Saturday 16 February 2019

trip to Spa is like a trip to Mars....

I've been writing album reviews for Leftlion magazine for the best part of ten years now.  It's fun to listen to something that you have absolutely no pre-conceptions about.  The odd 150 word review also isn't all that strenuous, to be honest.  I also get a bit of a thrill throwing in ridiculously obscure references for my own entertainment, picturing baffled bands wondering what on earth I might be talking about.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I was persuaded by the editor to take a step up and take on my first interview.  Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods probably wouldn't be my first choice of interviewee because he seems so unforgivingly ferocious.... but when I met up with him in a West Bridgford cafe a few weeks ago, he was unfailingly polite (at one point, the man who furiously sings about waking up with shit on his sock apologised to me for swearing).  To be honest, I find their music fascinating, so fairly quickly I stopped worrying about meeting him and started thinking of questions to ask and worrying about whether or not my recording would fail (it didn't).

A 1000 word interview has been published and is available in this month's Leftlion or online here.... but as the interview is about four times longer than what I whittled it down to for print, I thought it might be interesting to put the whole lot up here.  Well, here it is:

Sleaford Mods

How do you remember it all?
It just takes you a while to rehearse.  Three weeks, four weeks. I’m doing a batch of new tunes now, but because I’m obsessed with it, because it’s your thing, you listen to a recording, you listen to a demo, then when it’s mastered, you listen to that.  You just keep listening. You kind of know half the lyrics anyway by then. Then, when you go to rehearse it, I’m doing a batch of new tunes at the minute.  It takes about three or four weeks and then they’re in.  Once they’re in, as long as you gig them, they kind of stay in.  It’s pretty straightforward.

It’s been an amazing couple of years for you. How’s 2019 shaping up?
Good. It’s looking good. The single’s got a great response, Kebab Spider. The tour is about 70% sold, so it’s looking alright.

I was reading the declaration you made when you announced Eton Alive: “Here we are once again in the middle of another elitist plan being digested slowly as we wait to be turned into faeces once more….” I know you get asked this all the time, but how do you feel about Brexit?
[laughs] Like anybody else in this country. In Europe they can’t understand it. I’ve been over in Berlin doing press for two days and they just don’t get it. They don’t really get the idea of class and of the aristocracy. In Germany, although there is an elitist class, it’s a republic so they don’t get it. In France, they’re quite similar to us.  Everyone feels so sad about it, and it is quite a sad thing regardless of the plus points, and there are some intelligent points. Jeremy Corbyn believes in it and I don’t exactly know his reasons and couldn’t relay them to you now, but he’s obviously got his reasons and he’s not a stupid man…. But at the same time, it’s not right, it’s not right at the minute. With everything in the package that it was produced in, the jacket it put on when it introduced itself to the masses. It’s just not acceptable. Nationalist, patriotism. Once again the working classes were conned and fed a load of dogshit. The idea of enlightenment, class consciousness thing. It’s not happened. It’s just pretty bad.

How have you seen it impact the people around you?
It’s created a massive divide. I was reading an article the other day about how the leave/remain divide will surpass Brexit and the psychology of it will be ingrained into other things. You had the divide and rule thing with immigration, with benefit scroungers, and now you have it with this. From an elitist point of view it’s quite genius. They’ve never had it so good. It’s fantastic, it must be fantastic to be motivated by making money, paying no tax, getting away with it, which is what most of them are probably doing, without trying to sound naïve. It’s fucking horrible isn’t it?

Since the beginning, your lyrics have focused on the lives of working people, working dead-end jobs at the bottom of the pile. Do you ever feel that you saw some of this coming? The way people feel, the dissatisfaction?
Yeah, as soon as the coalition got in, I knew that was it. You just felt it. You felt this darkness came over, this mist. I remember seeing George Osbourne’s face at this dinner when they first got in. He had this tuxedo on and it was this dinner for supporters of the conservative party, potential contributors. His face said it all: right, we’re going to do a better job this time. We’re going to finish off what she started and it’s going to be worse. You could see it in his face and it was fucking horrible. Sorry to swear.  I knew then, and without being politically aware, which I’m still not really, you’ve just got to be an idiot not to see what these people represent and what their policies will mean.

A lot has changed since you first started out: you’re more settled (married, kids, West Bridgford, Ken Clarke is your MP now). Is it harder to summon up the focus and the anger?
No, no.  It just comes in different ways. Part of it is not repeating yourself, as I don’t want to do that. I’m not going to try and make out I’m the person I was 5 years ago. Physically and psychologically things change.  It’s still there, it just comes out in different ways. It’s not so much a challenge, it’s more interesting to find out where it’s going to go next.

