Our scene stands tallest when we come together. It’s an ethos that has rung true throughout metal’s history, and has been proven time and time again when fans have rallied around their favourite bands in times of need. And While She Sleeps are a band who know people power better than most. Anointed as the crown jewel of an exciting new wave of heavy British music when they first emerged at the tail end of the 00s, their early promise turned into a well-earned reputation as the most exciting young band of a generation with the release of 2012’s incendiary debut, This Is The Six. Then, however, shit started to go south.
Instead of capitalising on their momentum, While She Sleeps were forced to put the brakes on after Loz Taylor’s ongoing vocal issues required the frontman to go in for surgery. The follow-up to This Is The Six was put on hold while the rest of the quintet – guitarists Mat Welsh and Sean Long, bassist Aaran McKenzie and drummer Adam ‘Sav’ Savage – had to sweat on whether their singer would even make it back to the band. By the time Loz recovered and sophomore record Brainwashed landed to rave reviews, the better part of three years had passed, and it seemed like Britain’s most promising band could be left behind.
“It took us a long time to recover,” sighs Loz today. “My surgery took us out for a long time, and with how the world works with music today, the click of a button means people find something new. It’s easy to move on, forget about a band and find your new favourite.”
“Brainwashed was the Getting Back On Track cycle,” agrees Mat. “The recording process for that album was so fraught and took so long – some days we could only track two lines from Loz before his voice got fucked…”
Losing significant ground made things difficult enough for the Sheffield destroyers, but having to also battle to get their voice heard on a label that was stacked with big names left the guys feeling like they had a difficult choice to make once the Brainwashed cycle wrapped up.
“The label were stoked with the album, but we were disappointed because it just felt like they weren’t really trying to get it anywhere,” suggests Mat. “To us, it’s the biggest deal in the world, but for a label it can sometimes just be another number on a big sheet.”
After mutually agreeing with their label to part ways, Sleeps were left out in the cold, having to make a decision that could make or break their career. After holding an emergency meeting back home, the guys decided to take an almighty punt – they’d forgo jumping straight to another label and taking an advance to record a new album, and instead crowdfund the entire thing.
“Oh my god,” laughs Mat in remembered despair. “As soon as we started doing it, we all had that thought in the back of our heads: ‘What if it doesn’t work? People don’t really like buying records, they want things for free!’”
Sleeps knew they had to put everything they had into making this crowdfunding thing work. Not content with simply offering vinyl packages or signed merchandise in return for people’s money and faith, they opted to take things to a whole new level. They weren’t just going to let their fans help create a new album; they were going to let them take home a part of it.
“We were like, ‘How can we do this so that it’s different?’” explains Mat. “We brainstormed things we could make into perks for people who donated. So, we now have 350 handmade flags. Me and Sav hand-painted all the drum skins we used for the record. All the picks we used have been made into necklaces. All the guitar strings have been melted into a bar of silver and made into rings. You can actually, literally, own a part of this record.”
“This was going to be a true representation of whether people really wanted us to be a band,” muses Loz. “You can roll around in your bubble going, ‘People like us!’ all you want, but when you put yourself on the line like that, it’s a big ask to get people to part with their money. There were definitely still worries that people had moved on.”
Turns out people most definitely hadn’t. True to our scene’s history of standing up when it counts, the fans rallied once again, and the While She Sleeps army came through in style. At the time of going to print, not only was Sleeps’ new album done, dusted and ready to roll, but the PledgeMusic campaign had raised 185% of its original target. And those that have been paying attention shouldn’t be surprised; the relationship between While She Sleeps and their fanbase is the foundation of everything they’ve built so far. From the band emphasising the importance of their followers in their music videos (see Seven Hills, Our Legacy and Hurricane), to the fans rallying round after Loz’s throat surgery and buying extra items the band put on sale, to the local festivals and events Loz puts on during his time off, this relationship is as symbiotic as it gets. So much so, in fact, that when the fruits of this labour were finally borne and While She Sleeps had a new album in their mitts, they knew they had to find a name for it that did everything justice.
