Jason Williamson interview part 2 – “This country is having an identity crisis.”
In the second part of our interview with our guest editor from Sleaford Mods, Jason destroys the government, poseur bands and a bunch of other things.
Where were we? Ah yes: Sleaford Mods aren’t just the best musical act in the county, but the best musical act of our era.
The fact they remain something of a cult only serves to illustrate how standout they are. They literally stand out, apart, from the music industry, its methods, the niceties, the safe decorum. Truly, when being ‘outspoken’ today means saying very carefully crafted platitudes to a ‘highly engaged’ social media following, Sleaford Mods are one of the few acts willing to tell the truth. Of course this means it often isn’t pretty, isn’t particularly amenable to Graham Norton appearances. The words they spit are often of the potty variety, which doesn’t help on this front, and for a long time meant they were branded as twisted or thick; mostly, you have to assume given the fact swearing is hardly a shocking concept anymore, because of a regional prejudice: the swears sound harsh coming out the mouth of a working class man from the Midlands. Ghastly. Jason Williamson has always been fully aware of all this, of course, and plays on it massively. His disgust with the way the world meant his expression had to be disgusting as a result, to both hold a mirror to that world and also to shout his disgust right back at it; if people were offended by him the feeling was mutual. But really, what a lot of people missed, those put off by the disgusting disgust, was the bounce.
The music bounced. The lyrics bounced. It all had verve, attitude, danceability and hilarity at every turn. Jason found that by embracing the horrible crappy reality, not escaping it by, say, pretending to be a guitar hero stood on a cocaine mountain in BlowJobLand, but by bringing that messy chaos straight into the songs, un-cut…well it wasn’t an escape but it was transcendent. Even unpleasant truths can set you free. Sleaford Mods revelled in that truth, shoved it in people’s faces, and while many remained revolted, those that got it realised we had the latest in a great British tradition – those willing to say Britain is crap. Not those joining in with the jolly old glory fantasy world of Blighty, but those who puckishly pulled it apart, ridiculed it, prodded it, exposed it, pulled its pants down; because they give a shit about people and don’t care for a parade of lies: George Orwell, DH Lawrence, Sex Pistols, Alan Moore, Francis Bacon, Philip Larkin, even Carry On films…all that alternative British history of filthy comedy, anti-authoritarian rage, and mundanity gone wild. Sleaford Mods are echo of the mob pamphleteers, satirical cartoonist, and hooting corner drunks, the purveyors of stories no-one at the top wants to hear but which delights everyone down in the shit.
Of course they’ve been around a while now, have some cash, are living nicer lives, but it has not diminished them, has in fact only given them a bit of grounding to ensure they don’t self-destruct and die as may have been expected of them. Survival now is the ultimate rebellion, to live and keep the bounce going.
And so we find ourselves at Spare Ribs and part two our interview with our esteemed guest editor Jason…
Can you tell us about the phrase Spare Ribs, and what you wanted to put across with that?
It was a line that conjured an image of exploitation. Of us being consistently oppressed, used, thrown about. That clearly came into play with the unnecessary death toll in this country. What was it, another 1000 people died yesterday? What the fuck? [Boris] was having meetings about this as early as January, and told it was going to be serious but it was just ignored, and why was it ignored? My only thought was – apart from the fact he’s not a leader, he’s fucking useless, and the people around him aren’t too sharp either – was that he was worried about the economy. The economic model comes first.
It was in the times where he said on the TV, ‘Some of the people you know will die.’ I just thought we are potential collateral for the economic model, at any one time. We are dependent on our status, our strength in the game – if we are surrounded by a decent financial brick wall then that will secure our position but if we’re not, if we fall through it, if we’re weak, if we’re on the poverty line or if we’re homeless or elderly or defenceless, the chances are we’re going to suffer and perish.
So I started thinking about that and the imagery of death, of bones, and then I came around to the idea of spare ribs. It’s also a homage to the old Chinese restaurant as a kid. But mainly the idea that people can remove some ribs and carry on, and the economic model can remove 2 or 3 million people if it needs to, in order to preserve itself, and carry on.
Did you feel it was an open discussion was that people will be lost but its ok because it’s not the important people it’s the old people or ill people or poor people?
Yes, basically. They’re never going to be completely honest about it are they? But it just enraged me that someone like Johnson was telling me that I might lose close ones. This buffoon from Eton, who was all by accounts a fucking idiot who walked around in a pool of arrogance, clueless. What’s he done with his life? Nothing. He’s just been given positions to exist in, like they all have. That enraged me even more.
It’s really turned this country on its head hasn’t it? Because on the one hand you have the people who believe in this, that want this, that are submissive that still want to work in the grounds of the mansion. And then you’ve got other people who are realising this isn’t right. This country is having a deep identity crisis isn’t it?
When things are chaotic and scary people try to cling to the old authorities though don’t they?
