AN AUDIENCE WITH JASON WILLIAMSON Having finally come to terms with success, the Sleaford Mods frontman discusses sobriety, Simply Red and whether drinking artisanal coffee means he’s sold out
An audience with the Sleaford Mod
T He Switzerland of popular cliché, a land of chocolate-box Alpine villages and shady banking practices, is probably the last place you’d expect Sleaford Mods to make any headway with their stark and sweary brand of sociorealist punk-rap. But when we catch up with Jason Williamson midway between shows in Neuchâtel and Zurich, he is effusive about the band’s Swiss following. “People like the authenticity, I suppose,” he reasons. “We’ve kind of got nothing to lose, me and Andrew. We’re reaching 50, doing what we’re passionate about, and I think that comes through.”
He accepts that not every reference to daytime TV and defunct provincial supermarket chains will translate, but his rage against the everyday grind (and affection for life’s small mercies) is universal. Switzerland, says Williamson, isn’t so different from Britain, with its wealth concentrated in a few leafy pockets and everyone else struggling to get by.
“We were talking to people last night and they were saying how they don’t like Geneva ’cos that’s where all the money is. It’s not all roses round here; it can be boring. There is unemployment, and a lot of pressure to do well academically. So it was interesting to get that perspective.”
Now almost two years sober, Williamson describes himself as “in a good place” compared with when he started Sleaford Mods out of desperation in 2007. “I’m still quite cynical, and that’s something I’ve got to work on, because sometimes that can just get boring and clichéd. Although cynicism is healthy sometimes…”
How does it feel to be championed so heavily by a living legend like Iggy Pop? Jay Frankenburg, Seattle
It’s quite surreal. He knows what he’s doing, Iggy Pop. He’s still got this sharp interest in current music, he picks up on good stuff. His output is firmly there in the chamber of great compositions, but nobody wanted to know The Stooges at the time. He had it rough for a long time, so he’s almost still connected to that street psychology. He must be getting a bit of a payday now, but so what? He’s earned it. A proper worker, Iggy Pop is. And the fact he identifies Sleaford Mods as something good makes you feel proud. He came to watch us and we’ve emailed a few times, but we’ve not met up properly. Hopefully we can go for a curry at some point.
How did you manage to quit the booze and fags? Would you recommend sobriety? And what should I do with my sleaford mods beermat and rolling papers now?! John Cain, via email
I tried to stop drugs first, but in the end it was obvious that drinking was the gateway, so I had to stop that and that’s when everything transformed. In the heat of desperation I asked Anton Newcombe what he did and he said, “Get a plan.” So I got one. For the first six months it was hard. Anything can kick it off – dressing rooms can kick it off, people smoking outside after the gig coming up to you with big beamy eyes… these things can pull you back in, but it’s been a lot easier this year. I’ve got a an addictive personality, so that’s just transformed to exercise. Sometimes I think, ‘I’m going over the top here, I don’t need to go to the gym every day.’ But it’s better than fucking sitting in a hotel room for 24 hours taking cocaine, innit?
I saw you as a support band, and you seemed to draw energy from a section of the audience that was heckling you. Playing to larger venues, to your own fans, does it get harder to hold on to that fire? Sam Jones, Brockley, London
No it doesn’t, because people waiting are waiting for you to impress them, which makes you even more angry. If there’s a big crowd watching, you know they’re here for a good time, but at the same time they won’t have any bullshit. So you can’t get on there and think this is easy street. There are still people who want to pick holes. So paranoia drives it these days, I guess.
You’ve been compared a lot to Mark E Smith – how did you feel when he died? Kim Clements, Suffolk
Obviously very sad, but he didn’t look well in recent times, so perhaps it was a relief to pass on to wherever he’s gone to next. I like the fact he always just took the piss out of people. He didn’t compromise. I’ve gone past the point of wondering if there’s anyone around to take up his mantle. Probably look to rappers or grime artists. As regards bass, drums, guitars, singer – fucking forget it. It’s a barren land of monotonous clichéd dribble, innit?
