While She Sleeps: “It’s always exciting when a band tries new things”

Loz Taylor talks nostalgia, negativity and new directions ahead of upcoming album, SELF HELL

While She Sleeps are at the summit. Almost 20 years of grafting have elevated them from UK underground heroes to bona fide arena-filling prospects, but instead of becoming a shiny, plastic cash cow of a band, they’ve made it to the top without compromising their sound or their ethics. While their dizzying ascent is impressive alone, they’ve done it all while having been completely independent since their third album, 2017’s You Are We, in which time everything from their artwork to their visuals has been crafted in-house – more specifically, their own headquarters in their native Sheffield. 

“If you’d told me when I was a kid where the band would be at this point, I’d have probably passed out or had a nosebleed or something,” jokes frontman Lawrence Taylor. “Then again, [the reason] why we’re so lucky is every member of our band has the same goals. So many bands go through line-up changes and things have to change for it to work out, and we’re just very lucky that we’re five guys who all have the same passion for it. Without sounding too sentimental, the guys in the band have taught me a lot – they inspire me on a daily basis. They’re very hardworking northern lads that believe in what they’re doing and aren’t afraid to get stuck into a project.”

While She Sleeps - Enlightenment(?) Live At Alexandra Palace

When he speaks about his band – completed by guitarists Sean Long and Mat Welsh, bassist Aaran McKenzie and drummer Adam Savage – Loz brims with iron-clad, bulletproof confidence. He’s got a reason to, least of all because the band fired the starting gun on the cycle for their new album, SELF HELL, in the most audacious way possible with a one-off show at London’s 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace – “It was a very special evening for us,” he says. Intriguingly, however, SELF HELL doesn’t especially feel like an overt appeal to the mainstream, but it’s undoubtedly a statement of the band’s own power. Now that they can fill huge rooms and they’ve secured the loyalty of their ardent fanbase, they can do whatever the hell they want. 

If you’ve followed While She Sleeps’ journey, SELF HELL is going to challenge you. “It’s always exciting when a band tries new things,” points out Taylor, “and [for us] it comes from a place of trying to keep it interesting for us but also keeping our fanbase on its toes.” It’s an unmistakably While She Sleeps record, but with more punk spirit, riffs and synths, as well as some more left-field, dance-influenced sounds inspired by their love of The Prodigy and Aphex Twin. 

While She Sleeps - SELF HELL

“A lot of the sounds we’re bringing in is stuff we’ve always liked and have always been into but maybe at times steered away from because we didn’t want to alienate our fanbase,” Taylor explains. “Now, we’ve leaned back into that and we’ve grown in confidence. Having the fanbase that we do behind us is allowing us to feel more comfortable trying new things.”

Despite the album’s distinctively modern sheen, however, this experimentation is rooted in a sense of nostalgia. They certainly haven’t distanced themselves from the wave of admiration for bygone eras, particularly the 00s, circling around again. Emo’s back, nu metal’s back, but their own nostalgia feels markedly different. “Everything does come around,” Taylor notes. “Everyone’s wearing baggy pants again and I thought that was never going to happen! I think as you get older, you realise there are certain trends and when you’ve lived it once, it’s nice to lean back into those things that you once loved. Being a band for as long as we have has allowed us to go ‘Let’s just do what we want to do and put out music that feels right for us right now’.”

Even though SELF HELL is standing tall with its fist raised towards the sky, it still has a darker slant to its lyrics. Darkness has always been something While She Sleeps have embraced and thought about, but it’s often diffused with an underlying note of positivity. Theirs has been the sort of music that picks you up when you’re down on the ground, but they’ve always remained unafraid of confronting negativity – in fact, SELF HELL is an album that emphasises how necessary that is before there’s any prospect of healing. 

While She Sleeps - To The Flowers

“’Self hell’ [as a concept] for me is very representative of how life can be,” explains Taylor. “One minute you can be on cloud nine and everything’s perfect. The next minute, you can be hit with some devastating news or something happens that flips everything on its head. I was talking to our guitarist Sean about self help and how it’s becoming more and more popular, which is a great thing. We said that you have to go through self hell to get to self help and when you write the words ‘self help’ down, before you get to that, you actually do get to self hell. I thought that there was something really nicely poetic about that, where you have to go through the bad times and try and find the teachings from those to prevail.”

When they’ve set the bar for their next era as high as they have, anything feels possible for While She Sleeps in 2024. Even then, however, they’re conscious to remain grounded. They might be able to play to a big crowd now, but they might also still return to the venues where they cut their teeth, just to hold on to that feeling of connection with a crowd that can be diminished in a larger room. 

“We’re five lads from Sheffield that play in a metal band,” Taylor offers modestly. “Not everyone’s going to know our band but what’s special is the community we’ve built surrounding it. That’s all we’ve ever really wanted and everything else on top is extra. Being able to play big shows now in the UK is a bit of a dream, but as long as our core fan base is enjoying what we’re doing, then everything else is just the cherry on top.” 

SELF HELL is released on 29 March, available to buy and pre-order here.

While She Sleeps play Liquid Death Presents Download festival, which runs between 14-16 June 2024. Find tickets here.

Photo credit: Javier Bragado/Redferns