While You Were Sleeping, the New York metal quintet's eighth studio album, easily sets them apart from their peers within the genre, and likens them more with acts like Coheed & Cambria. You see, While You Were Sleeping is a concept record, with a story that's the brainchild of vocalist Carley Coma.
Coma spent months watching movies and shows like The Twilight Zone in order to research the proper way to tell a story, while dedicating hours and hours of time conveying his vision to his bandmates and constructing each character as intricately as possible. The result is an hour-long sci-fi epic that takes place in the social-media infiltrated world of America. We got to speak backstage with Carley Coma at the Vans Warped Tour earlier this month, where we talked about the work that went into bringing While You Were Sleeping to life.
Let’s talk about While You Were Sleeping. A big thing for me, with lyricists, is looking at their words and seeing where they were at that point in time. What was the process for you, this time around, in terms of channeling lyrics and what you were feeling at that time?
Once I made the decision that it was going to be a concept album, I started doing a lot of research in regards to watching what was going on in the news, seeing how society was shifting in America. [I was] looking at some of the things that had happened in my life, and at things that had happened in the lives of my friends. I was doing that just so I could start building characters. from the bottom-up, inside out, so to speak. I started focusing on character and characterization. The thing that really fascinated me was the character aspect, because characterization is basically going, “Oh I can do this, or this, what do I look like externally?” Character is that determines the person you are. Say you’re creating a character who is very nice, but you find out he’s a thief. Let’s say there’s a pocketbook there [on the table]. Will you take it? That right there determines your character.
That was really fascinating to me, as was creating the world and the external circumstances within it. One of the first things I realized was that my imagination was set free. On previous songs, I would pick a topic, write that one song about that topic. Creating a world? Oh, anything goes. I’d have a pigeon come in with a suit if I wanted to. (laughs)
You have no limit in terms of what you can do in terms of story. When did the idea first start kicking around in your head to do a concept record?
You wanna hear how funny this is? When I was in a band with Grayson [Hurd, guitarist for Lightworker], we wrote a song called “Porcelain”. Basically, from verse one, it was about a girl who was chasing her dreams or whatever. By verse two, she was a prostitute. I discovered, “wow, I could really write a story”. That was years ago, I think that was 2011 or 2012. Fast forward to 2016, when the Candiria guys approached and said, “Do you want to write a new record for Metal Blade [Records]?” After some convincing, I said yeah. I thought, what haven’t I done? What have I wanted to sing about? I thought, let me write a concept album. I based it off of that character that I created when I was in the band with Grayson. Of course, I tweaked it so that I wouldn’t get sued. (laughs) But from there, that was basically the genesis of the idea.
In terms of explaining the ideas and the characters within the story, would you be able to explain a summary of what the story is about?
The main protagonist in the story is named Mereya. She’s very much a rockstar, going for the things that she wants, but within this current social media generation. She falls into the difficult pitfalls of drugs, without mentioning it outright, but I just kind of leave hints. Her mother, who is the moral figure in her life, whose kind of just trying to pull her back, but letting her know that there’s a storm coming. She senses in her soul that something cataclysmic is going to happen. So by song number three, the mother wakes up and she hears a loud siren, and sees a light coming from the Empire State Building.
On top of it, there’s a dark figure who sets his throne on top of the building. The figure starts brainwashing all of New York through social media, their tablets, their smartphones. Their pupils turn white, and almost everyone is brainwashed. The mother then starts to lead a revolution.
That could totally be a comic book. How long did the story take to come together?
It took about a year. I first started the character Mereya with the same idea of a rock star becomes prostitute. Then I thought, “nah, rock star/drug addict makes more sense.” I read this book called Story by Robert McKeen. It explained the fundamentals of writing a great screenplay. I read that book forty times, and then I started doing research, watching movies, watching The Twlight Zone, because Rod Serling is one of my favorite writers. It’s one of the best shows ever. I started taking stuff from there. I wanted to make sure that I didnt’ have a cliche ending, I wanted to make sure that there was a twist in there, and that’s how I approached it.
One of the things I told all of the guys in my band was, “Look at every riff as a camera angle.”
Interesting! I’ve never heard that before.
Oh yeah, I’m crazy. (laughs) I said, “I want you to approach every riff as a camera angle, and I want you to approach every song as if we’re directors. Don’t approach it like a songwriter. Approach it like every song is a part to a great film.” There were some struggles, because they still didn’t completely get it. But that’s the thing about having a vision: the hardest part is explaining it to someone else.
Additionally, Grayson did the artwork for the album. He probably got the story before my band members did. And I would tell him all of these crazy visions, and he would go, “yeah, that’s pretty much it!” (laughs) And he would get it down right away.
What were some of the movies you were watching and pulling inspiriation from?
I was looking at Braveheart. It has that “heroic to the point of death” kind of character. I thought of Joan of Arc. I love Batman; I love The Dark Knight series of films. There’s so many great lines in that movie, in terms of overcoming your fears and transforming who you are into who you want to be. I said onstage today that the difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do. I watched tons of The Twilight Zone. I watched Fringe and Lost. One of the things that I loved about the show Lost was the backstory. I wanted to make sure that every character had a backstory, except for the main villain, because we’re going to focus more on him for album two. I want him to remain a mystery.
Last two questions: what kind of message, if you have one, would you like fans to walk away with after listening to While You Were Sleeping?
Sometimes, with the things that we chase after, you can’t make them your God. That’s the story that I’m at least going through with Mereya, this character whose like, “I want this, I want this, no matter what the cost, even if I have to stab someone in the back or sell my soul for it.” There’s so many things going on in the industry that people don’t know about, like….I’ve heard stories from people in the industry about female artists having to sleep with producers to get their career going and whatever. It’s like…don’t sell yourself and don’t lose yourself in the process of chasing after your dream. Not everyone’s supposed to be a rockstar, and you can be fine with that. Just don’t lose yourself in the midst of chasing your dream.
What does music mean to you?
It’s an extension of your soul, so to speak. It’s basically that avenue, that vehicle that you have that allows you to influence you the world. I’ve heard (and from what I know, this is true) that music was so powerful that even during Roman Times, [musicians] would sit at the same places as politicians. And even if you go to, let’s say a spiritual sense, the book of Ezekiel in the Bible, when God created Lucifer, before he became Satan, He made him a musician.
Music is so powerful. It changes the times, and it’s an expression of the times, whether you agree with it or not. It’s a mirror of what’s going on in the world. To me, music is more powerful than the Internet and politics, in a sense. Look what MTV did. Whether you agree with it or not, it shifted a whole culture. Look what Nirvana did.