketload of unique, supremely exciting recordings.
Releasing their ‘Year 3’ compilation earlier this year, followed by new releases from the buzziest new British bands around - most recently Black Midi’s debut single ‘bmbmbm’ and ‘The Dial’, the brilliant new one from Brighton hopefuls Squid - the power and determination of Speedy Wunderground are at their strongest ever.
To mark their landmark year, we headed to Dan Carey’s London studio to talk all things Speedy and what else he’s got up his sleeve in the coming months.
Listen to ‘Year 3’ and read the interview below.
It seems to have been a busy 2018 for you - what are you currently working on?
Just finishing off the new La Roux album, which is sounding really good. Also in the middle of the new Kate Tempest album as well, which we have written and recorded most of the music for, but we’re going to America to Rick Rubin’s [studio] to do a live taken and perform the whole album in one take, playing all the music out of samplers and keyboards, and then she’ll do the lyric in one 45-minute piece. What we’re planning to do is to go there for a week and do two shows - one in the studio in quite a controlled way in the morning, with just us there, and one in the evening where we invite an audience down and record that. By the end of the week, we’ll have ten takes or so, and maybe edit them or just choose the best one.
Is that kind of way of working a new experience for you?
Recently, the way that I’ve been approaching recording of albums, where possible, is to turn them into one ‘thing’ rather than record lots of songs individually. It kind of started with Warmduscher, where we decided to basically play the first side of the record in one take, and there was this agreement that we’d start, and if anyone made a mistake we’d just go back to the beginning of the take. We were doing it on analogue tape so we’d go back to the start and wipe what we’d done already. The tension builds up that way, and by the third or fourth go, you’d make it to the end of the side, and it adds an urgency to the process, and at the end of side one you can almost hear everyone going ‘Don’t. Fuck. Up!’.
We tried the same thing with Goat Girl - they did the whole album in one take. Nothing on that record was played more than once. Obviously we did overdubs afterwards, but even those were done in one take. I’d just give Lottie [Goat Girl vocalist, guitarist] a guitar and say ‘Play this wherever you think it’s needed’ and she’d just sit through the whole record, adding new bits wherever it seemed like it fitted well. With Kate, we’ve been talking… all the live shows we’ve done for the last two albums have been very continuous, and she even tries to stop people from clapping in between tracks, just so that it can be one stream of lyric. It’s kind of going in the opposite direction to the rest of the world. With Spotify, it’s all about tracks rather than albums, but there’s still something nice about it I think.
Do you often find yourself consciously going against the grain in that way?
Not consciously as in doing it for the sake of it, but I’m very aware of the fact that everyone’s very track-orientated now, and I really like the idea of a track being part of an album. Even if you go back to old records where they were [recorded] as a whole, you can still listen to an individual track and hear that it’s part of something else, even if you only listen to that one thing. It’s fun to record that way, too.
Is it always the plan to bring bands who have featured on a Speedy Wunderground 7” single through to record full-lengths with you?
Not as much as I’d like to, just because of time. We’re talking now about starting to do albums on Speedy next year, which is quite a big move. It’d become a slightly different thing, but that situation has come up so many times, and often what will happen is that we’ll do a Speedy [single] and then go on to do an album with that artist, and then we have to find a deal for them, and it seems logical to have an outlet that we can do that through. We’re just trying to organise that now.
I’m sure if you wanted to, you could easily fill your diary with sessions with established artists - is it important for you to set aside time dedicated to Speedy and to very new artists making their first tracks?
Particularly with Speedy stuff, I think there’s something exciting about working with new artists, because there’s no preconception, and no set pattern to the way things are done. Everyone in the room feels like they’re finding their way, and learning a bit, and I like to be quite experimental with stuff. I’d much rather come into the room and everyone say ‘what do we do?’ rather than ‘this is the way we always do it - it has to be like this’. It probably has shifted slightly more into new artists recently. It’s also slightly moved away from collaborations, too - it always used to be about putting two unlikely people together, but… I don’t know why. Since the label’s got a bit more well-known, the quality of the demos sent in out of the blue has just gone up and up. This new band Squid happened like that. They’re brilliant.
