“Hate is a precursor to knowing that you’re doing something well” While She Sleeps on why they’ll keep evolving their sound – no matter what anyone else thinks

Sean Long and Mat Welsh on why they think it’s “fucking pathetic” to freak out about a band changing their sound, the roots of their guitar style in 90s club music, and why they’re not always copying Tom Morello…

While She Sleeps performing at Alexander Palace

While She Sleeps performing at Alexander Palace

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Walking into the While She Sleeps warehouse in Sheffield is like being transported to another world. Black cladding lines the walls punctuated with various tour posters, flags, and artwork from Sleeps’ history.

A pair of friendly pooches greets us from the office before guitarists Sean Long and Mat Welsh take us through to a soundproofed studio room, with the band’s recognisable Ibanez, Charvel, and ESP guitars mounted on the walls. This is where the magic happens, and While She Sleeps have certainly been cooking it up in batches.

The band’s latest release, Self Hell, has been in the making for two years, Long explains, but it wasn’t always meant to end up as an album. Initially, the band recorded an EP, but consulted their subscriber platform, Sleeps Society.

“We really opened a debate with our fans in there,” Welsh explains, “We went to a different studio for the first time in years, we’ve been [in the Sleeps warehouse] for 10 years, and we went ‘Maybe we’ll come back here again.’ It grew into an album rather than us setting out like, ‘That’s what we’re doing,’” explains Welsh.

“We had this pile of demos but they were all more of a feeling than a style,” he continues, “They were just a bit gloomier, a bit more 90s, and a bit more synthy.” While She Sleeps have become notorious for never being afraid to mix up their style, try something new, or venture to territories they may never have taken their music before.

Sean Long of While She Sleeps
Sean Long of While She Sleeps

Flux Capacity

“We’re always changing as people,” explains Long. “This is something in the music industry, as listeners and critics, I never understand. People are so gobsmacked when things don’t sound the same. It’s so far beyond ridiculous at this point. It’s like, not only does the world change, the listener changes as a person, your perspective changes, the music changes, everything changes. When something sounds different, everyone freaks out, it’s fucking pathetic,” he laughs. “I get more of a kick out of knowing it might make people shit a brick, to be honest.

“The problem is the reason people like something is they identify something in you that relates to them. The second you change that image for them, it hurts, because they no longer identify with everything that you’re doing. It’s combative instantly.” Long continues, “Music is a good way to show people I’m not scared to break your image of us. Your image is incorrect, and it always changes. If you listen to Self Hell and To The Flowers it’s two completely different bands. We’re doing that because we’re allowed to, and music changes. Everyone’s trying to pin people down to stick with their own identifications. If we all went on stage and we’re wearing fucking pink skirts or something everyone would trip because it’s against their identification.”

Welsh broadly agrees with Long’s perspective on polarising opinions of While She Sleeps and the way in which their sound has remained in flux throughout the years. “Weirdly in music and art it comes with this free pass of judgement where I’m allowed to say, ‘You’re shit,’ or ‘You should be doing it like this,’ or ‘When are you going to go back to the old version of who you used to be?’ That’s the type of behaviour that you’d never exercise anywhere else. You wouldn’t say that to your friends or your family like, ‘God, I wish you were like you were when you were eight, you were so much more fun.’ What the fuck? I’m not eight anymore, I’m fucking 30, so why are you allowed to do that?

“As soon as you attach it to this form of expression, whatever it may be, you’re open and on that cross and ready for it.” He laughs before adding, “When was the last time you stopped to write something negative about someone? I haven’t done that.” Long laughs with him and agrees, “Yeah, you’re a psychopath!”

Mat Welsh of While She Sleeps holding a guitar with the word “To The Flowers”
Mat Welsh of While She Sleeps

Positive Vibration

Despite the constant commentary on the band on various forms of social media, it’s the positivity that resonates most with them, and in turn emanates from them. “Hate never comes from above, it only comes from below,” explains Long, “Hate is also a precursor to knowing that you’re doing something well. When people hate, it’s because they feel intimidated by your efforts to better yourself or do something good.”

He continues by comparing and contrasting Sleeps to their fellow Sheffield-born metallers. “Bring Me The Horizon are the perfect example. We call them the golden boys because they’re nonstop killing it. They’re unstoppable. But they’ve created so much controversy because of that fact. They keep going and people keep trying to bring them down, but everyone’s so intimidated by them.”

Long, as the band’s internal producer, approached the creation of Self Hell with the same mindset. “I’m prepared to lose some fans to gain some more,” he says, “If everyone’s pleased every single time you make a record, you’re clearly not doing enough, you’re not stretching your legs enough. You have to upset some people. It means that when some fans aren’t into this record, brand-new fans will be.”