The thing that struck me most from watching the film (2017s Bunch of Kunst) was that you  look particularly drained when you come off stage. You sit there trying to gather yourself.  I read that you stopped drinking. How do you bring yourself back? How do you decompress after that burst of intensity?
I have a cup of coffee, loads of fruit, nicotine tablets. Another coffee, more fruit, another nicotine tablet and then I’ll get back to the hotel and get to sleep about two, three o’clock. I’m loving it. I love life. It’s great now: I’m sober, I’m happy… I’m alright I’m obsessed with the band and trying to keep it looking good, it’s a competitive thing to be in, especially after five years. We’re no longer a buzz band, but we’ve managed to maintain a reputation of being interesting, an integrity. Contemporary.  I’m in a great position.

I saw you in the guardian doing a round table at the start of the year with people like Paloma Faith.
She was actually okay, to give her her dues. She annoyed me at the start. She’s nice actually. She gets a lot of shit, but all these people when you meet them in person are actually alright.

Austerity and Brexit aside, what are your other sources of inspiration for the album?
Lavinia. The absurdity of fame. I wouldn’t class myself as famous-famous, but well known. Some of these people we’ve met, it’s ridiculous. The absurdity of awards shows, scenarios from how people behave in certain situations, usually at the bottom of the spectrum. From a personal perspective, there are some pop songs on there that are more form than on English Tapas where we hinted at doing something like that, but on this one there are three songs where we make a shift away from the usual sound.

Wikipedia describes your vocal style as “Sprechgesang (dramatic vocalisation between speech and song). You described it in the film as “a way of beating people up without hitting them”. You used to do spoken word stuff at the start, but on the last two records you’ve started doing more singing proper. Is that conscious decision?
Yes, it is, but I’ve also got into a lot more soul and R&B from the 80s.  People like Chaka Khan, Alexander O’Neill, Luther Vandross and stuff like that.   Andrew’s music was suggesting that to me from as early the EP we released last year with songs like Joke Shop.  With the new batch of stuff he sent through, there was a continuation of that, so I manipulated those ideas to fit my desire to want to try and sound like that. Obviously, it took a while because I didn’t want to sound stupid, and to want to do a pop song, coupled against what we normally do was going to be a bit… but I think we did it.

After ten years, has the process for writing and recording changed much?
A little bit. Andrew sends me the songs now and I spend quite a while writing and thinking about them, cultivating them at home. Whereas before we depended a lot more on improvisation and impulse. It has changed a bit.

Johnny Marr once said he spent ages pulling together a beautiful piece of music, sent it to Morrissey and it came back as “Some Girls are Bigger than Others”
That’s what Morrissey was like wasn’t it. His lyrics are weird, aren’t they? They’re still weird.  At the time, I was like 13 or 14. I hated them. I thought they were shit. I was a big Jam fan. They were frowned upon at our school. But, in retrospect, what a brilliant band.

Eton Alive is your first release on your own label, Extreme Eating. What was the trigger to take the plunge?
We thought, because we were independent before, we thought that perhaps we didn’t need a record label.  Some of the camp felt that they were working for the Man, some of them felt that everything was just being done for us and it just wasn’t very exciting, so we decided to leave. But it’s been a bit of a struggle really. You get to a certain point as a band where you’re quite big really, and when you release stuff you need quite a lot in place because you’ve got to promote it or it will just die.  We didn’t have much in place when we left and it was quite stressful really. But we have now got it up to speed. My wife Claire has jumped in and organised it all really, together with Cargo Records the distributor and all the people we’ve got on board to help push the album and give it a good sending off.  I think we’ll be alright.

Is this how you’d imagined it would be like being a record mogul?
I knew it would be hard work, but we left Rough Trade too early. We should have waited for another year and we should have perhaps released this album on Rough Trade and then done it. But we didn’t, and it hasn’t suffered. Well, it has a little bit, but not too much. I’m not sure if we’ll get a higher chart place. We’re releasing around the time of the Brit awards, and what tends to happen is that all of those artists around the Brit Awards get a surge in sales and we’ll probably be nudged down because of that.  Not the greatest business move, but we don’t suffer too much for it.

As a band, you’ve moved from playing venues in Nottingham like the Chameleon Café through Rock City and on to the Royal Concert Hall. I notice your tour in the spring is back in slightly smaller venues, so do you have any plans to play the Ice Arena or are you taking a conscious step back?
It’s taking a conscious step back. We just thought it would be good to do a proper, classic UK tour. It’s paid off, those venues are filling up quickly and why not take it back to that? People have loved it. We did it a few years ago and people loved it then, and we thought why not.  It made a change to just doing 8 dates in the UK at big places that, to be honest, we just didn’t fill anyway. We’re not the kind of band that just sell out somewhere straight away. We thought it might be a good idea, with the decision on Brexit looming around that time, to take it back to the far corners of the country. We did two nights at the Roundhouse last year. We should have just done one. It looks good, but you don’t fill’em.  What’s the point? I just got sick of that. Who gives a fuck? We just took it back to smaller places that we did a few years back, intermingled with a few bigger places like Manchester and Birmingham. There’s a few quite big, but why not pepper it with bigger ones. We’ll be looking at Rock City at the end of the year. People didn’t like the fact that we played the Concert Hall last year. It was a weird gig.  It was good, but weird.  We shouldn’t have done it, but hey, at least we can say we’ve played it. U2 played there back in the day, apparently, so it’s not unheard of, but it felt odd.  When Rock City is full, it’s fucking fantastic!

