bri­tish steel

Two years ago, While She Sleeps were down and out. dropped by Their la­bel, pen­ni­less, it looked like The game was up. re­fus­ing To buckle, They re-forged Them­selves with The help of Their fans. now, They’re fac­ing Their coro­na­tion as The new kings of briti

Kerrang! (UK) - - While she sleeps - words: paul bran­ni­gan

In 1936, while re­search­ing The Road To Wi­gan Pier, his study of work­ing class life in the north of Eng­land, Ge­orge Or­well spent sev­eral days in Sh­effield. It would prove to be an eye-open­ing visit for the writer .“sh­effield, I sup­pose, could justly claim to be called the ugli­est town in the Old World,” Ge­orge wrote, go­ing on to de­scribe its rivers “yel­low with chem­i­cals”, air choked with sul­phur, and “mean lit­tle houses, black­ened by smoke”.

“It seems to me, by day­light, one of the most ap­palling places I have ever seen,” he con­cluded.

On a beau­ti­ful sum­mer af­ter­noon, from the van­tage point of one of the seven hills on which the Southy­ork­shire city is fa­mously built, it’s hard to rec­on­cile Ge­orge Or­well’s vi­sion with the rein­vig­o­rated, boom­ing mod­ern city which sprawls be­low. Steel City’s dark sa­tanic mills are a thing of the past, and a land­scape once pock­marked by fac­tory chim­neys is now home to Miche­lin-starred restau­rants, art gal­leries and some 57 brew­eries, 31 of which have opened in the past five years.the city’s for­mer red light district has been re­born with myr­iad small busi­ness start-ups, and it’s here,

on an in­dus­trial es­tate a stone’s throw away from Bring Me The Hori­zon front­man Oli Sykes’ Drop Dead cloth­ing ware­house, where you’ll find Sleeps Broth­ers Hq,while She Sleeps’ be­spoke record­ing stu­dio/re­hearsal space/work­shop/com­mu­nal liv­ing space, nes­tled be­tween an ar­ti­sanal cof­fee shop and wood-fire pizza restau­rant.

Em­blem­atic of Sh­effield’s re­gen­er­a­tion, and a proud dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence for the York­shire band, it’s a space hand-built by the quin­tet – vo­cal­ist Lawrence ‘Loz’ Tay­lor, gui­tarists Mat Welsh and Sean Long, bas­sist Aaran Mcken­zie and drum­mer Adam ‘Sav’ Sav­age – each of whom ac­quired new skillsets in its con­struc­tion, mas­ter­ing brick­lay­ing, plumb­ing, elec­tri­cal wiring and sound­proof­ing via Youtube tu­to­ri­als. Five years ago, on Seven Hills, one of the stand­out tracks on While She Sleeps’ de­but al­bum This Is The Six, Loz Tay­lor sang of ‘My home, made by the peo­ple sur­round­ing me / Our place, our ev­ery­thing.’ Here, then, is the phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of those sen­ti­ments.there are five bed­rooms in the fa­cil­ity, a grand pi­ano, a punch bag, gym equip­ment and a drum kit in the lounge, and boxes of mer­chan­dise and Mar­shall cab­i­nets ev­ery­where. Atop a mon­i­tor speaker in the stu­dio sits a gleam­ing Ker­rang! Award tro­phy, the Best Bri­tish New­comer award the band picked up in 2012.

It’s fair to say that the five years sep­a­rat­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion of that award and the present day have not al­ways been easy for While She Sleeps.there have been dark days, times as in­tense and heavy as the mu­sic the quin­tet make, yet these are the chal­lenges which have made While She Sleeps who they are.

“You get to a point of the strug­gle where any log­i­cal per­son would give up,” says Mat Welsh.“you come to cer­tain mo­ments where you think:‘shit, this is where bands call it a day.’ But that thought fuck­ing ter­ri­fied us, so we ran in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, and fought with ev­ery­thing we had.this is not just a band to us, this is ev­ery­thing to us.we re­fused to be taken down.”

