Producer focus: Dan Carey on the making of All We Are's debut LP

Dan Carey reveals the production techniques behind All We Are's debut LP and explains why atmosphere and vision are at the heart of every great record…

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 27 Mar 2015
  • min read
Dan Carey is a sonic sculptor who’s produced a growing roster of interesting, successful acts, from Kate Tempest to Emiliana Torrini, Tame Impala to TOY.

As founder and boss of the label Speedy Wunderground, Dan has tasked himself with a strict list of 10 guiding principles.

Under his self-imposed rules, he allows less than 24 hours to record, produce and mix each release.

It’s an ambitious remit that has so far tempted Archie Bronson, Steve Mason and Django Django into his laser and smoke machine-fuelled home studio.

The latest sonic exploration to emerge from his otherworldly HQ is All We Are’s fantastically gooey eponymous debut album, released through Double Six earlier this year.

We caught up with Dan to learn about the techniques behind its production and hear why atmosphere and vision are at the heart of every great record…

How did you first meet All We Are (pictured below)?
It was their manager Phil [at Machine Management] who put me in touch. When the band started to think about recording, he thought of me pretty quickly. He played me Utmost Good and straight away I knew I had to meet these people. Then he sent me a demo of Feel Safe and I fell in love with their whole vibe.

They came down to the studio and we got on really well and decided we were going to make an album pretty much straight away. And then, I went to see them live. I was thinking about the best process for recording them and I felt the thing to do, above all, was capture the feeling of what it’s like actually being in a room with them.

How did that work?
We set up a really cosy space, with lots of amp in a dark room in my studio in Streatham. They played and played and played, and we changed the sound until what we could all hear in the room was exactly what we all wanted to hear on the record.

It took ages to set up but the actual recording process was pretty quick. All the sounds were there. We pretty much did two songs a day after an initial period of setting up and getting to know each other. We didn’t do hundreds of takes – maybe three or four of each one. We tried to keep it fairly consistent so the album feels like one piece rather than lots of different styles.

The album is really immersive. What did you do from a technical point of view to help that along?
The set-up isn’t like a normal studio where you have a live room and a control room. It’s one big room and no one was wearing headphones - so everyone was hearing exactly the same thing. If Rich wanted to hear more bass as he was playing the drums, we just pointed the bass amp a little more towards him. You don’t feel as intimidated as a musician if you’re in a room that feels quite natural. Maybe it’s like playing at home.

That leads to certain technical things you need to do. I just used ribbon mics for everything. Obviously if everything is in the same room there’s a lot of spill from one room to another. I don’t really mind that – I like that slight jumble you get from doing it that way.

Ribbon mics focus on what’s in front of them, but also they have a slightly softer sound so the record hasn’t got too many harsh edges to it.

How important was is to create the right kind of recording atmosphere?
It’s crucial to get everyone to feel comfortable. If a song we were working on wasn’t feeling right, we’d do something else or just have a chat instead, and then come back to it. Also, my studio is in my house, so little things like my kids walking into the studio halfway through a session just makes things more comfortable and homely.

Sometimes we’d just record in the dark. I started using lasers in there a couple of years ago too. Recording in normal light is one thing. But if you shut the blinds and turn off the lights you get a different feel and it’s easier to be transported by the music.

Did you have much discussion beforehand about what you were going for sonically, or was it all unspoken and instinctual?
We were definitely going for a particular vibe. We met, we decided we wanted to work together and then we did Feel Safe. That, in a way, was our discussion. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about music in abstract, especially when you don’t know somebody that well. Your reference points might be different. So we used that song as a specific reference point. We had something tangible to talk about, and it really helped.

How long did it take to record the album?
I think we did it in about a month. There was a week of setting up and experimenting and then about two weeks of tracking. Then a week of overdubbing, and then a couple of weeks of mixing.

They’ve taken a fairly traditional career path – being spotted by an A&R, working with a big name producer for their debut record… What do you make of their story so far?
I think it’s great that all those things coincided at the right time. But I think what they’ve got, aside from their brilliant playing, is that they are so definitely a band. They’re not just three people working on a project – they live for All We Are. You can see that when you go to the pub with them. They respect each other so much and they’re all pushing in exactly the same direction. All they want to do is get into the studio and practice. That level of devotion is what makes someone like Ryan at Double Six so excited. It’s not just what he’s hearing at the gig, he can sense there’s something incredible that’s going on between them.

The album is now out in the world. What do you make of it as a finished thing?
I love it. But it’s so hard to work out what I think of it because I’m so inside it. I could probably tell you better in a couple of years. But I’m very, very happy with it. It’s a whole. I’d be happy if there were no divisions between the tracks and it was one long piece of music. That’s not true of all albums. This is a complete thing.

Read Dan’s top tips on getting the best out of your studio time.