Slow Burners: All the Saints

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LOOK LIKE YOU\’RE GOING SOMEWHERE: All the Saints. Photo by Brett Falcon.

“Make the drums sound like In Utero and Jesus Lizard.”

This is the same suggestion frontman Matt Lambert has been feeding in recording sessions for the Tuscaloosa-bred, Atlanta-based noise-sludge trio All the Saints since about 2006. Originally called Southwick, All the Saints was formed in true rip-it-up-and-start-again fashion between Matt, Titus Brown (bass), and Jim Crook (drums) in December 2004. The grunge-meets-sludge-meets-psych-rock outfit have never rolled with the trends—like the dance punk outburst Atlanta music had in 2012 or the more recent post-punk revival we saw in 2017—and have always claimed their own authority in Atlanta music; not so much producing flighty fireworks, but more of a heavy duty slow burn. One that’s been burning in Atlanta for almost 15 years.

The band’s latest album, Look Like You’re Going Somewhere (via Atlanta-based Chunklet Industries), arrives eight years after its sophomore album Intro to Fractions. While that may seem like a long stint without any releases from a band that claims to be active, it actually arrived right on time. If there’s one big takeaway from All the Saints’ story, it’s that you can’t hurry along the paths of greatness. And if they’ve mastered anything, it’s saying no to some people and always saying yes to the process. Take note.

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If you’re not familiar with All the Saints, a little history: members Matt, Titus, and Jim are all Tuscaloosa transplants who moved to Atlanta around 2003, with Matt convincing Titus to move to Atlanta with him and his then-pregnant wife and Jim relocating to Atlanta on his own after he graduated from school a year or so later. Jim’s introduction to Matt and Titus was a bit of a missed connection. Matt and Jim met briefly in Tuscaloosa when Matt saw Jim playing at a local venue.

“One night at this venue I played in like once a week, I walked in and there was a drummer wearing black and yellow Chuck Taylors and fucking crushing it,” Matt remembers. “More than any drummer I’d ever seen. It was Jim.”

The two exchanged numbers, only to pass each other by a couple times right before Matt and Titus moved to Atlanta. Years later, at a random show at the Earl in East Atlanta, they spotted each other both wearing velvet blazers and white t-shirts. 

“I saw him and was like, ‘That’s fucking Jim Crooke,’” says Matt. “And I was like, ‘What are you doing?’” Jim was visiting Atlanta to scope out apartments. Jim eventually moved, Matt and his wife had their first kid, and Titus and Matt began practicing in a relatively non-descript basement, getting their bearings together with a set of drums sitting there unused. The two contacted Jim one night while he was getting off work from an office on Windy Hill Road.

“Jim answered the phone and I was like, ‘Hey, we got some drums set up over here. Do you wanna play?’” says Matt, telling what he calls his Favorite Jim Story Ever. “He comes in, literally taking off his tie as he’s getting off work, and we started practicing as a three-piece. That was when it started and we went from there.”

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Photo by Richard Martin

Fast forward: The group received national notoriety after its full-length debut Fire On Corridor X (via Killer Pimp in 2008), which received widely positive critical reviews, all labeling them as a sort of ‘90s-throwback and lumping the band in with shoegaze bona fides My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver. The album was later picked up by the infamous Touch & Go Records after their contact Howard Greynolds saw the guys play at Corndogorama and later found them on MySpace. (Remember MySpace? We all have one friend in common.) Touch & Go released Corridor X on vinyl with plans to record and release the band’s sophomore LP with the label.

Touch & Go more or less folded as a record label in 2008, which was information Matt, Titus, and Jim received with a call the day they were heading out for a leg of a U.S. tour before heading to Europe. This left the three in a vacuum of uncertainty mixed with pressure from a label contract to produce their second album, which became known as Intro to Fractions. Released in 2011, Fractions, compared to the band’s debut, is a twisted, scattered, and practically manic collage of sorts. This is mostly due to the fact that the album was recorded in three different locations, marrying two aspects of the process: one that was intentional in its songwriting and unintentional in terms of the media in which it was conceived due to the label’s fallout.

