Foto-© Ewen Spencer
Gewisse Musiker sind Resultat eines Zeitgeists. Sie kommen und gehen. Sleaford Mods kamen 2007 und gehen nicht. Neo-Punk oder Post-Punk lauten die Überschriften in diesem Zusammenhang, doch Sänger Jason Williamson und Produzent Andrew Fearn sind längst eine eigene Entität, kein Trendthema. Der entscheidende Sprung gelang ihnen vor zehn Jahren mit Austerity Dogs. Die Beats bolzten hektisch und Jason hielt mit genervten Ansagen über den Zustand des Königreichs Schritt. Wo andere vor politischer Meinung zurückschrecken, teilt er voll aus, attackiert die herrschende Elite mit heftigen Seitenhieben, mit denen wie von selbst das ein oder andere Schimpfwort einhergeht.
Alles sehr englisch, die Jungs kommen aus Nottingham, einer Stadt im Abseits. Trotzdem hat das Duo weltweit Fans. Bestes Beispiel ist Deutschland. Hier erreichten sie mit ihrem letzten Album Spare Ribs vor zwei Jahren zum ersten Mal die Top 10 der Album-Charts. Hier machte sich Christine Franz die Mühe und drehte den Dokumentarfilm mit dem schönen Namen Bunch Of Kunst, der 2018 erschien und die Art der Band prima zusammenfasst. Nun folgt mit UK Grim ein weiteres Album. Nach wie vor poltert Jason in Tilldipper oder Tory Kong topfit zu Uptempo-Beats über die Malaise in Politik, Gesellschaft und Musik. Alles erscheint hoffnungslos, er weiß sich zu wehren. Das Durchhaltevermögen beeindruckt einmal mehr. Vor Beginn der Welttournee, die in den USA beginnt und im Herbst in Deutschland Station macht, sprachen wir mit dem Duo über Zoom. Andrew Fearn schaltete sich ebenfalls zu, was nicht die Regel ist.
Congratulations. It‘s the 12th album in 15 years as Sleaford Mods. Quite an achievement, well done.
Jason: I don‘t think about these numbers too much, If anything, I‘m thinking are we doing too much? But then it becomes quite clear that you can‘t stop if you‘ve got the ideas…morning, Andrew!….
Morning. First time we see each other, Andrew. Hopefully you‘ll survive the torture.
Jason: (laughs) Apparently, Andrew, this is your first German interview, but I don‘t think it is, it can‘t be.
Andrew: (puzzled) How did anybody know such thing?
Well, let‘s give it a try. First by saying you‘ve upped the ante again as a duo. One example is Rhythms Of Class, a song inspired by early hip hop back in the day when The Sugarhill Gang was big.
Jason: Andrew made that music in the US on the tourbus and he‘s sent it to me when it was done. It reminded me of 80s pop, of things that I listened to at the time, like Fiction Factory or A Flock Of Seagulls. Not directly, but there was this nice melody to it. At the same time it was quite dirty. And then the intro to the song reminded me of early hip hop, that‘s right. Of Grandmaster Flash and so forth.
Andrew: I had this idea, yes. But we‘re starting at the same time. It‘s not that one can say, this my track, I started it! It‘s not about that. It‘s a kind of a game trying to do something I know Jason‘s going to be excited about. There‘s no point in sending him something that is mundane or like something that we‘ve done before. It‘s like in a puzzle. You‘ve got the upbeat kind of thing we‘re known for and we can put a Nile-Rodgers-like guitar on there, but we need to work out how we can put it in. If it fits, it can go in. But if it‘s too obvious, it‘s not Sleaford Mods, is it?
Jason: Exactly. It think that guitar reminded me more of bands like Orange Juice than Nile Rodgers….
Andrew: It‘s that 80s sprawl, isn‘t it? You‘ve said A Flock Of Seagulls, you could pick anything from the 80s. At the time it was new, it was exciting when it came out. You can still get that excitement today if you do it right.
Jason: There‘s also an aspect of defiance to it. Some might think we‘re not supposed to do that, because we are seen as this intense moody punk band. What? We can‘t do that? Well, we‘re going to do it then…(laughs)….
Andrew: It‘s a bit like when we were on tour and were doing Don‘t Go by Yazoo, the response was amazing.
There are a few typical Sleaford Mods numbers on this record like Tilldipper or Pit 2 Pit. Then there are tunes like Smash Each Other Up, in which your vocal delivery is not as aggressive as it often is. Are you trying to change your vocal performances a bit more nowadays?
Jason: You‘ve got to watch your voice anyway. I exercise my voice, I don‘t drink hardly any coffee anymore, I don‘t smoke, I don‘t drink alcohol. Perhaps in another ten years it won‘t be as powerful as it now, but it‘s not a conscious thought to do slower songs that need another vocal style. Andrew sent those through and we were experimenting with slower rhyming. We did it on a couple of other songs that didn‘t make it on the record. Again I could hear elements of early hip hop, but at the same you could put quite a punky edge to it. That song and I Claudius were very good examples for that.
Force 10 From Navarone was created with images of a war movie in your head. Do you find it inevitable to write such a song during a period of war in Europe?
