As All We Are release their new album, Getintothis’ Rick Leach catches up with them to chat about new directions, the legacy of post-punk and breaking down barriers.
All We Are are back.
Although they never really went away, they’ve returned with a vengeance and with a sparkling new album under their belts.
Sunny Hills is a follow-up to their self-titled debut album of 2015, one which garnered universal praise and has proved to be a record that sticks with you for a very long time. All We Are were rightful winners of the GIT Award 2015 shortly after its release.
But two years is a long time and despite playing many live shows across the world, it has been a while since we’ve heard any new music from them. It was always going to be fascinating to see what they managed to come up with next. Their debut album was such a thing of beauty and pure pop perfection, carefully crafted, honed and polished with tinges and echoes of pysch running through its core that it was difficult to see where they could go thereafter. How could they top that?
Yet Sunny Hills has more than proved that All We Are were capable of moving forward and taking another step in their musical journey. It is a much more confident and self-assured album, one that isn’t afraid of dealing with difficult issues and with themes that at times, seem ripped straight from the heart.
There’s a brutal honesty in the lyrics. Dark topics and deeply personal words are to the fore. However, it’s also a thing of joy and life-affirming. All We Are combine those words, those dark words, with music that’s uplifting and anthemic, music while seemingly at odds with the subject matter, works in perfect harmony to produce something that seems more than the sum of the parts.
We can see this album taking All We Are to a whole new level and winning over even more hearts and minds. With this in mind, we met up with All We Are members Guro Gikling from Norway (vocals/bass), Luis Santos from Brazil (guitars) and Richard O’Flynn from Ireland (vocal/drums), to talk about what they’ve been up to, the new album, what influences them and music as an act of defiance.
Getintothis: It’s been a while since the first album. What have All We Are been up to?
Richard O’Flynn: “Basically we started writing the new record just as the first one was being released and at the end of 2015 we went down to Margate where a friend of ours had bought a warehouse and we started writing more direct and more intense music, more intense subjects and we sorted of started again. We scrapped all the old tunes and started writing Sunny Hills really from scratch. I think Dance was the only tune that survived from the earlier songs as it was a really good and cool song.
“So because we started again, that kind of prolongs the writing process a bit but we’ve had some really cool moments. We went up to Japan and toured Japan last year; that was really amazing.”
Guro Gikling: “A lot of festivals as well. And we’ve kind of rebranded ourselves I think, so that takes a bit of time as well.”
Getintothis: 2016 can be said to have been a difficult year. How did that affect the album? Did it touch upon how you made it and how you wrote the tracks?
Luis Santos: “All the songs were written before the referendum, but we went into the studio and recorded them afterwards so you can hear all that through the songs. Everyone was going through a dark time and it was all around so I think the songs reflected that vibe and that energy. It’s not a political record as such but it reflects what everyone was going through.”
Getintothis: How do you think you’ve changed? Are you writing differently? How has All We Are changed and what should people expect from the new album?
Richard: “I definitely think we are being more direct. There’s an honesty to this one. All the music we write comes from the heart, but this record- both musically and lyrically- is much more direct. It’s very intense and cathartic, you know? Very expressive.”
Guro: “It’s very open now. When it was written, everything went into it so in that way it’s very honest and straightforward. We’re not holding anything back-it’s all out there.”
Richard: “It’s quite naked really. Lyrically and instrumentally especially-every note means something. It feels quite exposed but that’s quite a positive thing. The first album was languid and beautiful and quite psychedelic and smooth-the second one is more direct as we said. The second one is more raw and we’re baring more of ourselves. You can have more of an insight as to who we are as a band and who we are as people.”
Guro: “I think that’s there’s a lot of people who were in the same situation as we were in who will feel themselves more connected with this one than the previous one. It is more honest but it’s universal and it’s of its time.”
Richard: “We tackle some universal themes and issues. Down is about anxiety and depression for example and everyone is touched by that in some way. People will be able to relate to it and understand it a bit more.”
Luis: “The subject matter happened quite naturally but we went into the studio thinking we wanted to showcase how we play live so we wanted to keep it fresh, how we play together. That was a conscious decision. Sometimes things in a studio can get a bit stale so we wanted to keep it natural.”
Getintothis: Did you have to make a conscious decision to write like this or is it a sign of maturity?
Guro: “You experience more things, so I think it’s a sign of maturity. You go through more things, so in that way it’s a more “grown-up” record. You get a wider perspective and you have to take different things into consideration.”
