The post-industrial site of Sound City, sitting on the banks of the river decades after the workers left and awaiting the inevitable re-development into luxury apartments, would seem, almost by design, the most natural arena for a band such as SLEAFORD MODS. A good 10 years and three albums proper in, and Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn’s disaffection and disillusionment at the world they see around them shows no sign of abatement. There are still points to be made, there’s still anger. Maybe there always will be. With the assistance of Fearn’s loose and disorientating scatter-bomb soundtrack as a canvas, Williamson’s vitriol still needs a channel, a spotlight. Variously seen, depending who you ask, as beer-spilling aggressor or champion of the disaffected, he sees no reason to take his foot off the poetic pedal now that he’s managed to kick the nine to five.
“You can [slow down], in the sense that you’re destroying yourself; you’ve got to be wise to that,” Williamson tells us when we broach the subject with him. “But in terms of what you see, and what you think, and your attitude, that doesn’t change. It softens the blow a bit, having a bit more money, but you’ve got to keep that in check. It’s hard being a full-time musician, because you find yourself disconnected from the real world and you can’t really switch it off, you’re constantly thinking new things. It’s a real tough one, it’s hard work, it can get you. But, yeah, the attitude’s pretty much intact; but it’s important not to let yourself slip too much.”
A new Sleaford Mods album will be with us soon. We live in hard times, and there can surely be no shortage of ideas for Williamson to shape and form: new rants, new chants, riffing off the state of the nation, and challenging his own perceptions. “It’s a mish-mash of things: one liners, political observations, personal stuff, the day-to-day goings on. I don’t need to change it up much lyrically, cos it always seems to shift itself on.” And his light remains undimmed when it comes to the Tory government, and the ongoing development of Cameron’s dystopian manifesto:
“I can’t even look at the c*nts, to be honest. It’s fucked. They’re still in power, though. They can fuck up all they want, but so what? They’re still in power. Bastards like that won’t go away; it’s a bloodline that’s going fuckin’ nowhere. They might get pointed at, and laughed at, but they’re still alive, they’re still in power, [they] still rule. Johnson’s fuckin’ dangerous, cos he’s got power, and he’s thick as fuck. You know, sittin’ round a dinner table with him, glass of wine, whatever, petty talk, you might find a little personality, a little humanity there, but in terms of his beliefs, and how he thinks he should feel about the rest of the human race, it’s just fuckin’ unreal. They make me sick. It’s a no-win fuckin’ situation.”
Evidently fired up, Williamson barrels onward, underlining the intent that fuels his lyrical outbursts. “I mean, in terms of lyrics and my opinions, and how and what I write, I try to not be too dogmatic about politics, cos it can work against itself. So I tend to just try and talk about the mood, just to make the observations, what I see around me. All that. We’ve got loads of new stuff, though, it’s just finding our way around it all after three albums doing what we do, the successes we’ve had. Things have changed a little: I’m not working anymore, so it’s just about getting it out there, see what happens. Keeping it going, finding new angles. Often, it writes itself, it kinda moves on its own. Something will reveal itself, and we just build on it.”
The last time Sleaford Mods played Liverpool was at The Kazimier in March 2015. For many sceptics, seeing them live was a game changer. People who’d already declared they didn’t get it suddenly did, such is the power of what Williamson and Fearn do. The connection between the band and the audience is personal, born out of the fact that we all understand the message. We’ve lived it. In fact, in some cases, we are the message. Fearn’s sparse beats, the tinny electro backdrop to it all, leave the right amount of space for Williamson’s snarling, twisted delivery. There’s anger and vitriol, tales told of dead-end jobs in forgotten towns. Of hangovers, cheap beer, and really good times on really bad drugs.
Williamson is a poet for the underclass, just as Shaun Ryder was before him, and produces some incredible lines that can only come from the darkest recesses of the darkest minds, such as the stunning opener from Tied Up In Nottz: “the smell of piss was so strong, it smelt like decent bacon” – just take a moment to imagine that. These are subjects with which Sleaford Mods are more than familiar, if not entirely comfortable, and it is in the live delivery that the effect takes hold strongest, in that physical connection: Williamson’s twitchy and uncomfortable way, his contorted face almost choking on the lyrics in its rush to get them out, the venom, the frenetic energy of it all, balanced by Fearn’s stillness at the laptop, nonchalantly sipping from a can, nodding through the vibes, silently admiring his mate’s performance. Much mention and comparison is made in the media with names such as Mark E. Smith or even Half Man Half Biscuit, and there’s a point there – Williamson uses wit and frustration in his lyrics – but in their delivery and written style those lyrics are more reminiscent of the gangsta rap he almost exclusively listens to.
“I’m just listening to hip hop, really, not listening to much else. A bloke called Westside Gunn, and another guy called Conway The Machine, both on the same label,” he says, “just horrible lowest common denominator gangsta rap, but I really like it, can’t get myself off that, there’s something really quite untouchable about it. I’m not talking about the violence, I’m not arsed too much about that, and the misogyny’s horrible and fuckin’ off-putting; but the music and the way they deliver the raps is fuckin’ great, so that’s all I’m listening to at the moment.”
Mention of the demise of The Kazimier, Liverpool’s growing presence as a land of opportunity for property developers, and the encroaching of the bulldozers in Wolstenholme Square does little to cheer his mood. “Yeah, we heard about that, it’s fuckin’ shit. I dunno. Sometimes I think the nightmare might slow down at some point. This shit is everywhere, it’s happening everywhere. There might be a ray of hope, something to change the course of things. If you think back to the 80s, it was all fuckin’ shit; everything got brushed under the carpet, and the masses were dulled, weren’t they? And then club culture took hold, and things felt different. Maybe we need something like that to happen again, a big change. Every day, the media carries this fuckin’ endless horrible negativity; it helps suppress people, and that gives people like Cameron protection around him, cos it dulls people, and it dulls the light; the media just works as a fuckin’ distraction. And there are intelligent, level-headed people who aren’t even fazed by all this. What the fuck are they on? I’m starting to think some people are born to be, I dunno, I won’t say socialist, but in that vein, and some just aren’t. Corbyn appeals to that way of thinking. I like the way he’s not aggressive, he treats things with a certain amount of reason, and that’s right. Me? I just get fuckin’ wound up by it all, it just makes me angry.”
John Lydon was, of course, right. Anger IS an energy. It’s a good job it is too. Without it we wouldn’t have bands like Sleaford Mods. And, in these times, this darkness, now more than ever, we need bands like Sleaford Mods.
Sleaford Mods play the Atlantic Stage on Saturday 28th May / Onstage at 21:00.