Life & Culture

David Wrench: The Producer and Mixer Who Sees Sounds

The musician and one half of disco-pop duo Audiobooks tells Ben Perdue about his love of experimental sounds

Better known as one half of demented disco-pop duo Audiobooks, David Wrench is more than just an enigmatic synth mage. Raised in Anglesey, the mixer and producer cut his teeth on the school four-track mixing desk and went on to play keyboards for Julian Cope, before crafting hits for Caribou, Glass Animals and FKA Twigs. His own group came about after meeting art student agitator and part-time model, Evangeline Ling, at a house party. The next day she dropped by the studio, belted out a vocal while Wrench did some rewiring, and Audiobooks was born.

Here, he discusses his love of experimental sounds, how Cope saved him from the nine to five, and why he finds working with difficult artists easy.

“There was a four-track studio at school, and luckily my physics teacher produced records for the Super Furry Animals, so he showed me the ropes. He used to let me sit in every lunchtime. It was quite different then because everything was tape. I still think technology is just a means to create an emotional connection though. I don’t really want to spend hours programming modular synths. But I am interested in how noises and textures are made – I have synesthesia, so I see sound, which is useful in my job.

“When I was young, I was really into modern classical music, I liked stuff that was dissonant and textural, and then I heard The Smiths and Joy Division. The lyrics of Morrissey, and the sound of Joy Division records had a huge effect on me; it all just connected. Then I got into acid house, house music and techno.

“I think in the last few years guitar bands have died off to a large extent and alternative music has gone over to a more synth-based, textural sound. And so, all that unfashionable stuff I was obsessed with, and had experimented with, has come back into demand.

“Just after mixing Odessa by Caribou I nearly gave up. I was skint and playing keyboards with Julian Cope and told him I’d been offered a job teaching. ‘Look in the mirror,’ he said. ‘You’re unemployable; you have to make this work. You wouldn’t survive in that world. Don’t kid yourself you’ve got the option!’ Nine months after it was released, Odessa blew up, and suddenly loads of work came in. I did the FKA Twigs album, a Jungle album, the first Glass Animals album and the next Caribou album. And they all came out at the same time, so it was a huge change.

“Sometimes, before mixing it, an album can sound very disjointed and separate because the tracks are made in different environments. The trick is finding its essence and making sure that runs through the entire work. I seem to specialise in working with artists who other people think are difficult. But I like artists with a strong vision. I find them easy to work with. It’s much harder when people just leave it all up to you.

“Audiobooks happened by accident. Evangeline visited the studio one day while I was still wiring stuff up, so I gave her some headphones, showed her how a synth worked and left her to it. After a bit I joined in, pressed record, and we made Gothenburg. The next day she turned up again in her pyjamas to do some more.

“It’s been great to get out and play live. Usually I get the time to work on something until I’m happy with it, but on stage you have one chance to get it right. I always think that if I really love it then someone else will, and it will find its audience. We build our live sets with an arc that starts quite strange and slow, then gradually builds before leaving on a huge burst of energy. It may not be commercial, but artistically it draws people in. Sometimes you can tell that the audience is confused – and I like it when people find it hard to describe our sound, but after four tracks, when you see the mobile phones going up, you know you’ve connected.”

A version of this article appeared in the S/S19 issue of Another Man.