Richard: “The difficult thing to do as an artist is to be honest and to speak honestly and that’s what I think we’ve tried to do and that’s what we’ve done with this record.”
Getintothis: It’s difficult to describe what the new album sounds like; and that’s a good thing! It’s difficult to pin down.
Guro: “We’ve been talking about that a bit as well and it’s I think because we write together, it’s not just one person. We’re all driving in different directions but it all comes together into All We Are music. It’s us as a unit.”
Getintothis: The album sounds musically uplifting and optimistic even, but there’s a very dark side to the lyrics. Do you find there’s something about marrying up the two?
Guro: “It kind of describes our personalities! We all have a dark side but we are all really happy people!”
Getintothis: Do all of you write the lyrics? How does All We Are work?
Richard: “We always run the lyrics past each other but we decided for this record whoever would take the lead vocally we have the main input. Foe the first album we wrote all the lyrics together and that was a great way of doing it but it could be ambiguous in many ways so for this record it became more direct.”
Getintothis: So this is a record of less compromises?
Guro: “I wouldn’t say it’s a record of less compromises but different compromises.”
Getintothis: Apart from the opening track, Burn it All Out, all the rest of the tracks on Sunny Hills have titles that are single words. Was that a conscious thing or did it happen through sheer chance?
Guro: “It was a conscious decision! Burn It All Out kind of sums up the whole record so that’s why that isn’t a single word. It’s about working through everything then burning it all out. A big punch and moving on!”
Richard: “Burn it all Out was the first track we wrote in the batch of new songs. There’s a catharsis with the opening of the track, with the long intro and that gave us the idea, not a template, but an idea that all the songs would have that sense of release, that catharsis.”
Getintothis: There seems to be a myriad of influences on the album; the guitar in Dance sounds almost Beefheartian, like something from Trout Mask Replica, while Human has echoes of New Order. What influences you musically and is there anything that we might be surprised by?
Guro: “I think that New Order is definitely an influence on this record but there are and we have loads of different influences!”
Richard: “When we were doing the writing sessions for this album we were listening to a lot of early New Order and post-punk certainly.”
Guro: “And loads of Krautrock-a lot of Kraftwerk.”
Luis: “For a long time I was quite anti-guitar-I was listening to a lot of people who made their guitars sound like other instruments but now I’m looking to reconnect with the guitar. There’s a lot of pride in being a guitarist.”
Getintothis: Do you have time to listen to any other music at the moment, and if so, what’s exciting?
Richard: “Yeah, of course. At the moment I’m kind of looking back to lots of post punk stuff from the late 70s and early 80s. There’s lots of really cool stuff so I’m constantly looking back to discover music and bands that I’ve never heard before.”
Guro: “Well, I’m into a big jazz-fusion sort of thing at the moment! I’m heavily into that.”
Richard: “Early Weather Report is really good.”
Luis: “I’m regressing to Brazilian psychedelic music from the late 60s and early 70s. It was an extremely progressive time but it never really took up from that, for a lot of reasons. Because of the dictatorship a lot of the artists had to go into exile or were arrested or worse and so that cord was severed. But even the songs without lyrics were brilliant-there was so much amazing music.”
Getintothis: Well, maybe this is symptomatic of you and representative as three people-with very varying interests, musically?
Guro: “But we do like of a lot of the same stuff obviously…”
Getintothis: …Of course! Though it might make it a bit tricky if one of you was into death metal?
Guro: “Well, I used to listen to a lot of metal stuff! Used to love it!”
Getintothis: You’ve got a UK tour coming up and you’re playing a fair few festivals as well. Are you looking forward to taking the new material to an audience? Do you consider yourselves a live band?
Richard: “Definitely! We love being in the studio though and with this record we wanted to capture in the studio the energy that we have when we play live. We were getting into that more and more as we toured the first record, so was wanted to get hold of that energy and get it out there as well, because that’s what we love best.
We’re really excited about it. We want people to experience it with us live, that catharsis, it’s really important to us. Hopefully people will connect with it. That connection is really important to us.”
Luis: “People just seem to get it when we pay live. They go, “that’s what it is!””
Getintothis: Is there something about working as a trio, as three different people from three very different backgrounds and cultures? What makes it work so well? Does it bring something special?
