Sleaford Mods are a more integral voice right now than when they made their blazing debut in 2013. Their charm is one that splits opinion, you either hop on board with the band, or you run away from the platform. For many of us, Sleaford Mods have become a voice of reason in Britain, one capable of making light out of the depressing mess that seems to be neverending.
Jason Williamson, the band’s lead singer, withholds an innate ability to offer a fresh take on difficult themes when it comes to his lyricism. The nature of his dynamic delivery and the originality of his words feels at once both poetic and universal. Equally, Andrew Fearn’s industrial beats are charged and raring to let themselves loose along a disused market street. Together, they continue to be a perfect match for one another on their sixth album, Spare Ribs, which was recently released. The record, shared through Rough Trade on January 15th, is another evolution for the duo who don’t appear to have allowed a pandemic get in the way of hitting the bullseye once again.
The record also looks set to be the highest-charting of their career, with Spare Ribs being nestled into number two in the midweek album charts behind You Me At Six. On top of this, Sleaford Mods have announced the most significant headline date of their career, a show taking place at the Nottingham Motorpoint Arena at the end of the year which they have managed to achieve without compromising integrity one bit. On the day of the album release, I spoke with Williamson over a Zoom call to get the lowdown on everything Sleaford Mods and why the art of taking the piss is one of the few luxuries we all have in life.
Releasing an album in the middle of a pandemic is strange for Williamson, who admits that despite it being release day he was feeling “quite a bit flat”. “Its kind of not how it normally is,” he adds. “But I guess we’re six albums in so it gets more like work. Obviously, what we do is really means a lot to us, but, the process is becoming more and more familiar. That (novelty) wears off quite quickly, actually and then you’ve got to get your head around what this means to you after that.”
Whilst releasing a record under the current circumstances is a somewhat strange experience, Sleaford Mods are now back working with Rough Trade after receiving some bad advice that led to them regretfully going independent for 2019 effort Eton Alive, a project which they released on their Extreme Eating label. “We shouldn’t have left them in the first place,” Williamson said. “We get dodgy information from our ex-manager, so we got rid of him. Then, our new manager had a couple of meetings with Rough Trade. We realised that that’s where we belong. For the time being as long as they want us, we will stick around.”
Williamson, at 50, has dealt more than his fair share of bullshitters throughout his life and this incident proves that despite the success, troublesome people still linger. “It’s really irritating to the point where these people are quickly evacuated from your person,” the frontman said with a wry chuckle. “You’ve got to watch yourself, you know because there’s a lot of people that want to give you information that isn’t necessarily beneficial. To me to say that they’re doing that to bring it down? Or they’re doing that for their own ends? Some people just aren’t very connected with it, and some people are.”
Spare Ribs is everything you’d want from a Sleaford Mods record; it’s funny, innovative and plastered with killer tunes that show a band who aren’t content without experimenting with the boundaries of songwriting. Singles ‘Mork N’ Mindy’ and ‘Nudge It’ see Sleaford Mods experiment with the art of collaboration by bringing Billy Nomates and Amy Taylor of Amyl and the Sniffers aboard, both of which are acquisitions that juxtapose finely with Williamson’s snarls and provide an extra ingredient to the record.
“Billy Nomates obviously, we’re massive fans, and with Amy as well, I really love the way she puts words together and connects and talks about the every day in a quite normal, but clever way. On Billy Nomates again, she’s a brilliant singer and really good songwriter. The lyrics are very surreal and what she does is not too dissimilar to how I approach lyrics in a lot of respects, but massive fans of both of them. We were really hoping for some collaborations that worked and meant something, and these two truly do.”
“It won’t be very good if we didn’t,” Williamson said on the progression of their sound on Spare Ribs. “I’m used to feeling really elated, and I don’t want to lose that. You know what I mean, I don’t want to do just business as usual stuff. There is some stuff on there that obviously is business as usual, but, we created this sound, and we’ve got every right to use it and just push it forward,” the frontman said.
Spare Ribs sees Sleaford Mods at their rip-roaring, piss-taking best but it also features Williamson taking a look inward at his childhood throughout the record. ‘Mork N Mindy’ paints a bleak picture of growing up in a grey Thatcherite Britain in Lincolnshire as does the album closer, ‘Fishcakes’. Lockdown made Williamson have more than enough time to think and slow down, which allowed him to review parts of his life that he’d left locked off.
Although the record is reflective in parts, that doesn’t prevent the singer from venting his frustrations at those who have managed to piss him off in recent times. Whether this is unelected officials like Dominic Cummings on the fiery track ‘Shortcummings’, or the provocative swipe at the faux well to do artists on ‘Elocution’, which begins with Williamson quipping: “Hello there, I’m here today to talk about the importance of independent venues and also secretly hoping by agreeing to talk about the importance of independent venues, I will then be in a position to move away from playing independent venues.”
Williamson is no stranger to social spats over the years and found himself in debates around the work of artists such as Slaves, Blossoms and most notably, IDLES. The introduction to ‘Elequotion’ is Williamson poking the bear once again who, in his eyes, take themselves too seriously and he wasn’t one to hold back about his thoughts about the unnamed acts who inspired that spoken word section.
“A lot of people are just complete wastes of space,” he explained. “All that’s doing is making other people act like you, you know, so you’ve got this succession of idiots coming through, but, it’s my viewpoint. I come from a place where it’s it’s gotta be done properly. There’s no point doing it in half measures, I’m just an old mod really, and those things are not to be taken lightly. You can’t be cheesy; you can’t be false, you’ve got to say something that means something.
“I think it’s healthy to point fingers and to talk about that type of thing in that kind of way. I mean, I think those kinds of practices don’t really encourage good creativity, it just encourages conformity, careerism and just cliches. I just like to put down whatever pisses me off, and if you can do that in a way that’s funny as well, then it’s a double whammy.”
Touching on what has given Sleaford Mods their longevity, and how they have defied the odds to keep growing their fanbase with every single release, Williamson pontificated: “We’re not covered in sugar-coating. Even these bands have professed to be real, they’re not. We’re kind of a representation of normal people in a lot of respects.”
Sleaford Mods, to a degree, are what you see is what you get. They speak their mind and wear their heart on their sleeve. Their lyrics have an authenticity to them that’s hard to come by, they aren’t the two angry men that they get caricatured as, and as the years go on more and more people are discovering that. Of course, there is aggression to their sound, but there’s so much more than just that. Spare Ribs is Sleaford Mods on their A-game, and their voice right now is more appreciated than ever.