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Escape Velocity

Better Off Together: An Interview With All We Are
John Freeman , May 27th, 2014 07:07

Ahead of their performance at Field Day, John Freeman talks to the Liverpool-based trio about new single 'Feel Safe' and finds out what happened when Paul McCartney was informed he wasn't their "favourite Beatle"

Photograph courtesy of Jon Bergman

I'm sat in a comfy old chair next to a three-bar fire with a Norwegian, a Brazilian and an Irishman, in a student suburb of Liverpool at the secret HQ of All We Are, a trio comprising of Guro Gikling, Luis Santos and Richard O'Flynn. While we've convened in the lounge area, the large room is dominated by a well-used practice space and - behind a velvet curtain - O'Flynn's sleeping quarters. It's immediately apparent that All We Are live and breathe their music, which they describe on their Twitter bio as like "Bee Gees on diazepam".

It's not too distant a comparison, either - last year's debut track 'Utmost Good' and new single 'Feel Safe' both balance sinuous, chilled grooves with enough friction to fuel a sense of intrigue. The latter oozes late night funk, but All We Are sound distantly familiar while managing to remain disconcertingly opaque. It's a neat talent – and All We Are seem more than happy to evade the clutches of lazy genrefication.

The trio initially met at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts – or LIPA as it's known  locally – and while the three friends talk passionately about how the city has inspired their creative energy, it's their unique blend of musical heritages (I cannot think of another Irish-Brazilian-Norwegian band) that lies at the heart of what makes All We Are so pleasingly different.

All We Are received a nomination at this year's GIT Awards in Liverpool. How was the awards night for you?

Richard O'Flynn: There were so many great bands on the short list this year, so it was lovely to be part of it. The night is about celebrating the music of Liverpool. [Award winner] Forest Swords is doing really well – he has a great album – and we were totally happy for him.

You all attended LIPA – what was it about each other that drew you together?

Luis Santos: We met in our first year and throughout LIPA we had a few projects together and would play in each other's bands. It wasn't until after we graduated and did things separately that we decided to form a band.

Guro Gikling: We met on the first day and became really good friends. The core of this band is that we are really good mates. We realised that we are better off together than separately.

I've never been in a band and am always intrigued about how a new band decides on its 'sound'. How did it happen for All We Are?

GG: We never really discussed how we wanted to sound. We just jammed and we have different influences - probably due to where we come from and what kinds of music we each listen to - and it all kind of merged together. We found something that felt like us – and it was 'Bee Gees on diazepam'. A friend of the producer of our first single made that up and it totally made sense. It gets to the core of what we are about. Our sound was totally unintentional. We never set off aiming to be different. It's distinctive because of who we are and where we have come from. It's nothing to do with us trying to be alternative.

It feels as if that 'core' is very much driven by your very different backgrounds. Can you tell me a little about the sort of musical upbringings you each had?

GG: I was a massive fan of The Beatles and The Everly Brothers when I was growing up. I loved Joni Mitchell and Michael Jackson - I do love older music. Norway can be quite behind when it comes to music. I'm from the tiniest valley you can ever imagine.

I can imagine some pretty small valleys.

GG:  No, even smaller. It's surrounded by mountains – and in the winter I'd go to school in complete darkness and return in darkness. We'd have a couple of hours of twilight. It was weird. I knew I needed to get out of there – so I came to Liverpool, the land of light and sunshine. [laughs] Back home there were no record shops. I played the clarinet for a while when I was younger and then played guitar – that was my main thing. I just really wanted to be Joni Mitchell. I switched to the bass for All We Are.

LS: I'm from Curitiba in Brazil, which is close to São Paulo. I was drawn to music from a very young age. My dad is a guitarist and played in mostly blues bands, so I grew up with him always playing tunes. He was into jazz for a while, but also Hendrix and Eric Clapton. He'd also love female vocalists like Etta James. He would take me to his band rehearsals and most of his friends were musicians. There were always people jamming around the house. When I was 11, my cousin played Nirvana's 'Come As You Are' on guitar and I knew I wanted to learn to play. My mum sent me to classical lessons as she didn't want me playing blues like my dad. So, I played classical Brazilian music for a few years and then my dad began to teach me some rock tunes. So, my playing is a bit more diverse.  

RO'F: Obviously Ireland is a very musical country. I'm from Cork – music permeates the whole town. When I started playing the drums for All We Are, most of the beats I ripped were from 80s and 90s hip hop and R&B. That's what I was into as a kid and is the main core of how I drum – it's quite simple, sparse and drum machine-like.

In a Venn diagram of All We Are, which albums do you unanimously love?

GG: We all love Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle album. Recently we've loved Frank Ocean's Channel Orange and Kendrick Lamar's latest album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. We also love You Forgot It In People by Broken Social Scene and really enjoyed Bon Iver's second album.

The new single – and your forthcoming debut album – was produced by Dan Carey, who has worked with artists like Bat For Lashes and MIA. What attracted you to working with Dan?

GG: We went in [to the studio] and it was a match made in heaven. He was on our vibe and completely understood what we were trying to achieve with the tunes. It all made sense and the songs blossomed. Because of the way we function as a band – the way we write and the way we play – is all about the vibe and the feeling of the moment as a band. He knew how to direct that vibe.

How typical is 'Feel Safe' of the rest of your debut album?

RO'F: 'Feel Safe' was recorded in a day as an experiment to see what would happen. We ended up banging out the tune. The album was more considered and was a further step up. But, 'Feel Safe' is us and it's Dan and it has the same vibe.

With just three of you on stage, how easy is it to transfer the All We Are vibe into a live setting?

LS: We are quite unique in the way we approach our instruments and we all started exploring different roles as performers with this band. That helped to give us a specific identity which you'll see when we play live. We have our own way of doing things. Often people think there must be more people on stage or we are playing to backing tracks. We don't.

GG: We are quite proud of the sound we make as just three people. I don't think there are many three-pieces that can create as big a sound.

Liverpool has a really vibrant music scene at present. What is like to be part of that?

RO'F: It's a really close scene and everyone helps each other out. It's quite a small city and even though there is a multitude of bands, everyone gets involved. The scene feels really unique; the 12 bands that were up for the GIT award all had something about them that was really cool but there wasn't a thread going through them. They are quite different and diverse, which is great. But, even though the bands are quite different stylistically, there is a lot of history going back hundreds of years and a lot of passion. The common thread between those bands is the city itself, and Liverpool is very inspiring.

Paul McCartney was a co-founder of LIPA. Have you ever met him and, if so, what did you say to him?

GG: He was never my favourite and I told him that - he laughed. He also wrote a birthday card to my mum. She loved it. I was her favourite child that year.

All We Are play at Field Day in Victoria Park on Saturday 7th June. For more information and tickets, click here.

The single 'Feel Safe' is out now via Double Six/Domino