What are “cocaine pyjamas”? Keith Furze, via email
That’s stuff you put on when you get back from the club to finish off your gear. I’d get home and put on some trendy sweatshirt so I’d look cool doing coke with all my trendy mates. I used to work in clothes shops, so I’d get a lot of stuff for free. I gave a bundle to a charity shop recently – they did a whole fucking window display!
Does Andrew express the urge to get on the mic, or are your roles strictly defined? Graeme Cole, via email
Strictly defined, really. Unless he’s got an idea, but he never pipes up about it. Andrew used to be an interesting solo artist around Nottingham. He’s got this vocal that’s a bit soully, a bit poppy. But I think he’s just happy to pile the beats on. He does Extnddntwrk, his solo project outside of Sleaford Mods. With the Mods, he sends me the music, I work on it and we go to the studio. We get in there and get on with it. Bang ’em out and marvel at it after.
Steve Albini basically said you were the best band in the world. Why don’t you make a record with him? It could be awesome. Matty, via email
We did think about it. But we don’t really need a producer, so I don’t know what he’d do. Maybe we’ll get to a point in a couple of albums when we think, ‘Let’s try summat else.’ But at the minute we’re still really precious about it, we don’t want anyone else to come in. Every time we do new stuff, it still surprises us – even if it might not seem like that to a lot of people. Last album it was like, “You’ve not really changed.” Oh, fuck off. ’Course it has, dickhead!
If there was a general election tomorrow, who would you vote for? James L, Cardiff
Oh, I dunno. Everything’s just clouded in shit, isn’t it? Last month I was thinking I’m not gonna vote. Sick of it. But this Conservative government has probably been the worst one yet, perhaps worse than Thatcher. So I’d have to vote Labour, yeah. I wouldn’t be very happy about it, but I’d have to vote ’em.
Are you concerned that the workingclass themes you have previously written about may become diluted as a result of your success? Paul Heyworth, Greater Manchester
I do think about this a lot. I used to beat myself up about it, but I have to inject some reason into it. I’m never going to write “Jobseeker” again, obviously. But as long as the output is still as genuine as it’s always been, then I’m at no fault. We’ve got a duty to be genuine, but that’s as far as it goes. I don’t think the working-class thing ever leaves you. That will always be there. But I’m not gonna do a Crass, I’m not going to reject the success. I’m just not like that. And we didn’t get into this game to do that; we got into it ’cos we like music. It just so happened that our music was full of aggro and frustration and discussed real issues, not bullshit.
What was it like supporting The Libertines? Robert Bray, Kilburn
I like ’em, they’re good lads. They’ve been taken in by people who’d listen to The Jam, The Smiths , The Specials, all those classic English street bands. I can’t fault them, really. When we played with them, all these 18-yearold kids were tipping up and I thought that was brilliant. But they fucking hated us! Our music still seems to confuse people. Some wake up to it and others keep dismissing it. That’s fucking fine, whatever!
Any musical guilty pleasures? Walter Thomas, via Twitter
Simply Red. I like that Stars album. It’s so melodic, it’s just takes you. And it’s quite political – he discusses the Tory government that was in power then, he discusses drug use, the beauty industry. It is middle of the road, but there’s a lot more going on than in Coldplay. Coldplay’s a cardboard box with a couple of bottle tops thrown in.
Artisan coffee shops – boon or scourge? Johnny Fanta, via email
Oh, I like ’em. I go in ’em, yeah. Fuck it! It’s come with gentrification: the coffee shop, “Hi guys!”, smashed avocado. But I’ve fuckin’ soaked it all up, you know what I mean? I walk around with my wife and we go and sit in coffee shops. We don’t go to bars, so that’s our little treat. It’s a tough one. It goes back to the question about are you worried about your working-class message getting diluted. I didn’t even think ‘working class’ when I started writing. But you get tagged with it, and in the end you put that hat on. But even if you’re earning 80 grand a year – and I know a few who are – it’s still shit. There’s still fucking stress. A lot of them are working month to month, and if somebody goes ill they’re fucked. Mortgage payments down the hole. A lot of people are holding on to a thin piece of cotton, and I think that’s why we resonate with them.
Sleaford Mods play Bearded Theory’s Spring Gathering, Derbyshire, May 26
“I’m never going to write ‘Jobseeker’ again. We’ve got a duty to be genuine”