In the past, you’ve had the Trussell Trust at your gigs. Is this something you’re looking to do again?
Yeah, we’ve had the Trussell Trust, we’ve had Shelter, we did Refuge last tour and we’re working with them again on this tour. It’s quite a lot of working out, so it’s whether it’s feasible at some gigs. We’ve asked the fan club to help out and I think that’s what we’re going to have to do.

How would you describe your relationship with Nottingham and has this changed over the years?
Good.  I’m proud of representing Nottingham and I think we do.  We’re not wankers, we haven’t turned into wankers and we’re a bona-fide band from this area. There’s not been that many.  Us, Jake Bugg, and who else? Not many.  Paper Lace! You get a bit of shit from people, especially since I moved to West Bridgford, but what can you do. You get the keyboard warriors online, but people who know the band are quite respectful.  Twitter’s an art, you have to learn to get your head around it and not take things so seriously.  These days I’m better, but I used to be quite horrible.

Iggy Pop played a 30 minute Sleaford Mods mix on his 6Music show on New Year’s Day which he described as being “Like Jive Bunny on Spice”. Iggy’s been a fan for a while, have you met him.
No.  Not yet. He came to watch us backstage but we didn’t meet him as he left before we’d finished.  I don’t know if I would, really.
How does it feel to have someone like that enthusing about you?
It’s fucking great! It’s a real honour.  Meeting him would be a bit weird. What would you say? I’d just crumble and get a bit fan boy.
There’s a great moment in the film where Iggy is looking at a copy of Grammar Wanker and this magnificent rock god pulls out a pair of reading glasses.
It’s fucking brilliant. It’s proper punk. That’s how it should be!
Is there anyone else who’s support for the band has surprised you?
Whatsisname from Eastenders. Shane?
Yeah.  He’s a big fan.  Collared me at the Brit Award [does cockney accent] ‘alwight mate!’. Yeah, he’s alright. A nice guy.
I guess being the kind of band you are, you don’t get to hear your stuff on the radio all that often.  Tarantula Deadly Cargo was used over the end credits of Channel 4’s Prison’s documentary the other day.  Do you have much involvement with that sort of stuff?
Not really. I spoke to the director a bit and he’s come to a couple of gigs.

After the album release and the supporting tour, what’s next?
Festivals, more gigs in the autumn and then figuring out next year what we’re going to do, where we going to play. Are we going to go to Australia, America? We’ll see what happens.

Glastonbury was a really big moment for you guys.
I don’t enjoy Glastonbury too much as it’s almost turned into a music industry event, but if you can get the gig it’s brilliant.  We’re not doing it this year as they won’t let us, but hopefully next year or the year after.
They won’t let you play?
You play one year and then you have a year off.  We played the year before, they had a year off and they won’t let us play this year even though we’ve got an album out. They’ve been told, quite rightly so, that they need more of a female presence on the bill, so the booker is scrambling around trying to get more women on the bill.  Fair enough, you know what I mean? To be honest, I’ve done it twice. You get that feeling when you’re there, because it’s televised, you get really nervous. You never know, they might offer it to us. Stormzy is playing this year, he’s headlining, and he played when we were there. I think the bigger you are, the more access you get.
It’s a bit depressing to see the fuss people made about Stormzy being announced as a headliner. The same fuss Kanye got, the same fuss Jay-Z got.
It's racist. Essentially they’re just saying, no we don’t want this black man playing. They don’t pipe up about anybody else. It’s just racist.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to Leftlion readers.
Thanks for the support. To anyone who likes us in Nottingham, thanks very much.
And anyone else?
Try and have a listen! Keep giving it a go.

One more question: with your 50th birthday looming on the horizon, are you planning a birthday party in a pub?
No. I think me and the wife are going to go to Paris.  She’s 40 and I’m 50, have a nice weekend in Paris.

It’s not a crap job, but it’s hard work. You’ve just got to keep going. It’s a vicious game to keep yourself up there. You’ve got to be alert, you can’t be messing about. It’s not the 70s anymore, you can’t be wasted.
I’ve now got this image of you training like Rocky, running up the steps of the town hall.
Yeah. That’s what it’s like. It’s going against this image that you have to be wasted. It’s not the done thing to say that you go to the gym. There’s this big stigma, but go against that. Smash the stereotype. That’s punk rock.  Bring it on.  I’ve not had a drink for three years.  I had to stop and the band’s got better.