While She Sleeps – ‘We’re trying to knock the walls down on any preconceptions’

Words: Miljan Milekić

Not too many bands have a fanbase so passionate and devoted as While She Sleeps. But then again, not too many bands are so passionate and devoted as While She Sleeps are. For years now, the Sheffield five-piece is much more than just a band. They grew together with their fans, becoming one in the way. They became a community. A cult. A movement. And we’re happy to be part of it.

Welcome to the Sleeps Society!

While She Sleeps / Photo: Giles Smith

First of all – how are you? How are you spending this year of lockdowns, quarantines, and all the other crazy things in between?
Lawrence:
It’s very strange, to be honest. Everyone being more isolated than they ever have been before, is crazy. And to think of a couple of years ago, we would just do tours and play festivals, not giving it a second thought as to when the next time that would be… Lockdown, it’s been tough at times, it’s been really good at times. It’s just so imbalanced for everybody. I think now that the weather is starting to get a little bit better in the UK, you’re not just stuck inside on dark nights with rain, being miserable. We’re looking into being able to socialize a very small amount soon, so things are looking up.

You wrote and recorded this whole album in isolation. How hard was it to do it, and how much do you feel that situation influenced the process, and the music itself?
Lawrence:
Personally, I tried to purposefully steer away from using pandemic and Covid-19 to write lyrics. I just felt like a lot of bands would find it very easy to write about this topic. So purposefully I didn’t try and take any of that on board with my lyrics. Naturally, even if you don’t really realize it, some of that is coming out in your writing or your art, or whatever that may be. So, I feel like at some point it’s had an influence on us. I think recording through a pandemic has definitely been a different experience, and quite difficult to manage at times. But at the same time, I think that as a band, we’ve been very lucky.

We have a space in Sheffield that’s big enough for us to work safely, to have enough space between people, and still be able to record. So if we have like two people in the studio with masks on, the rest of us might be in the warehouse space, working on something else, but still, sort of, in an open space, enough for it to be kind of safe. Obviously, that’s been, going backwards and forwards with government guidelines as well. So at times, maybe just one person was in with the producer, mixing, and stuff like that. But yeah, we’ve been lucky, and no one in our camp, fingers crossed, suffered from Covid. We’ve had people a bit more distant, and at times, we’ve just had to take the correct precautions at the right time.

It’s been a bit tricky, but in terms of how things are falling into place for us, we have been very lucky. We did a lot of touring in pre-pandemic if you like, we were supposed to be off and scheduled to be writing during this time. All we’ve really lost open to this point is festival season. I know a few bands, that I’ve spoken to, they were off writing a record when the pandemic hit, and then they’ve had to release the record in lockdown, not being able to support it with a tour. That must be extremely frustrating, to have worked so hard on something, and not be able to tour it.

But also, I think that creating an album really takes its toll on artists more than the general public might understand. You have to understand that, for a lot of bands, it feels like it’s a lot of work and no play at the moment because they’re writing a record and don’t get to go and tour it, which is the most enjoyable thing of being in a band. So, it’s been very, very difficult for everybody, but like I said, we’ve been very lucky that things have fallen into place. And like I said, lyrically, I don’t think it’s influenced us too heavily. We would hate for the record to feel like it was from this very time. Maybe a little bit by accident some things in there directly relate to Covid-19, but I feel like in terms of poetic license, we always try and write lyrics in a way that keeps it quite open to interpretations for people, to find their own poetic mean. It’s been a crazy time, but we’re really proud of the new record.

You just released your latest single ‘Nervous,’ once again speaking on mental struggles and mental health. The single itself even had a special video that preceded it. How important is it to have this conversation? Do you feel like projects like this can be helpful for both sides – your fans, but you guys as well?
Lawrence:
Yeah, definitely. I think the main thing we’re trying to do that is, sort of, knock the walls down on any preconceptions, and just try and help people to open up about generally how they feel. Sean was the main writer for this song, and I think he really needed to write this song and it meant so much to him at the time he wrote it. And for a long time, it just sat in the mix with a load of demos, it wasn’t one of the front runners for this record. But I was listening to the demo and I brought it up into the group that we all chat on. I was like – “Guys this could be such a massive song for so many people.” And I think it, kind of, snowballed from that, to revisit the song.

When we started working on the song, as things grew and grew, we had conversations internally with the band, and then went back and spoke to our families and friends about these things, it became more and more apparent that people around you are pretty much struggling with similar things or feeling a certain way, or have experienced the things that we were talking about, in the past or at that time. So it just became more and more apparent that it’s a topic that needs to be opened up. So yeah, it’s definitely something that we spoke about in terms of a band, and in terms of the band members over the last five years.

