“He’s got his leg up my bum! Argh, it hurts! Come on, man. It’s not funny.” Music journalism was never supposed to be like this. Hammer is currently stood, sunburnt and very, very hungover, in the middle of a very large, very green field. Above us, a grey, cloudy sky flirtatiously spits a few droplets at our weary heads; a small showcase of its forever ominous, weekend-ruining powers. In our immediate line of sight is an array of poorly constructed tents, empty beer cans, wary festival goers carefully attempting their first beer of the day and, most prominently, five scruffy young scamps from Sheffield spilling out of a tent with all the grace and style of a Tory MP at a Spice Girls gig. “Mate, can you get your elbow out of my ear? Hey, I think there’s still some beer in this can!” It was really never meant to be this way…
While She Sleeps: Back To The Front
After conquering Download and slaying this year’s Golden Gods, While She Sleeps are officially back on track. Brace yourselves…
Barely an hour earlier, those same five lads were stood on the main stage at Download in front of around 40,000 shit-losing fans, playing some of the most emotive, vital heavy music of the past five years and producing one of the defining images of the weekend when their leader clambered up a sound desk, up into the tower above it and waved a flag bearing their band’s symbol over the thousands around them. Not a bad way to make your return after six months out of action.
“I’m feeling good!” beams Lawrence ‘Loz’ Taylor when Hammer first catches up with him a couple of hours prior. “It’s been so long, but I’m nicely rested and eager to get out and play.”
The “so long” Loz refers to is, of course, the unplanned six-month hiatus he and the rest of While She Sleeps have been forced to take following the singer’s throat surgery in early 2014. Up until that point, the band were still very much on a roll; riding an 18-month-long wave of acclaim following the release of their awesome debut, This Is The Six – a flawless collection of modern metal ragers that has the Northerners set up as one of our most promising young bands. To say that it was bad timing is a hell of an understatement.
Now, with the band seconds away from their official return, we grab a pre-show chat in their makeshift ‘dressing room’ (read: festival cabin), with Loz remaining, as always, a bag of nervous, infectious energy, rarely sitting still and forever fiddling, as entertaining an interviewee and affable a frontman as they come. When the subject turns to the current state of his voice, he’s in similarly buoyant form.
“The voice is banging, man,” he laughs. “I’ve changed it a tiny bit, just to give it some longevity. The way I was doing it, I wasn’t going to be carrying on for another year. But yeah, it’s sounding strong.”
Such news will come as extremely welcoming to fans who have spent the past few months fretting over the future of Sheffield’s heavyweights-in-waiting. While Loz’s condition was no cause for serious panic – “I had a polyp, it’s not a big deal” – no one likes to see their career and, indeed, life derailed at such a vital time, and the singer is typically honest about both the circumstances that lead to him having to take a break and the effects that said break have had on him and his bandmates.
“We went on a US tour with Parkway Drive, and I started coughing up blood after every show,” he reveals. “I was like, ‘That’s not good.’ I mean, obviously it’s metal as fuck – ha ha! – but I couldn’t carry on like that.”
So, Loz took himself to hospital, found out he’d have to have a minor operation and set about facing the fact that the new Sleeps album would have to be put back and that he’d be off the road until the summer. As it happens, the resulting time off had some negative outcomes.
“Did I go stir crazy? Yes,” he admits as he looks out of the window with a sigh. “It’s been up and down. I was drinking a lot and not telling my bandmates. I felt like if I had a drink, my troubles would slip away. After my surgery, the hospital said that if I was gonna drink, I should drink red wine. That was the worst thing they could’ve told me. This was the most important time to not be drinking, and I was drinking way too much, so I messed up. And it’s not just my musical career here, it’s the rest of the band, so there was a bit of an intervention.”
That intervention came from the four people that could make the difference and turn his behaviour around – his bandmates, and best friends.
