Sleaford Mods: “I apologise for making fun of NME in our song”

The duo's Jason Williamson on their new compilation album, seeking "revenge" on the political class and being nominated for Worst Band at the NME Awards

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Sleaford Mods do: the Nottingham spoken-word punk duo – producer Andrew Fearn and ranting frontman Jason Williamson – have been putting austerity-ravaged Britain to rights since their 2012 album ‘Wank’, and some of their early material inevitably flew under the radar. That’s why they’ve gathered together eight years’ of material for a new compilation, ‘All That Glue’, which charts their progression from minimalist misanthropes to slightly less minimalist misanthropes (last year’s spectacular ‘Eton Alive’ added a little pop sheen to their typically uncompromising sound). So we gave a Jason a call to ask: why now? Oh – and how come Mods took the piss out of NME with their 2017 song ‘Dull’?

Hi Jason! How are you finding self-isolation?

“We’re over the shock of it all. I’m starting to get over the absolute tedium of the Government as well, to be honest. I’m just not bothering with the news. Occasionally I check in to see what idiocy they’ve come out with, but only for five minutes because I can’t be arsed with it. [Boris Johnson] should be held to account for [the Government’s handling of coronavirus]. It’s a fucking disgrace. We deserve some revenge.”

What do you want to happen?  

“A court of law? An inquiry? Charges against? Or disgrace, because what the politicians are after is glory. If the country turns on them, they’re not gonna get that respect from their peers. They get eaten by their own, don’t they?

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“It’s one thing to make a mistake but the important thing is to own up to it. That is the way in which people learn. I’m sure you have at times – and I certainly have – gone, ‘Yeah, I’m a cunt.’ And you learn from that. But they’re just covering it up. Why are they covering it up? Because if they didn’t it would lead to an even bigger emphasis on a legitimate inquiry.”

In a recent article, you claimed that ‘clapping for carers’ – whereby the public applauds care workers for looking after us during the coronavirus crisis – “justifies inaction” against the Government’s poor treatment of the NHS. Does the same go for people raising money for the NHS as though it’s a charity?

“Well, it’s a hard one, isn’t it, because they need money. But it’s the Government’s responsibility to hand over money to the NHS – we shouldn’t be raising charity for it. That’s just fucking stupid. But at the same time if an organisation needs money desperately and the Government isn’t giving it to them, what are you gonna do? You can’t let people die at the roadside. But it does install the idea that the NHS is a dying animal that needs people’s charity and then – oh, look! – it’s gone: ‘Oh, fuck! Oh, damn. Bastard!’ And enter privatisation.”

Credit: Getty

“[Health Secretary] Matt Hancock was outside Nightingale [the specialist coronavirus hospital in London] alluding to the fact that ‘the NHS is in a critical state.’ It’s like: ‘It’s your fault!” The Tories have been draining from it for the past 10 years.”

Do you reckon the new Labour leader, Keir Starmer, will be any good?

[Deep sigh]. “I saw him in a fucking judge’s wig the other day. I’m like, ‘No.’ But then our tour manager Clive did a degree in Law because he wanted to be a judge and he’s a very interesting lovely fucking bloke, and absolutely not a cunt. So fair enough. But then I’m thinking, ‘[Starmer] is part of the elite’. He’s got a wig and he’s been knighted’. It’s like, ‘Fuck me! You don’t do that!’ But perhaps you do if you wanna get on. Sometimes you have to fight from within. It’s too early to tell. I’m just so jaded with politics.”

Well, on that note – we should probably talk about the new Sleaford Mods record, shouldn’t we?

“Yeah, sure. [Laughs.] You forget you’re a musician, don’t ya?

So, why put out a compilation album now?

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“There’s a lot of reasons, really. There’s so much of our work from the early days that went under the radar because it was released on limited seven-inch. Some of it you can only get on YouTube. Particularly stuff that people consider classics – ‘Jobseeker’ and ‘Jolly Fucker’. We needed a centralised place for these songs. It something for the hardcore fans – and there’s a lot of them – that constantly ask for these songs. But it’s also an introductory package for people that aren’t too familiar with us. We didn’t wanna do a ‘Greatest Hits’ because we’re not a ‘Greatest Hits’ band.”

