Sleaford Mods are the band of the era
Once cult anti-heroes on the fringes, Sleaford Mods are now releasing a fantastic new EP which shows them as the ultimate act of our era: an incensed bugle horn over Brexit Britain.
Some acts are way ahead of their time. Few would have ever considered Sleaford Mods that, with their angry politicised fringes-of-society argy-bargy electro-punk seemingly an anachronistic throwback to Suicide/Ian Dury/The Fall/PiL. But actually, as the country has given itself a Brexit artery slash, social media has all the decorum of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, and we’re all choked with the dark certainty that Things Are About To Get Much Worse, well, it seems Sleaford Mods were right all along. These soothsayers of doomsday called it, that we’re all being lied to by a government full of incompetent fools, trapped into lives pre-conditioned with the limitations of a society which exploits the many to protect the few. Sleaford Mods’ vision is simply reality – the veil has dropped.
Which isn’t to say that Sleaford Mods’ music is all doom and gloom. In fact, their new self-titled EP shows a continuing exploration into poppier territory, with hooks and humour amidst the violence and rage, that puts them perilously close to the edge – careful now! – of mainstream success. We spoke to the genuinely lovely and erudite Jason Williamson for a track by track of the EP and discovered the surprising information that his main influence for it was Luther Vandross.
How did the EP shape up?
Andy had started demo-ing right after ‘English Tapas’, and I was writing but it wasn’t quite coming together. Then around October-time last year I started moulding lyrics to the music Andy was sending. Just kind of writing about what meant something to me. As Sleaford Mods go on it’s important that we keep focused and intelligent – I write about local things, normal lives around my immediate environment, domestic situations, music, and social media.
So first track is ‘Stick In A Five And Go’…can you tell us about it?
It’s about the scourge of social media. The way things are is pretty much like when Indiana Jones is tied to the pole with all these beautiful angels around who then turn very quickly into demons. Social media is a double-edged sword for us – you need it for promotion but you can’t help responding to negative things and sticking up for what you believe in. It’s been a recurring theme, and I think this song nails it.
I spend a lot of the time feeling aggressive toward whatever’s happening online. I completely daydream about hitting people all the time. But when you get trolled you can’t do anything. Yet people have refined their cruelty so well that it still gets to you – what does that say about people? I didn’t want to discuss it in philosophical detail though, I just wanted to tell a story. So I created a character, who’s basically me, who tries his hardest to find this troll and kick his head in outside his front door. What I like about it is that’s all it is not a message of virtuous sloganeering flag-waving, it is what it is.
What has happened online?
There’s this barrage of human interaction that’s mostly negative. It’s directed anger by disappointed people that is brought on by whole host of things, like depression, low self-esteem, being swallowed up by a system that is becoming more and more vicious to anyone without a million in the bank. I wanted to get that in there. People have moaned about it saying a weak track but it’s not – we wanted to explore other areas so they can stick it.
Can you explain more about that?
Just moving away from the rants and rapping. Spitting lyrics still interests me but I wanted to cultivate strong pop songs – there’s good melodies throughout, there’s hints of that becoming more apparent, which is a real refection of me growing up as a kid in the 80s with all these pop bands.
Sleaford Mods have gone Duran Duran?!
[Laughs] Well the possibilities are open. I’ve been getting into Luther Vandross – there’s no reason why not to do that shit. That’s all work I’m opening up to.
There’s no fucking rules – this idea of punk, particularly the current idea of punk with all these guitar bands doing it, no names mentioned, but they’re so cliched and boring – oh fuck off, I don’t care what you’re doing for charity, it’s not powerful as a creative statement and a musical force. I’ve started to resent it. The true meaning of punk is doing what you want and being real about it.
Next track is ‘Bang Someone Out’…
It’s going back to ‘Stick In a Five And Go’, about how aggression is moulded by your environment. So the aggression is down to social factors, domestic factors, family factors but also the ongoing policies of right wing government, which are attaching themselves to it and using it – the lyric goes “the plague runs down from the hill up there” – the centralised government are giving out fuck all to towns and inner cities.
Feels like lots of dread in the country at the moment, like we’re all braced for the worse?
It completely really does. And it really angers me that media outlets never say anything about it – on the BBC news they still paint this failing government as integral and wise and looming large over its plans, but it’s fucking bullshit.
Next is ‘Gallows Hill’…
It’s about a war cemetery that is positioned on the top of the hill in Nottingham on Mansfield Road just outside the city. Before it was a cemetery, it was where they had a set of gallows, and all townsfolk would come out to see people getting hanged.
