Letting off steam with Sleaford Mods
Political punk radicals Sleaford Mods have been tearing up the musical landscape for ten years now, and the release of their latest album ‘English Tapas,‘ their first collaboration with Rough Trade Records, sees them at their rampaging best. In the landscape of a post-Brexit Britain, this dynamic duo have never been more relevant. Their original songs, boasting deft lyrical wordplay and cutting messages, have resonated with many, the great Iggy Pop loves them, and who could blame him. With a tour just on the horizon the Nottinghamshire group show no signs of slowing down. The MALESTROM sat down for a chat with lead singer, Jason Williamson to put the world to rights.
The MALESTROM: You’ve been around for a long time, does it feel nice to finally be getting the recognition you deserve?
Jason: Yeah, yeah, it does you know. It’s nice! It’s a nice little bonus on top of the hard work; you know what I mean? So, it’s good to be recognised for it. It’s good stuff and it’s got a real clear message in it. It’s music that’s been studied for. Me and Andrew have been through many years of trying to do stuff, so to get to a point where we’re both equal in what we put into it and to be recognised on top of that, it’s brilliant!
TM: And it’s from a pure place, which is rare?
J: Yeah, it is rare and it’s more rare these days. Everything’s a mirage; do you know what I mean? Even with these people who were big in the 90’s and who are coming back, it’s just a mirage. There’s nothing there behind it. It’s just shit and it makes you so angry. You know there are bits and bobs kicking around that are all right, but the landscape is still very thin, you know what I mean?
TM: There’s a lack of authenticity then?
J: It’s all just manufactured stuff. You know there was a time when manufactured stuff and pop used to be good, but now authentic stuff is really thin on the ground. Some bits serve a purpose. If you want to get some geezer with no top on dancing around and some woman with just, like her underwear on, that’s always been there, the emphasis is more on the underwear and the muscly chest than it is the tunes these days.
TM: Do you think that teenagers these days are looked on as a commodity?
J: Well, yeah, yeah, basically. It’s easy to twist the minds of those that who want to spend money. If you’ve not got any sort of intellectual foundations in questioning stuff, if you’re not really pissed off about stuff, then you’re easily moulded, do you know what I mean?
TM: Is it fair to say that a lot of young people don’t really question anything anymore?
J: No, no! But I don’t think I did until I was older. Maybe I did, but didn’t do anything about it. It only comes later on in life about your mid thirties that you start thinking, ‘No, this isn’t right!’ And when the idea of your own mortality comes into play and when you no longer see this state of youth as this indestructible state of being, then you start to see the world for what it is. It’s whether or not to choose to act on that, or whether or not you choose to be some kind of mindless idiot; you know what I mean?
TM: Do you think you find an extra level of confidence in your 30s?
J: Yeah, mid 30’s onwards it started getting interesting. Before that it was just exercising energy, making mindless decisions and all that business, you know what I mean? And not knowing yourself and going with the ideals of society.
TM: So, do you think in your mid 30’s you had the confidence to speak out and not care?
J: Yeah, I didn’t care and I had the opportunity to record music on my own and to let me get on with it and that’s when things started working out. That’s when I started thinking for myself and having the confidence with the ideas I was doing.
TM: How much of a turning point was it teaming up with Andrew?
J: Yeah, yeah, I was using some original music and using loops up until about 2010, and it just wasn’t happening. And I had an engineer who was just doing engineering stuff and not contributing any kind of original music, and so I was on the look out for somebody who was. And that’s when I met Andrew. It took a while, but then we got into it.
TM: A lot of people do like that fact that he stands there, blankly doing nothing, just drinking a can of Red Stripe or something?
J: Yeah, it’s kind of stripped it back to what it is, to actually nothing, which is what it is. It’s just pre-recorded music, and there’s no point in trying to dress that up. Andrew wasn’t too keen in the beginning. He didn’t really want to stand on stage doing nothing, but then I kind of coached him into it and it’s like given us momentum straight away.
TM: Well, it’s worked! And you’ve played some pretty decent sized gigs now, The Roundhouse, Brixton Academy, Glastonbury. Are you feeling comfortable playing these bigger places now?