Max­i­mum Vol­ume. Strike Free. States Of Mat­ter. Dead­fall.the Hang­overs. Screw Loose. Fi­nal Ruin. Un­less you were a rock/metal-ob­sessed teenager grow­ing up in York­shire in the early-’00s, these names are un­likely to mean any­thing to you. But with­out these bands, some more for­get­table than oth­ers, there would be no While She Sleeps.

Lean, mus­cu­lar, and like his band­mates, heav­ily inked, Sean Long re­calls want­ing to be in a band since he was 12 years old. Grow­ing up in the small vil­lage of Ren­ishaw, in North East Der­byshire, the soft­spo­ken but qui­etly-de­ter­mined guitarist re­mem­bers school mates laugh­ing at this seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble dream, but in Aaran Mcken­zie, a friend since pri­mary school, and Mat Welsh, his best pal at sec­ondary school, he found like-minded spir­its, who helped him drown out the mock­ing voices. Mat ac­tu­ally loaned Sean his first gui­tar, and to­gether with Mat’s el­der brother Tom, and drum­mer Adam Sav­age, the boys started play­ing shows in the afore­men­tioned bands around Ren­ishaw and the neigh­bour­ing vil­lages of Spinkhill and Whit­ting­ton, fer­ried hither and thither in Mat’s fa­ther’s Volvo es­tate. One week­end saw Fi­nal Ruin play The Leop­ard in Don­caster with a lo­cal metal act named Fail To Rea­son, and the boys were im­pressed with the group’s singer, Loz, a charis­matic, en­gag­ing front­man who’d joke that their band could be so much bet­ter with him at the helm.

By 2009, Fi­nal Ruin had be­come While She Sleeps, and were start­ing to at­tract a cou­ple of hun­dred friends to self-pro­moted shows at South York­shire youth clubs. It was when the group were of­fered their first Euro­pean tour on the strength of demo record­ings up­loaded to Mys­pace that the first frac­tures in the col­lec­tive be­gan to sur­face, with vo­cal­ist Jor­dan Wid­dow­son un­will­ing to take weeks off from his bank­ing job to play squats and com­mu­nity cen­tres in Ger­many and Eastern Europe. Re­luc­tant to let the op­por­tu­nity pass them by, Sean and Mat reached out to Loz to see if he might be pre­pared to stand in for the dates.and from the mo­ment that the five young mu­si­cians first shared a stage it was strik­ingly ap­par­ent that this was an up­grade for both par­ties.when Jor­dan gra­ciously stepped aside,while She Sleeps ac­quired not just a new singer, but a gen­uine sense of pur­pose.

“At the time I’d been feel­ing like no-one I was play­ing with had the same pas­sion as me,” re­calls Loz. “But when I played with the boys, I could see that here were peo­ple who were as de­ter­mined as me. We talked a lot about what we’d like to do, then quit our jobs, and said,‘fuck it, let’s do this.’”

On Fe­bru­ary 8, 2012, in the stu­dent union toi­lets at Nor­wich’s Univer­sity of East Anglia,while She Sleeps signed the record con­tract that promised to make them rock­stars. Giddy with ex­cite­ment on what was the sec­ond date of that year’s Ker­rang! Tour, an out­ing which saw the quin­tet open for letlive.,the Blackout and head­lin­ers New Found Glory, not one of the band both­ered to read the small print of the deal, a fact Loz Tay­lor now ac­knowl­edges was “naive”. This over­sight would have reper­cus­sions down the line, but it’s easy to un­der­stand how a bunch of wide-eyed mu­si­cians in their early-20s could have been swept along in the ex­cite­ment of the mo­ment. Since the re­lease of 2010’s chal­leng­ing, fierce The North Stands For Noth­ing EP, Sleeps had re­ceived noth­ing but pos­i­tive in­dus­try sup­port, and where once their band was sim­ply a con­duit for “play­ing gigs and get­ting smashed with your mates”, as Loz



re­mem­bers, sud­denly the prospect of a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in mu­sic seemed vi­able. In this pur­suit, they were en­cour­aged by the bur­geon­ing suc­cess of an­other lo­cal metal act.