“The lads sat me down and said, ‘Look, what are you doing? You’re gonna mess this up for yourself,’” Loz recalls. “It made me realise the opportunity that we’ve got as a band here, and not wanting to spoil that for us. When you’re on tour and you finish a show, you go straight to having a beer and doling whatever you wanna do. That’s my relaxation, and not doing that, and being away from the guys… it gave me the space to get complacent.”
It’s at this point in the conversation that Loz and the boys are whisked away for what turns out to be an absolute stormer of a Download set, in which Loz’s voice is shown to be in solid standing, and which underlines that the rest of the band have clearly not lost any of their hunger for putting on a frenetic, punk rock hurricane of a show. Drawing a mightily big crowd and overseeing some of the most manic circle-pitting of the festival, it’s a definitive triumph that bodes extremely well for the future.
“I really enjoyed it!” offers a sweaty Mat Welsh somewhat humbly as he stumbles off stage, towel over head. “It was nice to get back on a big stage, play with the boys and restore that people still give a fuck about us, you know? When you don’t play for a bit, you can easily get doubts in your head, like, ‘Do people really still care that much?’ We’ve had such a time off, so it’s good to be together and be doing our thing again.”
Earlier, the guitarist doesn’t mince his words.
“Sometimes, you need a little bit of a kick up your arse,” he says, matter-of-factly. “If your mates have something serious to say to you, you’ll fucking listen to it. We just sat him down in a room and told him, ‘Dude, we want you to take this a bit more seriously.’ And that shocked him, but you gotta do that with your mates, man. That’s one of the nice things about being such a close group: you can say that to each other, and no one falls out. If you argue with your mates [over these issues], it’ll just push you further apart.”
And so, the band trot over to the Download campsite to set up that aforementioned tent – “We’re not wasting the money on a hotel!” – and prepare to soak in the rest of the weekend. The next time Hammer crosses paths with the guys, it’s to witness them tear apart the London IndigO2 at this year’s Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards a couple of days later. That a crowd barely recovered from banging their heads silly to Behemoth’s imperious set are now throwing themselves around like loons to This Is The Six is testament to both bands’ abilities to kick down barriers within the metal scene, but as we grab the guys for a final chinwag on their way to the bustling media area out back, there’s only one question left on our minds: exactly how is that new album coming along?
“They’re literally waiting on me,” admits Loz. “I’m just tying up some loose ties, writing some stuff, and we’re gonna record through July. How’s it sounding? Really cool! What’s the typical thing that everyone says… it’s kinda heavier but more melodic? Ha ha ha! There’s a lot of the stuff that This Is The Six brought forward – there’s gang vocals, heavier bits, singalongs… not as much piano stuff, but that could all change!”
“The way we’ve recorded this new record is very much back to the way we recorded [2011 EP] The North Stands For Nothing,” adds Mat. “We’ve taken our time, tested a lot of stuff out, and it’s sounding insane, man. I honestly think this is the sound that defines us as a band. This is the happiest I’ve been with our music so far.”
As the guys prepare to head off into the night and begin Sleeps’ next chapter, Loz takes a moment to reaffirm that whatever troubles this year has thrown at them, they are a band very much back to their best and ready to pick up that pesky business of taking over the planet.
“It’s all worked out good,” he smiles. “We’ve always been best mates anyway, but I think we’re stronger for all of this. We’ve come through all this stuff and we’re back on track.”
“It’s been a really weird year,” offers Mat. “We were all go for the last four years, and then this. It’s been good for reflection. We’ve been able to look back and go, ‘OK, this is how it is. We either carry on working hard now or we go back to working day jobs next year.’ So, let’s go fucking nail this!”
Get ready, world. While She Sleeps are coming for you.
THIS IS THE SIX IS OUT NOW VIA SEARCH AND DESTROY. NEW MATERIAL WILL BE OUT LATER THIS YEAR. WHILE SHE SLEEPS WILL SUPPORT IN FLAMES IN OCTOBER