The trio return to dish out sunburst rays of joy in the face of an ever uncertain climate. Sophie Shields sits down for a socially distanced chat with the band following the release of their third album, Providence.
We’re pretty familiar with ALL WE ARE at Bido Lito!. Since emerging almost a decade ago, the band have woven themselves deep into the fibres of Liverpool’s music scene through two albums and countless spirit-raising shows. As we reconvene for what will be the magazine’s fifth interview with the band, in what’s been a year of unpredictability, All We Are remain as essential and joyous as ever.
We’re returning to talk today in an old converted primary school turned artists’ dream space. It’s the home of drummer and vocalist Richard O’Flynn. It’s also where we first caught up with the trio of Rich, Guro Gikling (bass) and Luís Santos (guitar) back in 2012. Back then the trio had only just stumbled into formation and lit the touch paper for their eight-year career that’s followed. But today is all about album number three.
Looking on from EP Heart Of Mine, the bridge between 2017’s Sunny Hills and new LP Providence – at first listen you get the sense that album number three is a bit of a step away from their first two offerings. It has a similar vibe, the same twangy guitar hooks, funky basslines and groovy beats; but it leads with a much more euphoric sense of positivity and warmth in the themes and narrative. Where debut All We Are had ice running through its funky veins, and Sunny Hills channelled a more insistent aggression, Providence is the perfect combination of catchy tunes with a summery outlook on life. An apt time to be releasing it into the world after the last few months and a fine example of how the power of music can offer a bit of respite for musicians and listeners alike.
Sitting comfortably on tiny chairs (we are in what was a primary school after all) in the sunny back garden of Rich’s home/music studio/groove factory, it’s difficult to not take a second to acknowledge we’re able do this again. To physically sit together, albeit at a distance, and talk about music without a computer screen and a dodgy internet connection between us. A sense of normality may not have completely resumed but it’s a step in the right direction.
You can’t come to Rich’s creative heaven of a home and not want to know more about it, and how it feeds into the make-up of the band. “We got this place when the band started nine years ago, about May 2011,” Cork native Rich tells me. “We were talking about starting a band and then my girlfriend broke up with me and I was looking for a place. Luís came with me to see the nursery and it was totally fucked,” he adds. “There was weird shit everywhere. I think some artist from Newcastle lived here. I didn’t really have any vision and was like, ‘Yeh, I can’t live here,’ but Luís [convinced me of its potential] and so we just moved in and started the band.”
“I just wanted to come to Liverpool, I had heard about LIPA and wanted to come,” Guro explains. “I was also a huge fan of The Beatles growing up. I always found like I had a bit of a connection to Liverpool.”
These sentiments are shared by Rich who describes coming to Liverpool as a bit of a pilgrimage. “It definitely felt like coming to Liverpool was quite monumental. As a young Irish fella, it was like ‘Oh My God, this is where it all happened’. It has such an amazing musical history it felt amazing to be coming here.
The space has played an important role in the workings of All We Are, an unofficial fourth member and the birthplace of Providence. “We wanted to have the familiarity and the space to spend as much time as we wanted on the album. It’s always been quite key.”
The trio of All We Are hail from all corners of the world: Rich, as mentioned comes from Ireland, Guro from Norway and Luís from Brazil. Coming together in Liverpool and adopting it as a place to start their musical endeavour feels like a bit of a calling for them. Like a lot of bands in Liverpool they met in the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. There’s something about the city, it draws people in from all walks of life, with an abundance of talent. But, looking back at the first steps that bring us here today, what was it about Liverpool for these guys?
“When I used to visit I came into Liverpool through Bootle. I got a black cab and had a pocket full of pounds that my dad gave me,” Rich laughs. “It’s really stereotypical but I was like, ‘Fucking hell, this is amazing!’”
In the midst of all the reminiscing of everyone’s travels to Liverpool, a wasp lands on Luís’ lip which leads to an impromptu conversation about the unscripted scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark when a fly lands on Dr Belloq’s lip and crawls into his mouth. The jovial swerve in conversation is a reminder of the comfort and ease the band share with one another. They project a welcoming sense of friendship and familiarity into their presence, owing much to their friendship for over 13 years.
“We figured out that lockdown is the longest that we’ve been apart from each other and not playing music in about 14 years,” Guro explains, highlighting how close-knit their relationship is. It’s a friendship that seems to have only strengthened over the years.
“I often think about how different it is now to when we first started hanging out or even if it is different at all,” Rich muses, as Guro responds: “I think the importance of things has changed. What seemed like the most important thing back then might not be now.” A valid point for a band who, early in their career, signed with Domino Records imprint Double Six, for the goals only to keep on coming. “I guess when we started, we wanted to get signed and then we did,” Rich explains. “Then we wanted to put out an album, which we did. We wanted to play Glastonbury and go to Australia and we did those. Things change but, ultimately, we just want to put out music. Putting out records and being signed to Domino is pretty much like… we couldn’t ask for anything more than that.