Guro: “I think it does bring something special because in a way we had the luxury to pick our own family. It would be different I think if we’d all come from Liverpool, but we all came here by ourselves and left everything behind.”
Richard: “It bonded us together as friends because we understood what it was like to be away from home and from family and it’s definitely brought us closer together.”
Getintothis: How do you think that Brexit will impact on you as a band?
Guro: “I don’t know.”
Richard: “I think touring is going to be harder because of the logistics and all that but the thing about the referendum is that none of us are from the UK and it’s sad because it’s shown a division that none of us really saw. It’s a very difficult issue and it’s only something we can deal with from our own perspective.”
Luis: “And with reference to the album and we spoke about the recording earlier, we heavily referenced the political events of last year through the artwork of the album. It shows an old house sandwiched between two large buildings under development. The woman who owned the house refused to sell to a number of developers including Donald Trump. She resisted for years while the developers even bought the space above the house. She finally won the case and stayed there for a further decade until her death. Before that, she watched Donald Trump’s casino fail and close its doors. I think it’s about sticking to your principles and being strong to the end.”
Getintothis: Is that therefore what you think the album is about? Resistance? Resistance maybe with a small “r”?
Richard: “Resistance? Hmm, maybe. I think it’s more about defiance you know? Standing up for what you believe in, saying what you believe in and sticking to your convictions.
What we really wanted to do is to bring people together in some way-we found it really therapeutic-get it all out, particularly when we play live and unify around it. Those universal themes resonate and we want people to find the same sort of solace in the album that we did, but it is a sense of defiance as well and definitely standing up for your own convictions.”
Luis: “Resistance is one of the themes for the videos-like the one for Human for example. In many ways it’s what we’ve kind of experienced in Liverpool with developers taking over venues; the Kazimier, places that influenced the city and created a community And it’s not just bricks and mortar that create a community, it’s more than that. A lot of people put a lot of effort into creating those communities and then the developers just take over and it’s gone. The videos tell a bit of a story. A community getting together and fighting together.”
Getintothis: Do you see yourselves as a Liverpool band?
Richard: “Definitely. The band was born here. We’ve always drawn a lot of inspiration and support from the city. Although none of us was born here we consider ourselves a Liverpool band in a small way and are really proud to be part of that musical infrastructure. It’s a great own and a really great place to be part of.”
Getintothis: Do you ever feel part of the outside looking in?
Guro: “I think that kind of represents this whole record as well and not belonging anywhere and that draws in what you were saying about being on the outside. And that’s what we’re about, it’s All We Are. Maybe we don’t belong anywhere-we are where we are, looking in. We are not of anywhere but we are of everywhere.”
Richard: “We want people to understand that that’s ok as well. Not belonging. It’s ok to be different and to be an outsider.”
We met for the chat a few days after the attack at the Manchester Arena. Like all of us, All We Are were equally as shocked at what had happened. It seemed to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. When we raised it with them as the final question of the interview, their responses are telling and, in many ways, encapsulate what they, and we all are as music fans.
Getintothis: Do you think that the music can bring people together? Is there something inherently redemptive within music?
Richard: “For sure. It’s hard to know what goes through the mind of someone to commit such an atrocity. when people are coming together to go to a concert, to feel unified in love. Music is something that should be cherished.”
Luis: “And when you see people at festivals for example, those barriers are broken down and there’s that need for connections. There’s that need.”
Guro: “It’s a universal language. Everyone understands music. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what language you speak.”
Richard: “I’m sure that we’ve all have moments in our life when you find solace in music and when music has saved us. For instance, you can hear someone singing and you know exactly what they mean and you get that connection and you find solace and peace in that.”
Guro: “Also music is the first thing you learn and the last thing you forget.”
Pictures by Getintohis’ Peter Goodbody
- Sunny Hills by All We Are is released on June 9 by Domino Records
All We Are play:
- June 8 : Auster Club, Berlin
- June 9 : Bitterzoet, Amsterdam
- June 14 : Moth Club, London
- June 15 : Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
- June 16 : Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
- June 17 : Think Tank, Newcastle:upon:Tyne
- June 18 : Stereo, Glasgow
- June 25 : Glastonbury Festival, Somerset
- June 23 : Down the Rabbit Hole, Gelderland
- July 13-16 : Latitude Festival, Suffolk
- August 31 -September 3: End of the Road Festival, Dorset
- September 1-3: Electric Picnic Festival, Co Laois, Ireland