The successes of the Sleaford Mods are derived from their industry as well as their authenticity. After a decade of slogging away recording on various small labels and performing in any venue that would have them, this distinctly working-class northern English duo has now reached lofty plateaus in multiple respects. Their singular brand of rap, punk, and DIY sounds has a new home on Rough Trade, delivering them a different level of respect as well as a new standard to match. 2017 will also present their “anti-rock documentary” Bunch of Kunst that will showcase frontperson Jason Williamson and laptop instrumentalist Andrew Fearn in the plainest of milieus. The pair is embarking on their first ever tour through the States as well, staking their heady blend of anger, humor, and intentional inelegance in a country that is now facing issues paralleling Sleaford Mods’ most resonating themes. We recently spent time chatting with Williamson about these topics as well as his thoughts on the current climate in politics, music, and the duo’s place within it all.
Reading up about the inspiration behind the new Sleaford Mods’ album English Tapas, it seems like a direct shot as the classism that is not only going on in the UK, but in the States as well.
What’s it like in the States at the moment?
Oh my god…
(Laughs.) Say no more!
The wishes of the administration… I mean, I don’t even like to say his name… Right now, he wants to take away all of this funding for the arts, education, environmental efforts. Of course, it is up to the legislative branch of our government.
Do you think (Congress) will allow this to go through?
Well, they are made up of the same political party like the Tories for you. (Republicans) are so closely tied to the interests of business. In my mind, business and government should have much more separation.
I feel like I am doing most of the talking here! My apologies.
No, no! I have a lot of lengthy chats with people from the Americas who have called for interviews. Not like the interview is going off boil. It is just interesting to get your viewpoints. We can press on with the questions.
No worries. It seems that the directive of Sleaford Mods comes out of pointed frustration. I am wondering what the themes were behind English Tapas and if there is anything you would like to share on that topic.
Basically, I was just trying to get the energy of the country at the time. In the summer of 2016 when Tapas was written, there was Brexit. Things were bad before Brexit, but when it happened, the doors were closing. I wanted to try and capture that feeling. In that, I wanted to bring across my own directionlessness as an individual.
Did you have the feeling you should be “doing more”?
It was exploring my own inefficiencies and then connecting that to where I was, in England during the summer where we just voted to become independent (from the European Union).
From my point of view, as an American, that despite its faults and issues, the whole of it was a good thing, that gave stability both economically and politically.
That is what I was drawn to. What I liked about being in the EU was the feeling of being connected to people overseas in any capacity. To break away from that is just uncalled for. I just felt we didn’t need to separate from our brothers and sisters from across the pond. Plus, we don’t even have a plan!
Absolutely, I can relate to that. And your guy with the moptop, Boris Johnson.
Yeah, he’s a fucking idiot.
He’s your Trump!
He sits there, rattling off imperialistic quotes about (Brexit). “We are going to be great without it! We are going to stand tall!” Just bullshit. But, of course, it was bad before that. It is wasn’t Brexit, then something else would have happened. As a country, we are massively in debt. Banks, money, weapons. We are entering a dark period, I think.
As we are (in the US)…
Yeah, and I wanted to capture that on the record. And that is the driving force, with our music, is to represent these periods and to talk openly about them. That is what influenced me, more than anything seven or ten years ago (when the band started). I am getting more into the biting reality of life under capitalism, political parties, neoliberalism. I can’t sit and have a talk about these things extensively, but I can get these thoughts in a song and make the statement more powerful. I wanted to capture that and make a contemporary record and I think we managed to achieve that.
I agree. I became familiar with Sleaford Mods on the success of “Tied Up In Nottz” and as I read about it, it wasn’t just a play on words. It is about Nottingham, about northern English life. That twist and perspective is what is so entertaining about Sleaford Mods. Back then, the motive was much more angry and brutal. Now, it seems to lean more toward making a point rather than ranting angrily.
Yeah, we have grown up a bit. We have to, haven’t we? Before it felt dubious whether we could break out of that mold. We engineered that, but it was nice to know that we could.
With the move to Rough Trade, did you feel there was any push to change your sound or “up your game”?
Yeah, a little bit. I wanted to write a couple of singles for (the label). I had written singles before, but I wanted them to be proper singles, to make a bit more of an effort. I didn’t want it to be like the previous albums, because we have already done that. I thought it was time for us to be, not more commercial of course, but to be a bit more broader.
You are probably not going to be on pop radio or anything.
No that wouldn’t work, not unless something miraculous happens! It would be nice to fit into that arena of music. But that wouldn’t suit us.
Will all of these recent changes, are you ever worried about losing that dedicated fan base that were originally attracted to your “working class” roots?
