Interviews

Keeping Dry Under Storm Clouds: An Interview with Sleaford Mods

Dan Derks
Photo: Roger Sargent

When asked what can help counteract the worldwide growth of xenophobia and racism, Sleaford Mods' singer Jason Williamson states simply, "I think it's empathy, innit?"


Sleaford Mods

English Tapas

Label: Rough Trade
Release Date: 2017-03-03
Amazon
iTunes

Before reading on, whether you're seasoned or green with Sleaford Mods, it'd be helpful to watch two videos of the band. "Jobseeker", performed on Later... with Jools Holland, and "Tied Up In Nottz" are certainly good starting places.

That Jools Holland clip is the quintessential capture of singer Jason Williamson's showmanship and producer Andrew Fearn's casual approach to laptop music performance. At first glance, it'd be understandable to write the Mods off as a snotty gimmick, but the band's authenticity and earnestness are ignorable and infectious. Same applies to "Tied Up In Nottz" -- only Williamson could make a mini-autobiography out of "I woke up with shit in my sock outside the Polish off-license / 'They don't mind,' said the asshole to the legs."

The band's discography is built on wordplay that offends and indicts, each syllable recounting the British class wars that have shaped Williamson's life. Equal parts manifestos and barroom rants, Sleaford Mods songs find power in the amorphous boundary between the two. English Tapas, their newest release, is no exception.

As Williamson revealed in our recent conversation, he was deeply affected by the Brexit results, but working on English Tapas afforded the opportunity to explore his own failings. "I started to really connect with myself in [these] songs," he tells PopMatters. "Stuff that I'd seen around me in friends. The drug culture that captured the mood around the late '80s kind of stuck with that generation. You've got a lot of people in their mid-40s still going out and doing cocaine, still doing ecstasy, drinking vast amounts of alcohol. I stopped drinking around June [2016] and I kind of realized that was something I needed to do. I wasn't very particularly having a good time."

"Drayton Mannered", the halfway marker of English Tapas, captures this ungraceful aging of careless drug use with a sharp tongue: "I remember when I was 21 / Laughing about it in clubs / 'I wonder what will happen, we are the guinea pigs' / But now I realize, few of us grew from guinea pigs."

Though Williamson has been focused on internal analysis, it doesn't take much to coax venom from him on the topic of global politics (the night we spoke, Parliament had just voted to uphold Article 50). When he makes this shift, his voice drops into his belly. He doesn't speak in theory, he speaks from experience: much of Williamson's hometown was crippled by the long and painful closure of its coal mines. "There's been so much oppression and greed. Even in supposedly liberal times, in the fat belly of democracy, [there's] still been this central strain of growing greed. It's got the point now where those that have nothing are completely numb, you know? And they kind of act like a sponge for xenophobic, 'blame politics' -- the politics of blame. And this is sort of what you get, innit? History is sort of repeating itself in a lot of aspects."

Williamson's words paint a clear picture of how extreme ideologies can take hold in the disenfranchised. In the States, many of the rural populations who voted for Trump are victims of the very same corporate greed he and other right-wing figures represent. The cognitive dissonance is staggering, though this does little to soften the darker underpinnings. "I just hated the enclosure of narrow-mindedness," he confesses, "not only in the inner sense, but the exterior. I just didn't want to look at factory walls all my life, or the same road all my life. The same pub and the same friends. And that kind of lifestyle works for some people and they grow to be very intelligent people, who lived on the same road all their lives. I don't want to generalize. But I just saw that going hand in hand with soaking all that bullshit up. Staying in one place, you're really susceptible to fear. I didn't want that. And I only moved 26 miles down the road, you know? I just wanted different things than what was offered, really. I was fortunate to not remain."

When asked what can help counteract this growth of xenophobia and racism, Williamson states simply, "I think it's empathy, innit?"

Though Sleaford Mods is well-loved in England's punk venues, the English Tapas tour brings the duo to the US for the first time in their careers. "I think it's a great thing we've been given the opportunity to do it. But I really don't know how [US audiences] are going to take it. It's so English," Williamson shares with a short laugh. It's true, most Mods songs require a decent grasp on British slang and culture, but the urgency of what is decipherable atones. Williamson reconsiders, "I don't know. I didn't have a problem processing the Wu-Tang Clan and they're people who are a million light years away from me, in a sense."

It isn't long before our conversation about the band folds back into politics as we discussed many of the promises the "leave" vote failed to deliver on. Though Sleaford Mods are often labeled as 'political', there's nothing prescriptive or significantly leftist about their music. There's a focus on the downtrodden, the forced out and left behind -- but these aren't metaphors for something larger. They're documents of his own life, which might be as radical a perspective as Williamson needs. He's wary of others imbuing his music with an agenda that can be touted or condemned. "It doesn't matter if it's right or wrong, if it doesn't make sense. It can be anger, humor, disgust -- as long as it's communicated well, written well. I just hope people feel something from it, that the music has been created for some sense of justice."

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.