There’s a park around there now which is infamous for cottaging and sex workers and pimps – there’s a lot of drugs and misery and I was quite obsessed with the area. It has quite a heavy energy to it, so I wrote the song about how it makes me feel.
I’ve written some short stories for a book out soon called ‘Happy Days’ which has a story set on Gallows Hill – it’s a surrealist take on a day in the life of that place. I did research it, I hung around the graveyard which has these beautiful holes in it that go down 3 or 4 stories to the bottom, where there’s old soldiers’ graves on the floor.
How are you finding the story writing?
As the band took off I wrote articles for Vice and the Guardian, so writing started to become something I could do quite easily – though it took months to write the 13 stories. I did a small book called ‘Slabs of Paradise’ before, and the publishers just said do some more. I’m getting better and better at it.
— Sleaford Mods (@sleafordmods) September 13, 2018
Next is ‘Dregs’…
It’s about a time when I was a glass collector at the Heavenly Social in Nottingham. Back at the height of Heavenly Records, they opened 2 bars, one in London and one in Nottingham. I was glass collector and what I’d do was sweep up the leftover pints and put them at the side of the pot washer area, and drink them. I tied that into how people as a whole are increasingly living off dregs.
What do you mean?
People are going to be accepting dregs – things are becoming one dimensional, there’s less options, it’s all going down the sink with Brexit. There’s this feeling that we’re getting closed in, that the walls are going up.
Last song is ‘Joke Shop’…
I’m getting more and more into 80s R’n’B: Alexander O’ Neal and Luther Vandross. Andrew sent this tune over and I wanted to get some singing over it, but on the initial demos I was trying too hard so I stripped it back and did the more of my talking-singing. The song discusses those men friends, and I have one in particular, who are constantly fucking it up with addiction, and can’t get over it. And it’s about losing patience with those people and cutting ties because you can’t do anything for them, but then regretting that and asking why you can’t accept people for their faults and help them through it.
Do you think people self-destruct in difficult times?
Yeah I think people do, subconsciously. if you’re in a minimum wage job and you’re flat sharing or signing on – which is becoming impossible – then chances are you’ll take it out on yourself.
Is now the perfect time for Sleaford Mods?
I don’t think so, no. I really downplay myself and think this is it this is far as it’ll get, and it won’t be like the early days when it felt exciting as we were coming up. A lot of people are under the impression that this EP will go big, but I don’t know, I think the worst. I’m probably underestimating our own popularity but I only love it because the tunes are good, that’s all I care about.
You don’t think you could hit mainstream success?
I don’t think it’d ever happen. You have to put yourself in that position and do a certain amount of cliché and vacuous emptiness to make it work.
What do you think about men today – are they changing for the better?
Yeah to a certain degree. It’s an ongoing thing where the progress isn’t making a lot of noise but there’s definitely an undercurrent. It’s all about confidence, in the sense of the confidence to be yourself instead of the State’s dictation of what you should be as a man. But there’s certain things integrated from birth. And it’s also a fine line, because what’s wrong with going to the gym and having big muscles? What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with going into town and drinking with your mates if that’s what makes you happy?
The downside is when people are living a lie, living within a make-up that’s not suited to them and in the end it makes negative effects.
But it’s an undercurrent, it’s not a mass cultural shift – and to be honest you’d be suspicious about it if it was. The best things go unsaid, they go largely unnoticed as they change things.
But there needs to be more consciousness about women and the ongoing hostile war on women and crisis of misogyny which is still there in language, in mannerism, in belief, in the subconscious and it’s about being aware of that. I don’t even think I’m even 5% there, no way.
How have you changed as a man since stopping drinking? How did you deal with mates?
Well I stopped seeing all of them. I talk to a few on Whatsapp but never see any of my old friends because alcohol was the sole visible object on the landscape when you met any friend – it was what connected us to each other. You’re conditioned to meet your mates on a Thursday for 6 pints and not to talk about anything that matters just talk bullshit to let off steam, and pushing whatever’s bothering you to the back of your mind.
But then I think, what’s wrong with getting pissed if that’s what people want to do?
Do you miss the booze?
Occasionally. But what will I do? I’ll have one or two and then I’ll order 5 grams of coke in and get a hotel room. Three grams should be enough but I’ll get five because I know I’ll need them by the end.
See, look at the way I’m talking? I’ve already planned it out in my head. This is why I can’t drink.
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