Fractions is kind of a train wreck, in a sense,” says Matt. “In a good way. You can hear how tortuous the process was. [But] one thing that makes that record cohesive to me is that all the tracks were recorded, came back to me, and I used a lot of different filters on guitars and vocals and acoustic guitars that gave this record a really melted wave on top of it. If you listen to ‘Alterations,’ it’s twisted, but if you listen to Jim and Titus, they are super locked in because they recorded together live. There’s a set of eight songs that are well-structured where Jim and Titus went down the bass tracks and we took those along with two more sessions. I did all the vocals and the overdubs at that house.”

“In a computer chair through a shitty microphone,” Jim adds.

“I love the way that record came out,” Matt continues. “It is the darkest of what we’ve done and at times the heaviest and fastest. I can remember one specific Logic plug-in that was mandatory and I put that on every single overdub. I think Jim was listening to a lot of Steely Dan. At the time, funny enough, I was listening to a lot of Grateful Dead.”

Clearly, Touch & Go’s folding was not at all to the band’s demise, but simply a bump in the road, and a lucrative one. What appeared to be a detour was actually an opportunity for them to explore the “tortuous process” of recording its second album, adding to the catalogue of experience and ultimately giving them the space to breathe and grow in their sound without commitments to anyone other than themselves.

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All the Saints playing at the EARL in Atlanta, Ga., Aug. 10, 2019. Photo by Richard Martin.

Things on the outside seemed to be quiet for the noise-sludge trio (save for the two shows they play a year, with “two being ambitious and one being a tradition,” in Matt’s words) from 2012 until this year. But in addition to those shows, All the Saints never ceased writing songs or rocking out in the basement. When Chunklet Industries owner Henry Owings and producer Jason Kingsland approached the guys to record its third album in fall 2017, the band had been sitting on about seven years of epic riffs waiting to be assembled into full optimization.

This was the chance to do it right and it fell right into their laps.

Look Like You’re Going Somewhere was recorded and produced the way the band always wanted to approach the process: slow, diligent, methodical. Every ounce of energy went into making this album impenetrable through and through, with not a single misstep. Case in point: Corridor X is 10 tracks, Fractions is a whopping 13, and Going Somewhere is a solid eight. After initially meeting with Owings and Kingsland, the band spent about eight more months writing the songs and putting them into sequencing before they went into the studio and recorded the album in full from start to finish, in three days.

“We sequenced the whole record in live scenarios in the basement before we went in and recorded,” explains Matt. “So we were practicing the songs in the order they are in now, with the exception of one change.”

I don’t like to use this word a lot, but the result is something masterful. Look Like You’re Going Somewhere is cohesive and elevated in all aspects—its planning, design, and execution. At first glance, I read the album title as “Looks like you’re going somewhere,” like some token of encouragement or attaboy, which was completely false. What it is—Look like you’re going somewhere—steers us in a direction that must or should be obeyed. It’s commanding. Once the album starts, you’re in. And if you’re in, you’re in all the way. 

The album fronts with opener “Gold,” which if you were to take this album in piecemeal, is a good synopsis of its sound as a whole. The track rips it right off with nefarious riffs, foreboding drums, debilitating effects, and even dips into a keyed interlude before it brings it all back up to tear it down again. You can hear the return of Corridor X in the melodies of the guitar and Matt’s voice and Fractions in the more obscured, swirling moments. But there’s no My Bloody Valentine in here or any other cheap, buzzy references—the band was influencing themselves, rather than being influenced by anybody else.

“I feel like in a lot of ways we were trying to get a sound that we’d been trying to get for years and finally, we achieved a lot of those sounds we’d been trying to get,” says Jim. “As far as influences, it’s all the same ones we’ve had since we started. It’s just that we’re now to that point we’ve been trying to get to.”

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Look Like You\’re Going Somewhere via Chunklet Industries, June 2019

When asked what the encompassing theme was in terms of influences, Titus expanded on the process of practicing the same album for eight months twice a night, three days a week. “By doing that, you play the song so many times that you just know every little part, every drum fill you’re gonna do, every pick strike,” he says. “You know the song backwards and forwards, so when you go in, you’re like, ‘Okay, I can play this song like a champion and I wanna do that,’ and capture that on a recording. So it was a like a wager against ourselves, like, ‘Can I do this?’ We were just pretty much up against ourselves.”