We’ve really tried to start restoring some balance into our lives and figuring out where our mental health is. I think that being on the road and touring a lot, being exposed to drink and drugs and smoking, and just the whole sort of rock and roll lifestyle that goes with it, it’s very easy to build a facade and build a front to how you actually feel it. And even opening up to people that you spend every day with can turn into quite a difficult thing. So I think that that’s something that we’ve definitely experienced, that’s helped us get to where we’re at with the song.

Hopefully, all this pre-roll leading into the single is just about our experiences, but then leaning out towards everyone else’s experiences, and encouraging everyone to open and free to discuss things and talk about them, making sure that before the song comes out, there is an open forum for people to talk about that. So, yeah, it’s crucially important. And I think it’s a big thing in the UK right now to be opening up and talking about that. I think as the pandemic has got more and more serious and people are more isolated than ever before, it’s become even more apparent that it’s needed. Hopefully, it means that this song is going to be very important for a lot of people right now. And hopefully, we just help people relate to the song as much as we do.

We’re very cautious of not making this all about mental health, but like we said, it’s crucially important. People opening up and trying to discuss the sort of situations with other people is, I think, the main thing here. So yeah, it’s crazy. Also, there’s a guest on the song, which is Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro and he was amazing to work with on the track. He was so open about the connotations that the track has and getting involved in that way. He was really supportive, and I think he’s done an amazing job on supporting those vocally on the song. And he’s been an inspiration for our band. He’s such a great vocalist, and to have him involved in what we feel is such an important song for us, hopefully, is going to bring a bit more attention to the song and do great things for people. It’s very interesting. Hopefully, it can be a very hopeful rock anthem for a lot of people who are feeling like we feel.

While She Sleeps / Photo: Giles Smith

I know you try your best to be there for your fans, which comes back at you with one of the most devoted fan bases I’ve ever seen. What motivates you to give all you have time and time again, even if the price is sometimes really high – whether it’s your throat surgeries or mental health struggles, or anything else you’ve put yourself through?
Lawrence: Yeah, we feel that way too. I think there’s a lot of different angles to answering this question. For me as a youngster, growing up in, sort of, a difficult situation and overcoming a lot of those situations was me having this space – at the time it was my grandparents’ garage, that I could just go into with a group of friends and just really shout and scream down the microphone. We were playing in punk rock covers, and it really turned into the release for me in a way, to get rid of negative energy and just forget about things for a while. And especially as a young teenager, I feel like that is very important growing up. You know, we were all angsty teens at some stage. We all needed that space.

And I think what’s happened is for our band, we’ve seen that developed. So it’s almost turned into like a workout for us, whereby we get on stage, we get to express ourselves, we get to expel that negative energy. And it means that day-to-day, we have a different mindset and it allows us to focus on things a bit better, to focus on what’s important, and just relax a little bit, having had that workout each day. I think that’s one of the main reasons why we’re so passionate about it. And I think that’s another reason why what we try and sing about in our message is unity and bringing people together and a sense of community.

Going back to when I started getting into rock and metal, there was a huge sense of community. You felt like you belong to this group of people that were different from anything else that I’d experienced. You know, being able to listen to Korn and Marilyn Manson and Eminem, feeling a bit of like an outsider, but this also was such a cool vibe to get into at such an early age. I remember getting beaten up on the back of the school bus for listening to Slipknot, but it never deterred me. It never wanted me to give up on that passion I had for this crazy 90s rock-rap, Nu metal sort of stuff. I think that’s where my love for the community side of rock and metal came into play. And I feel like that still stands with us today.

I feel like that’s what lends itself to our passion towards the whole scene, and wanting to be involved with it. Understanding where our band could be very helpful for youngsters or adolescents, or even our peers and people our age. It can be a very important time of your life, and just when you think that there might not be anything out there for you – it’s like the rock and metal has been there for me. So I think that’s why we’re so passionate about it. As it’s gone on, we wanted our band to promote a positive mental attitude in people.

When we started this band, the UK was very death metal-heavy. There was a lot of people singing about like, severing heads and stuff like that. (laughs) We wanted to deliver a message that was very true to us at the time, and we found love and connection through the metalcore and NU metal. So, I guess playing, sort of, beatdowns and punk rock style songs, but with a message that was very true to us, singing about things that we really knew about, is the reason why we’re now in a position where we’re still writing in the same way. We want to give out a positive message that other people can find some solace in, to find some hope, or just find some positivity, and relate to it. And I think at times, it definitely has done that for people. And I think it continues to do that for people. And it’s crucial for us to do that thing.