“Ev­ery­one’s eyes were al­ways on Bring Me [The Hori­zon],” ad­mits Sean. “What­ever you thought of the band, they were ex­cit­ing to watch and they were grow­ing at such a rate, and at­tract­ing such hype that it was in­spir­ing. There’s no doubt that we looked at them and thought,‘right, let’s get our shit to­gether and maybe we can do this, too.’”

In the band’s shared liv­ing space, an out­build­ing on Mat Welsh’s fa­ther’s prop­erty which they chris­tened The Barn, a group iden­tity be­gan to evolve. Here the band de­signed their own merch, screen-printed T-shirts, made fly­ers, hosted gigs and in­vited tour­ing bands to crash, build­ing their own close-knit network.the idea of com­mu­nity in­formed the ti­tle and themes of their 2012 de­but al­bum,this Is The Six, ac­knowl­edg­ing fans as a fig­u­ra­tive sixth mem­ber of the unit.

This sense of unity would soon be tested in unan­tic­i­pated ways. It was dur­ing a spring 2013 U.S. tour open­ing up for Park­way Drive that Loz be­gan to en­counter prob­lems with his throat.“i just started cough­ing up blood, which wasn’t very nice,” he notes, with a de­gree of un­der­state­ment. By the end of the year, it was ap­par­ent that surgery would be re­quired if he was to con­tinue fronting the band. Can­celling a string of dates, in­clud­ing what was to be a first Ja­panese tour, the quin­tet re­leased a state­ment declar­ing,“what we do is a real thing, and real things break after a while.they take you by sur­prise and some­times fuck things up.”

Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, the en­forced lay-off hit Loz Tay­lor hard­est. Ordered to rest up for six months after laser surgery, the singer found his new­found in­ac­tiv­ity dif­fi­cult to han­dle, and the no­tion that he was let­ting down his broth­ers be­gan to in­creas­ingly gnaw at his con­science. By his own ad­mis­sion, his per­sonal life be­gan to get “messy”.

“I went all weird for a while,” he states bluntly.“i felt I was use­less and started drink­ing a lot, but try­ing to hide it from ev­ery­one. It was a bit scary, and def­i­nitely a worry, be­cause it was like,‘what if I can’t do this again?’ I use my time on­stage to re­ally let go and re­lease the en­ergy that I need to, and it kinda chills me out day to day, and with­out that, I didn’t know how to chan­nel that. It would have been very easy just to walk away.”

While Loz mar­i­nated a mount­ing sense of guilt in al­co­hol, the sta­sis en­gen­dered a sober­ing sense of ma­tu­rity in his band­mates.

“Be­fore that we were hav­ing such a good time that I don’t think any­one con­sid­ered that this could break down,” ad­mits Sean.“it was just like,‘this is it, this is our life from now on,’ and per­son­ally I think we all took it for granted.when we had to

put the brakes on, we all re­alised what we had, and it made us all grow up a bit.and part of that was be­ing there for Loz.”

With con­cerns grow­ing over the singer’s health, both phys­i­cal and men­tal, Loz’s band­mates staged what ther­a­pists would call an ‘in­ter­ven­tion’, beg­ging him not to blow ev­ery­thing the band had worked for to this point.their words struck home, and the singer’s path to re­cov­ery be­gan in earnest that day.