Yes I’m aware – somebody has to run the country and obviously it’s hard but fucking hell, come on, things have to go back on the table. If things continue as they are we’ll be bereft of everything. There’ll be no meat on the bones of this country in another fifty years, it will just be a very pale imitation of what a healthy country used to look like.
Let’s talk about ‘Nudge It’ and it’s very funny video – people perhaps forget the joy in what you do, not just the one liners and humour but the joy in pulling people apart…
Yeah, it’s that unreasonable critique that borders on unintelligent! It’s got holes in it of course, and to a certain degree you shouldn’t be saying it – and that’s just brilliant.
When there’s lots of musicians ticking boxes and putting on a false front, there is a real pleasure in see that pulled apart – is that one of your key things?
Oh god yeah and all the way through. I don’t think that will change – they don’t listen to do they? They’re like lemmings, they just keep coming out of the fucking door. If it’s not that cunt it’ll be someone else in another year. But then you’ve got the year’s previous cunt, these other previous poseurs gathering around the current poseur, showing support.
I’m like a stuck record sometimes, but there’s a reason why I am. That message has got to carry on, it’s got to prevail. You’ve got to be creative with it, and it’s interesting, it’s not just an out and out attack, it’s funny as well. It means a lot to go against things. Nobody wants to offend each other now. It’s so transparent and clearly the ideas have been hijacked in such a heinous way that it makes you feel insecure about your own job. If many more of these fuckers get in, the balance is just going to tip. There’s going to be no room for people who belong in it.
Is the risk that all this self-conscious posturing filling up air space makes it unreal perpetuates a mediocrity?
Yeah, people step away from it. Or the message gets so confused with banalities and with generalisations and cliches. In my defence there’ll always be a chance for people to come out of nowhere and set the record straight again, but you find these people have to work twice as hard. The gatekeepers are usually of the ilk of the enemy, do you know what I mean?
Which brings us to the collaborators on your album, like Billy Nomates, and Amy Taylor – is it important to you to bring in and highlight the people who are the real deal?
Yeah, I’ve become more and more interested in listening to women doing music. As a man you have to force yourself to do that initially because you’re so used to just listening to other men, you can be influenced chiefly by male groups or male artists. Trying to connect with female artists was like going against the grain. It’s there isn’t it, this patriarchy? Because I’m a male, subconsciously I’m in that boat.
Billy Nomates I liked because of the old soul stuff and 80s soul I was getting into with the last album – her vocal really reminded me of that. She got in touch with Andrew a couple of years ago and sent him some music and he was passing it on, saying she’s really good. We were big fans of her.
Amy – I really like Amyl and the Sniffers, especially the way Amy writes her lyrics. She doesn’t say a lot but she does. They’re really basic observations but done in such a clever way, and there’s not many people who can do that.
We’d talked about the idea of collaborations with Rough Trade. We wanted to get a female in but who? I was worried it would fall on it’s face then I wrote Mork n Mindy and tried to do the chorus myself but it just didn’t work. It sounded a bit odd. So I asked Tor [Billy]. I’d done a collaboration on her album and she did it in about half an hour. She came up to Nottingham and it was just brilliant. She really steals the show with it – that and Nudge It are the best songs on the album for me. With Amy, we talked about it online if she wanted to do something. She sent me some stuff back it wasn’t quite right, we kept working on it, and at the final hour it clicked, she nailed it.
What about having Lisa McKenzie speaking on a track?
I’ve known Lisa for years – she’s a working class academic and immerses herself in working class culture totally. And I just wanted her energy on it at some point.
Looking from where you came from to where you are now, do you still feel like an outsider?
I think so, I don’t feel like part of the community. It’s really hard in this game there’s not a lot of people I get on with. Because the ego thing is so rife people can get offended easily, or make assumptions about what someone may have said online, or what somebody said in a text message – people get so offended that you don’t form any solid relations.
You go to an award shows and totally feel like an outsider because it’s just full of kiss arses, and people I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw.
How do you see the band evolving, or will you always just take things as it comes?
I take it as it comes, I don’t worry about it because I know it will just happen.
I think some preplanning is a good idea. Talking to people is a good idea. Talking with Rough Trade helped me focus on what we do need and what we don’t need. We talked about producers and mixers but we don’t need them. We just need good ideas and I don’t think we’d get that from a producer, they’d just fuck it up.
Obviously the collaboration thing was a good way of stretching our production palette. But Andrew seems to excel in what he does between each album anyway. He’ll bring things to the table that are sometimes subtle and you have to think he’ll keeping switching that up.
We’ve been going for 6 albums with a formula that isn’t very cluttered. There’s not a lot of things to pull out of it, but we still seem to be creating interesting stuff. I just let it be what it is and not worry too much.
Spare Ribs is out now on Rough Trade.
This interview is part of the Sleaford Mods guest edit of The Book of Man. Thanks so much to Jason, Claire, and Jamie Woolgar for making it happen – it’s been a joy.
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