“This album is as much yours as it is ours,” says While She Sleeps’ Mat Welsh, hashing out a sentiment that explores how bands cannot exist in today’s industry without significant support through record sales, streams and successful attendance at live shows. But when the vocalist/guitarist articulates this over the phone, he means it in a far more heartfelt, substantial way than moving hundreds—even thousands—of copies in an album’s opening week. Welsh and his fellow bandmates simply couldn’t have made their upcoming album without fan support and input before the record’s creation. Rather than bank on the backing of a label, the U.K.-based metalcore group opted to take a risk and crowdfund the capital to self-release their upcoming 2017 full-length, You Are We. With four months left until the album is released, While She Sleeps fans alone have already helped the band achieve 133 percent of the pledge goal.
“We’ve had lots of ups and downs with debts. This whole career that we’ve strived to do [in which] we would be our own bosses almost got taken out of our hands,” Welsh says, explaining the decision. “So we [thought], let’s just take it back and then we’ll find a true representation of how many fans we have out there and how many people actually care about the band and not just what a label is telling us is what’s going on.”
While She Sleeps formed just a little over 10 years ago. In that time, Welsh, guitarist Sean Long, bassist Aaran McKenzie and drummer Adam Savage have continued to gain traction in the metalcore scene as their career has gone on with few alterations in their lineup. The only major change has been a switch in frontmen, with Lawrence “Loz” Taylor taking over for Jordan Widdowson in 2009. With two well-received albums under their belts (2012’s This Is The Six and 2015’s Brainwashed), the band felt they had a big enough following to ditch a label and ask a decade’s worth of fans for assistance.
Welsh is speaking from the band’s studio facility, a warehouse in the center of their native Sheffield, England, that the band converted DIY-style into a central hub to write and record the album. “[We] spent like a year building it,” says Welsh, who helped finish the studio’s electrical, sound proofing and interior structural work last January. “Now we have a fully working studio, and it’s kind of a nice feeling to be recording an album where we’re not just making the music, we actually built the rooms that we’re making the music in. It casts a very positive shadow on everything that we’re doing.” The band even added a kitchen and bedrooms so they could live in the warehouse throughout recording sessions.
Though the band were self-sufficient when it came to constructing their studio, they needed a monetary boost to release the music they would make there. Cue PledgeMusic. “The campaign is running until April 21, when the record comes out,” Welsh says. Crowdfunding has become pivotal in various creative fields, allowing artists to receive monetary backing from fans in exchange for rewards directly related to the projects at hand. “We wanted to build as much stuff ourselves that could be bundles [for rewards],” Welsh continues. “Most of the stuff that you can get on the pledge website is handmade by us in the warehouse. It’s all very personal, and it comes out of our hands. It’s not like it just got made in a factory, given to you and says ‘While She Sleeps’ on it. It probably has had ‘While She Sleeps’ written on it by one of us.” Once the band finish recording You Are We, they plan to melt down the strings used on their studio instruments to be converted into rings as some of the top tier rewards.
Currently, You Are We is about a week from completion. In the background, vocals for a song with the working title “Wide Awake” can be heard getting tracked. “There’s been a very sort of free-thinking attitude,” Welsh explains of the recording process. “We just don’t really have any boundaries and we’re just trying to explore and do things that we may not have done before. I want to break the conventional mold of metal and what metal hardcore is. We’re trying to just use different instruments and different dynamics and sound a little bit more exciting than we have done in the past.” Welsh even adds that an accordion is set to make an appearance on the upcoming full-length (you can see a teaser below), with the potential of using flutes and piano, as well.
Current events, as well as the band’s free agent mentality, play a large hand in the thematic aspects of You Are We. “A lot of big things happened this year,” Welsh explains. “Our country decided to leave Europe, which we firmly disagreed with. That’s been a big influence. And people thinking that they shouldn’t work together—we sort of disagree with that, which is what the album’s name is about. There’s no ‘you’ without ‘we.’ I mean, there would be no While She Sleeps if it weren’t for the While She Sleeps fans. And that’s super-true on the record and the idea behind us going independent, and not being part of big corporations has been a big influence on it.”
2016 saw a lot of political fluctuation throughout the world. The U.K. was dealing with the results of Brexit, the slang term used to describe the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. Less than two months later, While She Sleeps would release their first single off You Are We, “Civil Isolation.” “We just felt like [‘Civil Isolation’] was an exciting song to start with,” Welsh notes. “Fast and bold and saying something about what we think of the current situation. It was around the time that we sort of left Europe and a lot of people were frustrated about that, because the youth of Britain were voting to stay in…so we felt like that one was a good song to release at the time.”
The golden thing about not being attached to a label is that you don’t have to follow typical release protocol. While She Sleeps have been releasing tracks and music videos for the upcoming release way before it was even near completion. Alongside “Civil Isolation,” residents of the U.K. got a chance to actually be in the music video for the band’s second single, “Hurricane,” which was shot entirely in the While She Sleeps Sheffield studio facility. “We basically just flipped the space, emptied the floors as much as possible and made it into a little venue for the night,” Welsh explains. “What’s nice is that to buy a ticket for that show, you had to do it through the Pledge, so everyone in that video is responsible for the video being possible and for the record being possible.”
This inclusionary attitude has been the driving force that has helped While She Sleeps bring about this album. “The elements of the [album] cover are [the title] said in the four most spoken languages in the world [Chinese, Spanish, English and Hindi],” Welsh explains. “We thought for what we’re saying, it’d be nice to say as something that is understandable by as many people as possible.”