Interview With While She Sleeps Guitarist Sean Long
Updated: May 10, 2021
Metalcore band While She Sleeps have released the fifth full-length album of their career, Sleeps Society, on April 16th. While She Sleeps was formed in 2006 in Sheffield, England, and in 2012, they first burst onto the scene with the release of their first album, This Is The Six. With each subsequent release, they have seen a massive boost in their profile as more people flock to their catchy hooks and heavy riffs. Founding member and lead guitarist Sean Long had a great chat with me over Zoom regarding the new album and how fan interactions have influenced and shaped While She Sleeps. He teased what comes next for the band, a collaboration that didn’t happen, and what the band has been subtly influencing him for years without him realizing.
You guys are releasing your new album, Sleeps Society, next week. Tell me how Sleeps Society is an evolution for While She Sleeps? I think as an evolution, it just comes naturally as we grow up as musicians and human beings. So every album is an encapsulation of whatever we’re going through at that particular moment in time, which is why I love music so much. Because somehow, whatever’s going on in that particular moment, it finds its way into the music, even when you’re not intending for it to do so. I really like that in general. So in terms of progression, I think So What? was a very difficult album for us on an individual level. We had a lot of personal problems going on, and a lot of shit we each had to deal with while also making a record. It always feels like a cycle of one easy album, one hard album, one easy album. And Sleeps Society, with this one we’re all in a good place, we’re all really healthy, and I feel like this is While She Sleeps on form, this is the best we can be. So I’m very happy, there were no internal problems. We went in there and did exactly what we wanted to do. Progression isn’t something I’m ever trying to do, it’s just whatever feels good to me at the time and whatever feels good for the others. We’ve got new stuff going with the synth-world stuff, I’m really enjoying that. I just do what I enjoy, and sometimes that comes across as progression. That’s what we need, that’s good. I never want to sound the same.
Was the writing and recording of this one impacted by the pandemic and the lockdowns? Did the band have to change course at any point? The majority of it was written during the pandemic, but we basically had to cancel the last few days of our American tour when this all first started kicking off. We came straight home in March. I was already writing on the road; I’m never not writing. So when I got home, it was pretty normal for me because I wanted to go into the studio then anyway. I had a job to do. I knew what I wanted to do. I had ideas flying around, and then I have this period of time where I can put my energy into it. So as soon as lockdown started, that’s exactly what I did. Weirdly enough, it didn’t really affect me much because I self-isolate in the studio anyways. So nothing really changed for me, in that sense. Aside from those last three tour dates, this was what would have happened with us anyways. At the backend here and now, it’s getting to be new waters for us and other bands. It’s weird times, but I’ve had the benefit of having my mind consumed with something productive. I know how easy it is to get lost in the news world and everything going on, it is scary for sure, but I’m lucky enough to have had tunnel vision for this album. Hopefully, it worked, and it’s a good album.
You guys also launched a subscription service on Patreon. Can you tell me how that first came about and what the impact has been? The idea came about originally because we always want to do something different with each record. We never want to just put a record out in the shops. We always like that there’s some incentive or story behind our music, so when you listen to it, it’s not just listening to music for the sake of music. We always like some theme or fun, some noise. And we’re very close with our fans, and it seems to be going further in that direction. I’ve always like to wear that on our chests proudly. We can’t be a cool band, we can’t show off on Instagram, we can’t do anything that could be considered cool without fans to back us up. So to kinda delete these people from the equation and be a cocky band has never made sense to me. So I enjoy giving fans the respect they deserve. With the subscription, we had this idea before all this to release a song a month. So you do this mini-campaign throughout the year, and at the end of the year, you buy the vinyl and get the whole album. So we had the idea, and we thought that was quite cool, and that turned into this subscription thing. Obviously, given the fact that…I mean, we do good numbers on streaming services. We do something like a million monthly listens now. And a million of anything is a lot. But you don’t really get paid for it. People might think you do, but it’s so small, and you see so little. It’s a little frustrating when people are ready to accept that music is free. It’s turned into basically like water. It’s just there. It’s on your phone, and it’s there. Even if you’re paying ten dollars a month for fifty million songs, if you divide that down to the artists, it is free from an artist’s perspective. It’s great what they do for us. We’re not against streaming services. We just wanted to move into this new era of consumer music, and what could we do to keep our band alive, keep our band from going underneath the water? And as soon as the pandemic hit, it made sense to us. I know a lot of bands are struggling, and we lost out on a full year of touring. That’s where our money comes from. You can’t really sell that much merch unless you’re touring. A lot of our money is gone, and I think people forget that it costs a lot of money to be in a band. It’s not just picking up a guitar and having fun. There’s lots of money that it takes to keep it running. And people sometimes forget that when they open Spotify and boom, there’s music. In terms of that, I really like creating this underground secret society idea to go with this album. So it had the function of keeping us alive, but at the same time, I thought it was a fun idea that I want fans to be invested in because it’s exciting. And it was nice to see if people really gave a shit about our band, and they did. It’s cool to be part of this underground, need-to-know club, and I like that aspect of it. It’s necessary to keep us alive, but it’s fun. It’s fun that goes with the record. It’s exciting, and it’s loud.
