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'I Was Too Scared to Leave My House': While She Sleeps Fight Anxiety on 'Sleeps Society'

Tuesday, 13 April 2021 Written by Matt Mills

Photo: Marcia Richards

It’s June 28, 2013 and things could not be going better for While She Sleeps. The metalcore upstarts are in Las Vegas, opening stages all over America as part of the prestigious Warped Tour. Not even a year ago they released their debut album ‘This is the Six’, an animal that made them darlings in their genre’s thriving UK scene, alongside bands such as Architects and Bring Me the Horizon. Tours with Parkway Drive, Crossfaith and Asking Alexandria in the last few months alone have jam-packed their schedule.

Everything seems great, until Sean Long has a panic attack. “I couldn’t breathe, basically,” the guitarist remembers almost eight years later. “I was hungover in Vegas, and it was the hottest Warped Tour to date. We had to play first that day and I was hanging out my fucking arse. I had this panic attack event. I thought mentally I was fine, but clearly there was something else going on I wasn’t addressing.”

Long was 23 when that fissure of stress and nerves left him unable to breathe. Yet, he dubs his life up to that point as “living the dream”. He describes a seemingly standard childhood in the Midlands (“Even though it wasn’t perfect, there was nothing that stood out as really bad for me,” he says.) before forming While She Sleeps in his teens with school chums Mat Welsh (guitar) and Adam Savage (drums).

Rounded out by bassist Aaran McKenzie and frontman Loz Taylor, the band’s ‘North Stands for Nothing’ EP quickly made them darlings of the British rock press. Its raw production, screeching guitars and gang vocals like a chorus of bears made it a breath of fresh air while many established players (Bullet for My Valentine, Asking Alexandria, Rise to Remain) had started emphasising clean arena-rock melodies. ‘This is the Six’ quickly followed and, well, the 10 momentous months between its release and Warped Tour 2013 speak for that album’s success by themselves.

A party animal at heart, Long immersed himself in a world of excess, drink and drugs during While She Sleeps’ rapid ascension. “I got carried away with the party life of being in a successful band at a young age,” he admits. “We all did, even our peers. It’s just what you did: you got fucked up, you drank, you did drugs. I was smoking 20 cigs a day—40 if I was on a night out—and drinking a bottle of Jack Daniel’s every night, no problem.”

The root cause of Long’s panic attack is still a mystery to him, but he knows for certain that his hedonism was a catalyst. “Half of it came from the fear of a hangover,” he says. “If you have problems and you drink, it works. But, in the hangover stage, you don’t just feel worse; you give your negative mind a head start. Your body feels bad too, so all you’ve done is taken your negative mind to the gym. If you’re only just making it through sober, you’ve got to stop drinking.”

Long immediately quit drink and drugs, and considers his panic attack “what [he] deserved” for years of “that stereotypical ‘Get wasted and write music’ lifestyle.” He subsequently lived with symptoms of anxiety, depression and agoraphobia. “It was what came afterwards that was a nightmare,” he recalls. “I was basically bedridden and houseridden for the best part of two years. I was too scared to leave my house.”

Between the conclusion of 2013’s festival summer and the next year’s Download, While She Sleeps played only three gigs as a result of vocalist Taylor requiring throat surgery. The absence let Long focus on his head, while he and his band composed their second album, ‘Brainwashed’. Although its cataclysmic rage added another booster to While She Sleeps’ skyrocketing momentum, Long’s state made the record  and its accompanying tour “hell”.

The trauma the guitarist continued weathering through ‘Brainwashed’ eventually inspired him to write lyrics for the first time on its successor, ‘You Are We’. By that time, his mental state had mercifully improved. Long attributes his improvement to what he calls “going raw”: enduring the valleys of his anxieties head-on, without any chemical interference, and trying to keep sight of the peaks that must follow. 

“That’s where I think real life is held: in the struggles we try to avoid,” he says. “When I’m writing lyrics, I always try to speak to the people who are in that place right now: that deep hole that you feel you can never get out of. It is horrible and really, really terrifying.”

Struggles with mental health remain a key theme on the brand new ‘Sleeps Society’. “If you feel like giving up / Then there’s something I need you to know / I’m here for you,” Taylor belts during the album’s opening anthem, Enlightenment. “I’m nervous / But I think it’s time to believe / That the answer’s right in front of me,” adds Nervous, a collaboration with Biffy Clyro singer and guitarist Simon Neil. 

They’re calls for empowerment, knowing firsthand that mental health disorders needn’t obliterate your life. “I never thought I was going to come out of the place I was in,” explains Long. “You have the power all along and it’s tough to see that, so I like to endow the music with some of that feeling.”

The optimistic messaging is complemented by an audibly peppier While She Sleeps. In stark contrast to the spiky rebellion of ‘This Is the Six’ and ‘Brainwashed’, ‘Sleeps Society’ follows the left turn the band first took on their last outing, ‘So What?’. It’s a synth-metal invigorator with emphasis on gargantuan hooks and pop cameos (also appearing is Deryck Whibley, leader of pop-punks Sum 41). 

Brute force and tenderness often collide, like when distant vocal melodies smooth the main riff of You Are All You Need. Division Street is a pure piano ballad, exclusively clean-sung, yet it gives way to the implosive breakdown of the ensuing title track. As opposed to a rejection of British metalcore’s hyperactive catchiness—which has only strengthened since the mid-2010s thanks to albums like Bring Me the Horizon’s ‘That’s the Spirit’ and Bullet For my Valentine’s ‘Gravity’—‘Sleeps Society’ is an unabashed indulgence.

“Let’s face it, the majority of the world doesn’t listen to our scene,” Long rationalises. “So, I think you have to be clever about how you stay true to what you’re doing, but also expand it to the people who wouldn’t jump into the metal world. There have to be some boundaries to cross if you really want to be successful.”

Controversial? Probably. But don’t let their surface-level sheen fool you: these songs are inspirational lessons tapped from the darkest of days.

‘Sleeps Society’ is out on April 16 via Sleeps Brothers and Spinefarm.

While She Sleeps Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed September 01 2021 - GLASGOW Stereo
Thu September 02 2021 - GLASGOW Stereo
Thu September 09 2021 - BIRMINGHAM Asylum
Fri September 10 2021 - LEICESTER O2 Academy2 Leicester
Sat September 11 2021 - BRIDGEND Hobos Music Venue
Sun September 12 2021 - BRIDGEND Hobos Music Venue
Wed September 15 2021 - LONDON Underworld Camden
Thu September 16 2021 - LONDON Underworld Camden
Fri September 17 2021 - LONDON Underworld Camden
Sun September 19 2021 - BRIGHTON Chalk
Mon September 20 2021 - LEEDS Key Club
Tue September 21 2021 - LEEDS Key Club
Wed September 22 2021 - LEEDS Key Club
Thu September 23 2021 - LEEDS Key Club

Compare & Buy While She Sleeps Tickets at Stereoboard.com.



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