"The Bee Gee's on Diazapam" 'All We Are' talk Glastonbury, Strymon and creativity through isolation

“The Bee Gees on diazepam” is a phrase that has stuck with Liverpool-based band “All We Are”. They somehow manage to balance upbeat and down-tempo, wrapping it up in some beautiful and catchy tracks. They released their eponymous album (All We Are) back in February and have been touring pretty extensively ever since. We caught up with guitarist  Luís Santos to talk about how surroundings influence the band’s musical output and how some of the instruments and technology have changed things for him.

MPS
The eponymous album “All We Are” was released in February 2015 two years after your debut single, how has your sound changed in that time?

LS
​We are changing alright, we don't like to be in a place where we are too comfortable​ for too long​.​ But ​I'd like to say we are finding ourselves more and more, as people and as a band. Our style is more developed and the gigs just keep getting better and more fun. We still see ourselves as baby performers and instrumentalists, so there's a lot of things we want to explore. I think overall the music is edgier and more enjoyable to play.

MPS
The recording took place in some interestingly remote locations, was there a specific intention behind this?

LS
Yes, but it wasn't so much the places per se, more the fact the we were isolating ourselves. We don't think our music sounds like it came from Norwegian fjords or Welsh hills, but we can be insular people and we love the focus that places like that can give you. Having said that, the majority of the album was written in good old Liverpool and we find the city and our friends have a big influence on how it sounds.

MPS   
You guys have played three of my favourite UK festivals this year, Green Man, Glastonbury and Bestival; was it as much fun on the stage as it was in the crowd?

LS
You bet! It feels like less pressure than a headline or support tour. We do love touring but at festivals everything's a bit freer because people didn't come necessarily just to see you and hear the album, they came to have a great time and we are there to help people accomplish that. Festivals are holidays for us, you are always running into old friends or making new ones, so we usually have a blast.

MPS
Did any of the festivals you’ve played this year stand out for you?

LS
Sounds cliché, but sometimes you just can't beat Glastonbury. Particularly this year, it felt really special for us, our gigs and experiences there have changed us as a band and will stay with us for our lives. We played 3 gigs this year and​ our favourite stage is the Crow's Nest, a little wooden hut at the top of the hill by the Park Stage. The handful who run it are top people, the DJs are the best and the gigs are packed, insane and sweaty. Very intimate, you really get close to the bands. We played at the same time as Kanye, so the crowd who were there really wanted to be there and everyone was going crazy. I remember jumping off stage and playing guitar on my knees. With a bow. The next gig, we arrived to find the Dalai Lama doing a talk immediately before our set, we waved to him and he waved back, so that sealed the weekend.​

Also, we just came back from Bestival and that was the best way to finish the season off. Our producer Dan Carey was there with Kate Tempest and band (he also produced her album). They were wearing hi-vis jackets, dancing and singing right in front of us, it really makes you go for it. The crowd were fantastic, really warm and happy, it felt like we were all working together as opposed to just the linear arrow of "performing to strangers". There's nothing that compares when people and band are all sharing the same moment, bouncing off each other.

MPS
In 2013 you famously described yourselves as "the Bee Gees on diazepam”, where would you say your sound lies now in terms of musical influences?

LS
We do love old school boogie,​ soul and psychedelia, so there's a lot of that for sure. Ultimately it's all about grooves and making people dance. We are getting a bit heavier nowadays but we always want to keep things sexy.

MPS
What was your first guitar, and do you still have it?

LS
When I started, I was doing both classical and "electric" music and used to borrow my dad's guitars. Soon he gave me a brazilian Giannini Strat copy. Wasn't that great, but I could always go back and use his "proper" guitars and amps - to me his gear was like the Holy Grail, I still remember my sense of awe for it. I sold that Giannini pretty quick actually.

MPS
What guitars are you playing at the moment?

LS
A Gibson Custom Shop SG with a maestro tremolo and Bare Knuckle pickups and an Airline '59 Coronado. Both are lovely guitars. For me, a gigging guitar isn't complete without a tremolo - even with all the troubles they bring. I like the expressiveness and vocal quality it adds.

MPS
What do you have on your pedalboard right now?

LS
The brains of the set up is the GigRig G2, which has made my life so much better. Using midi, each song has its own reverb, delay and modulation settings and any combination of pedals which is always how I wanted it. I start every song from scratch, I don't have a standard clean sound. Insofar as pedals, the Electro-Harmonix HOG comes first and I always leave the Xotic EP booster on. I also have a Dr.Scientist boost and a Buddha Chakra compressor. I've become a bit of a looper guy, and found the Pigtronix Infinity is the only one that works for me. So easy to use, versatile and no sound compromises, I added an expression knob to it that controls the pitch and speed of the loop, that sounds crazy. The AUX out is essential so Rich (the drummer) can lock on to the loops. A Freakshow Digilog is my first delay. Then it goes into territory under control by the Strymons, which are now the industry standard and just great people. The Deco is a pedal I've been waiting for for years, tape saturation and double tracking, like they tapped into my dreams. Timeline and BigSky are tremendous, couldn't do without them. I like my modulation last because it takes the edge (or The Edge, ha!) off the delays and reverbs and gives it a nice 70s fluffy oomph, so the Eventide Modfactor finishes it all up. I'm running a stereo set up, and live we have 5 channels coming from my 1 guitar, I love the 3D spaciousness, so wide and massive, I don't think I can go back to mono anymore!

As a last thought, when I built my current board this year, it dawned on me that for the first time in my career I'm lucky to say everything I'm using is first class gear, there's no weak link. So if something goes wrong (often does) or doesn't sound right (often doesn't), it's totally my own fault, a lot of pressure! I like the challenge though, I like looking at my set up as an engineer and always try to improve things.

MPS
Is there anything you have parted with that you really miss?

LS
Not yet! I totally do get emotionally attached to the stuff I'm using, but I feel no remorse in selling to get the next bit of equipment I need. There was one mexican Strat I had that smelt really nice, like it had been to hundreds of smokey-boozy blues bars and lightly drizzled with whiskey. So yeah, sometimes I wish I kept it just to open the case and give it a smell, but I find it hard to justify keeping something if I'm not using it.

MPS
Can you think of anything that really changed things for you?

LS
Two pedals! I've been lugging the HOG and its add-ons with me for the past three years. I'm one of those who like trying to make the guitar sound like something else, or not like a guitar at all and that pedal is essential for that. I love the harmonies, filters and the freeze/portamento function I use probably way too much. The other is a Freakshow FX Digilog, a bucket-brigade style digital delay, the first delay I ever bought and only pedal that never left my board. I really connected with it, very musical, big knobs and a very controllable self-oscillation switch I use in almost every song. I think they stopped making them, so I just bought a spare. Both pedals made me see things in a new way and write different music.

MPS
It seems like you’ve had a pretty busy year in 2015 and it’s certainly not over yet, can you let us into any of your plans for the future?

LS
At the moment we are writing and demoing a lot of new songs. We are making plans to isolate ourselves again, this time it will be an english beach, keep the creative juices flowing. We are quite excited and just wanna crack on, so I suppose the next step is recording a new record? :)

Find out more about tour dates and new releases at: thisisallweare.co.uk

 

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