In a disused primary school in Toxteth, across the abandoned playground and through the empty gymnasium, rules are being re-written. A Victorian classroom isn’t a typical place to find a hotly-tipped folk band, but then ALL WE ARE are anything but typical.
The classroom in question is drummer and vocalist Richard O’Flynn’s home, though he himself admits, “It’s essentially our space.” It’s a primal yet cosy setting: a mattress on the floor in one corner to sleep on, and floral printed sofas huddled together in another where Rich sits with band mates, Guro Gikling (bass) and Luis Gustavo Santos (guitar) and talks passionately about All We Are, their spontaneous formation and future goals.
Most bands don’t have a European tour booked before a rehearsal has even taken place but when Stealing Sheep, with whom Rich had previously toured as a solo act, came calling in June 2011 the seeds of a plan for something altogether more ambitious and expansive burst into life. “We played in various bands over the years,” says Guro, reclining into her seat. “During that time we kind of figured out that we would be better together than by ourselves.” Despite their collective experience and individual talent, this venture held new challenges for guitarist Luis and singer-songwriters, Guro and Rich. “I only started playing drums in June; Guro started playing bass and Luis started singing for this band,” admits Rich. “I remember the first practice when I was supposed to play bass and sing at the same time. It didn’t work at all,” laughs Guro. “It was horrifying,” picks up Rich. “We had two weeks before our first gig of an expansive UK and EU tour.” Despite the seemingly insurmountable task, All We Are somehow managed to pull off the impossible, and far from heading out onto the continent unprepared, the three-piece emerged from a two-week submersion in writing and rehearsal with a hazy set of delicately constructed, psychedelic folk tunes, laden with atmospheric harmonies and gently-effected guitar melodies.
The four track, self-released demo that seeped quietly onto the internet in June last year was not the sound of a band searching for their identity. Instead the trio’s voices blend organically over simple bass lines and tribal rhythms whilst reverberating guitar adds a depth and maturity to the band’s sound. “The whole thing’s been easy because we’ve enjoyed it but we’ve worked hard to form this unit,” explains Rich. The work ethic that characterises All We Are’s approach to music is a strand that runs through everything they do. “Nobody has much money so you have to write your song, arrange, record, sometimes even mix. We do our own videos and promote ourselves on the internet,” says Luis. This DIY attitude is nothing new for musicians, but All We Are take the term to the next level, as Rich’s classroom living quarters demonstrate.
The rent here is considerably less than anywhere else this close to the town centre. It allows Rich to survive by playing Irish pub gigs with Guro in Norway once or twice a month. “That stands us in good stead to invest a lot more time here,” he asserts. “But, by the same token, we’re all broke.” Rich is effectively a guardian of the premises, but he’s not the only resident. Inside the school building nine more have made the classrooms their home, courtesy of a scheme run by Ad Hoc, who are bringing unused buildings in the city to life by offering low-cost, alternative living. It’s a small community of creatives; people whose dedication to the pursuit of art and music overrides the desire for luxury living. Across a short patch of concrete from All We Are’s annexe is a gymnasium synonymous with much of the emerging talent in Liverpool. Stealing Sheep have recorded here, so have Dan Croll, Jonas Alaska and Kankouran. “It’s a real coming together of people pooling their resources and talents,” observes Rich. More recently, the hall has been echoing with the sounds of All We Are’s new EP We Hunt (released 1st May on Payer Tiger Records), half of which was recorded amongst the old blackboards and climbing bars. Blessed with the time and space to work on each minute detail of their first real release, the resulting tracks are more developed, more grandiose and expansive than their original recordings. The haunting ambience is still there; captured reflections from the mysterious spaces in which the band record. It’s a startling mixture of traditional folk melodies, vulnerable sparseness and a creeping psychedelia. We Hunt is statement of intent; an admission that the band’s name is more than just that: it’s a confession. All We Are transcends its members. It engulfs them. It defines them.