Sheffield metalcore merchants While She Sleeps’ new single ‘Nervous’ – ft Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil on guest vocals – deals with themes of anxiety, led by Guitarist Sean Long’s personal experiences.
The band hope this song can act as a medicinal tool for those going through tough times. Music Support speaks to Sean about his own struggles, how he began to manage symptoms through Eastern philosophy and why building awareness is key to progression.
Your new single ‘Nervous’ is described as: “A snapshot of fragility, exploring struggles with mental health.”
Sean – how did you come to the realisation that you were in fact dealing with anxiety?
It is common for a single ‘event’ or traumatic circumstance to set off those typical anxiety symptoms that are so hard to shake. For me, this happened on Warped Tour 2012 where I had my first ever panic attack after one of the hottest shows in Warped Tour history, following years of the stereotypical ‘rock star’ lifestyle of a bad diet, smoking, taking drugs and consuming alcohol. The panic attack in itself was awful but it was the anxiety that followed for years afterwards that almost destroyed me. Only after finding ways to see the light did I become inspired to talk about it – and to help others.
Panic attacks can be such a scary occurrence. Did the anxiety aftermath affect your role within the band? How did you approach this with your bandmates?
At the time, I was done. The band was off the table for me – for a while, at least. My friends and I were very confused as to what had happened. I couldn’t explain nor talk about the event, as I was so at the mercy of the experience – it had a complete hold on the way I moved in the world internally and externally. I know it was very hard for my friends to see.
How was the situation manifesting for you personally? Did you conclude that you had certain triggers to mindfully avoid?
For me it was a fear of having a similar thing happen again. That this huge panic attack would repeat and essentially kill me – this is what my mind had me believe. I had been ignoring a problem of shortness of breath for years before it, along with this stereotypical lifestyle which was the catalyst for my panic attack. It was a mind-generated feeling of “I can’t breathe” that haunted my life for years… simply because I was trying to avoid dealing with it internally.
We’re glad to hear that you’ve come through your darkest moments. Was there a tipping point at which you sought help?
There was a point when I went to my local doctors for maybe a fourth time regarding the issue and they handed me some anti-depressant tablets which I was eager to take at the time. After going home and reading about the side effects I decided I couldn’t take them. I’m aware such treatments can be effective for some people, but for me it didn’t feel right, despite the absolute pain I found myself in.
I was faced with the question of what to do. I couldn’t take the pain any longer, but I also couldn’t take the tablets. Thankfully, I wasn’t in a position where suicide was an option but the notion did present itself in a way that aided my decision to not give up on getting better.
I had to start looking internally. Thanks to my huge interest in Eastern ways of thinking, and philosophy, I found the courage to address the problem. Writers such as Alan Watts and Eckart Tolle helped me personally to understand the nature of my situation.
You’ve stated: “I would go so far as to say it’s the single most important song I’ve ever written in my life.” That’s a bold statement, so can you tell us why the messaging in ‘Nervous’ is so vital?
The song wrote itself in two days. No overthinking and no second-guessing. It’s as if it fell into my lap and, because of this, it gives me the feeling that it was meant to be somehow. The song is bigger than myself and the band, and it needs to be manifested in this world right now, so that’s the reason for my statement. I also think it’s due to the importance of the positive spin we’re putting on these emotions, which are often deemed to be negative. I think it’s going to be beneficial for a lot of people to join in, like a kind of therapy.
You’re joined by Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil on this single. He has said: “Nervous is a towering statement of intent for their new era.”
Praise indeed! Will WSS continue to encourage this open dialogue around ill mental health? Why is normalising the conversation so important in this new chapter with the band?
Half of my inspiration as an artist comes through the curious aspect of pain and how powerful it can be as a transformative tool when perceived in a new way. This is something myself and the band will always sing about and create around with future albums. We are all in this life together, so I feel we have a duty as artists to make something that hopefully inspires personal growth or soothes an individual’s pain. The individual comes first, then the collective.
Your next tour starts in May. Having had these experiences, will your approach to touring differ at all?
This has been with me for a long time now and is no longer problematic, so I will approach tours the way I always have. It definitely presents an opportunity to externalise these ideas in an energetic way on stage, which in itself for me is a form of therapy. During this lockdown situation, I definitely miss it.
There are many great charities out there, yet Music Support is the only specific for the industry, by the industry charity established for music industry professionals. Does knowing a charity like this exists bring comfort to you as a busy musician?
It does yeah, because artists are a very specific breed of human and a lot of the time we can be very sensitive. This is because if you want to be sensitive to the world around you in order to be creative and express emotions more deeply through music, you must also be susceptible to the sensitivities of pain and suffering. Not to mention the immense stresses of touring and even making music in itself, these things are almost mandatory in the industry for us artists because we all want to put our life into this art, so I think a place for us to go specifically is wonderful.
What advice would you give to your fellow peers if they’re struggling to initially access help for any mental health condition?
I would say even though it’s hard to see or feel this to be true in your reality, I believe there is a way through this pain for everyone. We are all different in terms of how we absorb help and what resonates with us as individuals. For me, it was a natural medicinal route, along with ‘spiritual’ teachings, from all walks of life that enabled me to understand clearly, not only my personal pain and problems, but the pain and problems of others.
It forced me to find a new joy in life. Sometimes the answer to the problem is right in front of you and can be very hard to see, so I urge people to become aware of what’s going on inside in order to make sense of how your thoughts and emotions may sometimes trick you into going to a dark place. We all need more awareness and light.
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