The Wurly Chronicles has the sound of a career defining release. Packed with rich, lustrous tracks from the needle drop to the run-out, Dan Only‘s new EP on Dirt Crew blew us away when we reviewed it in the current issue of 5 Magazine.
For the first in this series we’re calling Track Teardown, Dan Only took us into his studio for the making of his track “Be Major… Believe.” The whole of The Wurly Chronicles is out now on digital & on wax from Dirt Crew.
What does The Wurly Chronicles mean? I googled and came up with nothing!
Glad to know I’ve managed to keep it low-key. A Wurly is just a nickname for a Wurlitzer electric piano. Given that the common thread throughout the entirety of the EP is the inclusion of a Wurlitzer 200A on all the tracks, I thought it’d be a fitting way to piece together a chronology of music. It’s a record of related events that all came together through the use of this electric piano.
Did you make all four tracks on the EP at the same time?
“Truffles” and “It’s Clear” were written together in pretty close succession, maybe even a couple of days apart. I managed to ride the same creative wave when I made those two. “Be Major… Believe” was made a few months later after I got my hands on a Roland TR-909. “Don’t You Understand” is the latest of the 4, and that was made almost a year ago now. I’ve definitely been sitting on these songs for sometime now.
It feels like these tracks were built around the drums but that bassline at the opening on “Be Major… Believe” is so wicked. Which came first?
Given the machines that were used, it was the drums that came first and the bassline second. It was made with two of my favourite pieces of gear, the Roland TR-909 and SH-101, which both interplay in the most beautiful way by virtue of their designs. The 101 has a trigger input that tells its sequencer to advance a note every time it receives a pulse and the drum machine can send out a pulse to clock that sequencer. Once I had the drums grooving the way I wanted them to, I sent a trigger out from the drum machine to the mono synth to have the two jamming in tandem. It’s this shared groove that makes their interplay so tight – and one that couldn’t have been made without the other.
This is a really fascinating track to tear down for aspiring producers, because it’s so dense. What gear did you use to make it?
It was made using a Roland TR-909, SH-101, Juno 106, Wurlitzer 200A, and most importantly an egg shaker. There’s also some Space Echo and H3000 on there that’s glueing it all together.
What was your inspiration to make it? Or the story behind it? I thought it reminded me of so many ’90s Detroit tracks – the synths remind me of Stacy Pullen but that groove is Chez Damier.
To be honest, it came from just having an exciting drum machine & bass loop that I was able to write chords over. Part of what makes it sound like the ’90s music you cited is the gear that was used to make it, along with my affinity for that era of dance music.
“I like that hardware imposes limitations and helps you dictate your sonic palette – it makes for quicker decisions and helps me keep things moving.”
The arrangement is startlingly complex compared to many deep house tracks. Every 30 seconds you mentally get “used to it,” and then I hear another layer or another color or texture added in. It has an epic scope because of it: it feels much longer, it takes you on a distant journey way beyond most 7 minute tracks. I love tracks like this — they feel like a jam session, like I’m hearing it live. But did you wonder if you were going “too far”? How far is too far? Have you ever thought, “Man, I love this track but are DJs going to play it?”
Track length is definitely something I try and be cognizant about as it’s easy to allow things to get a little self indulgent. There was just something about the way this one came together that I had to let it unfold at a slower pace. Like you said, it feel’s like a jam session because it was created in that type of context. I recorded the drum part and bass line together in one long take after I had mapped out the initial loop. Once the live take had been edited down, I let natural progression of those two parts dictate the ebb and flow of energy and just followed their narrative to build the rest of the track.
What does your home studio set up consist of? Strictly computer, mostly gear, a mix?
Almost 95% of the sounds you hear on this record started as sound sources outside of the computer. The physical aspect of interacting with a piece of kit is super important to my workflow so I’ve built up my studio to consist mainly of classic vintage hardware pieces. Hardware is by no means essential when it comes to creating great music but it’s definitely my preferred way to work. In the past, I used to make music strictly in the box, but it became super uninspiring and I felt bogged down by the almost infinite possibilities. I like that hardware imposes limitations and helps you dictate your sonic palette – it makes for quicker decisions and helps me keep things moving.
What is the latest piece of gear or software that you used to make something?
I recently got my hands on an Ensoniq ESQ-1 and an Eventide Space pedal. The two are a bit of a match made in heaven. One is a digital synth with analog filters, essentially a poor man’s PPG, and the other is a reverb pedal with way too many presets and super hands on editing possibilities. It’s easy to take somewhat stark cold sounds into otherworldly territories with this combo. These two have yet to make it onto any finished records but it’s been nice getting to know them. I’m sure they’ll find their way onto something in the near future.
How often do you work in the studio? Do you try to work every day? at set hours? when you feel inspired?
I used to try and make a point of hammering out at least one solid idea a week, to the point that it’s 80% of the way towards completion, but working full-time and not having my studio in as close a proximity to where I work has made that quite challenging. It’s also hard to gauge when inspiration is going to strike, so just constantly creating until something completes itself is generally my preferred approach. Forcing creativity often leads to pretty mediocre outcomes, so it’s usually best to just walk away and come back to projects at a later time when you’re feeling refreshed.
So how did The Wurly Chronicles find its way to Dirt Crew? Do you know someone, did a friend set you up or did you send them as demos?
The one and only Jesse Futerman, a good friend and collaborator of mine, got our song “Changes” into Dirt Crew’s hands for their Deep Love 2017 compilation. All the artists that were included on that compilation were asked to make a mix for their DirtCast Series, and when it came time to make mine, I decided to sprinkle a handful of unreleased tunes into the mix. The rest is history.