There are few metal bands in the world of metal that are doing what Sheffield’s While She Sleeps are doing right now, and have continued to evolve since their inception several years ago.
Armed with crushing riffs, blistering screams, sumptuous gang vocals, battering breakdowns, and teasing ability to submerge meticulous metal with elements of hip-hop and anthemic rock, these guys have shown their originality and talent as musicians numerous times across their discography, no more so than on their newest effort, ‘So What?’.
With positivity and hype surrounding the band at a tumultuous all time high, we caught up with the band’s frontman Loz Taylor before they took to the stage in Glasgow to chat ‘So What?’, keeping things fresh, and the state of the modern metal scene and its culture.
DP!: There’s only one place to start really – your new album ‘So What?’. What’s the thought process behind the record’s concept?
LT: It’s a difficult one. If you start over by thinking too much then I think that ends up hindering the whole process. For us, the main focus is not writing two of the same album. We didn’t want to write another record that sounded like ‘You Are We’. ‘You Are We’ did amazingly in its own right, but, I think as a band, we want to keep pushing ourselves and progress into different areas, test ourselves, and push the boundaries of the metalcore sound that we get labelled with. So, for us, it was about stepping away, taking a look at sounds and instruments that we’ve used in the past, and just trying to create something exciting, still current, and something that feels new for us.
DP!: What was it like coming out of the ‘You Are We’ cycle, which was obviously so successful, and coming into the writing the new record? What were your thoughts or aims?
LT: Primarily, Sean (Long, guitarist) sits down and writes a lot of riffs. So, in a similar way, he sort of wrote a lot of electronic stuff like that too. When we were writing and recording, there was a lot of stuff that reminded us of being really young, stuff like Moby and Daft Punk, and that sort of thing. It was fun for us, and we had this going on for the recording of ‘So What?’ that if it kind of scared us in a way, or excited us to the point of thinking “Can really put that in there?”, then it made us be pro that thing, and go for it even more.
Hopefully we just keep our fans on their toes and not know what to expect. We want to expand both areas, we want to be able to be a really light band, but at the same time, be able to cross that straight into a heavy breakdown, or like a really heavy verse. It’s exciting to see how that can cross over and switch up, seeing how far in each way of an extreme we can pull that. Luckily, I think no matter what we do, the way Sean plays guitar and the way we all shout and sing will always mean we sound like ourselves. I feel we could experiment a lot more freely. Even if we did like a country record, I think you’d still hear that it still sounded like While She Sleeps, and we’re lucky in that respect. For us, it’s about experimenting and trying new things.
DP!: How do you keep things fresh four records deep into your career?
LT: Kind of like I was saying, when something makes you think “Are our fans even going to like this?”. I think that thing keeps you exciting and current. Things nowadays are so different from when I was younger. Like, imagine being a Black Sabbath fan in the 1970s: you liked rock and that was it. You’d say that “I’m a Sabbath fan” and go to all their concerts or whatever, but nowadays with music and the internet being so readily available, I think that whole thing is disappearing and you can listen to a pop record or song and then on your playlist, the next song down could be Lamb Of God. That’s a thing for me, I like a pop song and then Lamb Of God in the same playlist. Nowadays, that’s more apparent, and I think you’re seeing that more with festival line-ups and the line-ups for live shows.
For us, it’s a case of mashing that idea together, as well as wanting to keep our fans who, in my opinion, are very open minded and seem to really support what directions we move in. For us, it’s about entertaining ourselves as well as our fanbase.
DP!: How much of a difference does it make for you as a band to have so much control over what you do, through your own label – obviously being through Spinefarm too – and your studio? Did that play a significant part in the creation of ‘So What?’?
LT: Yeah, definitely. I think before, with my vocal troubles in the past, and before we did the pledge campaign for ‘You Are We’, we were kind of in our own little bubble. You’re writing music and recording it, and you’re with a label and they’re helping out, but before the pledge campaign and that process, we were still kind of unsure how many people gave a fuck about the band, or how many did care if we went off the boil and dropped off, or if people really gave a shit.
The pledge campaign showed us that so many more people than we originally thought gave a fuck about the band, and the response to that was crazy for us. I think what that did was solidify the confidence in us that people do care and want to hear more from the band. It gave us that confidence to then, after dropping ‘You Are We’ and the success of that record, to be more confident in trying new things knowing that we have the support of a solid, almost cult-like fanbase.
Again, going back to when I was younger, it was slightly uncool to wear the t-shirt of the band you were going to see play live. But nowadays, it’s come back around now to being almost like a football game kind of thing, where you’re proud to wear the same shirt to the gig as you are going to see the band. Times change, and that’s really cool for me to see as I’m slightly older than the rest of the guys in the band. I’ve seen a lot of changes in the music industry and the music scenes that I’ve been involved in, and it’s wicked to know that people care and there’s a confidence to be more creative and be a bit more risky with the stuff we put out there.