Sean Long with a guitar in a room filled with graffiti
Sean Long

The inception of Self Hell really leaned on that mindset, and Long tells of how he allowed each member to bring their own unique influences into the mix, and trusted his bandmates and their passions. “Everyone’s nostalgic influences got more of a say on this record, rather than me trying to make sure everything sounds like an album or similar. Loz, for example, is a very old-school emo kid, so he was bringing stuff to the table like The Used, and stuff like that. Usually in the past I’d be like, ‘That’s not for us, that’s your thing. That’s not Sleeps.’ Whereas this time around it was like anything went, and it was collecting all of these ideas and making them into a song. You can tell, because to me the record is weird.”

“There’s something about running with that freedom and everyone having an idea and being able to get away with it. Self Hell looks like a record and sounds like a record but it jumps all over the place. Because the performance is all out of the same people, it makes itself one form at the end, even though when we’re making it, it might not feel like that. That’s inspiring for us in the future, because we know that we can just do anything as long as we’re enjoying it.”

Self Hell sees While She Sleeps lean on the weird, the confusing, and the unusual that they’ve refined over the years to bring fans, or newcomers, a unique album that dances around itself and shifts gears so often it could incite whiplash. “Weird is actually a good thing,” says Long, to our agreement. “I enjoy this about Sleeps. I don’t think we’ve ever really made much sense,” he laughs, “We’ve never considered ourselves professional musicians, and I never want to. We’re just general, common people that somehow ended up here, doing this. I think it is definitely mismatched sometimes, but that’s what makes the sound of Sleeps.”

Mat Welsh performing live
Mat Welsh performing live

Forever Friends

Sleeps pride themselves on being friends first and foremost, and being able to pour their time, love, energy, and money into the band constantly. There’s always a project on the horizon, whether it’s a music video, the next record, touring plans, or the “huge” unannounced project that the duo insist they can’t share just yet, because they’re unsure whether they’re “making stupid decisions” or not. The thing that shines through the most is the trust they hold for each other, and the ability to back each other up because they know their passion for the ideas they put forward doesn’t stem from nothing. “You’ve got to look out for when people are backing their own shit,” Long says, “If you’re uncertain about your own shit, how the fuck can you expect anyone to care about it? If someone’s really into it, sometimes you’ve got to remove yourself because that’s rare.”

Slowly but surely, people began to run a commentary on Sean Long’s style of playing. Combined with an original, Sleeps-invented tuning, he will extend, distort, and bend his notes through the use of whammy pedals and it’s this that has become his signature style, despite him formerly saying that he was very “naive” of his own playing style. “I’ve had a realisation recently. I’ve ended up with this whammy situation of bending notes all the time, but when I was growing up my mum used to listen to a lot of Clubland music and 80s, 90s dance. I love that shit. That’s a huge nostalgic feeling for me, but they were always bending the notes on the synths.

“Everyone’s always saying I’m copying Tom Morello, and I love him but inspiration finds you subconsciously sometimes and now I look back and realise that I love bending notes because of what I listened to growing up. From You are We, we made up our own tuning which somehow coincided with the whammy and the bending that no one had done before. So I decided to just show off a bit and make my ego bigger, fuck it!”

Sean Long with a guitar in a room filled with graffiti
Sean Long

Welsh relates to this by explaining that his distorted singing voice is not so much inspired by, but is certainly comparable to some of his favourite artists such as Chuck Ragan from Hot Water Music, Tim Armstrong from Rancid, and Wade MacNeil from Alexisonfire. The pair agree on likening inspiration and influence to a subconscious instinct to mimic or draw stylistically from those artists, ideas, and life events they’re surrounded by at the time of creating something.

“It’s always in retrospect that you find out what you did,” Welsh explains, “I think everyone thinks that musicians are some crazy geniuses that consciously compile these amazing ideas and it’s all a contrived act. Your conscious attention plays a big role in it, but the way I view it is that your unconscious movements are playing a bigger part than that. Your conscious mind is projecting what’s going on inside.

“You don’t really know that at the time, but in retrospect you can look back and go, ‘Oh, that’s what was happening.’ When you’re going through something in life the way you emanate your words and the way you move is reflecting what’s going on inside that you maybe don’t understand yourself. There’s something bigger at play.”

While She Sleeps aren’t setting out to change your mind on their stylistic changes, nor are they trying to change the world, but they do want to be remembered, spoken about, and revered in the right spaces. “Hopefully we’ll be a band or a story that someone will want to talk about because we’ve done it in a slightly different way,” Welsh notes, “I get my biggest kick out of people being like, ‘Check out how Sleeps did it’ and not the conventional industry things. We made all of our stage props for our headline at [Alexandra Palace] ourselves, in this warehouse, with things we bought from Facebook Marketplace. We’re the proof that you don’t need to be a proper professional musician to make shit happen,” he laughs. Long agrees, “We’re potentially in the hardest fucking industry to make a living, and I’m proud that we’re still managing to make it work, but we did what we said we wanted to do.”

Self Hell is released on 29 March 2024 via Spinefarm.

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