Jason: It‘s not talking about the war in Europe as such. It‘s more talking about people‘s inability or indifference to make any real change in this country, the UK. A lot of the difference is communicated online, but we don‘t really seem to push a discourse, there is no mass. If the French can go out and campaign for better circumstances and eventually get it, why can‘t we? All we do is moan, you know. The song also talks about the idea of a concept of happiness, when you finally achieve life that is very pleasurable to live. But sometimes it can make you even more depressed (laughs). That‘s what I‘m talking about in the chorus. Florence Shaw‘s contribution just sounds really good. It‘s quite absurd. And Andrew never ceases to amaze or surprise me with his stuff. It‘s one of his strongest pieces of music I think.
Andrew, you‘re wearing a cap with the name of your own project Extnddntwrk on it. Are you happy to release more music under that name? There was an album called Ext nd d last year, since January one can download the single Anguish Of Conflict.
Andrew: I try not to put too much out, but I keep finding stuff from the archive, quite old tracks that I can log on to bandcamp. Some of these albums have been on here since before Sleaford Mods, but during the lockdown I had more time to archive it in a sense, to order it. There‘s so much stuff I used to make and it‘s quite a therapeutic process to pick out a selection of tunes that I‘ve done that might be worth for other people listening to.
It is definitely worth a listen.
At the same time you‘re going from one political disaster to another in the UK. Short-time prime minister Liz Truss is mentioned in the title track UK Grim. She was elected in a two-month candidate race last summer, no major political decisions were made in that time. How do you deal with the standstill as citizens?
Jason: Well, they don‘t do anything anyway, all they do is to make money for themselves. You‘re kind of watching the progress of a business almost, you‘re not really looking at a government. It‘s an insular company that is making profit. Occasionally they come out and say something they are supposed to say, because it‘s been suggested to them that they better. Then they‘ll head back into the building and dedicate a bit of their time to absolute smokescreens. Most of the time they‘re just looking after themselves, it‘s like a game of chess, a game of self-interest chess. People in the street don‘t notice the two months you‘re talking about, because the corruption is so transparent. I wouldn‘t say nobody cares, but nobody‘s surprised or fazed by it.
Andrew: I think it makes people feel quite ill, but nobody lets the anger out in a direct manner. In Britain we seem to be more apathetic than they are in France. Not because we are, but because it‘s hard to stomach. When Boris Johnson was in power, I couldn‘t even look at him or listen to what he has to say.
Jason: There‘s not much hope really. The only hope is in protecting yourself and in hoping that you can get through life. There might be some slight alleviation if Labour get in, but even that is looking quite centrist. They‘re going to be better than the Tories, they‘ve got to be. But I don‘t know if we live in a democracy anymore. I don‘t know if it‘s a one-party authoritarian state. I don‘t know how that is going to be for people who really need help. When you look out the window you can‘t really make sense and gauge how bad things are, but things are bad.
Let‘s talk about another point of crisis. In DIWhy you say: You look like Fred Dibnah and your haircut‘s crap, you‘re a shouty band, you‘re not original, man. It‘s a diatribe against crap music and groups. Who in the music scene is it, who gets your goat precisely?
Jason: All these younger bands starting that are getting a bit lairy, and you‘re like: You need to shut your mouth cause you‘re shit. You just sound like everyone else. You‘re going to be sorely disappointed in a couple of years when you‘re not getting to where you think you should have gone. It was put to me and Andrew a couple of weeks ago that the young need to start somewhere, and I agree with that. But sometimes you just think: Fucking hell, why don‘t you wake up and do something different, use your imagination. I‘m not turning around saying look, I know better than you – because I don‘t. I‘m just as bad as these people probably. But I like that about us still. Our style contains attacks on people, unjustified or art or whatever. It‘s just me slagging people off. Why not?
You‘ve got Perry Farrell on the record, we hear early hip hop and electro sounds in the music on UK Grim. Many young people loved Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush last year after it appeared in the series Stranger Things. Everyone loves the old stuff. Is it hard for artists today to come up with new ideas of similar quality?
Jason: I didn‘t have any, Andrew didn‘t have any. I think it‘s a mindset more than what‘s available. You can make something out of absolutely nothing. I‘m of the firm belief that you can. My only defence of these people is that they‘re not aware of it and that the awareness perhaps comes in later life. Or they‘re not that bothered, you know. We really love what we do. We rely on our dependency to be progressive. Perhaps that came in later life, it probably did. At the same time I don‘t think it‘s the apparatus or what‘s available to them. I just think the consciousness isn‘t there.
Andrew: Young people have got a lot of distractions and other options. To be in a rock band or pop group is a bit of an old-fashioned dream. Creative young people are much more into graphic design these days or similar areas which aren‘t so direct. At the same time the media doesn‘t really help, they‘re sticking to the old rock‘n‘roll identity and the idea that you still have to be like The Beatles. Then you‘ve got lots of small radio stations playing cool music and people on social media aren‘t being picked up, because they‘re not part of the narrative of what‘s happening in the higher echelons of the industry. We‘re not blaming anybody for it, that‘s the state of things, that‘s where it‘s at. It‘s been a decline for a long time. You used to have talent scouts going to gigs. That died and changed the landscape. It‘s just harder to get noticed.
Thanks for your time, gents!
Jason: Thanks for your time too. See you on tour in October.
Sleaford Mods Tour:
16.10.23 Frankfurt, Batschkapp
18.10.23 Köln, Carlswerk Victoria
21.10.23 Berlin, Columbiahalle
24.10.23 Leipzig, Täubchenthal
28.10.23 München, Tonhalle