In the mu­sic in­dus­try, a dream fac­tory kit­ted out with smoke and mir­rors as stan­dard, per­cep­tion can of­ten out­weigh re­al­ity. So when, in April 2015, While She Sleeps’ sec­ond al­bum Brain­washed en­tered the UK al­bum charts two places lower than its pre­de­ces­sor (Num­ber 29, ver­sus the Num­ber 27 peak achieved by This Is The Six), in­dus­try whis­pers sug­gested that the band had ‘blown’ their shot at the big time. Given the cir­cum­stances in which the al­bum had been made – with a still-stricken Loz record­ing his vo­cals lit­er­ally line by line, in stu­dios, tat­too shops, even friends’ kitchens – the band them­selves con­sider its very ex­is­tence a tri­umph, and two years on, they still main­tain that a re­duc­tion in their pro­file was “in­evitable”.there’s a note of de­fi­ance in Sean Long’s voice when he speaks today of the al­bum’s “slow burn” ap­peal, and no doubt­ing his band­mates’ sin­cer­ity when they re­call the al­bum gain­ing trac­tion and re­spect as they be­gan tour­ing it.they point to a suc­cess­ful sum­mer stint on the 2015 Warped Tour, and tri­umphant ap­pear­ances at the Leeds and Read­ing fes­ti­vals, where by pop­u­lar con­sent they up­staged The Pit stage head­lin­ers Re­fused, as tan­gi­ble signs of re­newed mo­men­tum in the camp.yet even as the clouds over­head seemed to be clear­ing, fate was about to deal the band an­other de­bil­i­tat­ing blow. It’s not hard to de­tect a note of shame in each band mem­ber’s voice as they re­call an au­tumn 2015 au­dit of their fi­nances re­veal­ing that, de­spite se­cur­ing two con­sec­u­tive Top 30 al­bums, no mean achieve­ment for a Bri­tish metal band, they were tens of thou­sands of pounds in debt to their la­bel.

“The mu­sic in­dus­try is just a whirlpool of debt,” says Mat Welsh, like his band­mates a smart, self-aware man, still vis­i­bly bristling at his younger self’s naivety in not mon­i­tor­ing the band’s ac­counts more dili­gently.“it doesn’t feel like you’re be­ing in­dul­gent, but the ma­chine takes a lot of money to run. Debt in the mu­sic in­dus­try gets swept un­der the carpet, but as soon as we re­alised the state our fi­nances were in we were like, ‘Whoa, hold the fuck on, can we sort this out?’”

“It’s not like we’re in this to make money, but if it comes to the

point where the only way to get rid of this mas­sive debt is to liq­ui­date your band… Well, that wasn’t go­ing to be an op­tion. It was like,‘let’s fix this shit, so that we can ac­tu­ally be a band for the next 15 years.’” The first nec­es­sary step in a pro­posed bail-out plan was to down­size the band’s op­er­a­tions.a self-booked March 2016 club tour in un­fash­ion­able ‘mar­kets’ – Mans­field, Hull, Hud­der­s­field, Bolton, Gravesend – found WSS pi­lot­ing their own van, tun­ing their own gui­tars, and sub­se­quently claw­ing back thou­sands of pounds with these sim­ple acts of self-suf­fi­ciency.the process un­der­stand­ably trig­gered me­mories of their DIY roots, but more im­por­tantly, as the red fig­ures in the band ac­count be­gan to re­duce, the quin­tet recog­nised that work­ing out­side their in­dus­try’s tra­di­tional chan­nels could ac­tu­ally pro­vide a blue­print for a sus­tain­able fu­ture.when the op­tion came up for a third al­bum with Sony, Sleeps de­cided not to re­new their con­tract,“to take the power back, as cheesy as that sounds,” says Loz. “We’re weren’t say­ing,‘fuck record la­bels!’ but you’ll never ever find some­one at a la­bel who cares as much about your band as you do,” the singer rea­sons.“when some­one fucks up, which was hap­pen­ing in nu­mer­ous ir­ri­tat­ing and frus­trat­ing ways, peo­ple care, but they can’t pos­si­bly give as much of a fuck as you do, be­cause you’re just one of 200 bands that they work for.” Elect­ing to work out­side the ma­jor la­bel sys­tem, the band hit upon the idea of util­is­ing the pas­sion and loy­alty of their fan base to re­vi­talise their ca­reer. Us­ing the fan­funded Pledge­mu­sic model, they sought con­tri­bu­tions to­wards the record­ing costs of their third al­bum, of­fer­ing unique, be­spoke in­cen­tives for do­na­tions. Rather than sim­ply prof­fer­ing signed vinyl, or hand­writ­ten lyric sheets, the band promised that plec­trums used in the stu­dio would be fash­ioned into pen­dants, gui­tar strings would be wound into rings, even the valves of their am­pli­fiers would be trans­formed into pieces of art, mounted on var­nished wooden bases in­scribed with lyrics from the their re­lief, the gam­ble paid off, with the cam­paign ul­ti­mately hit­ting 286 per cent of the band’s tar­get.twenty peo­ple even pledged to have the forth­com­ing al­bum’s ti­tle tat­tooed on their skin. “The of­fi­cial line on the record was,‘we’re do­ing this in­de­pen­dently,’ but we weren’t do­ing it in­de­pen­dently at all,” says Loz.“we had loads of peo­ple who love our band help­ing make this hap­pen. It’s more a unity thing than an in­de­pen­dent thing.”