What did you learn about the band’s trajectory as you put together ‘All That Glue’? 

“The songs got better in a lot of respects. We’ve learned the art of songwriting a bit more – especially from [2017 album] ‘English Tapas’ onwards. I don’t like listening to my own voice – you might be surprised at that! Once the songs are mastered I cane them for a couple of weeks but after that I’m not interested. But it was a delight to go back to songs like ‘Jobseeker’, which I’d not listened to for years even though I play it live every night.”

Fans were elated when you announced that the collection would include ‘Jobseeker’, which has never been available to stream despite being a live favourite for years. Is that song quintessential Mods?

“Yeah, I think so. It’s a song I wrote before I met Andrew and it was suggested that we re-record it. Me and Andrew weren’t that bothered, to be honest. I certainly wasn’t interested in going back and resurrecting old ideas – it’s just not interesting. But we did it and Andrew put his own mark on it. When you put it on you think, ‘This is terrible’, but then towards the end you think, ‘Actually – that’s really good’. That’s the thing with us: at first you think, ‘What the fuck’s this?’ Then halfway through you’re like, ‘All right, OK – I get it.’

You’ve been involved in Tim Burgess #timstwitterlisteningparty, whereby fans get together on Twitter to listen to favourite albums in unison. Was it weird tweeting along to your own records? 

“Yeah, it’s a little bit uncomfortable at times. But it’s a good little thing – Tim has done something really good with it. It’s not just about talking about the albums; it’s the warmth of people coming together. It really is putting people’s minds off the banality of lockdown.”

There is, to be fair, not a lot of escapism in Sleaford Mods’ music. But isn’t that what people need right now?

“They do, yeah, but I’m a big fan of hip-hop – that’s what I mostly listen to – and none of that is escapism. I’m really into the beat and the minimalism and the rhythm of words. That is escapism for me. I can’t really do colourful, lush landscape-esque music. It doesn’t really appeal to me. I’m into the more immediate. If I was given the choice to write anything – which I have – I would just write this. We’ve created our own little world and it’s so full of life. We haven’t released a lame duck yet. I live in fear of that.”

Well, you set the bar pretty high with ‘Eton Alive’…

“Yeah, it’s a weird one, because we left Rough Trade [to go independent], which we shouldn’t have done. We were out on our own. We changed management and everything was a bit weird. So that album to me is almost like an unofficial album. Obviously the content’s brilliant, but I look on ‘Eton Alive’ as a rogue album in some respects. We’re really proud of it; we upped the ante with that one. But at the same time you view it as a bit of a stray dog.”

Are you making new music in lockdown?

“Yeah – the lyrics have started to come, actually, in the last three weeks. The album will have a lot of influence from what we’re going through. It would be silly not to. It’s absolutely a monumental happening in history. The more wound up and pissed off and depressed you get, the better the lyrics are. Andrew’s been sending me music; we’ve got about seven tunes that we’re working on. We went in the studio in January and did about six. About three of them are decent. The rest not so. We’re trying to salvage ideas from those bits and then he’s sent me some news bits. But it’s shaping up to be a good album.”

On ‘Dull’ you say: “Try scrolling down the website of the NME without laughing / I’ll give you 10 quid if you can keep a straight face / Honestly – just fucking try it mate”. What was it that tickled you?

“I had a bit of a hang-up a while back. We were put in the Worst Band category [at the NME Awards in 2016]. I was like, ‘You fucking what!? Who the fuck are you?’ I just switched. I’ve got a thicker skin these days but in those early days – oh, I was terrible. Even if someone just said ‘I don’t like you,’ I‘d be fucking all over ‘em. If I read some of those old tweets I just sound like an absolute cunt. I think I’ve grown better than a lot of people in bands. There are a lot of people who are just terrible full-stop.

“Anyway, that lyric was peppered with that hang-up in mind. And then we got a review for ‘English Tapas’ and the reviewer – I forget her name now – was calling me ‘babes’. I was like, ‘What’s she calling me babes for!’ And that wound me up even more. And then I got over myself so I think we’re all right now, aren’t we? I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise. Let’s start afresh, shall we?”

Sleaford Mods’ ‘All The Glue’ is out now on Rough Trade Records

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