My third victim for a deep dive into creativity, technology and workflow in The Mixdown is Canadian producer and DJ extraordinaire, Fred Everything. The timing of our chat turned out to be fortuitous, as Fred had just been nominated for a Juno (Canada’s answer to the Grammy Awards) in the category of Underground Dance Single of the Year (2023) for his single “The Time Is (Now)” when we spoke.
Although deeper heads have been locked into Fred’s smooth and understated take on house music from day one, he’s perhaps been a little slept-on by the wider electronic music community, but that looks set to change this year. I’ve always been impressed with his warm, melodic, rolling productions, and like contemporaries such as Atjazz and Jimpster, his sonics always seem to me as close to flawless as it gets. Like most artists I’ve spoken to, the process is everything to Fred: “Creation takes time and dedication” he says. “It requires being in a certain uninterrupted mindset. It also means having the time to experiment and not necessarily creating on demand.” As he nears the finish line in producing his fifth album, we discussed the tensions between being on the road, running a label, staying on top of social media demands, and carving out space to get into that creative flow.
First of all, can you tell me how you got into DJing and production?
From a young age, I always loved music and was attracted to electronic sounds in general. Anything on the radio with synths, drum machines and vocoders got my attention. I got piano lessons from a young age but we didn’t have a piano to practice at home. As soon as I was able to get my hands on some equipment, I started to experiment. I started making music in the late-’80s when I was a teenager. I bought my first synthesizer after my first summer job washing dishes in a restaurant during high school. I started with alternative influenced music (New Order/Depeche Mode/4AD…) but it didn’t take long for me to incorporate more dance elements in my music, since I was already going out to clubs from the age of 13. After the hustle of playing the live circuit and early raves, I decided to keep my equipment at home and started to take on DJing more seriously.
How was the local scene in Québec when you were starting out? Can you mention any local heroes who helped mentor you in the early days (and describe what you learned from them)?
The scene was what we made it. Québec City was a bit of a Sheffield in a way: a small city, with very little to do. Music was our escape. Mentors at the time would have been bands such as Handful Of Snowdrops, Michel Plamondon (St-Michel), Nic B…They taught me that it was possible to make world class music with minimal equipment from the comfort of your home. Learning what machines did what, and especially getting the lowdown on the acid house sound with the 303, 909, 808 and 101. When I moved to Montreal in the mid-’90s, it was people like Luc Raymond and Christian Pronovost that influenced and helped me the most. They were both established DJs. Luc played some of my early music in clubs from cassette (even beat matching it with records!) and Chris owned the Inbeat Records store, where I worked and got a lot of my house education! Montréal Disco legend Robert Ouimet (RIP) also helped in releasing one of my first records.
the constant flow of online tutorials make it so that people are more interested to know how a compressor works than learning basic music theory or synthesis. A compressor never made or broke a song.
What was your first production setup like, vs. your current setup?
The one main thing that changed from then and now is having a computer at the center of it all, and more budget to buy the synths I want. I started with an Akai AX-60, an analog synth very similar to the Juno-106. I also worked with a lot of borrowed equipment from friends and bandmates: Korg Poly 800, Mattel Synsonics etc. My friend also had an Emulator II Sampler and we used to sequence everything with a Korg Sequencer SQD-8, which was a real pain to program — I had to manually enter each note and its value for the whole duration of the song, and if I made a mistake I would often have to start again after I listened to the playback.
Later on, we moved to a few digital synths like Kawai K1, Yamaha SY-22… We used to curse analog synths because they were so moody. I remember we had an Arp and couldn’t get a decent sound out of it. Then it was the obvious 909/808/303/101, which used to be cheap back then. I still have my red SH-101 that I bought in the early-’90s for $150. The Ensoniq EPS was my sampler and workstation for a long time. I used to sequence everything from it and made all my early records on DIY, 20:20 Vision on it.
Fast forward to now and I’m surrounded by all my dream synths: Prophet 5, OBX-8, Moogs, Roland, Rhodes, drum machines, etc… all being routed to Logic through a patchbay and a small SSL Big SiX console. Everything is also MIDI-ed and sync ready. It took me a long time to get my set up to that point!
I guess most producers are dealing with the paralysis of choice (too much gear, too many plugins, unlimited sound choices) these days. Do you intentionally limit your choices when you’re making music?
I know it’s a real problem for people who just come in to production. They’re making music like they’re browsing the internet, always looking for the next best sound. Soft-synth manufacturers have made it this way, but also the constant flow of online tutorials make it so that people are more interested to know how a compressor works than learning basic music theory or synthesis. A compressor never made or broke a song. Working with basic synths such the SH101, I quickly learned how to make the sounds I was after in my head. Same from playing a bit of piano when I was younger. Don’t get me wrong, I love presets, but you have to know what you want first. Learning the strength and weaknesses of each machine is also important when it’s time to choose an instrument. But I won’t lie, I sometimes struggle to decide which Moog is better for the situation. Good problem to have I guess!
