While She Sleeps frontman Loz Taylor talks independent operation and musical evolution in this interview for Knotfest.
A decade on from lighting the UK heavy music scene on fire with their breakout releases “The North Stands for Nothing” and “This is the Six”, While She Sleeps find themselves at a place of almost existing in their own universe. Their sound has come on leaps and bounds, from a scrappy metallic hardcore wrecking crew on those early releases to now something immediately identifiable and unique in their usage of guitar melody, multi-pronged vocal trade-offs, and most recently the introduction of electronics on 2019’s So What? which are far more fully integrated on new album Sleeps Society. More publicly, that album is named after and accompanied by a Patreon service launched last year along with accompanying lead single and title track, which is just the latest and most natural development in the plans of a band who have always been highly vocal on the matter of being a young band in a heavy genre in today’s industry.
That means of operating has made While She Sleeps one of the most self-sufficient and hard-working bands in heavy music today, from any country. Case in point is the distribution process of Sleeps Society, which saw the band employ their usual touring road crew during the pandemic to handle it – something which prevented their album from being eligible for a UK album chart position, but saw massive success in keeping people in vulnerable positions employed and just getting the job done. Frontman Loz Taylor is confident that existing this way is giving While She Sleeps a longevity and connection with their audience needed for the music’s survival.
Most bands have had delays and slightly longer than intended gaps between records enforced by the pandemic, while you’ve just put out a record barely two years since “So What?” Has the While She Sleeps work ethic been tested at all by the last year?
Yeah, it definitely has. I will say that we’ve been very, very lucky in how this has all fallen into place for us. We were on tour in the States when the pandemic got very serious, and there was talk of shutting borders and all that, so we cut our American tour short and the time-frame kind of worked well for us in then being scheduled to go into the studio. Writing and recording an album has not been the easiest, it’s not easy when you’re wanting to be really hands on and you’re having to stay home while the drums are being laid down or whatever, Sean’s laying down some really sick guitar riff and Matt’s having to show me it being done on his phone, but we can’t grumble seriously about how things have gone for us. So many people in the world have been more isolated than ever before, so it’s been amazing to have something to focus our creative energy into. Even down to releasing the record and being able to open up a pop-up store in London and Sheffield, the timing of all the dates worked in our favour.
How important do you think “Sleeps Society” is for rubber-stamping the While She Sleeps sound in 2021, with further balancing what you were experimenting with on “So What?”
For us we’ve always wanted to be a band that doesn’t sound like anyone else, that doesn’t confine ourselves to metalcore as a genre too heavily, and experiment as much as possible. I’d say that every record we’ve gone through has taught so much about ourselves as individuals, our fanbase, and how to grow as artists. In terms of the structure of how we released this record with the Sleeps Society being a model that we wanted to take to our fanbase and say “look, if you wanna support us, this is gonna be the best way to do it going forward”, I think that was a lesson that we learned from “You Are We”. That was the first time we’d stepped out independently of a label and pledged the record, and it was one of our most successful yet just crowdfunding. With “Sleeps Society” we wanted to create something similar but on steroids, and create something that could sustain us moving forward. In terms of the songwriting, we wanted to bring something out that was straight in, that opened up with the message we were trying to make about the industry and how the way it’s moving will affect up and coming bands and our children’s children. We want to turn around in the future and say that it’s an awesome place to be where genres like hardcore, punk and metal all thrive, not turning round and having to say “I’d stay away from being in a band in any of those genres cause it’s just fucked”. Sean is the main writer for the band and a lot of the time we base the songs around his riff-writing. He always mesmerises me, I thought he was an unbelievable guitarist before I was even a member of While She Sleeps back in 2006/07 when they supported one of my bands in Doncaster and I was like, “These guys rip and are about 16”. For a long time, Sean had been trying to make his guitar sound electronic in a way, and he kinda fell into the love of vintage synth sounds as well. He’s been messing around with loads of different whammy bars and weird effects on his guitar he can swap and change into, and I feel like now you’re starting to see the synth parts and his guitar experiments merge together into just his writing style in general. It’s bringing a whole new element to the band that I honestly didn’t think we’d ever reach and push so predominantly. For a while though metalcore became a bit of a dirty word. After that wave of bands like Darkest Hour and Unearth who were really important for us, it became a lot of American bands just pushing themselves through the metalcore machine to get a record at the end of it, and for me it became a bit tedious hearing a lot of the same sounds. I was a huge emo kid back in the day too and that became a dirty word too. For us, using different instruments is always what we’re into, we use quite funky production on a lot of songs whether it’s an according or some weird sound, so I think Sean’s just really enjoying messing with these and seeing what we can create running alongside his guitar. I think that’s why “So What?” was like the catalyst for the sound that we’ve got now on “Sleeps Society”.
