"There was a bit of argy-bargy between us and Bring Me The Horizon." How tragedy, Brexit and a certain Oli Sykes helped While She Sleeps break big with Silence Speaks

Loz Taylor and Oli Sykes singing together
(Image credit: YouTube (While She Sleeps))

Every band that makes it has that one album. That career-changing moment that propels them to the next level. And for While She Sleeps, it was their third release, 2017’s You Are We. The Sheffield crew’s promise had been clear all along. With 2010 EP The North Stands For Nothing, 2012’s excellent debut, This Is The Six, and their criminally underrated second album, 2015’s Brainwashed, they’d proved their belligerent, bruising metalcore could unite rooms and lungs. A juggernaut of a record that sounded purpose-built for arenas, You Are We was the sound of a band starting to test the boundaries of their sound, introducing a ton of melody into their punk-infused savagery, and constituted a massive step towards metal’s upper echelons.

The album was written and recorded during a period of intense change
for While She Sleeps. In 2015, they’d started renovating a 19th-century industrial warehouse in Sheffield’s Kelham Island neighbourhood, building their own Six Audio studio and band HQ with their bare hands.

“We watched so much YouTube,” remembers guitarist and vocalist Mat Welsh. “My partner would wake up at night and I’d be on my phone, watching Craig [Phillips] from Big Brother show me how to hang a door. She’d be like, ‘What are you doing?’ And it was always the most boring response of, ‘I’m looking up how to fit UPVC windows.’”

Feeling like they didn’t belong on their major label, Sony Music, Sleeps left to go it alone in 2016, and crowdfunded You Are We via the now-defunct PledgeMusic platform. “We’re from that part of the music scene where you go from fan to artist,” adds vocalist Loz Taylor, who says the band relished the opportunity to take things back to a grassroots mentality. “We said, ‘Why can’t we just say to the audience, you give us a tenner and if everyone does that, we’ve got enough money to make the record and make all the videos?’” “We smashed it. Like, we doubled the target,” says Mat.

It was solid proof, after years of faltering momentum, that, in fact, there were a ton of people who cared about the band. “We were in the warehouse in the evenings watching people join the pledge, just buzzing. We were filled with this ‘Fuck it, anything’s possible’ attitude.”

In late September 2015, having already written a handful of tracks for You Are We, including singles Civil Isolation and Hurricane, While She Sleeps headed out on the road, supporting Bullet For My Valentine at a series of intimate UK venues. It was when the tour pulled into Bournemouth that Mat started writing the track that would become their career best: Silence Speaks, a monstrous Yorkshire love-in that would ultimately bring in Bring The Horizon’s Oli Sykes as a guest vocalist.

“I wrote the ‘Where is your heart? Can we beat this if we all / Tear the borders, break the walls’ section outside the bus,” he says of the scene where he penned the song’s unifying chorus. “There was a pavilion, it was proper seaside.”

That sense of positivity and unity bleeds into You Are We as a whole, but perhaps no more than on Silence Speaks, which the duo say was an attempt to break the disconnection of modern society, most felt on the incendiary line: ‘War will cease when we refuse to fight.’ In today’s turbulent world, it’s a lyric that feels more poignant than ever.

“I think we were almost trying to find a conclusion to the negativity,” says Mat. “When Brexit happened, we were like, ‘Fuck me, Brainwashed is so relevant now, because that whole thing happened because of media brainwashing. What do you do with that? How do we make something good out of this mess?’”

Immediately, they knew they had an anthem on their hands, but Silence Speaks can also be pinpointed as the moment While She Sleeps started to branch out stylistically. “We were really trying to push the boundaries of what we were doing,” says Mat. “We didn’t care if something was different to what we’d done in the past. We were just letting everyone’s ideas kind of flow and happen.”

The track mashes together rapping, Alexisonfire-inspired post-hardcore, gang vocals, a spiralling solo from guitarist Sean Long and the classic elasticity of early metalcore, while Loz, who had undergone three throat surgeries at this point, was on the vocal form of his life. Meanwhile, Mat describes the song’s ‘The longer I live I learn that we don’t belong’ bridge as a “total Backstreet Boys section”.