As we mentioned your relationship with fans, what was the idea between Sleeps Society, and how important was it to open another channel of communication with your fans, or better-said community? Because I don’t feel this about many bands, but I do think this about While She Sleeps – you don’t have fans, you have a community.
Lawrence: Thank you very much. I really appreciate your kind words and support for our band. I think what started this whole sort of ball rolling was the ‘You Are We’ campaign, which is a couple of albums ago. It was the first time we stepped out more independently than we ever have done in the past. This opened the doors to a whole new way of doing things and it was so positive for us to release an album through a pledge campaign, and let people know… You know, we do see flaws in the music industry. It’s not just plain sailing for a lot of bands, it can get quite difficult.

And releasing an album like ‘You Are We’ in that way, and getting such a positive response opened it up for us to think how can we do that again, but do it on a scale where it gets people even more involved than they were in the past, and giving people more on insight. Basically, Sleeps Society is a Patreon campaign. It’s nothing crazy new, but I feel that a lot of the time people have used Patreon like a side hustle, something that runs along the side of things that they usually do. What we did was, we took that platform and said – “Look, this could be so crucial for our band to find more longevity and find sustainability.”

I think that the music industry can be an amazing place and a very positive place, but I also feel that, over the last 15 years, there have been so many changes to the music and how people are digesting and finding that music, that the current model that we’re working with, in terms of being inside the industry, get paying out its royalties, and trying to find that balance between sustainability and bands just falling off completely, there’s a lot of disconnects there. I feel like for us, going out there with Sleeps Society harnesses everything that we started with this band, everything that we wanted to grow, a sense of community where people feel it very easy to be a part of, and united with people with the same mindset.

Also, grow in that fundraising community to a point where… You know, we’ve been doing this for a lot of years, and now it allows us to stand on a bit of a platform, and hopefully, say things that people listen to. And hopefully, in doing that, we can kind of change a few things. And I feel like the more bands openly say these things, the more likely we are of making positive changes. 

Sleeps Society is an amazing thing, and like I said, it’s basically a Patreon platform where we get to address the core fan base a bit more, and we can give them benefits and perks for them paying us a bit of extra cash per month. But it works in the way of that relationship, and it works in the way of dropping the smoke and mirrors and just being very, very honest with the current situation of While She Sleeps, but also the current situation of the music industry and how we view it.

While She Sleeps / Photo: Giles Smith

So that was, kind of, how we got to thinking about that, and it’s been really positive so far. We’ve seen some great interaction, we’re constantly updating people. So you get, a bit like rings of an onion, if you like. We’ve got a core base that we can work very closely with and be really in there with them and constantly updating them. But then, it also gives us a bit of breathing room between that, and the next ring of fans that aren’t completely focused on While She Sleeps, but then also gives us a bit of space to address that as well, and then the widest circle.

I think it’s just the way of compartmentalizing these elements and making it a more digestible way for our band to focus on these things and these groups of people that support our band. There are lots of different, intricate things that are going on in Sleeps Society, but another thing to really think about is that we don’t want the music industry for our children and our children’s children to turn into a place where the advice that you would give to them is – “I wouldn’t even bother going down that road because it’s a toxic, and a very, very difficult place to make a career out of.”

You know, this journey of While She Sleeps and myself has been unbelievable. And if you told the 14-year-old me that I’d be able to sit here talking to you about the achievements of the Sleeps Society with five albums in, I’d probably have the nosebleeds and just collapsed. (laughs) We want to be a place where we can tell our children’s children – “Yeah, go for it!”

Like, getting over to Europe for us was such an important, crucial part of our, of our growth as a band, memories that we’ll never forget. So I think it’s important that we don’t just try and create a way of sustaining established bands, but also making sure that, down the line, in the future, we’re still making ways of it being possible. Especially with things like the pandemic, and, you know, before we even start talking about how Brexit is going to affect touring life for Europe.

So I think it all boils back down for While She Sleeps is that sense of community and a place where all our fans can be. No matter what level that is, you might jump on the Sleeps Society, and go like – “Here’s a few pounds. I’ve listened to your stuff loads, and I’ve not bought a vinyl yet. I can’t really afford it right now, but there you go, I think your stuff’s cool.” But there are different tiers that go all the way up to spending a bit more coin and interacting with us a lot more, getting a bit more of a VIP treatment when shows come back up.

