Sleaford Mods are not your average band. In fact, they’re not even a band, technically. Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn have gained notoriety by exploding any and all assumptions you could make of them from either their name, appearance or past. Two white, relatively middle-class men touching middle age whose music comes from deep within the gurgling bowels of lo-fi, electronic hip-hop. Primal, raw and aggressive. It wasn’t always so, by his own admission Jason started out his musical career guitar in hand, trotting out the sort of middle-of-the-road, cliched singer-song writer guff that engulfed the ‘90s. But somewhere along the way he was compelled to rip up the communal hymn sheet, he began kicking against the pricks.
“I think it was people like Kelly Jones and the Stereophonics ‘Yeah, he sounds like Rod Stewart’ I just thought, this is just fucking stupid. I mean there’s a hundred other people like Kelly Jones – ‘oh yeah it sounds like this and it sounds like that’. People are just trying so fucking hard to be this popstar that existed twenty or thirty years before them. It just got disgusting, it turned me off completely and I thought no I’m not having it, this is wrong. It’s just a sea of commercialism, everything’s just so ugh, crap. No invention. It was alright for a while, all this kind of rehash of the ‘60s. It was quite welcome, but by the start of the noughties it was just tiresome. Fuck off! In his defence his songs are tight and well written, he’s good at what he does but at the same time it’s got no invention to it. There’s nothing there that makes you want to go out and change things, it’s just living room music, it’s like wallpaper tunes, you know.”
“I understand that these things have a place of their own and they should be allowed to exist like anything else but for me it just got really dry, so my attitude towards the culture of guitar music became quite negative. It’s historic, it’s what we’ve been thought to like. It was an infectious groove from the early days of blues to rock’n’roll onwards. It was infectious but that infection has become the norm and people just fall into it because that’s what we’ve always done so anything outside of the box these days is met with complete disdain almost. People can’t handle it, it has to be sold to them in a specific way or else they won’t like it.”
It was thinking outside the box that made Jason change his approach, he ditched the guitar and traditionally structured songs were out as he used samples and loops to lay the foundations of what we now know as Sleaford Mods. “I was doing it on my own for about five years. It was all sampled loops from old records, old soul records, punk records anything that I thought was worthy of looping I’d do it. Things changed drastically when Andrew came along, we became sort of well-known, we’ve been able to forge a living from it. I needed original music, using other people’s music was a bit dated and also problematic with copywriting and stuff. So, I needed something more homegrown and that’s what Andrew brought to the table.”
Andrew Fearn, Sleaford Mods’ musical wing, joined Jason to take the band to the next level with original beats and backing tracks. “He does play live instruments but he generally puts them together on his iPad or his laptop or whatever and he’s got various programmes he uses to make beats. It’s generally electronic, sometimes we might use physical instruments but not a lot.”
Jason’s disdain for what guitar culture was relentlessly churning out meant the band was now looking in different areas for inspiration, Wu Tang Clan became a point of reference. “I just like the almost punk nature of it. It’s quite minimal, it’s really bleak, it’s got groove to it but it’s not out-and-out hip hop. It’s just good solid rap and they talk about real things. I like the fact that there’s different rappers sharing the same beat, coming in and out.”
Often mis-construed as a stern, angry band there is in fact a lot of humour in Sleaford Mods’ material that is sometimes overlooked due to the harsh intensity of its delivery, it’s not something Jason loses any sleep over. “It’s down to their own naivety, innit? It’s fair enough but you can’t be expected to be some kind of spokesman or every time something bad happens, then you’re fucking giving your condolences and sympathies. It gets a bit too much, people don’t realise that you suffer and you feel for these people inside without saying anything. It’s just stupid, most people suffer in silence or a mutual respect, a palate of sympathy but they keep it to themselves. You don’t have to walk around fucking being a billboard for it, sometimes people expect that and it’s wrong. It does get a bit frustrating.”
Often painted as hard-line, political sloganeers, perhaps due to Jason’s very public ousting from the Labour Party after he eloquently labelled Dan Jarvis a cunt via Twitter, the band are expected to address every major issue. Their reaction has been quite the opposite, focusing instead on the mundane minutiae of the daily grind. “I don’t want to sound patronising by going oh look at the world, it’s shit’. People know that don’t they. It’s like people don’t experience the true tragedies of the world outside because they live in one place all the time. Most people don’t venture out because they can’t afford to, so it’s important to centre on what’s in front of you. There is the occasional reference to world issues but these things are tens of thousands of miles away from us and it’s really hard to comprehend it. So, I tend to just talk about the here and now and the stuff that’s under my nose because really that’s what directly affects me.”
This propulsion to swim upstream against the weight of expectation has made Sleaford Mods one of those bands that immediately polarise opinion. People either love or hate them on first sight, there’s not many people who think Sleaford Mods are just okay. “A lot of people just don’t want it. They want their entertainment to be controlled, stereotypical, contrived and if they’re presented with something different it’s met with a sea of dismissal. They want their little boxes for you to live in, so what do you do?”
What they did was release English Tapas earlier this year, a record that is lyrically as brutal as anything they’ve done before but leans more heavily on melody than the bulk of their previous work. “Every time we do an album we want to try to do something a bit different, subconsciously we’re drawn to do stuff that’s more challenging. We can’t really keep repeating what we think we’ve done before. So, that was just a result of that really. It’s more accomplished, it’s more mature I think. The song writing is better, it’s tighter and I think that’s a sign of what’s to come for the future really. We’ve just got better as song writers I think and there’s a little bit more of a calmness to it I think, it’s not so chaotic. It’s not as primal as it was perhaps which I’m not bothered about. It’s the delivery really, you know, you just can’t keep going on like you did, it would just get boring.”
Love them or hate them Sleaford Mods are anything but boring.