Sleaford Mods: ‘People need to be reminded of life, don’t they?’

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Sleaford Mods: ‘People need to be reminded of life, don’t they?’

Sleaford Mods
Words by Niam Hegarty

We spoke to the always-candid Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods from his hotel room in New York mid-tour about the nature of success, why he believes his band have resonated with so many, the new live EP, Sleaford Mods returning to Australia, and his fear of spiders.

What’s it been like touring with Sleaford Mods, post-Covid or during Covid?

I mean we’ve been up-to-now fortunate that none of us have got it but we’re still travelling in a bubble, can’t really have anybody backstage. I mean to be honest it’s a bit of a god send because you don’t really want to be meeting and greeting people on a tour, you just can’t be arsed after a while. You know what I mean? It’s work, you know, we’re not like 21 or whatever getting arseholed which is what you should be doing, you know, but this kind of suits us.

In the documentary Bunch Of Kunst (the 2017 documentary about Sleaford Mods) I remember your manager at the time was going on, “this band shouldn’t be popular, it doesn’t make any sense.” Is it weird making it, later in life, as a musician? 

Yeah, it’s weird as fuck. We didn’t expect it, we didn’t actually expect it so it’s really weird; it was a massive surprise but kind of almost made it like fairy-tale, do you know what I mean?  Where it came out of the blue and all your dreams were answered in a very short space of time, like, six months, less than that probably – all your dreams that you’d ever wanted were answered.

And I’m not for one second rubbishing the effect that my wife and my children have had on me but professionally, as a career, as something you want to do with your life. Most people, you just don’t expect ever to be successful, especially in this game.  So, to achieve that, but to achieve it on a level where we kickstarted a whole new sound, we kind of woke up the English music scene a little bit or we were partly responsible for that anyway, to have that under your belt as well that’s just brilliant.

So, were you part of a scene coming up or were you outliers?

No, we were just on our own and all I wanted to do was – I was interested in rap music, I was interested in punk, I was interested in Two Lone Swordsmen, which are an electronic duo from England. But I was interested specifically in their album, Tales From the Double Gone Chapel which lent heavily towards post-punk, and obviously I mixed that with the punk and the rap influence and that’s what made Sleaford’s sound predominantly, over Andrew’s beats.

When I met Andrew he customised what I had in my head, tailored it to his own ability and he invented the sound that you hear today. So, it was largely accidental that it sounded post-punk, I was influenced by people who were listening to post-punk but I never for one minute thought about post-punk, I just didn’t.

I was just us really, Fat White Family in London had similar stuff, just trying to break the mould of what had become so stale in England, the aftermath of Britpop, the aftermath of the New York scene – the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes. There was a bit of a cavity in England, there wasn’t much going on.

It seems like many of the big, exciting bands at the moment shouldn’t be popular in a traditional pop sense. Why do you think this has happened in this current climate?

It’s just done properly, and I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but it’s just got the right amount of all the good things that we’ve put into a mixing pot, and we’ve just managed to create good music that people have connected with.  But also, it talks about the here and now, it’s not cliched, it’s not obvious.  I mean we’ve been going for 10 years but it’s still to me contemporary music, we still seem to keep changing.

And over the last couple of years there has been other stuff, we don’t mind being associated with Amyl & The Sniffers for one, other stuff in England, Billy Nomates, Dry Cleaning.  There’s stuff out there, all these bands you would consider they wouldn’t be in that central area, are now in that central area, and I suppose we have a little bit of a faint connection. But I don’t know why, they’re good songs they’re the here and now. People need to be reminded of life don’t they?

It talks about the here and now, it’s not cliched, it’s not obvious.  I mean we’ve been going for 10 years but it’s still to me contemporary music, we still seem to keep changing.

There’s a socio-political, working-class aspect to the lyrics. Do you think that’s part of it?

I don’t know really, it doesn’t necessarily have to be class-politics although we did deal in that heavily in the early days, still do to a certain degree. It’s just anything that reminds you of the here and now and the here and now just happens to be quite political. Everything just feels a bit more political now and I think that’s going to come out sooner or later in creativity.

You’ve just released a live EP, captured in November of last year. The EP features live versions of tracks such as ‘Mork N Mindy’, with Billy Nomates, and ‘Nudge It’, with Amy Taylor.

Yeah. It’s a digital EP, all of it was done at Nottingham Ice Arena last year on the Spare Ribs tour.  We released it for a bit of momentum really, I mean we really wanted to get it out because the recordings were great and then we used it as a bit of a reminder for the US tour.

