INTERVIEW: While She Sleeps (19/06/2021)

Credit: Promo

While She Sleeps have been an interesting and forward-thinking band for a while now, forever thinking of the bigger picture of the industry, the current climate, and how to leverage in a new system that’s beneficial to a metal band such as themselves.

In 2021, now more a decade into their career, this has never been more true. Along with a fifth album called ‘Sleeps Society’ the band also launched a platform and community of the same name via Patreon, providing their already dedicated fanbase an opportunity to become closer with the band whilst also reaping exclusive and impressive benefits and rewards for their support.

At Download Pilot, we spoke with bassist Aaran McKenzie about the new record, when this Patreon idea began, why he feels their fanbase is so dedicated and supportive, and more.

DP!: How are you feeling about your set here at Download Pilot later today? It’s been a while since you’ve been able to play to a crowd for obvious reasons.
A: I’m feeling a little anxious, but not anxious in a bad way. It’s just the anticipation of finally getting on there, you know? We haven’t played a show in over a year and we’ve not done any livestreams either. We’ve been so busy with releasing the new album and we don’t ever like to do that half assed. We’ve been shooting the music videos for the singles and all of that kind of stuff, but on top of that we’ve also released the Sleeps Society which is our Patreon platform, so we’ve basically given ourselves two jobs to do, haha. I’m really stoked for today, though. I can’t wait to get up there.

DP!: How was the writing and recording for the ‘Sleeps Society’ and when did that all start happening? I believe you were in the middle of a tour in the US when COVID hit?
A: Sean [Long, guitarist] is always writing, and you can’t get him off of his computer for writing music to be honest, but yeah, we officially started the record when we were forced to cut that US tour short. You know what happened, haha, the world shut down and is yet to open up again, so we used that time when we should’ve been playing festivals that summer to crack on with the album and release it sooner. I think we timed it perfectly to be honest. We released it in April and then hopefully, fingers crossed, the world starts opening up again and we can get back to normal.

We wrote it and recorded it all during the pandemic, and in many ways it was the perfect catalyst to get out a lot of emotions. Not that we wrote an album about COVID, because it’s not, but we used that energy as our outlet I guess. We recorded it ourselves in the warehouse, the same as always, and we’ve done the last three albums there. We did the drums at Carl’s [Brown], he’s our producer but he lives like a stone’s throw away, and it all went as well as we’d hoped.

DP!: You talked earlier about your Patreon platform, which like the album is also called Sleeps Society. Was the idea of bringing that to life in the pipeline for a while and accelerated because of COVID?
A: Exactly that, well, almost. COVID accelerated us putting out the new album much sooner than we’d planned, but the Patreon was in the pipeline for a long time really. I think it was the silver lining to releasing the whole thing alongside of a global pandemic, and I think in some ways made it more prevalent than ever, because a lot of bands will have not been able to survive the past year. It’s no secret that bands don’t make any money anymore unless they’re on tour or selling all their merch, so we kinda wanted to challenge the current paradigm within the music industry and try to not only set the precedent for other bands to follow in our footsteps, but also in a selfish way I guess we’re trying to save our own band too and become more connected with our fanbase in the process. I think that’s what we’ve done.

DP!: When touring finally comes back in full force again and you guys are going to be constantly on the road, and because you guys offer a lot of benefits and perks via the Patreon platform, do you feel like it might be a bit more difficult to juggle what you offer at the moment with the less free time that will give you?
A: I don’t think so. I think a lot of the top tier rewards come with the perks of being on the road and people being able to come to a show, be on the guest list, come to sound checks and all that stuff, and we’ve also got guitar lessons in there and a lot of face-to-face workshops that I think travelling the country will be a lot easier for us to fulfil. We do a lot of those things over Zoom right now but it’ll be nice to do all of those things in person, and, being on tour, apart from playing the show you have a lot of downtime. So, yeah, I think it’ll be pretty easy to fulfil the commitments we offer. I’m not worried about that at all.