How much has the reaction of the fanbase to evolving your sound encouraged you to keep pursuing it?
I always relate back to “You Are We” for this where a lot of the time when you’re in a band and you do your first few records, you’re kinda in a bubble where people are blowing smoke up your arse because they think you’re going to be the next Slipknot. They always push you to be the next biggest thing and for a while you can buy into it from the press, but it’s always about the fan-base. Without them being open to new things it doesn’t allow you to experiment. “You Are We” taught us that our fan-base really gave a shit about what we do, whether it’s in the music industry or pushing our band to a certain place, and that gave us the confidence to be more experimental. We have a bit of a philosophy now where if it kinda excites us but doesn’t feel necessarily totally While She Sleeps, we go for it anyway, because that will hopefully be interesting for our fan-base too instead of just recording the same album twice.
There’s a lot more bounce in WSS these days compared to really fast hardcore punk rhythms that really sound like you’re just having a lot of fun with those kind of songs. Is that reflective of a more relaxed playful vibe from where you’re at?
It’s really fun that you mention the bounce because I’m all about that. I love bands like Lamb of God where that is just like someone playing metal basketball. I’m only just learning to play guitar myself so none of the musicality of the band comes from me, but I love that newer bounce and groove in the newer While She Sleeps sound.
There’s also more material like the song “Nervous” on the other end of the spectrum. What is it about that track that marks it out as significant for you all?
Sean wrote the structure for that song and it came to him at a time when it really needed to. I think naturally from that there’s a raw honesty to what we’re saying in that song. Some of the topics and themes that we go through in this album relate to a few members of this band having gone through journeys in the last few years trying to restore balance in their lives. I struggled hugely with alcoholism and it’s been a huge part of my life in the last few years to try and find a balance there and kick the habit. It was affecting my voice and I was misrepresenting myself, generally being a dick, and that was something that I had to get over so the natural journey that we’ve gone through as a band is something that we can talk about. What we’re trying to do is instil some kind of positive attitude and unity through these songs. With “Nervous”, Sean has suffered for a long time with panic attacks and anxiety and he’s gone through a massive journey trying to deal with that, making it a part of his life in knowing that it’s not gonna go away but learning how to not let it crush him. When it was in the demo stage, I was in a bit of a dark place and heard “Nervous” on the list of songs that we were taking as potentials for the record, and just messaged everyone that people needed to hear this song. It’s made it a very important song for us. Getting Simon Neill involved with that was another amazing thing. He was so up for being involved, hugely enthusiastic about the message of the song and such a humble guy, and I think it’s a credit to him and Biffy Clyro that they’ve done such great things in being a UK rock band and remaining that humble and down to Earth. He crushed his parts, and then obviously going through a pandemic, the more that we put our attention to this song the more that we felt that it made sense for people to get that song when they were isolated more than ever before. I lost one of my close friends to suicide during the first lockdown, and it just made me think about if he wasn’t isolated as part of lockdown, and he had his support network around him, would he have reached that point of taking his own life? It had so many connotations and felt like such an important time to send out that message to hopefully do some positive things for people.
With the album being named after your Patreon service you launched along with the album announcement, how vital has that been to keeping you busy, sustained and occupied during the pandemic?