You guys did a song with Deryck Whibley for this album. It’s a bit of a left-field collaboration but totally works when you think about it. How did you decide to do that collab and how did it go? Yeah, it’s a weird one with Deryck because that band has influenced me heavily since I was a kid. But they’ve influenced me in such a way that I didn’t even know it until I was older. I was like, “Fuckin’ hell, we’re so much like Sum 41, we’re literally the metal version of Sum 41!” and I didn’t even realize it! They’re basically the second band I listened to, after Blink-182, so they’ve got a place in my heart for sure. And it came about because we were having the idea of getting some guests involved, and one of our friends had toured with them. So we were like, hell yeah, let’s hit up Deryck and see if he’d be interested. We got in touch with him and sent him a song, and he fucking loved the song. He told us he was a fan of our band, and all of this happened like that, almost by chance. We took a risk and thought we might as well ask people, that’s how you get, by asking. I was like, “Fuckin hell, I wouldn’t even be in a band if it wasn’t for you!.” That’s what I like about it so much, I’ve spent ten years of my life, the middle of it, not knowing how much that band meant to me. And now that I’ve realized it, the motherfucker is singing on our track! So it’s like a real dream, dude, it seems like it’s not even real. I’m over the moon with it.
Is there somebody you guys wanted to work with or tried to for this album, that didn’t work out for whatever reason? I’ll tell you a funny story. I wanted to get the electronics player from Prodigy. I think his name’s Liam. He plays this, basically, the synth I bought, it’s a remake of the synth that he plays. I think it’s a Roland 303, and mine is a Behringer TD-3, my first synth ever. I was getting really into this dark, grungy, acid synth, and I had the idea for a synth at the beginning of Sleeps Society, but I couldn’t get the synth right on the computer. I was doing it digitally, with no actual synth. And I was like, why don’t we get someone like Prodigy to come in and do that synth as a collab? So I know someone who used to be their guitar tech, so I got their manager’s email, emailed him, and never heard anything back. But the ironic thing is, I didn’t get an e-mail back, so I bought the synth myself and I learned how to do the synth on the day the song was getting mixed and then sent that and put the synth in. So I wanted Prodigy, couldn’t get it, and then I actually ended up with the sound that I wanted by doing it myself, so I’m really proud about that.
That’s awesome. I definitely thought that story was going to end with him e-mailing you back right after you had learned the synth yourself. Hopefully, if they hear what we’re doing with the synths and the metal and stuff, they can come back around, and we can do something. I just think it makes sense, a Prodigy and While She Sleeps song would be cool.
One thing that you guys are known for is the intensity of your live shows. I assume you guys are itching to get back out and do shows. What are things looking like on that front? A late 2021 run or pushing things back to 2022? Yeah, this is the most excited I’ve been in our career to play live because it’s the longest break we’ve had. We’ve been going nonstop for fifteen years basically. So I’ve been so consumed with the album, now that’s done. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still busy as fuck right now, but I’m really envisioning these songs live now. Walking out to “Sleeps Society,” and I’m thinking about production and how to make things a mental show. So we’ve pushed our tour back from May to September now, hoping it’ll go forward then. We’re headlining Slam Dunk in September too. So hopefully that’s when it all kicks off, I think it’ll be really beneficial if it goes through because the songs will have had a nice, long time to sink in. Plus, everyone’s excited to go see live music in general, so it kinda gives the album and the songs more traction live, which is half of the reason they’re made. The first reason is for earphones and speakers, and the other half is for live energy. I’m just ready to get out there and release some fucking energy. Everyone’s got so much anger inside, it’s an edgy time, and art is needed for that release.
What would be your dream tour, headlining or supporting? One of my all-time favorite bands is Thrice, so they’ll have to be there. Let’s say… Thrice, Rage Against the Machine, Slipknot, and Sleeps.
What inspires you? I feel like everyone has something to say internally. Whatever it is -writing a book, making music, doing a podcast, asking questions, drawing stuff, I think there’s something inside everybody that they need to manifest in some way or form. And I think this is mine. And if someone snapped my hands off, I think I’d find another way to get that thing out that you want to say. That’s what keeps me going. I also don’t know what else to do with my life, this is all I’ve ever known how to do. So you keep going, it pulls itself. The While She Sleeps machine… even though it takes a lot of work, it runs itself, and it’s on to the next thing.
What is your favourite song on the album that you’ve been excited to let the fans hear? It’s real hard to say favourites because I’m such a fan of what we do and I like everything we make. I put everything into it, and the way we write the songs is the way I hope they’re received on the other end. As my mood changes, my favourite changes, but right now the song that I want everyone to hear most is “Systematic.” That could have been the first song we released, it’s huge. I think that’s going to be the lead song on the album that hasn’t been released prior because it’s so fucking heavy. “Enlightenment” is a really hopeful song, really positive. I can’t pick through them all, but right now, it’s “Systematic.” It’s gotta take the crown because it just makes you want to fucking smack someone in the face.
When you look back over your career, what are you most proud of? I think cultivating our sound. That people recognize what we’re doing, and they like it. I know that sounds weird, but since I was a kid, I didn’t understand how bands had their own vibe without copying other people. I was like, how do you have that? How do I be in a band without copying your shit, and having our own thing? And that was one of my big dreams, was to have our own sound and be our own thing. And I really feel like we’ve got it now, and I’m proud of that. It’s nothing like massive shows we’ve played. It’s more just like… being able to still do this. I’ve got a guitar over there with my name on it. Stuff like that, real dream moments for me that I never take for granted. But mainly, just that we still get to make music and people get it. That’s where my gratitude comes from.
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