It’s hard not to be forthright in our opinions in the current climate, or angry about the injustices we see around us. Back with a brash, punchy record built on their own experiences of society’s turmoil, All We Are are ready to confront the world head-on.
Given that ALL WE ARE’s first Bido Lito! interview came way back in April 2012, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’ve covered all the available bases with them already. But that’s an assumption that doesn’t take in to account the restless nature of musicians, and the trajectory that Guro Gikling, Luís Santos and Rich O’Flynn have been on since our first encounter has been one of constant evolution. Only the faintest traces of the haunting ambience that attracted us to them five years ago still clings to Sunny Hills, the second album the trio have released on Double Six (an imprint of Domino Records). Even the gloopy psycho disco of their breakout single Utmost Good has taken a back seat, which is probably an albatross that Guro, Luís and Rich are glad to have removed from around their necks. But Sunny Hills is far from an overhaul of the RnB-inflected dynamism of 2015’s debut self-titled LP; the new record is more a sensual update on the template that has propelled the band to the level of players on the national circuit, with the added bite of their political convictions.
Far from shying away from being seen to have an opinion, All We Are have responded to the turmoil our society currently finds itself in with their own defiant message of togetherness. From the album’s artwork (a photograph of a small house sandwiched between large-scale developments, a symbol of resistance) to the trilogy of music videos accompanying the singles Human, Animal and Dance (depicting the plight of the residents of a small village at risk of being torn in two by a motorway development), there’s a sense that the trio aren’t holding anything back. Bursting out of the traps with Burn It All Out’s cathartic slow build and the driving gusto of Human – which comes with its own set of accompanying short films, where they ask people on the streets of Liverpool ‘What is it to be a human?’ – Sunny Hills finds the band on the front foot from the outset. There’s a real sense of urgency to the All We Are of 2017, and there’s no mistaking that the themes they’re bringing up really matter to them.
Away from the vigour of this opening salvo, the rest of the LP has a different feel, more akin to the groove of All We Are. The halogen-lit midnight drives conjured up by Dance, Dreamer and Animal allow the band to deal with more personal issues (loss, depression, identity), giving Sunny Hills even more emotional depth than it first seems.
In a bid to find out more about the motivations at the heart of this album, I invited All We Are down to the Pier Head for a chat, hoping that a trip on the Mersey Ferry would be the perfect spot to chew over the themes brought up. As life and the river churned around us, the conversation soon began to flow…
All We Are on… getting in people’s faces with Sunny Hills.
Rich O’Flynn: We never really set out to kind of make the record the way it was. What we did want was to do something really honest, something really direct and personal, you know? And yeh, get in people’s faces. We had a lot of energy and a little bit of darkness in us, but it was only afterwards when we took a step back, we were like: ‘Oh, all these themes are quite apparent’.
Guro Gikling: For this record, I think we kind of decided that whoever did the lead on the song did the lyrics, because you really need to be able to deliver them and to feel whatever is coming out.
Luís Santos: The first record was a bit more open insofar as how you could interpret the meaning of the songs, and purposefully [it was] written in a way that you can take your own experience into it and make your own interpretation. Now, it’s a lot more personal in that sense.
ROF: It [All We Are] was sort of more ambiguous – or ‘open’ I think is a better way of saying it. Whereas this time around we wanted to make a really direct record.
GG: I also think the vocal performance is not so… pretty? It’s more gritty, and more from the gut.
ROF: We definitely felt a sense of duty to ourselves [as well]; we were like, ‘We have to just get this out of us’. It wasn’t, like, a selfish thing, but we had this duty to express ourselves in that way. And then we thought, ‘Fuck it, what’s the point of music if you’re not trying to make a point or get something across in some way?’
All We Are on… playing the live game.