Going Somewhere twists, turns, and warps like Fractions, but where there was a “melted wave” layered on top of its predecessors, there is now a thick, solidifying coat, unifying every element of sound into one large-sounding, heavy coagulant. In terms of the album’s ethos, you can tell there is an overall, encompassing theme that isn’t just someone giving themselves permission, but giving themselves the authority—their own power, their own influence—to face the proverbial wall of themselves lined with their limited perceptions of what they’re capable of. The title track sums that up and is an imperative listen: it is onerous, unyielding, ineffable as it approaches steadfastly in a melodic, bass-induced trance with shimmering riffs in swarming distortions before it hits you square in the face.

Now, this is where All the Saints seem to refrain from the scattered energy of Fractions and pick up where Corridor X left off, perfecting the method of album cohesion. The entire album flows incessantly for its entire 37 minutes (with the only slight oddball being the final track, “Closer, Owner,” which was originally to be included in Fractions) with Titus’ menacing bass slithering throughout, acting as one interconnected thread neutralizing the swelling of Matt’s guitars and Jim’s combustible drums that wax and wane over the course of the album. Listening to one, two, or even three of these tracks on their own feels like a cheat or like you’re robbing yourself of the experience. It’s also nearly impossible. 

When I first heard the album’s single “Creak,” it was good—very good, especially for those who waited after years of no new All the Saints recordings—but it’s not done complete justice if it’s not received in the right context. That is, if it isn’t surrounded by the rest of the album. One should not listen to “Creak” without it following the somber, piano-centric “Casket” or without hearing its scathing loops feeding into the following track, “Feeders,” which is the most manic, reeling, explosive All the Saints sound in its prime. With all the previous tracks leading you here, this is the one that will get your head swirling and your blood boiling.

Going Somewhere shows what it means to reap what you sow, mean what you say, and most importantly, do what you say—and do it right. What might be the most frustrating thing about All the Saints is that they have no interest in pursuing any type of fame or glory whatsoever, despite the fact that they are fully equipped with the talent, experience, and wherewithal to do so. As Jim almost adolescently declared, “If that’s the only reason to make art, then I quit!” 

The thing is, if they were those type of dudes, then Going Somewhere would not exist at all in the way it does. Because it’s anti-fame, anti-instant gratification, anti-seeking. This ultimately overrides any protestation one might have in the face of waiting for those two shows a year, waiting for that next album; not just for All the Saints, but for any band that places honest method over potential glory. In an era of oversaturation with musicians and artists competing for everyone’s attention and streaming, Going Somewhere is true to All the Saints, where they’ve been, who they are, and where they’re going. I can’t help but concede to the fact that this was achievable by sitting all the other bullshit out.

I’ll be honest: my first real exposure to All the Saints wasn’t until September 2018 at one of their biannual shows at 529 in East Atlanta. I remember local up-and-comers Warm Red opened and they blew my lid off; then All the Saints took stage, and that lid was obliterated and evaporated from existence. The sound was familiar, in the sense that I’m sure I’d heard them before, perhaps insidiously flowing through the air at some Corndogorama I went to years ago. But for whatever reason, it wasn’t until this 529 show that I finally latched on. Someone commented to me after the show that “they didn’t smoke enough weed to be able to enjoy that.” To this I responded, “I don’t smoke weed at all, and that shit ripped.” 

What got me reeling from that set was something incendiary, but not thrown in my face or just thrown up to the walls. I was in shellshock, but I wasn’t numb. My mind was altered.

As to how this band has managed to stay together after almost 15 years, with each member having their own private commitments such as families, children, and their careers—plenty of reasons to dip out of a band and quit all together—the answer is simple. Music gives you some sort of high.

“As a writer and performer, you can definitely try to tell yourself that you’re going to give it up and focus more on your career or another hobby or whatever,” Matt says. One time, he and Jim tried to pick up golf. Didn’t work out. “But music and performance is a drug. I’ll be trying to quit and then starting back for the rest of my years. No doubt.”

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