No, if people want to think we are shit now, that’s their problem. We haven’t sold out. We haven’t turned into wankers. I would expect that people who liked us before still like us. If they didn’t, that feeling is usually masked by some kind of emotion, jealousy or envy. People like that will always try to attack things, but they have no argument. Know what I mean? The motivation behind that is depression perhaps. They aren’t happy with themselves, so they attack other people. That’s what I used to do, when I used to troll people. I was a wanker, so I know where they are coming from. We would like it if fans stuck around, but if they decide we are twats, fair enough!
I totally understand what you are saying. As a music writer, I don’t waste my time slagging on music, writing about things I don’t like, pointing out things I don’t feel are “authentic”. I would much rather talk about artists that are genuine, that are breaking a mold. In the end, who am I? I’m not even a musician. I am just a writer who happens to be a tremendous music fan. I could never throw some poor musician under the bus.
That’s admirable, because there are a lot of them that do. And I really like writing when it is intelligent. If they are going to criticize someone, at least be intelligent. Much of it is so bad, it depresses you a little bit. We got away with it mostly on this album, most of the reviews are good. But we got a few that were fucking terrible. The points they made were just stupid.
On English Tapas, I heard a bit of a change. It seems to me that Andrew beats have made a kind of a shift. The earlier sound tended to be a bit more harsh and aggressive. The stuff he is doing on this album has more of a dub or post-punk, maybe even soulful and danceable? Was there a conscious effort on Andrew’s part to do that?
I haven’t asked him. I don’t…or rather… I never asked him! He just emails and says “I’ve got some new tunes” and he fires them over and I’ll say “That great” but I never discuss it with him.
It just works that way, you know? I think he knows what his ambitions are when he approaches a new set of tracks and just works from there.
It’s funny how he is just a silent figure in the background.
He definitely doesn’t want too much fuss. He hates interviews.
I would be intrigued to hear his answers on what inspires him. Wondering what if he is listening to some old Gang of Four songs, because that is what I hear on a couple of new tracks, some danceable Gang of Four basslines.
Andrew listens to some weird shit. He doesn’t tell me what he is listening to. Other people will actually tell me what he is into, and I will think “Fuck me, what’s he listening to that for?” (Laughs) Andrew is into stuff you wouldn’t think of. How he gets his influences, god knows. But it works.
What comes first, beats or lyrics?
They just both come separately. We just started demos again last week. They weren’t great at all yet. But that is how we start. Hopefully we can get a new single out by the end of the year. We will see what happens.
Another change I have noticed on certain songs is that you have calmed down the ranting a little bit. Maybe even sing a little bit on songs that lean a bit more personal or that tie to where you are at presently.
Yes. Some of Andrew’s contributions were a bit more mellow. It made me experiment more. Sometimes you just get sick of the sound of your own voice. A lot of our demos from around April (2016), a lot were spoken rants. I just got sick of that. We ended up not using a lot of them and stuck with the ones that progressed and stood out. It was the case of trying new stuff, trying a new vocal style. I can sing pretty well, but if it is not you, you just sound stupid. The newer sound on this album was more like me now. With that, I have a better scope to experiment and become more confident moving forward.
Reading up on your history, you started out in bands before Sleaford Mods. You stated that you hated the band life and your position as a warbling frontman and from that, you wanted to shout a bit. Now you are going back to singing and I am not sure if that came from age or the song’s theme or maybe it just suited Andrew’s beats.
I was encouraged by what I heard (from Andrew) and it was interesting. It sounded different, a bit fresher but not veering too far from what we were doing. But the base of it was still really strong. So we pushed it a bit, but not too much. We don’t have a producer or outside influences. So if we pushed it too much now, I’d be afraid I would make a mistake. I have thought about getting a producer, perhaps improve the sound. I am at the point now, vocally, that I am not always sure where to go next. But, I think we still work well, the two of us as a unit without that.
Well, that is part of the attraction. The simplicity, the construct. Two guys, a laptop, your vocals, speaking your mind. That is what makes Sleaford Mods so special.
Well, thank you.
This is your first tour of the United States. Is there any goals you have or any impression you want to make?
We are just happy to do it. We want to create a good impression, of course. It will be interesting to have the experience and to see what happens.
Do you have any concerns about how Sleaford Mods’ music will translate live to our audiences?
Not really. Like, I am not really concerned about understand a rapper from the States coming over (to England). There would be some things that vocalist would do and say, in a vocabulary sense, that would alienate me. But I would appreciate it for what it is. I am sure Americans would do the same.
I am sure. Just wondering if there was any nervousness or apprehension.
No, not at all. Just hoping we can get through customs! (Laughs)
Any bands or artists that you have heard recently that you want to share?
There is a band from Bristol called Idles, they are quite good. Also, there is some grime artists out now that are really good. A guy called Giggs with a 2016 album out called Landlord that is great as well.
Thanks for the recommendations and your time!
4/1 Toronto/The Opera House
Keep up with Sleaford Mods here.