Interview The Producers: Dan Carey

London-based producer discusses Speedy Wunderground and using strobes in the studio.

The Producers is DIY’s means of meeting the people behind the desk, the minds behind the names in album sleevenotes. Speaking to the likes of Owen Morris (who oversaw Oasis’ glory days) and Richard Formby (the guy behind recent Ghostpoet and Wild Beasts records), it’s easy to see the passion that exists within your average producer, and their ability to do more than apply a certain aesthetic to any given record.

London based producer Dan Carey is a man who has experienced almost every facet of the music industry, first as an artist then as a producer and now as the boss of a label with his Speedy Wunderground. In keeping with his career path producing disparate acts like Franz Ferdinand, Toy, Chairlift, Bat For Lashes and Steve Mason, Carey’s Speedy Wunderground is not your usual label.

The concept behind the label is simple. Carey, alongside his engineer Alexis Smith will record, mix and master a track in his London studio ready for instant release. The series of 7” singles will come from a number of bands and artists with last month’s stunning collaboration between Natasha Khan and Toy, ‘The Bride’, providing a perfect example of how effective the concept can be. Despite this diversification, Carey’s production work plays a key role in his career. DIY caught up with Carey in his Streatham studio to find out more about Speedy Wunderground and his thoughts on production.

Can you describe the concept behind the Speedy Wunderground label? How did you begin to formulate the idea and bring it to fruition?
I’ve been making a lot of music for quite a while and it frustrates me sometimes how you can get so into something while you’re making it but have to wait for people to hear it.

Over the last couple of years I’ve had some experiences where I’ve worked really hard on a record and delivered it to a label and, through no fault of their own really, it just takes ages for it to come out because they have to set everything up and get everything in position. Sometimes you finish something and it feels really fresh but it might be 9 months before you hear it on the radio. Then when I do hear it, I kind of feel in my mind that I’ve moved on to something different.

I just thought it would be really fun to do something where the whole thing is about getting it out quickly. You come up with the idea for it and then record it. It’s about doing it as quickly as possible and making a commitment to doing it on Friday, mastering it on Monday to make sure it’s in the shops in a couple of weeks. Not only does it come out quickly and you don’t have that frustration of sitting around but it also gives rise to an aesthetic. Because it has to be done quickly, you can’t fuck around with it. I find that really fun.

I’d been thinking about it for around a year and trying to work out whether it would be feasible or not. Because I want it to be low stress I’m trying to do it with people I already know, artists that I’ve already worked with so that there’s no getting to know you process.

There are very strict ideals and a manifesto for Speedy Wunderground. Do you see it as a something of a creative challenge that spurs you on?
Partly, but partly also just as a way of getting it done. A lot of the rules in the manifesto are to ensure that it does get finished on time. The stuff about not playing it to anyone else until it’s done and not listening to it until it’s mastered and ready, that’s a practical thing. What I find is once I play stuff to other people when it’s in progress I can’t ignore their reaction. I always have to then fiddle with it. I made this set of rules but some of them are not so practical. We had one at the beginning that said no one would be allowed to have lunch! That just didn’t work. I’m not actually that upset if I was to break one of the rules. They’re there as a guideline rather than as strict rules. I think we’ve broken a rule on every one so far.

If we could move on to your own production career, how did you begin to start working as a producer? What was your entry point into production?
A friend of mine used to have a label called Dust to Dust; I used to do a lot of 12” for him. Eventually we released an album on the label. I made another album and somehow I got a deal with Virgin as an artist. It was at a time when labels were signing lots of producers as artists and getting singers for the songs. They introduced me to lots of vocalists. I met Sia and Emiliana Torrini through that. The record didn’t do particularly well but I was able to set up a decent studio. Somebody then suggested that rather than me declaring myself as the artist it would be better to produce records for other people. It amounts to the same thing. It suited me better and I’ve just been doing it since then. Meeting Emiliana Torrini was an important moment. Sometimes your career can stem from just one thing.

You produced Toy’s debut album last year and they spoke about your use of smoke and lasers in the production process. Do you ever worry how bands may react to that or is that all part of the creative process?
I did have one time when I had a strobe on for quite a while and I noticed that someone had gone slightly weird and were shouting “Dan, Dan please turn it off!” I felt a little bad then. It can be as extreme as you want. When I do it with Toy, it’s very extreme. We turn every light off and do it for hours. I wouldn’t do that with most bands but then Toy are Toy. The thing that’s more of a problem is that the equipment in the studio doesn’t like it. Everything goes a little bit crackly. The guy who services all the gear is not really impressed.

What do you look for in an artist if you’re producing or approached to work with someone?
If I hear a piece of music, I can like it but not be sufficiently interested to find out more about the person who made it. Other music, though, makes me want to actually meet the person behind it. I can’t really describe what it is that divides things into those two categories. I wouldn’t get involved in producing someone who didn’t give me that feeling. In terms of what they’re like musically, it can vary a lot. There’s a spark of interest and that come from lots of places.

You also produced Steve Mason’s ‘Monkey Minds In The Devils Time’ LP this year. Is there any difference between producing an album for a well-respected established person like Steve Mason and working with a newer unknown artist? Is there a different dynamic at work?
I don’t really find there’s a difference if someone’s got a history. Maybe in the beginning when I first meet them. I suppose if someone’s really well established they might feel that they’ve got their way of doing things and they’re less willing to experiment. Someone who is doing it for the first time may be a bit freer and open to ideas. At the same time, it can work the other way. If you’re confident and experienced you know to just relax and see what happens. Someone who isn’t so experienced may be more nervous and unsure of what’s going on. I don’t think that somebody’s status has too much effect on the work. The differences are more to do with different situations. When you’re producing something different situations call for different approaches. For instance, with a band like Toy, they’ve got such a well-defined sound that it’s more a case of making sure that everything is sounding right. Obviously, I helped shape the sound a bit but they don’t need much direction. With other bands, you might need to pretty much invent the sound when they come into the studio.

Is there one particular piece of work that you’ve produced or contributed to that you’re particularly proud of?
I’m proud of everything but the new Emiliana Torrini album that’s coming out soon; I’m really proud of that. That’s taken us 3 or 4 years.

SW003, TOY & Natasha Kahn’s ‘The Bride’, is out now as a limited 250 copies 7’.

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