Catching Up With Sleaford Mods

You can count on duo Sleaford Mods to tell it straight: “Your head’s full of sauce, you’re a tin of baked beans,” frontman Jason Williamson barks on “Right Wing Beast.” That’s just one insult among many that populate UK Grim, the post-punk duo’s latest collection of minimally appointed electro-rock. Rapping and reciting over producer Andrew Fearn’s bass throbbing and direct beats—think Mark E. Smith raised on Wu-Tang—Williamson sounds perfectly at home in the discontent, like a town crier who’s less interested in spreading the news than he is in poking holes in the official story.

UK Grim picks up where the band’s last outing, 2021’s Spare Ribs left off, doubling down on the agit-pop trappings and featuring collaborators, like Florence Shaw of Dry Cleaning, and more surprisingly, Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction. Farrell’s distinct, rock god wail contrasts against Williamson’s blunt bursts, a novel taste that makes you wonder where the Mods might go next. We rang up Williamson and Fearn via Zoom to discuss the new record, calling out online trash talkers, and stealing beers at the pub in the old days. | j woodbury

Aquarium Drunkard: Before we get into the proper talk, I want to ask a personal question. Jason, I’m also named Jason. Has our name fallen completely out of fashion? I feel like I don’t meet young Jasons.

Jason Williamson: [Laughs] No, it’s a seventies name, isn’t it? Seventies and eighties name. But you know what, Andrew is the same. I don’t come across any kids called Andrew. These names are of their time, I would imagine a little bit. Do you know what I mean? 

Andrew Fearn: Kids are called things like Charlie and stuff, aren’t they? 

Jason Williamson: Oh god. Rufus or whatever. Old names. 

AD: UK Grim is another gem. I liked Spare Ribs an awful lot too. How do the two records feel connected to you? Did they come out of roughly the same timeframe?

Andrew Fearn: Maybe not the same time, but it’s definitely quite a continuation. 

Jason Williamson: Spare Ribs switched up a bit. And UK Grim follows suit. Which was the plan, to write and album that was on the same level as Spare Ribs. 

AD: These records have both gotten a lot of attention, more than you might expect given the aggression and the minimalism—both things that make them very strong records of course, but not what’s usually associated with the mainstream. If asked to speculate what do you think people are latching onto in your music?

Jason Williamson: They’re pop songs, essentially, a lot of them. And I think people connect with that. They connect with the lyrical content, and they also connect with Andrew’s music—which is really inventive. You can tell it’s Andrew, you know? He’s on his own with his music, just like I guess we are on our own as a band, you know what I mean? And you know I think people respond to that as well. It’s a familiar originality. 

AD: Jason, how do you get music from Andrew? Do you get fairly completed tracks? Do you write the the structure in mind or is it the other way around? 

Jason Williamson: Sometimes. But sometimes he’ll send me a song and it’ll be unstructured, but then I’ll write a song over it and that gives it a real different edge. We don’t chop it up as much as we used to. Sometimes they are complete works already.

AD: UK Grim features some interesting collaborations Florence from Dry Cleaning is on it. “So Trendy” features Perry Ferrell and Dave Navarro. Where do you guys stand in terms of Jane’s Addiction or Porno for Pyros? Were those groups that you had any affinity for when they were coming up? 

Andrew Fearn: No, not really.

Jason Williamson: But both of us agreed that they’d would be quite interesting to work with. 

Andrew Fearn: “Been Caught Stealing” was a massive track.

Jason Williamson: Classic. It’s an anthem. It’s this big rock thing, but his vocal is really punky. 

Andrew Fearn: You’d be in a nightclub in the nineties and when that song would come on, that would be a great mine sweeping moment. Everyone would leave their drinks to go dance and you just go and grab someone’s beer. 

AD: Been caught steeling? 

Andrew Fearn: Literally. [Laughs] 

AD: Spare Ribs also featured some great guests, Amy Taylor of Amyl and The Sniffers; and there’s that awesome Amen Dunes record. What is it that will excite you or not excite you about the potential of collaborating with somebody?

Jason Williamson Depends who it is. If it’s someone that both of us feel is interesting, then usually the collaboration works well. 

Andrew Fearn: Perry Farrell, he asked us to do it. If other great artists from the past contacted us and wanted to do it, we’d have to think about it.

Jason Williamson: I mean, you don’t want it to become a thing where, you know, someone that wants their career revitalized  is contacting you or something. [Laughs[ Yeah. You often smell that kind of thing anyway, can’t you?

AD: I really dig “DIwhy” on the new album. If there’s anything that can inspire instant rage in 2023, it’s thinking about online discourse, which has become so pointless and so useless. But there’s a lot of humor in that song too—there’s always humor in your stuff. Does it frustrate you as a writer when people take things too literally or seriously? 

Jason Williamson: I think reviewers do, in fairness, [pick up on the humor]. That song centers around people attacking you because they think you are a sellout or they think you’re just thick because you’re successful. It’s all shrouded in what I would imagine is jealousy and fair bit of bitterness. The attackers aren’t interested in the music that we do anyway. But you are completely right in saying that there is nothing more useless than online discourse. Unless it’s helpful to people, or even people are making each other laugh, it’s completely pointless. 

Andrew Fearn: For sure. But even that has become so, so tangled. [Laughs]

AD: You guys came up playing music before the online thing was as prevalent. Was there just as much in fighting back then, it just took place in real life?

Jason Williamson: No, it didn’t because people wouldn’t be like that to each other in real life, would they? You know, absolutely not. Of course they wouldn’t. There’d be fights and people don’t like fighting. So generally people would keep their opinions to themselves.

It’s just that online, since the emergence of social media, that these things have started to happen. Unless you were absolutely pissed out, you’re in the pub and just told somebody what you thought of them, which happens obviously, but no it wasn’t like that. There was a lot of resentment, but you could, it was unspoken resentment and that’s how it was. 

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