J: Yeah, yeah, I mean to us it’s just the same as the smaller places. In fact, it feels odd now to play smaller places… but you get on with it. A gig’s a gig, you know. We’re not sort of bothered. It just feels normal and it sort of works now you know, it’s how to work it on a bigger stage. You know we played Wembley Stadium, which is probably the biggest stage of them all really.
TM: When was that?
J: That was when we supported The Stone Roses.
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TM: Didn’t you also support The Libertines and their fans hated you?
J: Goodness, yeah! They were all about eighteen, nineteen you know. All wanting to hear guitars, you know what I mean? And there’s also a lot of the football crowd that follow them, so some of that crowd can be very one-dimensional. It’s a tough one really. It wasn’t that they were a tough audience. It was just that they were just a bit clueless.
TM: Is it harder to perform when an audience is like that?
J: No, no, it’s not. Absolutely not! If anything it makes you work harder, you know. It’s not a problem at all. If people didn’t turn up, it would be a problem. But if you get a negative crowd, I’m really not bothered, you know what I mean?
TM: There’s also quite a lot of humour in your stuff?
J: Yeah, yeah, there is. Absolutely, humour, because it’s got to be funny.
TM: Like when you start shouting about Ian Beale and stuff like that. It is really funny.
J: Oh, yeah, yeah! It’s just funny isn’t it! We used to have this bloke who worked in a corner shop, just round the corner from my mate’s house and he used to wear these 80’s running shorts all the time, like these tight shorts and we used to f*****g laugh. It used to look so odd. Like something out of Royston Vasey or something, you know what I mean?
TM: The political message that you’re putting across is similar to what was going on in the late 70’s and early 80’s and that was an angry time, anti-Thatcher – which is similar to where we are now…
J: Yeah, there’s lot’s of similarities and a sociopathic conservative Government you know, it’s really vicious. The lie about austerity! It’s a case of rolling your sleeves up, just like in 1979 and saying, ‘This has got to change you know. It’s got to change!’ This time around though it was the banking crisis and this kind of lie about austerity you know. But there are parallels because everything’s been cut back so much.
TM: There was also a big recession in the early 90’s and that’s when the whole rave and ecstasy scene exploded, and then when it ended there was nothing, and that’s when Britpop arrived to fill the gap…
J: Yeah, Oasis ushered in the commercial side of Britpop. They kind of made The Stone Roses commercial. They simply took what The Stone Roses were doing and made it massively commercial. Because The Stone Roses were quite awkward really, as a band they were quite head strong and there was something that wasn’t quite world wide about them, but Oasis were different, the songs didn’t have a kind of political edge to them and they were quite happy to play the rock n’ roll stars. At the time you had a massive influx of cocaine too and it started becoming more popular than ecstasy and that carried them. Then you had New Labour and then you had this whole idea of utopia, you know this kind of socialist utopia away from the dark years of Thatcherism and things got really sour.
TM: One thing that New Labour brought in was the idea that every young person had the right to go to University.
J: It’s a good point. It is a good point. I was about 25/26 and there was a lot of people coming out of university, you’re right, you’re right and a lot of people who were working class, and it was a lot more accessible then. But there were also a lot of people doing dead-end jobs and work that was readily available. Things were a bit easier, if you wanted to go on the dole you could, you know. Back then everything seemed a lot easier but we were on borrowed time don’t you think? We were still adhering to this neo-liberal ideal. This idea of self, of social mobility, I mean the working classes weren’t so much penalised as they were with the coalition, but it wasn’t attended to. I don’t think there was an equal amount of opportunity given across the board.
TM: A lot of your songs are the observations and backlash against austerity. Do you think that Labour would solve it if they got in?
J: No, no, I don’t. I think there would be a lot ill feelings towards Jeremy Corbyn if he took office. Because people are thinking things are going to be fixed straight away, and obviously that’s not going to be the case. But I think if he gets into office something good might come of it, but I think initially for the first few years there will be a lot of disappointed people. People are so desperate for change now that they want it quick, they want it now, but I don’t think it’s going to happen like that. It won’t be fixed, no. As long as we’ve got to go out and earn money, its just going to be problematic, you know what I mean?