What are your go-to pieces of gear, plugins or instruments when you’re starting a new track? For example, do you generally start with drums, a sample, a synth?
I always say that I need a good Poly Synth and a good Mono Synth. I went on a studio retreat with my Prophet 6 and my Moog Grandmother once for two weeks and I wrote a song a day. I didn’t miss anything.
How important is collaboration is for you?
I work a lot in isolation but I love collaborating. Due to the geographical nature of a lot of my collaborations, It often has to be done long distance by exchanging files. But I think it’s always important to have a great connection with the person you’re working with, so I will have at least one online session to connect and talk about inspirations/intentions for a particular project. Recently I got to spend two weeks with my friend Martin Iveson (Atjazz) in Derby (UK). Due to his schedule and family obligations, we had very limited time to work every day — sometimes as little as an hour a day. But we always managed to get at least a song idea every day we worked. The fact that we had such a short time and that we know each other personally and musically so well really helped. But also the fact that we were bouncing ideas quickly without thinking. That’s the real magic of collaborations.
too much time in clubs or on the road can be very hard. Creation takes time and dedication. It requires being in a certain uninterrupted mindset. The DJ can eat the producer at some point.
How does DJing inform your production and arrangement (if at all)?
A good friend of mine made me realize recently that all my tracks start with drums. Even though it’s not a simple mix in, it definitely comes from my DJ DNA. I’m generally good with arrangements, as I don’t have any blockage in that department, but I do envy some producers who take a bolder more dramatic approach to arrangements. Someone like Carl Craig for example. I hope to be able to do that some day. Do more with less. When I was studio neighbors with Claude Von Stroke in San Francisco, he told me his music was 80% arrangement : fewer elements, but it’s how he worked them for the dancefloor that made it exciting. That’s a great example of how DJing informs production.
Do you think regular DJing makes you a better producer when it comes to dance music? Is the old “one foot on the dancefloor” trope true for you?
Yes and no. Of course, keeping a regular connection with the dancefloor helps, but too much time in clubs or on the road can be very hard. Creation takes time and dedication. It requires being in a certain uninterrupted mindset. It also means having the time to experiment and not necessarily creating on demand. The DJ can eat the producer at some point with the attraction of gig offers. Not only there’s less of an incentive to produce financially, but the work itself can suffer if there’s not enough time dedicated to your practice.
5 Mag Issue 207
TIME CAPSULE: This was originally published in 5 Mag Issue #207 featuring Joyce Muniz’s Zeitkapsel, Fred Everything, how to save a landmark, the AI that is eating streaming alive, Conrad Colson, LF System and more. Help keep our vibe alive and our shine bright by becoming a member for $2/month and get every issue in your inbox right away!
How far into the writing/producing stage can you tell if you’ve got something special? Or do you never know until you see people respond to the track?
The original vibe of a track comes in pretty quick for me. Then it’s about developing it and making sure to not destroy the vibe by overworking it, something I’ve been guilty of too many times. When I’m done with a project, I’m often so tired of it that I don’t want to play it out. Until I hear someone I like playing it in context and then it might give me confidence to play it!
Have you ever released a track that you thought was just OK, but ended up being a great success. Or vice versa, do you have any personal favorites you feel have been slept on?
I always have hope to touch as many people as I can with my work of course but that’s not my decision. Once you put something out to the world, it belongs to them. For example, I just got nominated for a Juno for a track I thought was just a cool underground dancefloor tune, with no expectation at all. I believe in putting my most honest work forward, and hoping for the best.
Composing / Arranging / Mixing: do you separate these steps, or is it all part of a single creative process for you?
Both. With electronic music, mixing is part of the composition as you shape your sound a certain way to make it your own and to convey your message. Same with arranging, it’s part of composition, for any musical style, but also it will help when it’s time to mix. A good arrangement mixes itself. Having said that, I also love to reset the faders to do a fresh balance at the end of the process.
How do you approach remixing? Is it different to your approach to originals? How much time do you spend checking out the original, or do you dive right into the stems?
I have to have an idea when I first hear the song. If I don’t, I won’t do it. I tend to remix with that old school mentality of using stems as much as possible, enhancing certain parts and getting rid of others, but always adding overdubs of keys, drums, effects, etc. But sometimes, I can decide to write something new based on just the vocal, for example. Either way, I always want to respect the original, so listening to the original is important to me, so I don’t unintentionally mess with the timing of the vocals for example.