It’s hard to balance, but I think there is something in there for everybody. No matter what level of Sleeps fan you are, I think there’s something out there for you. And that’s not to discourage anyone on the wider circle to get involved. It’s much appreciated, no matter what you’re doing, even if you are just listening on streaming platforms and planning on coming to see us when you next can, that’s fine too. It’s always appreciated by our band. But it’s just an important place for Sleeps fans to be now. And it’s genuinely helping sustain this band and letting us address our core fanbase a bit more often, and giving them better insight into what’s going on with us.

You briefly mentioned Brexit. Do you have any idea on how will it influence bands like While She Sleeps, but also new and smaller bands who are just starting to fight for bigger crowds?
Lawrence: It’s a very, very difficult question. I think that it’s very, very worrying currently. For us, when we were younger, Europe was a way of being able to travel, but not needing to pay crazy amounts on flights, visas, and tax on merchandise. It was a great place for being able to move a bit more freely, playing some local bars that weren’t too big, and create new fans, without constantly having to pay out to governments.

The problem that Brexit brings to the forefront is that, going from the UK to Europe, or from Europeans to the UK, what if the taxes are too heavy for bands to make it work? If we have to go through every border for every country, paying loads of money to be able to go into the country and play shows. If you’re not a huge band that’s playing in an arena… Or even if you are a huge band, that’s playing an arena – is it still going to be far too expensive to make it work? And what this puts forward is the argument of, is it going to be worthwhile for bands to tour in this way? It could completely change the way that we get to move around Europe and vice versa.

It’s a very scary time. And like I said, it was so important for us to be able to get out to Europe and tour, it taught us so much about being on the road and surviving as a band. It taught us a lot about who we are as people, and getting to meet people across the world has been absolutely amazing. I don’t have all the answers, and I know that if it doesn’t go well, if we don’t solve something out in terms of getting, maybe a couple of visas to tour the whole of Europe, instead of like 20 or something… If we don’t solve these little details out, then it could become a very difficult place for people to tour.

The likelihood of sorting it is like 50-50 right now, so there is still hope. I’m no politician, I don’t really know the full ins and outs, but it’s a very crazy time. And especially with the pandemic. I guess just, one problem at a time. (laughs) Let’s get through the pandemic, and then figure out the Brexit situation for bands. There’s a petition going around, there is probably one in Europe as well, so yeah, if anyone reading this sees anything like that, then please make sure you read it and sign it. And hopefully, we’ll be able to move a bit more freely around Europe, as we did previous to the pandemic.

While She Sleeps / Photo: Giles Smith

I would like to get back to the record – ‘Nervous,’ has a feature from Simon, while ‘No Defeat For The Brave’ has a feature from Deryck Whibley. How did you choose guests for this one?
Lawrence: ‘Nervous,’ for While She Sleeps, is a bit more rock song than it is a metal or metalcore song. It’d be very easy to go out and get another metalcore singer to guests on a Sleeps track, you know? Like – “Oh, they’ve got Sam Carter from Architects singing on the record.” We didn’t do that. We wanted to bring a different dynamic. And I think that Simon Neil for ‘Nervous’ was really a no-brainer. When we started throwing the song around and tracking it, we just thought of how great would it be to have him on it. We thought it really suited his voice.

We spoke to a few different people, Caleb from Beartooth being one of them, Frank Carter from The Rattlesnakes being another guy. All these guys were interested to jump on the tracks and be involved, but timeframes don’t always work, you know? But our first two choices were Simon Neil and Deryck Whibley from Sum 41. The thing with Sum 41 is that I still remember skateboarding down to my local record store and picking up ‘All Killer No Filler,’ taking it home and being like – “This is fucking amazing!” (laughs) And I think every member of the band had that experience with that record. So getting Deryck on that track was really fun.

What we, kind of, noticed with ‘No Defeat For The Brave’ is that the verses were very punk rock anyway. So, when we said – Deryck would be amazing on this track,” and then went back and listened to it, we figured out that verses almost sounded like a Sum 41. So when we asked him, we were excited to get him on it, because we knew that it was gonna sound like Sum 41 on a Sleeps track, which was amazing. And then at the time, he was like – “I’m interested, I’ve heard of your band. I love what you guys are doing in the UK. I think you’ve got some great tracks, et cetera.” But he was having a newborn child, so we felt like we just missed out on having him involved with this song.