The band may have released more experimental stuff since, but Silence Sleeps is the first example of While She Sleeps pulling off their now trademark party trick: chucking a million ideas at the wall and emerging with something that could only be them. But having Oli Sykes feature on the track was never the original plan – in fact, going into the process, bad blood between the two bands was rife. While Loz and Mat aren’t keen to get into the specifics today, they’ve previously gone on record to blame the inter-band feud on “girl” troubles.

“There was a bit of argy-bargy between us and Bring Me about some bits and bobs,” Loz offers diplomatically. In the end, tragedy forced perspective on the situation. The loss of Architects’ guitarist Tom Searle, who passed away in August 2016 following a three-year battle with cancer, brought into stark focus the futility of pointless beef.

“We dedicated the record to Tom,” says Mat, who recalls how the two bands agreed to put their differences behind them after speaking for the first time in years at Tom’s wake. “And after his funeral, anything petty just faded away. What’s the point?’”

Having heard a few snippets of Silence Speaks, the BMTH vocalist offered to sing on the track as a way to cement the peace. And after sharing voice memos and ideas back and forth – it was Oli who came up with the idea to have the complete stop right before his ‘I think the silence speaks volumes’ vocal – he joined Sleeps in the studio to record it.

“It’s really weird when you have guests, because you want to let them do their thing, but they’re doing their thing on your thing,” smiles Mat, who reveals that, as Bring Me had dialled back the heaviness for a hooky, cleaner sound on 2015’s That’s The Spirit, Oli needed some... ‘polite encouragement’ to shake the cobwebs off his scream. “You need to pipe up if you want to change something. So we were like, ‘Do you reckon we can do one a little bit harder...?’”

Oli also appeared in the song’s video, which, in keeping with You Are We’s DIY spirit, was made at Sleeps’ Sheffield warehouse. It was filmed and directed by Mat’s brother, Tom Welsh, and editor Taylor Fawcett on sets built by the band themselves.

“At the end of that section with Oli in, Loz smashes the window, but at the same time, here’s a secret door that someone pulls on a rope, so the camera went through the window at the same time,” says Mat. “We also went up the road and pulled loads of branches off these bushes on this wasteland and made the forest scene. Then we had all this concrete on the floor so that everything looked dusty, but it meant that we were breathing in concrete dust all the way through the video.” Another shot was inspired by the flickering bulbs in Stranger Things. “We put bulbs everywhere and then we smashed loads of mirrors that are on the floor, and they’re twinkling as Tom circles the main set”, says Mat.

Released in February 2017 as You Are We’s fourth single, Silence Speaks caused a furore – two of British metalcore’s best bands stepping up together to show off just how brilliant they could be. “I remember the streams at the time,” says Mat. “It hit a million in no time and was just flying. We’d never experienced that pace before.” The song also catapulted While She Sleeps in front of Bring Me The Horizon’s significantly larger fanbase. “People find out about your band, who wouldn’t have ever found out about it,” adds Loz. “People weren’t just listening to Oli’s bit. They were like, ‘I’ve found a new band here.’”

It’s a platform they have built on ever since. The long road that led the band to a triumphant sold-out gig at London’s Alexandra Palace in 2023 most certainly began with You Are We, and arguably Silence Speaks in particular. It remains their biggest and best-loved song on streaming – a high watermark from an album that managed to break into the UK Top 10 at No.8.

“As much as you’re always for the fans, you’re always trying to grow your band,” says Mat. “Silence Speaks is a great example of how we can mesh heavy with a more anthemic sound. We enjoy writing that as well, as much as we do the balls-to-the wall heavy riffs. That song is how we’ve developed into the band we are now.”

Dannii Leivers

Danniii Leivers writes for Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, The Guardian, NME, Alternative Press, Rock Sound, The Line Of Best Fit and more. She loves the 90s, and is happy where the sea is bluest.