Dan Carey on Speedy Wunderground's tenth anniversary

Interview How to make a record according to Dan Carey

As Speedy Wunderground celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, the cult label’s Dan Carey shares some nuggets of wisdom.

Flick through any issue of this magazine from the last half-decade and you’ll find one name that crops up more than any other: that of prolific producer extraordinaire and Speedy Wunderground head honcho, Dan Carey. He’s the man twiddling the knobs on all your favourite records, having worked on Wet Leg’s world-beating debut, brought every Fontaines DC album to life, sat at the centre of the post-punk revival (Squid, black midi, Goat Girl and Warmduscher have all recorded LPs with him), and released early tracks from the likes of Kae Tempest, Black Country, New Road, PVA and more. As Speedy Wunderground celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, who better, then, to share his tricks of the trade…

Curveballs can take you places…

"I was doing a lot of folk stuff with Emilíana Torrini and Parlophone were trying to sign her, so as something to entice her they asked if we wanted to do a song for Kylie. We went back and wrote ‘Slow’ and she loved it. The only brief they had was to make it really fucking cool so I thought yeah, how about some minimal acid techno?"

Collateral damage is worth the annoyance

"People think I’m insane for having parties in the studio, and sometimes things do get damaged - someone put a cigarette out on the piano once and burnt one of the keys; that was really annoying - but it’s well worth it to me because then I know what the room should feel like with lots of people listening to a banger. I remember with the first Kae Tempest stuff that we did, it was so weird and we weren’t really sure what it was because it was kind of an experiment - doing something narrative with beats and rapping that wasn’t hip-hop. But I remember lots of people coming back after a show at the Windmill, putting ‘Happy End’ on and everyone being like, ‘What the fuck is this, this is hard!’"

Don’t judge a band by their name

"Wet Leg came over for two days just to see how it would go and we recorded ‘Wet Dream’, ‘Ur Mum’ and ‘Supermarket’. I remember calling my manager and saying to cancel everything in the schedule because we had to do the album; at the time, he hadn’t heard anything and didn’t like the name, so had said he didn’t think I should do it. I was just like, ‘Trust me…’. I knew they were amazing, you could feel that there was a lot of potential but I don’t think anyone could have predicted that it would quite go off in the way that it has."

Restrictions are your friend

"A while back, I made this album called ‘The Rules’ which kind of mutated into Speedy Wunderground. With Speedy, it’s about a time restriction [all tracks are recorded entirely in a 24-hour period], because one day isn’t enough to get completely lost in the process. Sometimes having more time is right for certain things, but this works because what you come out with is a better snapshot of what you’re thinking at that time and it’s not overcooked."

Dan Carey on Speedy Wunderground's tenth anniversary

…and a little sprinkle of madness can only be a good thing

"The studio looks a bit chaotic, so I think most people feel quite at home here. I’ll set the band up so that everyone’s interacting with each other, and then I'll mix all the signals into another amp that plays a version of whatever everyone else is playing, so it’s like having a crazy person with a loud amp playing along with you. Ten times out of ten it makes everyone excited in the room, then sometimes I’ll turn all the lights off and put the smoke machine and the lasers on, so you’re completely in another world when you’re playing. When Squid did ‘The Dial’, all the lasers were happening and I asked them to play it loads faster and it turned into this whole other song."

Nurture your important relationships

"The long relationships feel really nice. I love working with Fontaines DC. Even though it hasn’t been a long period of time, we've done three albums together. With Kae as well, we’re working on Album Five now, so those things do feel really special. I think we all probably share the same desire to keep things evolving. Everything that we do feels different from everything we’ve done previously, and it would be harder to have a long relationship with someone if they didn’t think like that."

Don’t be constrained by genre

"We’re releasing a Speedy boxset of dub mixes and someone asked me the other day why they exist because it’s kind of a weird thing to do on this kind of label. I learnt production through a dub producer, so all his mixing was live dubs and I just thought that was how you did it. After I did Kylie, all the major labels would send me these popstars like Britney to write with; I’d be making this weird tune and at the end I’d completely fuck up the mix by just putting loads of echo on everything until they’d be like, ‘What on earth are you doing?!’ Eventually someone told me that’s not normally what you do, but then I got interested in taking the process of making dub but applying it to the wrong situation, so now it’s become a tradition and that’s why these mixes exist."

Prioritise pleasure

"Sometimes when I describe things it sounds a little bit like just fucking around: some of it is hard work. But at the same time, life’s too short and it’s not worth it if it’s not interesting and enjoyable. We’re not making a vaccine for anything, it’s just music and it should be fun."

The Speedy Wunderground 10th anniversary 'The Dubs' boxset is available now.

Tags: Fontaines DC, Kae Tempest, Wet Leg, Features, Interviews

As featured in the April 2023 issue of DIY, out now.

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