DP!: Obviously a band setting up a Patreon isn’t a new idea or anything like that, but I feel like you guys have pushed it to the next level with what you do with it which I think is in part to your fanbase being more like a community, and it’s been that way for a while. The first time I saw you guys was at Ghostfest in 2010 and I think it was two months or so before you put out ‘The North Stands For Nothing’, and even though that’s a long time ago and very early in your career loads of people were wearing your t-shirts with the logo on the front. What do you think it is about you guys that brings your fans to you so intensely?
A: Wow, that was a really long time ago. I think throughout our career we’ve made a point of being completely transparent with the fact that from the start we’ve always said that it’s a family and not a fanbase to us. We recognise that we couldn’t be a band without supporters like them. The fact that there’s so many bands who kind of put themselves — I don’t think they put themselves on a pedestal, but I just think it’s the way that it’s fashioned in a physical form, you know? You put the band on the stage and you put the crowd looking up own below, and it’s easy to get confused with your band as like this trophy and this thing that people look up to, and it’s not that at all. I think it’s more of a symbiotic relationship between a band and their fans; you couldn’t be a band without the fans and vice versa.

I think it’s very important for a band to stay that way and I think that’s been a thing throughout our whole history as you said. I think we’ve always been destined to do something like this. We’re just a bunch of lads from Yorkshire and we’ve never really been born with the silver spoon in our mouths. We’ve tried to work for it, we’ve worked our fingers to the bone to get to where we are today, and we’ve played the long game with it. We’ve never really wanted a short spark of success. We want to play the long game and we want to be a band forever, and I think the way to do that is to adapt to the current climate and to adapt to the way that things are going, because the current system is a little outdated. I don’t think it’s a complete waste of time, but your basic, average 14-year-old is a marketing genius right now in a way because they do social media and they know everything about social media, and that’s where the future is going for a lot of bands. To create a community with our fans and to be able to curate our future together and talk about it constantly, I think that’s what’s going to give us more longevity than if we didn’t have it.

DP!: I think that also kind of lends to your DIY ethos as a band. You make it no secret about how little bands earn with that billboard you had of streaming revenue and that t-shirt design you allowed people to use for themselves too.
A: People really like to sugarcoat the reality of it all to try and make themselves look more successful than they truly are, because with success a lot of it is perception and a lot of bands like to lean into that. They spend so much money on production and tour buses and all this shit, and it’s just to have the perceived notion that they are a successful band. We try and do that stuff where we can and where we can realistically afford it, but we just want to lift the curtain from all of that shit and I think a lot of people, they’re not going to change the way that they consume music. They’re not going to change the way that they feel any sort of compassion towards bands. They don’t know the truth so I think we need to fly the flag for that.

DP!: Do you think COVID happening has helped to highlight how important it is for bands to be as DIY as possible?
A: Yeah. I don’t think that it’s a necessity for all bands to be DIY, but nobody is going to care more about your band as much as you do. In our past we’ve had a copious amount of debt that we’ve been landed in because of real incompetent care when we’ve been in the hands of people that don’t care about the band as much as we do. I think the only reason that we got out of that is because we’re a strong unit. We’re the only people that care as much about the band as us, so this is the way that we need to press forward.

DP!: Speaking about the new album as well, you got Deryck Whibley from Sum 41 and also Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro to come on there. How did those collaborations come about?
A: They were both done remotely for obvious reasons. They were both really weird ones with how they came about. We found out that Simon from Biffy has been a fan of the band for quite a while through a lighting guy who was also Bullet For My Valentine’s lighting guy, and that’s how we originally got to know that Simon was a big fan. We’d been wanting to maybe get him on a record for quite a few years, but then when this album came along we just wanted to be like “Let’s try and get some guests on here”, because we don’t really do it that much. So, we put the feelers out to have him – I think Elliot Taylor, Loz’s brother, he’s tour managed Frank Carter a lot in the past and he’s played with Biffy, and we got close that way. That’s the way we got in touch with him.

With Deryck I think it was James Hill, our tour manager, who has been in contact and knows the manager for Sum 41, so that was our way through to Deryck there. It was looking like Deryck wasn’t going to do it for quite a while because he was just having a kid, so he didn’t have the time. Then he got back to us really last minute and said “Yeah, I’ll really be up for this”, so we lost our shit to that for a bit. I was fangirling for a while. It was really amazing, and I’m glad that it eventually worked out.

DP!: What else do you guys have planned for 2021 so far?
A: We’ve got a tour planned for September so that’ll be good, and hopefully that goes ahead. It’s the third time that it’s been rescheduled so really hoping for that to go ahead. It’s more of an underplayed tour so we’re going to do those shows in smaller capacity rooms and do more dates in one place.

DP!: Any final words?
A: Check out the Sleeps Society. It’s fucking sick.

The band’s fifth full-length album, ‘Sleeps Society’, is available now via the band’s own label imprint, Sleeps Brothers.

You can order the album online from the band’s webstore (here), Impericon (here), iTunes (here), and Amazon (here).

You can keep up-to-date with the band online over on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.