“Our fans aren’t silly, they know that with­out them we’d be noth­ing,” agrees Sean.

In April,you Are We,while She Sleeps’ third al­bum, ti­tled in hon­our of this uni­fied col­lec­tive ef­fort, crashed into the UK charts at Num­ber Eight, an as­ton­ish­ing achieve­ment for a band the in­dus­try had largely writ­ten off. Loz freely ad­mits that when he first heard of the al­bum’s chart plac­ing, his ini­tial re­ac­tion was to say aloud,‘fuck me, that’s men­tal!’ But today, as they re­visit the process while perched on leather so­fas in the stu­dio where the self-pro­duced al­bum was recorded, there’s a pal­pa­ble sense among the five mu­si­cians that they’ve pulled off a come­back all the more sat­is­fy­ing for be­ing au­ton­o­mous.

“In one way, it’s a re­ally nice ‘Fuck you’ to ev­ery­one who thought that we’d blown this,” says Loz.“but, re­ally, it’s not a protest vote, it’s a vote for sol­i­dar­ity and unity, with the peo­ple who mean the most to us – our fans – prov­ing that we mean some­thing to them, too. I saw some­one post­ing the other day say­ing,‘i’m so proud we made this al­bum hap­pen.’ It’s an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing now to know that we’re truly in this to­gether.”

As of sum­mer 2017,While She Sleeps have a fur­ther six months of en­gage­ments on their docket, most im­me­di­ately a re­turn to Read­ing & Leeds fes­ti­val this week­end, where Loz prom­ises the band will be “on fire” as they step up to head­line The Pit stage for the first time.there’s un­der­stand­able pride in the vo­cal­ist’s voice when he says:“get­ting of­fered those head­line slots was a bit of a val­i­da­tion that all our hard work has paid off.”

But as much as this week­end’s gigs are a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone for this most re­silient of bands, it’s a fu­ture yet un­writ­ten that is oc­cu­py­ing their day-to-day thoughts now, the idea that this peo­ple­pow­ered revo­lu­tion is only just get­ting started, that the pos­si­bil­i­ties ahead are now en­tirely open-ended.

“It feels like our ca­reer is now in our con­trol,” says Mat.“we don’t have any more money, but we’re just hap­pier. Not one of us grew up in a fam­ily with lots of money, we’re used to scrap­ing by, but we carry that work­ing class ethic of hard work for a just re­ward with us.we want to be as open about this as pos­si­ble, so that peo­ple can see the re­al­ity of this busi­ness. I tat­tooed a kid yes­ter­day and he lit­er­ally said to me,‘if you guys can do this, I can, too.’”

Ul­ti­mately, it would be nice to imag­ine that this could be While She Sleeps’ legacy, their courage and con­vic­tion in­spir­ing a resur­gent, more in­de­pen­dently-minded DIY metal scene through­out these is­lands.that, though, re­mains to be seen. Right now, these sons of the north are just proud that they can hold their heads high on home turf again.

“We see peo­ple now from our school days and they’re like,‘oh, what are you do­ing now?’” says Mat.“and our re­sponse is,‘i’m do­ing the ex­act same thing I was do­ing in year eight that you took the piss out of.’ It’s been tough at times, but it feels like now we can take pride in who we are and what we’ve done.that’s a good feel­ing for any­one.”

“It’s an In­cred­i­ble Feel­ing to know that we and the Fans are truly IN THIS TO­GETHER ” LOZ TAY­LOR


Pho­tos: andy ford, ian collins, andy gal­lagher

Loz says hi to a pass­ing hot air balloon

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