One of the main reasons we feel like we’re a band who can speak rather openly about how the music industry and system has failed us is that we’re a very hard-working band. We’ve got a very punk rock ethic in how we go about things, I feel like it’s very Yorkshire. Get it done. We never really have any downtime. We come home from being at the warehouse all day and our phones are still going off because we’re jumping in with ideas and what is happening next. It’s definitely keeping us busy. The Sleeps Society has been a huge help in just getting this album out in general where without it, we could have been in a very difficult situation. There are other bands out there who have had to ditch the band for a bit and take up day jobs to get them through when they can’t play shows. One of the main things that’s actually helped is that we’ve been able to bring our touring crew back in to the warehouse as part of things and keep them on payrolls. The way that we distributed our record is that we wanted our merch guy and our sound guy and the videographer who comes out with us on the road to come back in house. The album couldn’t chart being distributed like that but we want to do this for as long as possible, and it really feels like with the past few records we’re managing to create this wicked sense of community which is what it’s always been about for us.
With something like having members form a guest choir on “Call of the Void”, do you feel like the process has shaped the actual art and end product in any collaborative way?
We just want the people involved in the Sleeps Society to feel like they’re getting bang for their buck. We know that it’s not easy to dig a little bit deeper and support bands in this way, and that if every band was to move to doing things like this it would turn into a situation where you might have to pick your top favourite band that month and go and support them. It’s helped us compartmentalise how we address our fanbase in general through social media though. We know now that the Sleeps Society members are the ones who love this band as much as we do, and we can go there direct and give them a bit more to unwrap and get into for more insight into the band, and on the other hand it gives us a clearer way to address an Instagram following more who still love the band and like what we’re doing but don’t necessarily want this really deep information overload. We can chop that away a little bit and give the broader social medias just what they wanna be there for. We feel really united with all of our fans in this way, not just the Society members, and we’re really grateful for anybody out there that’s listening and is into our band, no matter how you’re supporting or what level that is.
You mentioned early how earlier on there was this rush of the industry seeking to anoint you as the next big metal band, but that class of UK metal bands though like yourselves, Bury Tomorrow and Architects are all continuing to hit higher levels of success. How do you feel about bands like yourselves and others who have had this expectation thrust upon you early on have managed to endure beyond that and solidify yourselves as more established artists?
It’s crazy, with all those bands who are working hard to stay on top of things, it’s a credit to how every single member of those bands and crew is so committed. I think it just boils down to how much passion there is for it. I remember literally being sat on the back of the school bus and being punched and spat at for wearing a Slipknot hoodie, and all that did for me was make me more aware that the place where I belonged was this different alternative music scene. The sense of community that I got from that and still get when I see someone wearing a band t-shirt that I like, it’s always been there for us, whether it’s our peers in other bands showing support for us and us them for how well they’re doing, or feeling like part of an outsider community. It’s awesome to see bands digging deep and staying true striving for what they’re always wanted to be. I think bands like Enter Shikari and Bring Me the Horizon have really paved the way in terms of how diverse their sounds are, and if people give them shit they just eat it up and carry on. The UK rock and metal scene has been amazing over the past decade in terms of being willing to be diverse but also loyal to the bands that they’re into and pushing bands into the charts. We’re constantly seeing music genres smashing together and are getting into a time now where that’s what is interesting about music. If you take a country like Australia, where Architects got a number 1 over there as well, they’ve got this extreme sports edge to their country and so rock and metal always gets pushed quite high. Over the years we’ve been seeing that grow in the UK in people being ready for it. We get called a gateway band all the time where people who aren’t necessarily into metal will find something about our band they like, and we open the door for them to start listening to loads of other metal and punk stuff they’d never listen to before. It’s really cool and I’ve got all the respect in the world for all those bands mentioned and everyone else in the UK that’s in an underground rock or metal bands just striving to do well. It’s not an easy industry to be in, after the pandemic we’re gonna have to move onto Brexit and how that is gonna affect bands touring Europe, so it’s a credit to anyone who is still passionate about this when it churn out problems quite consistently.
‘Sleeps Society’ from While She Sleeps is currently available – HERE