“We’ve always had a connection. That’s integral to All We Are and it’s inspired by our different musical backgrounds. It makes the band special,” Rich continues. Having such different geographical backgrounds alongside a range of musical influences sheds light on their varied musical stylings. Described in the past as everything from “The Bee Gees on Diazepam” (Spotify) to specialising in “creeping psychedelia” (Bido Lito! 2015) and producing “languid funk” by Lauren Laverne, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what they are, but that’s not a bad thing.
Rich notes his musical influences come from listening almost exclusively to 80s music. “Prince is a massive influence for me, as well as Tears For Fears, Madonna and Japan. I also listen to a lot of hip hop from the 90s.” It’s a far cry from Luís who states Radiohead, Broken Social Scene and music from his home country as his influences. “The last few years I’ve been listening to a lot of Brazilian music to reconnect with my roots, alongside loads of boogie, funk and soul. I’m not going to say it’s a guilty pleasure because I’m not guilty but also, Steely Dan. My housemate is really into Steely Dan. We have Steely Dan Sundays where we get together and play Steely Dan songs. It’s a very exclusive club,” Luís laughs.
“It’s hard to know what you’re inspired by as well,” Guro adds. “It just comes out of you and you don’t know what has influenced you so much. When you’re a kid and listen to music you might pick up stuff not even knowing you’re doing it. Thinking now, when I play basslines, they are very all over the place and when I think about it it’s quite like Paul McCartney, but I would never think that.”
“You just thought it…” Rich laughs.
“I did listen to a lot of The Beatles growing up,” Guro clarifies, laughing, “but I’ve never thought it was my influence. I listen to a lot of pop music – big bangers with massive hooks is always something I’ve enjoyed.”
Hearing about their musical influences makes it clear why their songs have so much variety running through them. You can hear the 80s synth influence from Rich, the funk elements from Luís, and the pop hooks from Guro. It’s the perfect combination that results in their toe-tapping tracks. Take recent single Not Your Man as an example: the bouncing, funky bassline, tropical trumpets and catchy lyrics make for the perfect summery track to bop away to. With the lyrics “Like a piña colada, you’re not going to waste me” filling up the chorus, it gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day. “We had a lot of excitement from the label about that track,” Rich says after I explained how my housemate now has a bit of an obsession with aforementioned drink. “We shot the music video for it in the middle of lockdown, which was interesting. We had to sign health declaration forms and it was all properly socially distanced. The director and the stylist were on Zoom and it was just us in the studio. It was all a bit apocalyptic.” Watching the video back you would never think it was made under such constraints and shows how creative and dedicated the band are to their craft. “We never really discussed postponing the record,” Rich explains, nodding towards some high profile releases that have been rearranged due to social distancing measures. “It’s a summer record. It’s about the good times and we need to focus on the good things when they aren’t going so well at the moment,” Guro adds.
A bit of positivity is something we could all do with at the moment and it’s a theme that runs throughout their album, alongside everything from friendship, love, lust and loss. “It’s a very human, honest and emotive record,” Rich muses. “I think the spirit of it is really positive. Making the record and moving on from the second one was quite healing. To get a different vibe out there and spreading joy feels incredibly appropriate to put it out.”
The album wears the clothes of a cast of characters, shapeshifting and bouncing in a Hawaiian necklace. But do any of the tracks carry a personal entity? “I really like How You Get Me,” Luís offers. “We wrote it in Ireland on a writing trip in this cottage by the sea. I wrote it on this guitar that I found when I went back home in my grandad’s old house. It turned out to be this 60s Brazilian guitar, so I brought it back because it has this really special sound. There is a lot of sentiment and feeling to the guitar and it came out in that song.”
“It does kind of sum up the spirit of the album as well,” Rich adds. “The songs are different thematically and there is a narrative running throughout them, but How You Get Me does sum up the joyous vibe of the record.”
“For me [it’s] maybe L Is For Lose because it captures all the best bits from all of us,” Guro adds. “We all shine in that one. All of our personalities come out in it. It was also written in the same cottage in Ireland. It must have been something about the air.”
The title Providence also has a rooted connection with the band, apart from being the first track on the album. “Providence is like, it is what it is, things will be as they are, an act of God, so in a way it’s quite a positive thing. Things are the way they are and you just push on,” Rich explains. “We had to change the album artwork last minute, too, and it all worked out in the end. Another act of providence in itself!” On the finalised cover, the trio are scattered around a sunburst throne of their own making. Each one of them has an air of nobility about them, a deft assurance. It’s a metaphor that rubberstamps their entitlement of deity status within not just Liverpool, but modern funk itself.
As we come towards the end of our chat, the sense of pleasure in simply being able do that, chat in person at a safe distance, returns to the fore. Lockdown will have been a contrasting period for many, but its constraint on the day-to-day regularity of before is not lost on the band.
“I feel extremely creative now,” replies Luís. “You forget how important practice is and you can get a little rusty sometimes. It’s good for me to start doing stuff again.”
“I think I needed the break to figure out how much I missed it,” Guro adds. “Now I just really want to play. We’ve started again and it’s bringing me so much joy.”
Providence is available now via Double Six Records. All We Are play Arts Club on 26th February 2021.