Aaran McKenzie, (seen here second from the left), bass player with While She Sleeps, chats with Kevin Cooper about the origins of the band’s name, working with PledgeMusic, the release of their latest album You Are We, and their forthcoming tour of the UK

Aaran McKenzie, is the bass player with While She Sleeps, an English metal core band from Sheffield. Formed in 2006, other band members are vocalist Lawrence Taylor, guitarists Sean Long and Mat Welsh, and drummer Adam Savage.

They have released one mini-album, The North Stands For Nothing in 2010, and two studio albums; This Is The Six and Brainwashed, in 2012 and 2015 respectively. Their third album, You Are We, was released in April 2017. They also received the Best British Newcomer award at the Kerrang! Awards 2012.

Whilst busy with the release of their new album and forthcoming tour, he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Aaron how are you?

Hi Kevin I’m okay thanks how are you?

I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s okay no problem.

And how is life treating you today?

Not too bad, in fact all is great at this moment in time. The new studio album is ready and waiting to be released, and I am at the minute busy in our warehouse getting all of the products and merchandise ready to send out to the fans and also to take on tour with us. So as you can imagine I’m very busy but it’s all great.

Has the excitement kicked in yet for the tour?

Yes it has, but we have now released four songs and every release now does manage to cause a little excitement. However, this time we are all so busy getting the merchandise ready for the tour we really haven’t had the chance to think about anything else (laughter). For example, we have just had three thousand CD’s arrive at the warehouse which we have got to sign every one of them and then make sure that they are mailed out to the fans who have bought them. That sounds like a drag but its cool because we haven’t seen them yet. I am really excited to see the finished product and actually hold a physical copy of the album for the first time. That will be really cool (laughter).

I have to ask you While She Sleeps, where did the name come from?

(Laughter) it’s a bit of a funny story really. When we were all seventeen for some reason, and please don’t ask me why, we were all sat around reading a few women’s magazines at Mat’s (Welsh) dads house. It was at the same time that we were trying really hard to find a name for the band. On the cover of one of these magazines was the lead story that a guy had been cheating on his girlfriend, she had found out about this, she drugged him and then while he was asleep she had chopped off his genitals. The actual headline was ‘she had castrated him while he was sleeping’. We all thought that it sounded good so we changed it to While She Was Sleeping and then after a while we shortened it to While She Sleeps.

We really did try to make it sound more meaningful and relate to mother earth because it is always night time somewhere in the world. Half of the world is always sleeping so we thought that the ‘she’ in the title could refer to mother earth and it would be While She Sleeps. After such a ridiculous way of us coming up with the name we tried to put more meaning behind it. We also likened the name to a ship that has sunk in the ocean. People always refer to ships as she so the she is a boat that has sunk and is now resting at the bottom of the ocean, hence While She Sleeps.

You have described yourselves as being best mates since school, after eleven years on the road is that still the case?

Yes, it is most definitely still the case yes. We bicker every now and again but that is because we spend more time with each other than we do anybody else. We are almost family because we see each other far more than we see our actual families and girlfriends. It’s natural that you are going to have a fall out every so often but we really are more like family than anyone, and as you know you don’t fall out with your family for very long. We have remained friends since school and I think that’s why it’s easy to continue with the music. Don’t get me wrong there are times when things aren’t going so well, or they haven’t done in the past, but we got through it because we had each other. We tend to pull each other through the bad times. We are on a real high at the minute and long may it continue.

The band formed back in 2006, now some eleven years down the line are you happy with where the band is at this moment in time?

Yes absolutely. We are all very happy with where we are at the moment. Like you say it has been eleven years so we have seen a lot, done a lot, and in the early years we were just playing the pubs and clubs on the local scene in and around Sheffield and Doncaster. Then in 2009 we got offered an actual tour around the UK whilst we were all still working jobs and studying at university. It was at that point that we all made the decision to take this thing seriously. It was all that we had ever wanted; it was our dream. So we all decided to quit our jobs, leave university and go into this full-on. However, our original singer had other commitments so he left the band and we then recruited Lawrence (Taylor).

Also at that point we started touring. It’s been a long road but we are all extremely happy with where the band is now. This is our fourth release; our first full-length album that we are responsible for and it really couldn’t be going any better for us. Our career is most definitely on the climb and we are just about to embark upon a very heavy year of touring which is going to take us to some great places. So as you can probably tell we are extremely happy with where we are today (laughter).

On the subject of touring haven’t you recently got back from Australia?

Yes that’s right we were supporting Bring Me The Horizon over there. It was our first time back to Australia in four years. Our fan base over there seems to have grown since our last visit which is nice to see. We are actually going back in July and we are all looking forward to that (laughter).

Did you manage to get over to Perth or did you give that a miss this time?

We were last in Perth back in 2013 so we decided to give it a miss this time around. We actually got incredibly sunburnt the last time that we were in Perth. We all decided that it would be a good idea to go down to the beach and try some surfing without wearing sun cream. On top of all that we got chased out of the water by a shark. It was the most clichéd Australian day ever (laughter). I actually suffered with third degree burns all over my back and we had to play a show the next day. It was pure hell having my guitar strap rubbing against the blisters. Then to make it worse we travelled home after the gig and that meant spending twenty-four hours sitting down; I was in total agony (laughter).