LS: As we were writing the songs [for Sunny Hills], we had a couple of very important gigs where we hit on this energy, where we realised there was something really special there. We were really connecting with the audience, being honest on the stage. It’s not so much about playing a part for a song but about the energy that you put into the performance. Particularly the Crow’s Nest show, at Glastonbury in 2015: loads of our friends were there, there was just a really special energy. We always talk about that, actually! We just wanted to get [that energy] across in the new songs, to take that sentiment and put it into the writing. When we went into the studio we tried to provoke that sentiment again. Now, when we’re playing those songs live, they’re just a bit more intimate so it’s really special for us to play them live.
All We Are on… being aware of reviews.
GG: What I really enjoyed with the first record was people contacting us saying what the songs meant to them. Which, I think, is way more important than any critic, really. That was, without a doubt, a very positive experience and made you realise that music can change things.
ROF: I don’t think we tend to really listen to the critics that much. We had some really cool requests, like to play Feel Safe at a wedding, and questions like ‘Could you please explain the lyrics to us, because this is what we interpret from it’; they were ‘wow’ moments, definitely. To feel that you make music and it really does make a difference. That’s the kind of thing we brought into this record as well: if you have a message, you can make people think – you can make little tiny, incremental changes in the world.
GG: I also really enjoyed the story of a new dad, who emailed us saying that his daughter was born while they were listening to Keep Me Alive, and he had a picture of the new baby!
All We Are on… identity.
ROF: I think Sunny Hills definitely has more of a specific identity. It was important for us to have a coherent theme going through. It all ties together with the Human episodes, the big long reveal at the end of Burn It All Out, and then the three music videos. There’s this sense of defiance, standing up for what you believe in – and then that kind of raw undercurrent of humanity – that all just ties in to the identity of the record. Whether or not it comes across… it’s quite subjective.
GG: Also, Jack Whiteley [friend and filmmaker] has been following us for quite a long time, just documenting. There will be a documentary that will be released in three episodes that kind of explains more about where we’re coming from, where the record is from, Liverpool’s part in it, the political scene, everyone in Liverpool. So that’s going to make the picture even clearer.
All We Are on… asking people ‘What does it mean to be a human?’
ROF: We think that the record is a raw, more emotive kind of thing – and Human is sort of the leading tune from the record. So, the idea was to approach random people and play them that song, and then gauge their response to that music. If you ask them that question straight away – ‘What does it mean to be a human?’ – you can kind of catch people off guard. In that instant, more often than not, the response you get is incredibly profound. Doing it was very out of our comfort zone – but I think that was very much part of the process as well.
GG: I learnt so much. The whole process of doing it made me learn so much about myself as a human. The whole thing was extremely emotional; you just realised that people are actually just great.
LS: There were a lot of different interpretations: most people were extremely positive, said really positive things; a couple of people just really didn’t want anything to do with it, which was totally fine – and interesting as well. A couple of people said amazing things and then later we found out that they were horrible people!
ROF: That’s what humanity is though, warts and all.
LS: That’s exactly what it was supposed to be. They surprise you.
ROF: It’s quite an obvious thing really, but I learnt that there’s just this thin membrane between a total stranger and this profound, beautiful human being. And you just have to break through that membrane in whatever way it is, and suddenly you’re just there, you’re communicating on an amazing level.
All We Are on… what it means to be a human – in their own words.
ROF: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! OK, you can’t really think about it too much.
LS: Well, I was thinking about it before! And the conclusion that I got to was: you can’t be human to answer that question; it would need to come from outside, to figure out what we truly are. That’s one way to look at it; you know, if aliens came over, they can define what being human is. If they see just negative things then it’s pretty worrying, isn’t it?
ROF: To me, basically it’s just about communication and cooperation. If you think about it, everything we do is based around this ability to cooperate and to communicate with each other, which is pretty amazing. Music, human rights, any ideology, that’s all based around us communicating and building. We’ve got this really cool ability to connect with each other and be self-aware.
GG: I was kind of going to say being self-aware, as well. I think it’s important to be caring. And look outwards and not inwards. I think that’s something that human beings are able to do.
Sunny Hills is out now via Double Six.