Music interview: Sleaford Mods
By turns funny, profane and outspoken, Sleaford Mods have made a name for themselves as one of Britain's angriest bands.
Now, following the success of their albums Divide and Exit and Key Markets, they find themselves signed to one of the most celebrated of indie labels, Rough Trade, and about to release a new five-track EP, TCR.
Such has been the level of exposure that the Nottingham duo have had in the last two years, vocalist Jason Williamson agrees there’s more riding on their new record than anything they’ve released to date.
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t, because there is,” he says, “but in a way that’s a positive thing because you can only go one way with it.
“With the type of music we do if we went the other way and started coming out with s*** then we would go downhill drastically.
“If, say, EMI were behind us that probably wouldn’t be the case. We’d probably become even more successful because these massive labels could just turn us into a marketing tool.
“But in the sense of speaking from a viewpoint of integrity and honesty we’d go downhill if we came out with s***. It makes you aware of that but at the same time it’s positive, it’s made us determined to be true to it and keep coming out with good stuff.
“In the history of things you don’t normally get bands that come out with three good albums. We’ve got another one coming and it’s just as good and it struck us that’s not normally the case.
“In the old days you might, with bands like The Jam, and The Clash it’s debatable, but these days you don’t get that any more. You’ll get a band coming out with an album that’s really good and then it all goes a bit pear-shaped.”
The working class anger in Sleaford Mods songs such as Tied Up in Nottz and Jobseeker has been widely noted, but Williamson feels the humour has sometimes been overlooked.
“The humour’s always in there, it’s been in there since day one,” he says. “It kind of got sidetracked by the swearing. There’s people I’ve played it to, I’ve said ‘This is what I do, listen to it’ and they’ve gone ‘The swearing’s absolutely awful, it’s disgusting’. A lot of people can’t get past the swearing because in contemporary pop music, or whatever you want to call it, there never has been that level of swearing and we’ve managed to make a career out of songs with a lot of swearing in them. But the humour’s definitely there, it always has been.”
The central character in the song TCR seems aware of the futility of an adult playing with children’s racing cars and his life going round in circles but is unable to escape that. Williamson, now 45 years old, feels it touches a common nerve. “I think it’s the kind of life we all live, we keep living,” he says. “You can run away from it, try and calm down but eventually it gets you again. You always trip up. It depends what the kind of volume of tripping up is. You always find yourself walking into a wall again and having to figure that out and trying to get over the dross of it all.
“It’s quite bleak, really, TCR, if you think about it. It’s inescapable. We’re helpless under this regime of capitalism and politics, this is all we’ve got – the five day week then the weekend to let off steam – and it’s about facing up to that and trying to overcome it or not. It’s always going to be there, slapping you about.”
Williamson says his many of his best lyrical ideas come from conversations. “A lot of them do – or just sayings. Something that you can identify with. For instance yesterday, I was somewhere and somebody went ‘I’ve still got it, ain’t I?’ and started singing. I thought that was quite funny. He clearly hasn’t got anything, it sounds horrible, but that’s just the kind of humour that we exist in in this country – or any country for that matter – it’s just a case of different languages.
“Anything can inspire you. As long as you’re honest with yourself and think ‘That’s a good idea or that’s a s*** idea’ you can’t really go wrong.”
This year’s political machinations have certainly given Williamson much to be write about, but he sounds a note of caution. “You’ve got to be careful with it. There’s no point in going ‘Brexit’s s***’. Brexit is obviously s***, I voted ‘in’ and I believe it’s terrible. There’s no point in saying that, you’ve got to think about why you think it’s s*** and look into it and pull it apart and visualise it into words. That’s what I do with a lot of the stuff.
“The Tory conference was just a whole new world of pain, you’ve got a good year’s worth of ideas from that alone in some respects, it just depends how you word it, I guess.”
In a television interview earlier this year, Williamson talked about compassion. He feels there’s little of it around these days. “There’s no compassion in music as far as I’m concerned – or not a lot. There are some decent bits but generally speaking it’s all geared around how to make money and for the fame thing.
“In general society, day to day on the street, it’s pretty bleak. There’s not a lot of compassion going about. It’s probably within people but there’s not a lot of expressive care.”
For a time Williamson worked as a benefits adviser. He says it made him acutely aware of the divide in British society. “You see the underclass – the underclass can be anything as far as I’m concerned, the forgotten, but it’s generally the lower end of the social spectrum. you see a lot of not very attractive people. None of them wear fashionable clothes, it’s all grey. These people aren’t seen in magazines, these people aren’t seen on TV or in programmes unless they’re taken the p*** out of. It’s almost like a forgotten sector of people. You do see it and it’s there and it’s bigger than the reality that’s given to us through the media, through role models, a lot bigger, and eventually it will overspill.”
Recently Williamson became one of thousands of Labour Party members who were banned from voting in the leadership election. He says he still feels an empathy with Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for Labour but says he’s “completely lost interest” in being a party member. “I’ve left Labour, I’ve given up my direct debit and I’m not going to be a member,” he says. “I don’t know if I’ll vote for them in the next election. The way this Conservative government’s going there’s no other option but to vote for the Left, so I probably will vote Labour, but I think we’ve got a Conservative government for at least another decade unless something happens.
“Even if a Labour one gets in nothing happens, so what? It’s the same, it goes on and on and on, and I think it’s getting to a point now where politics will eventually self-destruct. The world can’t take too much more of this neo-liberal environment. It can’t take too much more of the current form of capitalism and the way it’s run, the greed and everything else. Eventually something will happen. I don’t really think there’s a lot of people that believe in politics any more. I think people have been inspired by Jeremy Corbyn but after what happened with Labour the other week it really made me despise the Labour Party and in turn that then makes you disinterested in Jeremy Corbyn. In a way this is what they want, they don’t want a socialist democracy, It’s really enraging, really, but time will tell, won’t it?”
Having been in bands for 20 years or more, Williamson admits it was a surprise to find himself in the charts in his mid-40s. “Absolutely, to the point where I just couldn’t believe it,” he says. “It’s still a bit odd.
“You go to festivals and there’s all these bands 20 years younger than you. You don’t stick out like a sore thumb because at festivals it’s all different age groups. But contemporary music at the minute is everything from 20 to 35; we’re kind of ten years on top of that but it’s good, it’s funny, this is it – good things can happen. If you’ve got a strong idea stick to it, good things will happen for you.”
TCR EP is out now. Sleaford Mods play at Leeds Beckett University Students Union on October 26. For details visit http://sleaford-mods.myshopify.com/