Your new studio album You Are We is ready for release. Are you all happy with the finished product?

Yes we are in fact we are extremely happy with the album. As I mentioned earlier it is our first full-length album that is solely down to us and I have to say that it really does feel like we have grown with each release. This album is most definitely our most mature release to date. It is also our most developed sound that we have ever had so yes, we are all really happy with it. The recording process for this album was different from our past releases because we actually built ourselves a warehouse. We took over an empty warehouse; somewhere we could stretch our legs and hopefully turn it into a creative hub, somewhere we could bounce off each other’s vibes.

It is now our headquarters which we have built from scratch inside with our own hands. Every time that we got home from a tour we would all go straight down to the warehouse and carry on with the building works. We now have a custom built recording studio in there, together with a living room and a kitchen. There is everything in there that you could possibly need. We wrote and recorded the new album in there using our very own recording studio so we all now feel like we have a sense of accomplishment. We feel proud of this album because we actually built the place that it was recorded in. We feel that it is the most developed that we have ever been as musicians, as we have grown our music has grown with us.

Have you enjoyed the experience of working with PledgeMuisc?

Yes it’s been an amazing experience. PledgeMuisc have been absolutely amazing to work with. We decided that we didn’t want to go down the major label route again, not that its bad, it just didn’t seem to work for us. We were always finding ourselves being the small fish in a very big pond and didn’t feel that we were getting the attention that we deserved. So when we got released from our last major contract it actually felt like a blessing in disguise. When I was fourteen if anyone had told me that I would be dropped from a major record label I would have said “what the hell are you talking about” (laughter). But it just wasn’t for us and so we didn’t want to go back down that route.

We felt that we have enough of an established fan base to allow us to go independent and thought that PledgeMusic would be the right move for us. They seem to be more focused on acts like us so we all thought that joining them would be the right move for us. We had a meeting with them, we all hit it off and they have been an absolute pleasure to work with. We have found them to be very attentive, very competent, and I personally don’t think that it would have been as much of a success if we hadn’t been working with PledgeMuisc.

As a band are you always writing?

Yes we are, we are all constantly writing and trying to be creative but to be honest with you we never really think about it. We never set out to record in a certain way. We never think about which style we are going to write or play in, we simply let it come out. It is what it is. After the album has been released and the dust settles we will all be writing once again. We will be writing whilst we are out on the road, when we are at home, in the warehouse, we are all constantly writing. We won’t be writing specifically for a new studio album, it is just what we have been like since the beginning, we are always writing (laughter).

You will be playing at the Rescue Rooms here in Nottingham on Wednesday 10th May. What can we expect?

(Laughter) well you can expect blood, sweat, tears, passion; in fact you will see a show packed full of passion. The stage is where we go to release a lot of tension, other people will meditate or do yoga but the thing that really clears our heads is being in that moment on stage. Once we are up there on stage we are not thinking about anything negative such as the bills that have to be paid or any worries at all, when we are in that moment it is just us and the people who have come along to enjoy this moment with us. So what I would say to anyone who is thinking of coming along to the show, expect a hell of a lot of passion.

This summer you will be playing both Reading and Leeds festivals. Does that excite you?

Yes it does, that should really be amazing. That will most definitely be a milestone in our musical career. For us to be headlining a stage at both Reading and Leeds is really amazing for us. Leeds is just on our doorstep and we always used to go to that festival every year when we were teenagers. We have played the main stage at the Leeds Festival four times now but for us to be headlining is just like a tick off the bucket list. We are all absolutely chocked, it is going to be amazing.

On the subject of you playing festivals, do you ever set out to write an anthemic song?

Yes we do. When you are writing a new song sometimes you have to think about crowd reactions and what parts they can sing along to. Don’t get me wrong the song will come naturally but then you will think it is at this point that we need to put a good singalong part in there. So I guess that you could say that half of the song is planned out whilst the other half comes naturally.

Why do you think so many great bands come out of Sheffield?

I think that there must be something in the water (laughter). I think that Sheffield has got that perfect mix of nature and urban mix. On our doorstep we have got the Peak District so one minute you can be in the city centre surrounded by cool art spaces, people and arty shit, and draw inspiration from that but then you can drive five minutes from the city centre and be surrounded by nature in the Peak District which is such a beautiful place. That definitely inspires us. It is just like a breath of fresh air and I personally feel that is what gives us an edge in our music. And don’t forget that Sheffield has recently been named the happiest city in the UK (laughter).

Who has musically inspired you?

That would have to be a band called Thrice. They were hugely inspirational to us when we were growing as a band. They were the first band that I listened to who I thought answered a lot of questions and resolved a lot of problems. They definitely inspired us to think differently, think outside the box which is why we sing about our perspective on world problems.

What was the first record that you bought?

That would have been the Sticks And Stones album by American rock band New Found Glory. I absolutely loved them and in particular this album when I was growing up.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

Oh god this could be embarrassing, it was a band called Violent Delight and I was thirteen years old (laughter). They were playing at the Corporation in Sheffield. Let’s just say that they were a quick phase that I was going through (laughter). So yes, that was my first ever gig.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

That’s easy, the last song that made me cry was Samson by Regina Spektor.

On that note Aaron let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been a pleasure. You take care and I hope to see you here in Nottingham.

Thank you Kevin, it’s been a pleasure. You take care and I might see you in Nottingham.