And then, we just said – “Look, we’ll polish up the demo and send it over, and you sit with it and if you like it and you can find the time cool. If not, let us know.” Then a couple of months later, he had his newborn child, and he came back and was like – “Guys, the more I listen to the track, the more infectious it is for me, I’d love to get involved. I’m going to book out some time in the studio now that things have calmed down.” I think that both, Simon and Deryck brought something to the songs that took it away from being the typical metalcore guest spot or a metalcore song, and made it more interesting. They both did an amazing job, we’re very excited to have them both on our record. They are great frontmen and influences for While She Sleeps. So yeah, couldn’t be happier.

That was exactly what I wanted to ask you – how the hell did you manage to make ‘No Defeat For The Brave’ sound as While She Sleeps song as possible, and yet to have Sum 41 written all over it? (laughs) But there is one more influence, and a vibe I think I hear in your music in recent years, and that’s another band I really love – The Prodigy. Am I on the right track here?
Lawrence:
You know, The Prodigy was such a huge band in the UK. And I think, even if you’re not like a huge fan, the sounds that they produced were very influential on music from the UK, full stop. I think that, kind of accidentally, the sort of textures of sound and the sounds of the synthesizes and things that Sean has used on some of those sounds really, really picked out that sort of raw, synthy, The Prodigy sound. And that might not be down to exactly what brand of synth we use and stuff like that… But yeah, I completely understand that.

It’s just fun to do that. I think we just want to be a band that doesn’t really sit inside the metalcore box, and we can step out of that sometimes. And hopefully, people can see that we’re not confined, and if we think something sounds pretty good, no matter if it’s rock, punk, or a synth, we just want it to be interesting and entertaining. So I think you’re completely right saying some of those synths sounds lean towards The Prodigy, for sure. They were a huge band for me, and still are. I think my favorite song’s probably ‘Spitfire.’ I just love that track. But yeah, you’re completely right, and hopefully, they make for a really interesting listen.

I think what’s interesting about the ‘Sleeps Society’ as a record is that, listening through it, you don’t really know what’s going to come next with the next song. I think that we constantly try to refresh the listeners’ palette, change up what people are hearing. But when it comes back to heavy, after having a bit more of an anthem, or a bit more of a clean vocally song, it just hits that much harder. And I think it’s always been clear to me. When I listened to just heavy bands, after six tracks, you need that something that changes up a little bit before hearing more heavy stuff.

And I think the way we’ve tried to make the songs meander through each other and change the way people are hearing things, it’s quite fun. But also, if you’re open-minded in terms of genres, no matter what you’re into in terms of punk, metal, hardcore, rock, pop, I think that there’s something in there for everyone. If you’ve got an open mind in terms of music, and you’re not too stuck on what genres you listen to, then I think there’ll be something in there for you.

While She Sleeps / Photo: Giles Smith

So, I know this is a weird one to ask this point, but what’s next for While She Sleeps?
Lawrence: We were hoping to get out on tour, and because of the Sleeps Society, we wanted our first shows back to be very intimate, very, sort of, back to basics, sweaty, and punk rock. But I think we’re going to have to rejig that a little bit, unfortunately, just because the restrictions are still very heavy in the UK. So for us, like I said earlier in the interview, we’ve been very lucky how things have landed for us so far, and I think this is going to be the first real thing that we have to turn our focus on.

I think you might see a few live streams in the near future. We’re just thinking of ways that we can connect with people around the world once the album drops. So that’s exciting for us, and something we’ve not really done yet during this time. At the moment, it’s just sitting tight, seeing how the record goes down. So, some live streams, roll out a couple more singles from the record and then see where we’re at from there. There’s a little ray of sunshine in the UK now in terms of getting back to some sort of normality, whether or not that will continue to roll out or whether we go into another lockdown, we’ll see.

For me, personally, at the moment, and this might be something that can help anyone in lockdown that sort of really gagging for this to be over, I’ve been trying to focus more on the small victories. I think if you have the long game in your mind and you thinking about – “Oh my God, when is this going to end?” I think that it could feel like it’s going to be an eternity. Whereas if you focus week to week, day to day, find positives in what you’re doing and try and stay on top of your mental health then…

Especially with things like exercise – up until this last couple of years, I’ve never really understood how exercise can directly affect your mental health, as crazy as that sounds. And for me, honestly, getting out there and doing a bit of a run or exercising is completely changing the way that I balanced my thoughts and my mental health during this time. So, yeah, focus on the small victories and not necessarily on the long game. And when this thing finally settles a little bit, we can’t wait to get back out to Europe, and see everyone again and play some live shows.

Follow While She Sleeps:
Website: whileshesleeps.com
Facebook: facebook.com/whileshesleeps
Instagram: instagram.com/whileshesleeps
Twitter: twitter.com/whileshesleeps
Sleeps Society: patreon.com/whileshesleeps

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