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December 2019 / January 2020

While She Sleeps are pushing boundaries: "We don't have to write inside a little box to please the metal world"

Guitarist Mat Welsh reflects on a crazy few years, and where they're headed next.
Published: 4:46 pm, February 28, 2019Words: Jamie MacMillan.
While She Sleeps are pushing boundaries: "We don't have to write inside a little box to please the metal world"

It would have been easy, understandable even, for While She Sleeps to try and repeat the same trick again. The story of ‘You Are We', their crowd-funded third record, and reaching the UK top ten in April 2017 has passed into history as a true underdog tale - triumph over adversity, celebrations being snatched from the jaws of despair.

In the media whirlwind, the Sheffield band became something of a household name even outside the metalcore world, a feel-good online buzz surrounding them in a comfort blanket of support and goodwill. Hardly the moment then that you would expect them to dust off their old Daft Punk records and delve into a bit 90s trance, easily two of the least predictable influences you could imagine going into ‘SO WHAT?', the impressive follow-up to its all-conquering predecessor. But with this band, it's always a case of WHY NOT?

As the band prepare for their highly anticipated Beijing gig, guitarist Mat Welsh reflects on a crazy few years. "It's manic. But we learnt from the last album that it just stays manic, and you've just got to accept it."

These latest shows in China are laying the groundwork for a huge 2019, with shows at London's Roundhouse coming in March as well as a prime slot at 2000trees. They also form the world's first glimpse of the ‘SO WHAT?' era, a bold release that challenges and swerves any preconceived ideas from the wider world.

"Towards the end of the ‘You Are We' cycle, we were just so stoked to carry on and do more, get back in the studio. We were on such a high, we were like ‘Fuck it, let's keep the train running'," explains Mat. "We felt good, we wanted to write, and we felt creative."

Returning to the studio in February, the quintet continued with their tradition of keeping things loose and concept-free. "It's just ‘do what you want'. We are confident that we don't have to write inside a little box to please the metal world," is how Mat describes it.

"It's always about finding something that makes you feel cool at the time, whether it's a riff or a vocal, if we all feel it then that's the seal of approval. It's about how you want people to feel on their first listen."

"We were listening to loads of Daft Punk"
Mat Welsh

As with all great music, a contradiction lies at the heart of the bands' immediate, yet multi-layered, sound. "We're not an ‘oh, you have to listen to it a hundred times to get it band'," is how Mat sees it, yet equally, "I do think we are a three-listen band, minimum. It takes that much to hear all the stuff we've put into it."

Amongst all the bone-crunching riffs and beats of thunder, one surprising element emerges from the riot: those helmeted Parisians, which at times sounds a bit Tron-ish.

"Yes! That's mint that you heard that! I'd probably call it a vibe rather than a style, but that's something we really had as an influence. We were listening to loads of Daft Punk, that and trance music where it's just a beat and a hook, and it gets inside your head. It's always childhood tunes that are embedded in your brain."

At times, it's almost subliminal, yet once heard it brings a futuristic edge to some classic big guitar sounds. "The album's full of them as we find it difficult to say it's done because we enjoy making it. If we didn't tell everyone we're doing it and announce the date we'd probably still be sat in the studio."

‘BACK OF MY MIND' is another leap, complete with a rap from SHVPES frontman Griffin Dickinson that came together in startling speed. Less than 24 hours before recording, Sheffield's poet laureate Otis Mensah was due to deliver a piece, yet came to the band admitting that he couldn't give it the necessary energy required. Turning to their good friend Griff, they asked him to "fucking drop what you're doing right now, write something and record it. All in twelve hours."

Calling back to their mutual love of drum and bass and the Bomfunk MC's (we told you there were unlikely influences), Mat and Griff bounced phonetics backwards and forwards over WhatsApp until ready for the studio.

"I've never worked with someone who's just grabbed something and fucking run with it like that, such a pleasure to work with." It's yet more evidence of a band who shrug off adversity like it's nothing more than a nagging fly.

Next single ‘THE GUILTY PARTY' on the other hand, is a thrilling, quadruple-layered beast of a track that skips up and down the gears like a speeding car that is barely in control. So victorious is it, and much of 'SO WHAT?', that it's only within the album's lyrics that you sense a band angry and raging in despair at the world, something Mat attributes to an overall feeling of exhaustion as the album-tour cycle continued.

There is no doubt that the whole recording process left the band drained, as he admits that it gives them a mental beating due to the tortuous and forensic nature of their style. But when lead single ‘ANTI-SOCIAL' growls "Sick of the hand we've been dealt, sick of the drugs that they tell me to take", or ‘I'VE SEEN IT ALL' rails "We're so self-destructive, we're never gonna wake up", it seems that themes of ennui and frustration resound through much of ‘SO WHAT?', a feeling that ‘INSPIRE' describes as "the symptoms of a careless empire."

"Sometimes we have a guilty pleasure in just wanting to turn it all off, that translates into how we feel about the wider world a little bit," ponders Mat. "I'm super positive about the idea of change, but sometimes the tasks that it requires to try and fix things are like mountains, it's overwhelming."

While She Sleeps are pushing boundaries: "We don't have to write inside a little box to please the metal world"
"We've all just basically hit thirty! It's a slight midlife crisis"
Mat Welsh

As well as wider human issues, something a little closer to home has also begun to affect the band. "We've all just basically hit thirty! It's a slight midlife crisis," he laughs. "It's like we've blinked sometimes, and we're like ‘holy shit!' Ten years passed so quickly, and I have no idea where it's gone."

Ten years ago, While She Sleeps were just a few years in with the debut album some distance ahead on the horizon. Now, with headliner status at this year's 2000trees alongside You Me At Six and Every Time I Die, they are very much an established force - even if the band have to remember it sometimes.

"One night we were going to go on stage, and we were joking around, but we had to remember that the crowd didn't know we were shitting it! They don't know that we're all like ‘ooh, can I still do this?'"

It's moments of stark honesty like this that sets the group apart from much of the bravado that resides in their genre, a reflection of the internal drive to fight, explore and overcome anything thrown their way, traits that defined them so well in the ‘You Are We' cycle.

"It's all given us a nice little bit of confidence to say that this is a career that can be sustainable now if we're clever about it, and if we don't fucking piss it all up the wall."

The road from Scunthorpe to Kun Ming is not a well-trodden one, but the fact that the Yorkshire band filled a venue in Western China, a part of the world where the Western social media channels are outlawed, is a striking one.

"How the fuck did they know us? How can we be here? There were so many more people there than were at our first show in Scunthorpe, for us to be that far away from home and for it to be normal… well, that's crazy."

Still triumphing against all the odds, still surprising even themselves at times, the underdogs are now thoroughly on top.

Taken from the March issue of Upset, out now. While She Sleeps' album 'SO WHAT?' is out 1st March.

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