“It’s kind of going in the opposite direction to the rest of the world.”
Do these experiments come from your end, challenging the bands to do something new, or the bands themselves coming in with an open mind?
I’ll usually suggest something that might be a bit different. Goat Girl said they really loved the sound of the Warmduscher record and wanted it to sound like that, so I said ‘Well ok, if you want it to sound like that, you’re gonna have to play it all in one go!’ and they didn’t like it at first… I think everyone finds that idea intimidating… or maybe not intimidating, but in your mind, recording like that might make it sound like a live album, where there’s gonna be mistakes on it, and it might not be perfect, but most of the work goes into practicing it before, and then maintaining the balance when you’re recording. If you practice something too much, and it becomes too much of a routine, then you kill it, so you have to get it just at the right moment.
Is it vital for you to come out of a project feeling like you’ve learned something new and grown as a producer, as well as having made a great record?
I think so. They’re connected. I don’t think I’d be able to make what I consider to be a really good record if, during the process, I hadn’t been wondering slightly how to do it. If I went into making a record and knew exactly what I was doing, and did it this way because we always do it this way, I can’t imagine it would be good. I really love the feeling at the end of a day of recording, thinking ‘Is this good?’ and it can be a bit stressful, but I think it’s probably the same in any job. If you feel that it’s completely easy and you’re not questioning yourself, and just doing it the same every time, it’s not going to… well, unless you’re flying a plane. It’s good to feel a little bit at sea sometimes.
Something I’m really trying to do at the moment while recording is to question the fundamentals. Does it really need to have drums in it? Does it need to have bass? Why is it that when this happens, then this always happens afterwards? If you can find ways around these things, it can be really interesting. Then you make a record and it hasn’t got any drums, and you think ‘Why does this sound really boring? Oh yeah, it’s ‘cause it hasn’t got any drums in it…’ I think well-made records conceal all the tricks behind the song. You just listen to it and struggle to write down exactly what’s in them because they just hit you with the emotion of it.
How are things progressing with the next age of Speedy Wunderground, and what will become ‘Year 4’?
We’ve already got enough songs to fill it up! We’ve got Black Midi, Guilty, Squid. People always ask what’s coming up on Speedy, and it’s always difficult to answer, because I like to be as spontaneous as possible. My ideal ones are the ones where we roughly have time scheduled in - we know that every other month we should set aside a Friday to do it - and my favourite feeling is on that Monday not knowing what or who it’s gonna be. Then just going to a gig, or hearing a track, or ringing whoever, and making it happen. People always want to know what’s coming up, but I don’t even want to know!
Do you think the expectation is also less if the recording is booked in the day before?
Maybe, yeah. When we were recording with Natasha [Khan, Bat For Lashes] for the song with Toy, I think I called her the night before, and sent her this Iranian song, and we had the lyrics translated, and she read them in the cab on the way here, and then just came and sang it when she got here. It was so easy, and somehow I think if it’d been planned weeks before, it would’ve been very different. We did that song then, and then thought we should do a whole album [2015’s collaborative LP as Sexwitch]. We just went record shopping, bought loads of tunes and then made covers of them. And then it’s spawned this whole other thing - [Natasha’s] next album was called ‘The Bride’, and that moment set this whole chain of events in motion.
Do you find the artists get as much satisfaction from this way of working as you do?
Yeah. So many times, at the end of a day of recording, people have said ‘That’s the most liberating thing, and the most fun day of recording I’ve had in my life’ and I think there’s a completely different sort of pressure - you always end the day and can’t quite believe what you’ve done. They sound fresh and raw, but not lo-fi - it shows you can do things quite quickly and then can still be good, and you don’t need to do 100 takes. It’s diminishing returns - it might be a little bit better, but it’s not going to be 100 times better.