Can you name a couple of personal favorite remixes of other people’s work that you’ve produced, and why they are special to you?
I often mention my remix for Bran Van 3000 feat. Curtis Mayfield. That one was very special because I’m a huge fan of Curtis, he had just passed away a few months prior to me working on the remix. So it was like working with his ghost in a way.
Another fun project was remixing Jazzanova feat. Paul Randolph “I Human.” I found the parts online and submitted my remix to them and they put it out. I originally wanted to just do an edit for my sets but ended up adding an acid line and reworking the whole thing. More recently, I enjoyed remixing Montreal singer/songwriter Dominique Fils-Aimé.
Do you enjoy hearing remixes of your tracks? If so, can you mention a couple, and why you like them?
It’s always a little nerve-wracking as I had great remixes done of my music, but also ones I had to refuse, which is never easy. The real work starts with finding the right producer for the specific project, instead of simply going through a wishlist of producers just to get them on your projects. A few stand outs, the Maurice Fulton remix of Elevate (20:20 Vision): he found the perfect balance between using the stems we sent him, slowing down the track and adding that wonderful “folie” that’s so unique to him. The Atjazz remix of Mercyless feat. Wayne Tennant: a zeitgeist moment both for Martin (Atjazz) and I. He made the whole song his with his simple chord progression. Classy work!
Sample packs: how do you feel about their proliferation? Useful tools and textures, or overused?
I made a few sample packs for Loopmasters before and I use some packs (for one hits mainly) but I’m not into using them as copy/paste. The drag & drop feeling of making music is not interesting to me and feels very claustrophobic. When using samples, I think it’s always better to sample from your own record collection as it tells more a story about yourself. Also sampling from your machines. I’m always recording parts and ideas from my synths in the studio and often re-use them in a project.
If you could be a fly on the wall in any studio session in history, what would it be?
I’m still amazed at how creative people were in the studio in the late-’70s/early-’80s. How they made tape edits and the early use of digital echo and reverb in disco for example. They were definitely doing more with less. A Prelude session with François K would be great! I’m also a big fan of Trevor Horn, Quincy Jones, Nile Rogers…
How does running your label, Lazy Days, play into your creative flow?
It’s definitely part of my daily routine and involves quite a bit of admin. I love working with artists. Relationships are very important for me in the process. I often have thoughts on how to make the project better and might bring in suggestions for edits, and even mixing some of the projects, linking artists with vocalists, adding some overdubs to projects, etc…
Did you have a specific sound in mind for the label when you started out, or has it evolved organically over time? If so, how do you feel the sound has changed?
Not really. I just know when I hear something. If it fits, I know it right away. It belongs to the same world as the music I produce and the music I play as a DJ.
Social media. I think many of us struggle with the extra admin required as an artist in the digital age, and the pressure to have a public image as well as being a creative. How do you keep your boundaries and sanity around social media?
I feel like I only do the strict minimum in a way. I could participate more but I also like to keep a lot of things to myself. I also don’t like to get involved with discussions or opinions online and try to focus on staying positive and encouraging my friends online. I’d like to share more this year about my creative process, but time is a bit limited sometimes.
Do you have any specific methods or tips to help you switch between admin / social media / label work, and finding that clear-minded creative state in which to make music?
It’s very hard to find the balance sometimes, especially during the day. Leaving my phone outside the studio, deleting any shortcuts to my browser and disabling wifi on my studio computer are some of the things that have partially worked for me. I tried to have my studio computer completely web-free, but I need the internet to install updates, troubleshoot, online manuals or sampling from youtube… I find that working in evenings and nights are easier to get to that quiet/focused state of mind, as there are less distractions. But unfortunately for me, I mostly work day hours.
What do you have upcoming in terms of releases and gigs?
The big focus this year is my fifth album. It’s my most personal one so far. I got some personal heroes of mine on it — more on that later! I’m also working on finishing the album with Atjazz, but that might be for later this year or next year. I also have a few more remixes due out for Yoruba, Yung Dumb, Lazy Days…
Finally, what’s a piece of advice you would give a new producer just starting out, that you wish someone had told you back in the day?
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
There’s more inside 5 Mag’s member’s section — get first access to each issue for a few bucks a month.
⚪️ Previous Coverage
⚪️ Fred Everything: Everything Is Everything (cover story) (2018)
⚪️ Beats, Strings & Life: Lazy Days drops a Shur-I-Kan deep house masterpiece (2021)
⚪️ Fred Everything & Atjazz team up for “Cosmos” (2021)
⚪️ Jimpster Remixes “Leave Me Here” from Martin Iveson & Lazy Days (2017)
⚪️ Fred Everything Interview (2008)