We’re currently demoing a new album, hopefully that will be done by September and see where we go from there. Got a tour planned for Australia for next year and more touring in the States and all that. There’s lots in the pipeline but it’s, like, how do we keep this moving on in a way that means something as well? So, yeah, demo stages of doing albums are fucking horrible to be honest, but that’s the game.

Is that touring the most recent record or are you tracking something else?

Yeah, hopefully we’re going to have a new record, it will have at least been announced and the single will be out. I would have preferred to have come to Australia sooner but perhaps it makes more sense to come when you’re on a new album cycle. But we still haven’t played Spare Ribs out there so we could have got away with it, you know what I mean? But, hey, I don’t make all the decisions.

Sleaford Mods’ 11th album ‘Spare Ribs’ is a bruising appraisal of Britain’s current cataclysm

You mentioned your career is like a job. Do you feel there is still a place for rockstars, for people to be taken away from their daily lives through music?

I think if it’s valid, there [are] no rules. I used to be dead against it 10 years ago, it just used to annoy me but now I think if it’s valid, and I’m not talking about your cartoon highly-educated young people coming out of cushy lives but these images that young working-class people have pushed into the industry. You get a lot of these poseurs and that’s not right, but I think if it’s done properly then yeah. But there’s so many levels to this and it’s a discussion that you could have all night.

If you’re trying to hopelessly flog the idea of being strung out on drugs and living on the edge. I mean you might be strung out on drugs but you’re certainly not living on the fuckin’ edge. And what is that? I think it’s just patronising. I think it’s more if you connect with it, or is it something that you just want to put a costume on for a couple of years and jump around and tell people that you’re that person.

I don’t know and I’m sure you agree, but if you feel something it doesn’t matter what they are, where they’ve come from, if it’s good it’s good.

There are so many layers to it, I am fervently in favour of supporting working-class people in music because that’s where I come from. At the same time, how are you connecting to it? Are you any good? It goes with any class of person. The stakes are high for working class people to get into this industry, of course they are. But I mean, are working class musicians playing guitars? I wouldn’t think so.

So, you believe rock has gone out of favour?

I think to a certain degree, there are pockets of a revivalist interest in traditional instruments.

A lot of people have a misconception about bands like yourself that they’re secretly wealthy.

No, absolutely not. I’ve certainly got more money than I used to have but I can tell you now that I’m by no means rich. But, yeah, if you put me next to the average geezer who works in an office job then yeah, I’m earning more money. I’m not a millionaire but we are comfortable now, yeah, I guess that is rich to some people, but the misconceptions are massive.

They see you touring around the world and assume that you’re a fucking millionaire and it’s just not the case.

And yeah, I think that will keep happening, but it’s few and far between, you just get a lot of shit in the middle. And I’m not saying ‘we’re real, we’re good’, that’s bullshit, but you do find most stuff is shit, don’t you? And you put up with it, but it’s shit – it’s not saying anything.

I find it hard to predict what makes a band popular these days, for sure.

I think marketing is important, relentless PR, relentless touring, if you’ve got an image that looks okay it doesn’t matter what’s underneath to a certain extent. If you’re adhering to a pop formula of verse-chorus, it’s very easy to get away with a lot of shit, and if you are kind of stealing stuff and applying it to this model from other people, chances are you’ll become quite successful.  What do you want to be, do you want to be a cult band, or do you want to roam around in a Rolls Royce or something?

So, you haven’t met Liam Gallagher then?

No, I’ve got no interest. I’m playing with him actually in Athens so I might meet him then. But, no, I don’t really want to meet anybody I vaguely like, you generally don’t have anything in common with them and it’s a bit weird. You know what I mean?

Okay, thanks man, it’s been a pleasure. I’m going to end this on a very Australian note, a massive spider just crawled across my wall.

Fuck off, what a huntsman?

Yeah, a huntsman.

You’re fucking joking?

No, no, I haven’t seen anything like it in this place and it’s crawled right across so I’m going to have to go.

How big is it?

It’s quite big…it would take up maybe most of the palm of your hand.

Oh, fuck off that’s rank. Is that the first time you’ve seen one? Whereabouts are you calling from?

I’m in Melbourne.

Oh fuck. You know when we toured over there last year, every hotel room I went in I would look in all the towels, I would look behind the curtains, I would look in the bed and it was just horrible. People were saying ‘you’d be all right in the city, it’s when you get into the kind of country’ but obviously not.

That’s fucking grim, all right well I’ll let you get on. That’s fucking grim man, well you take care man.

Sleaford Mods – Live From Nottz Arena is out now via Rough Trade / Remote Control.