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
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
TO A “YOU POINTGET OF where ANY LOGICAL PERSON WOULD
BUT This Is EVERYTHING TO Us” MAT WELSH
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 records.to 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
YOU ARE WE IS OUT NOW. WHILE SHE SLEEPS PLAY READING (SATURDAY, THE PIT, 10:30PM) & LEEDS (SUNDAY, THE PIT, 10PM) THIS WEEKEND – SEE THE GIG GUIDE