Whether you received a cryptic flyer from a bartender or saw the screen projected on the truck outside Alexandra Palace, you couldn’t miss the mic-drop moment at the end of While She Sleeps’ set at Ally Pally last September.
Having finished their set warming up a packed room of revellers ahead of Parkway Drive’s headline performance, the Sheffield metal quintet unveiled a magnificent white banner, announcing their very own Ally Pally headline date for September 2023.
Having waited in the wings for two decades, While She Sleeps’ show at the iconic North London venue is wholeheartedly deserved. With album six confirmed to be on the way, 2023 is shaping up to be a monumental year for the band. “It feels like it’s our time” vocalist Loz Taylor tells NME, who can’t help but smile at the prospect of “five punk rock dudes from Sheff” taking over the Palace for one of the biggest nights of their career.
For the latest edition of NME’s In Conversation series we sat down with Loz and guitarist Mat Welsh to discuss the band’s plans for Alexandra Palace, the evolution of their sound and the resounding success of their ‘Sleeps Society’ fan community. Here’s what we learned.
They’ve earned the right to take on the challenge of Ally Pally
Having ticked off London venues like the Roundhouse and Brixton Academy, Ally Pally is a natural, albeit giant, step up. Seismic, multi-layered anthems that feel at home on huge stages have always been a core part of the band’s sound, but more notably so in these past two records. “It’s turned into a thing where we just belong on a big stage”, Loz acknowledges.
Mat likens the Alexandra Palace gig, which was announced a whole year in advance, to the challenge of a marathon. “It’s fun to sign up for something you don’t know you can do. You might sign up for a marathon, but you’re not ready for a marathon.”
But the band’s training for this musical marathon has been in place for almost two decades – a “long apprenticeship” as Loz puts it – since the quintet (rounded out by drummer Adam Savage, bassist Aaran McKenzie and guitarist Sean Long) first formed in 2006. With a back catalogue filled with arena-ready tunes, and a reputation for a refined live performance that delivers a blistering masterclass in metal, September 23 is set to be a huge night.
Intimate shows are still just as important to the band
A far cry from the 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace they’ll play later this year, While She Sleeps’ most recent London dates took the form of a three-night residency at the Underworld, with the barrier-free Camden venue being twenty times smaller than Ally Pally.
“We try to keep things super ground level in the band with our audience”, Mat explains. “We’re still the band that plays in that sweaty room. That’s part of our culture, and it’s important to keep that alive and support those venues.”
Switching between these two settings is a prospect that excites the band, who: “never get too used to where we are or where we live”, and despite the differing size of venues, their discography is equally at home in both environments. “We’ve always written melodic anthems from since we started – we try to write in a way that sings nicely acoustically,” Loz explains. “I don’t think we find it difficult to write anthemic songs, but also songs that give you a nosebleed.”
Expect the unexpected when it comes to new music
While She Sleeps recently revealed they’ve been secretly working on their sixth album, promising the “initiation” will arrive later in the year. On this element of surprise, Loz tells NME: “We keep quiet around recording time, and then when we come out, it’s often quite a new turn. I think that’s why people find us an exciting band; they don’t really know what to expect.”
They’ve always been open to experimentation. “We’ve never been a band to sit behind the one sound or genre,” says Loz, adding: “We’re trying to mash-up a few genres and bring in different inspirations, and not stay in our comfort zone.”
On the origin of their spectrum of sounds, Mat explains: “My two favourite bands aren’t Loz’s and that continues through the whole band.” New material emulates from this exact culture, where all five members can bring their own flavour to the table. Kendrick Lamar, Aphex Twin and Norma Jean are just three named examples of this eclectic range of tastes. “We’re getting inspired so much more as we get older, that we’re getting more confident doing what just feels good.”
The “Sleeps Society” are the band’s “inner circle”
Two years ago While She Sleeps launched the ‘Sleeps Society’, a Patreon-based fan community that has now surpassed over a thousand members. From hosting open days where fans can play their equipment, to putting on exclusive one-off gigs, the group go above and beyond for the collective.
“We just had a barbeque with them in the summer, didn’t we? It was wicked, we cooked them all lunch” Mat beams. “We know so many of them so well now. It’s one thing being like: ‘we’ll make this community’ but now it actually is a community. So many people in there have become friends through it, going to shows together.”
Having featured on the previous record as a choir, Mat details how the band welcome all input from the Society. “They’re that inner circle. We talk to them very openly about what we’re working on, what the plan is for the next year. They’re like the shareholders of our band. They know they’re keeping this place of creativity open.”
Loz recalls that “Mat once said he could go for a drink with 90 per cent of our fanbase, easily.” This is now very much a reality, and the level of appreciation and care perhaps stems from what brought them originally into the scene. “When we first got into nu-metal the sense of community was so strong. You’d see someone else wearing the band’s hoodie and you have that connection. That’s what the ‘Sleeps Society’, for us, has brought it back to – it’s like you’re back in 2000.”
Ally Pally could be the biggest UK metal show of 2023
Conversations are well and truly underway for this monumental show, including with the Sleeps Society, with Mat revealing: “They’re talking to us about the setlist for Ally Pally at the moment.” They’ll be joined by British metalcore outfit Bury Tomorrow, with further support to be confirmed in due course.
Having hand-made the banner to unveil the performance themselves, we can expect a DIY approach to the production, Loz and Mat tell us. Mat elaborates “We’re designing the parameters of what’s achievable…there’s so many great ideas in the band and they’re not slowing down, they’re actually getting more as we get older.”
Ultimately, though, it’ll be a celebration of While She Sleeps history up to this point; both for the band and their fans. “It’s a big moment for us, it’s a big moment for everyone who’s supported us and been on this journey,” Mat reflects. “It feels like it’s [the fans] win as well to get us there.”
While She Sleeps play Alexandra Palace on 23 September. Tickets are available here.