TM: There is also an argument that Labour and the Conservatives aren’t relevant anymore? Their needs to be something new really?
J: Of course there does, but you’ve got the invisible percentage holding on to the old ways and just looking out for profit. It’s accelerated, it’s like another industrial revolution, just another 100 years plus, you know what I mean?
TM: You mean only the rich have got miles richer in the last ten years or so?
J: Yes, it’s really accelerated. It will come to wars and depravation. I am waiting for this country to have the shit bombed out of it. Its not entirely unfeasible if it means profit is maintained, you know. England’s not was it used to be, it’s become more vulnerable and we’re weaker in the game. You never know? We could just be invaded; you know what I mean? So, I’m not holding out for anything massively positive to happen, certainly not in my lifetime.
TM: Turning back to music, with all the humour in your lyrics you’re obviously not angry all the time?
J: No, no, I’m not! It’s just an interesting form of music and that’s why I do it, you know. Andrew’s music gives you a lot of space to play with, you know. The vocal style might seem hostile and aggressive, well it is, but at the same time the time rock n’ roll has gone, the songs are just bullshit. It’s just been rinsed and rinsed. The idea of rock n’ roll, the idea of the rock star, it’s dead, it’s f****d, so forget about it. You can’t carry that mindless invention. So, what we’re doing is not a new way of doing things, because people have done similar stuff before – it’s just a case of breaking away from this idea that you’ve got to be some kind of f****** singer, you know what I mean?
TM: That’s why people like you. It feels fresh?
J: Yeah, yeah, I’d like to think its still got a lot of bullshit to it. There might come a time where it’s had its day. Maybe its just music of its time, I don’t know. But at the same time, it’s definitely going to be remembered in time.
TM: You are getting bigger. You’re going to keep going for a while aren’t you?
J: Yeah, hopefully, fingers f***** crossed mate! (Laughs) It would be nice if we could, you know. Things aren’t drying up yet; you know what I mean?
TM: You’ve probably been asked before but was Paul Weller, Billy Bragg and John Cooper-Clarke an influence on your music?
J: No, not really! Probably The Jam, you know Paul Weller back then. I mean, I used to buy Billy Bragg’s records as a kid, but if that seeped in as an influence, I’m not sure. There were some mid 80’s recordings that were really good, and they stood the test of time really. But I was never really into John Cooper-Clarke, not because I didn’t like him, because I’m not bothered, you know what I mean? But there is a hark back to that.
TM: I think with people like Weller and Bragg, they’ve been going so long and had so much success, that the irony that comes with that is money! They become richer and it becomes harder to take a working class view when you become rich?
J: Yeah, well, you know, I don’t think he’s massively rich Paul Weller. And at the same time, I think the money might affect you in a sense of your domestic situation, your standard of living and that. But your perception or outlook doesn’t necessarily change. I mean it can and I mean mine certainly has a bit in that I’ve become, certainly more positive since we’ve become successful.
TM: But that’s brilliant though isn’t it?
J: Well, yeah! So, I think it would be disastrous to stay in the same place. You can’t go on with the same angry outlook that you first had, because your situation changes, so your anger changes. It’s always still there, mine’s still there, you know. But it’s different to what it was three albums ago. And I’m not sure that’s down to the fact that I’ve just got a bit more money, it’s just that I’ve also grown older, you now what I mean? But at the end of the day, if you choose to go down that road and hoard more profit, then you just turn into a wanker. I mean, after I’ve done this that and the other, what else do I need it for?
TM: You do only need a certain amount of money to live on…
J: That’s right. You know, what else do you want? You start spending money on things you don’t really need. You start spending money on shit that you don’t really need e.g jewellery, big cars, bigger houses, because you’ve something to spend that money on, you know. And that’s just f***** pointless, because you can’t f***** take it with you!
TM: Lastly, musically have you any guilty secrets? Elton John or Lionel Ritchie?
J: Not that I know, but I’ve never tried to hide the fact that I like loads of stuff like that! I’ve got no guilty secrets when it comes to music, it’s all f***** beautiful!
Sleaford Mods will be touring from October 18th check out the dates HERE
And if you haven’t already you can purchase a copy of their brilliant album ‘English Tapas’ HERE