DP!: You recently released a documentary showing some behind-the-scenes footage of the writing and recording of ‘So What?’. What was it like having so much of the album’s recording process documented, and having to be open in your music and on film?
LT: One of the main things While She Sleeps has always done is we’ve been a very down to earth band, and we’ve been very honest in what our fans know about us. I think that was the thinking behind it because a lot of bands push the big shows in your face and the big crowds and show you that side of things, and it’s easy to get caught up in that. I think it’s easy for fans to come and see you on one show and if they’re not coming to see you, they sort of forget about you for a while and go see a few other bands. So, the documentary for us was just about showing that we’re just real dudes that have worked really hard at the music that we’re in and the scene that we’re in, and we’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to make it right for our fans. I think that connection is something that we’ve always been good at as a band.
For me, I’ve not been telling too many people, though you might have caught wind of it anyway, but I had to have a third throat surgery after ‘You Are We’, and that was one of the main reasons why we dipped out and wrote a new record. I don’t know how many more of these surgeries that I can keep doing, but I’ve been told that for now, it’s fine. So, for me, it’s been a huge learning curve, and I’m more sober than I’ve ever been. In the documentary, I’m not in it crazy amounts because that was going on in my life, but I think that’s what we’re trying to show. Aside from the band, we’re not just artists, we all have so much other stuff going on in our lives that can affect it, but we put the band first and foremost. It was good to have someone follow us around, and obviously watching that back it’s kind of weird.
DP!: You mentioned your throat surgery, and we’ve seen some of the struggles you’ve had to face throughout the documentary. Having come out the other side now, how proud are you of the album at the end of that process?
LT: I think in true While She Sleeps fashion, we always have crazy problems going on (laughs), but, you know, that’s life. You work through those hardships and make sure you’re trying to produce the best music that you can so that you can enjoy the moments like this, playing Glasgow tonight, and a sold-out Roundhouse (in London) in a couple of days. It’s mental. We never really take that for granted, and it’s so sick that we’re lucky enough to do that. There’s thousands of people that would quite easily like to be in our position to be one of those lucky bands. It’s awesome.
DP!: As one of the clear frontrunners in heavy music, what are your thoughts on the current state of the scene?
LT: It’s kind of weird. I think in terms of the same style we’re doing, I don’t think anyone is really doing that. You’ve got bands like Bring Me The Horizon who have been a heavy band and now become a lighter band, and it’s amazing to see bands make that transition and they seem to always make that interesting. For us, we don’t really want to do that. We want to be a heavy band and still have some light stuff too, and try and completely clash that together.
I think it’s difficult in terms of like ten year cycles of things coming round, so like metal will come back in heavy, and then like death metal, and it goes from punk to grunge and all the way back round. In terms of the style that we are, there’s a few bands, but I think more recently, you’re seeing a lot more of death metal and rap, and obviously trap is huge at the moment, and you see a surge in those bands and artists, and certain other genres take a hit and dips out for a little bit.
It’s difficult. We’ve worked hard for so many years to build the fanbase that we have, so I think we’re lucky enough now to stand back from that and say that a lot of our shows are very well attended. I think because the UK is usually quite gloomy and grey, especially for me growing up, it put me in that punk rock sense to want to dive into my grandparents’ garage and just shout and do punk rock covers and stuff. I think that’s why the UK always has such a strong heavy scene. If it was sunny all the time, we’d just be outside laying on the grass, but it makes you want to enjoy live shows inside, being a band inside, and I think that’s why we have a strong scene here.
DP!: You guys said in the album’s press release that we live “in a world where everyone expects you to be softening up or getting more generic”, and your song ‘Anti-Social’ was like a direct response to that. Is that what ‘So What?’, as a whole, perhaps riots against?
LT: I think it’s tough because we never usually map that out. We all like so much different music individually, so when it all comes together, I always worry that we don’t sound like Meshuggah because I love heavy music (laughs), but when it all comes together, and each member has their influences we smash that together, that’s what the While She Sleeps sound is.
Even songs that feel a little lighter and a little more rock based on ‘So What?’, next to them will be a breakdown, and even that can take you by surprise when you think you’ve got more of a While She Sleeps anthemic ballad-type track, and then out of nowhere you’ll get a breakdown. I don’t think we’ll ever fully lighten up, you’ll definitely see that side from us and that anthemic side coming through, but at the same time, like I say, we love metal and rock and want to very much keep that in there.
DP!: This is shaping up to be one hell of a year for you guys, right?
LT: Hopefully, yeah. It should be a good one. It feels really positive on the European side of the tour as well. It’s been our best yet, and to sell out the Roundhouse is crazy for us as well. That’s going to be sick. And then, festivals and things like that all over the summer, so hopefully people catch on more to the record and the band and we’ll keep chugging on.
The band’s fourth studio album, ‘So What?’, is out now through Sleeps Brothers.