“Your fans are what make you,” states Loz of the album’s title. “For us, it’s important to let these people know that without them, we are nothing. The fact that everyone pledged to making this album happen shows that. We are all in this together. You Are We.”
You Are We. There could hardly be a more fitting moniker for what While She Sleeps are all about. And the inspiring backstory to this album’s creation doesn’t end there. Every single part of You Are We’s inception, from the writing to the recording and even to the production of those aforementioned crowdfunding perks, all took place in a compound the band built, together, from scratch, back in Sheffield. This is as DIY as it gets, folks.
“I’ve always felt that when you build something yourself, you install positivity into the walls you make,” says Mat of the decision to build their own HQ, which currently boasts a studio, a live room, a kitchen, a bathroom, five bedrooms and a lounge. “Over the years, we’ve spent all this money hiring studios and doing photoshoots and videos, so we said, ‘If we can find a space, we can make everything happen under one roof.’ One morning, I got up super-early and just went, ‘I’m gonna find a warehouse’, and we went for it! We started planning what we wanted to have in it, and every day and night for a year, I’d be on YouTube learning what I needed to do next. Plumbing, soundproofing, electrics, bricklaying, everything.”
And, in keeping with their form, once the new Sleeps HQ was built and they’d finished recording You Are We, the band decided to open it up.
“We had a listening party there for when we were on Radio 1,” beams Mat, like a proud dad. “It was ace! We want it to be a thing where, if there’s a band driving down the country, they can just pull up there. There’s bedrooms there, there’s a practice room… we wanted it to be a hub for all the bands we’ve become friends with.”
It’s a wonderful denouement to a heartwarming narrative, but there’s still the small matter of a new album to contend with. If Sleeps had come this far and then stacked it musically, this would all be for nothing. Luckily, such worries can be safely put in their place. You Are We is a damn fine record – truly outstanding in places, in fact – and manages to mould the five-piece’s penchant for battering riffs, melodic passages, gang chants and metallic hardcore fury into new shapes without ever sounding anything other than unmistakably While She Fucking Sleeps. You want riffs? Allow the heavy metal thunder of In Another Now or the face-smashing breakdown of Empire Of Silence to melt your face clean off. You want hooks? Get dragged under by the earworms scattered over Hurricane and Silence Speaks – the latter featuring fellow Sheffield native and Bring Me The Horizon frontman Oli Sykes, who was so inspired by Sleeps’ crowdfunding shenanigans that he asked to be involved. It’s a lighter record in places, sure – Mat and Sean’s more melodically inclined vocals are far more present and correct – but when all is said and done, this is an album that couldn’t have been made by any other band in our world, and will certainly silence any doubts that Sleeps can still deliver the goods when it matters.
“We think we can do anything, as long as we don’t change the way that we execute it,” says Mat of the band’s approach to writing. “You wanna keep people happy, but you wanna record the music you wanna record,” adds Loz. “I’m always freaking out that stuff isn’t heavy enough. Like, ‘This doesn’t sound like Lamb Of God! It’s not heavy!’ But we’ve always had choruses, we’ve always had singalongs, breakdowns and unity chants. Each record has been slightly different, and the next one will be slightly different again. Plus, the other guys doing more singing lets me control my heavy vocals better and mix it up a bit. At the end of the day, if you worry too much, it’s only gonna hinder you, so we decided to sit back, enjoy what we were writing, and that’s the sound of You Are We.”
The sound of You Are We isn’t just the sound of a great album. It’s the sound of years of bumps, mishaps and frustrations being turned into something positive. It’s the sound of the stars finally aligning for a band who have the drive, talent and passion to be at the very top of the food chain. It’s the sound of While She Sleeps getting back on the horse, entirely on their own terms and with fire in their bellies.
“This record is a real reward for us,” remarks Mat with a grin. “We can release You Are We and say that this band is finally stable. Right now, we are in the best position we’ve ever been.”
Sleeps have already come this far with the odds against them. Who the fuck is gonna stop them now?
YOU ARE WE IS OUT APRIL 21 VIA SLEEPS BROTHERS. WSS KICK OFF THEIR UK TOUR THIS MONTH