Andrew Fearn and Jason Williamson, Sherwood, July 2012. Pic: David Sillitoe
The obvious opening question: the name...
Jason: I've always been into the Mod thing. It suited the music I was doing at the time. And 'Sleaford' sounded better than 'Grantham', which is where I'm from. Sleaford's about twenty miles away from Grantham; I used to go there a lot as a kid, because it was the nearest place with a cinema.
There's only two things people of a certain age know about Grantham...
Jason: ...that it was labelled the most boring town in the UK in the mid eighties, and the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher.
Do you want to take the opportunity to apologise on behalf of your home town for the latter?
Jason: Well, yeah. Wholeheartedly. Horrible how evil can lurk in the most unsuspecting places. I don't know if any of her family are still there - her old man ran a quite modest fruit and veg shop, but apparently he had a horrible ideology about how things should be, and that rubbed off on her.
And was Grantham as boring as they made out?
Jason: Oh yeah. It was shit. There was nothing in Grantham. You can't expect to stay there and try to do anything or meet anyone there. There were a couple of nightclubs where you took loads of beer and speed, a glam rock night that was all over the place, an indie disco in a jumble sale hall and your usual meat markets, but no music venues. I'd already met everyone I was gonna meet in Grantham, music-wise, so I moved out.
Andrew: I was brought up nine miles from Lincoln, in a remote farm area with no public transport. I was so into music as a kid that I couldn't wait to get out. I definitely didn't want to work on a farm like my dad. He tried to talk me out of it, but failed. Growing up in Lincolnshire, you always felt that there was nothing going on, especially when you compared it to the West Midlands. Even a place like Wolverhampton seemed to have a scene and a history to it; in Lincoln, every music venue seemed to be burning down after two years for the insurance.
Jason: I lived in San Francisco for nine months, with the plan to join a band, but I ended up working as a security guard at night and bumming round the flat drinking in the day. Then I came back and ended up living in London. Again, with the intention of joining a band, and I got involved with a couple of them, but a lot of them were doing brown, and we weren't getting anywhere, and then Britpop came in, which I was never into. London's nasty for trends, and it's so industry-orientated; everyone's chasing the deal, obviously, and everyone's on a treadmill. It was crap.
Anyone who goes down to London to do something creative and then comes back - it's a line in the sand of your life, isn't it? Did you have a sense of 'I'm backing away from my dream, here'?
Jason: I remember going over London Bridge in a van with my mate and thinking; "What the hell am I doing?" In a lot of respects, I shouldn't have left; that's where the industry is, after all, and I could have stuck it out, got in another band and got signed. But I've been in bands with people who have been in other bands that have made it, and they've worked for eight years towards having two years of champagne before being out on their arses again.
Was there a point where you knew you couldn't stick it any more?
Jason: Most weeks. It's a lonely place, and if you don't know loads of people or really stick your neck out, you end up in your flat every night smoking loads of weed. And it got boring. So I thought, I'll come up here and see if I can get anything going.
Jason: I used to go to Venus a lot, when that was on. A lot of people from Grantham used to come to Nottingham for that, and some of them ended up living here, so while I was in London hardly seeing anyone and cramped up on the Tube, they were up here having the time of their lives, so I thought fuck it, it's cheaper.
Andrew: I just gravitated to the nearest city. I moved to Newark with friends, but they all ended up going to uni, which I wasn't going to do, and I thought Christ, if I don't do something I'm going to be stuck here for the rest of my life. So I moved to Nottingham.
How did Sleaford Mods come about? Because it was practically a solo concern until about eighteen months ago...
Jason: I was in and out of rock bands in Nottingham, but I got sick of the same old guitar bollocks. Then I moved onto doing folk stuff on my own, but I couldn't find anything new in it. It was kind of refreshing to be away from the treadmill in London, but I found the local scene a bit backward-thinking, to be honest. There weren't many people out there with a vision; they seemed happy to be something that had already been. And I was just as much a victim of that attitude, too; being in a smaller town, hanging around, wanting to get signed, being told by the same people that you're great, and thinking the world owes you something. So I stopped for a while, went off me nut for a bit, and started singing over other people's electronica stuff. Then one day out of sheer frustration I started ranting over a thrash metal track, which the engineer I was working with - Simon - turned into a loop. And it sounded good. And I felt I'd found my voice. And there was a freedom to not being in a band anymore; no more lugging equipment about, no arguing with other people; I'd have an idea, I'd go in with Simon, and we'd do it.
What were the first gigs like?
Jason: They were weird, because it was just me and a backing track. There was also a backing singer at first, but that didn't work. People found it...funny. People would come and ask if I was homophobic, if I was a misogynist, if I was a hard nut...I'd often be described as an 'angry Manc', which made me laugh. Yeah, I was very hateful and angry and bitter at the time, and I felt it was important to document that. Just being honest. It was almost like therapy.
Andrew: There's two reactions; people laughing because what he's saying is so spot-on, and people who can't believe he's dared to say what he does. A lot of people were comparing him to MC Pitman at first.
We were going to bring that up.
Jason: To be honest, I've not heard that much of his stuff, but what I have heard is very funny, but has that deadpan venom behind it. It's hard to do hip-hop as an English person and make it as slick as the Americans whilst still retaining your own personality. When I started doing this is was obsessive about the Wu-Tang Clan; I would listen to certain verses over and over again just to see how they could do what they did. And I came to the conclusion that it was their accent that helped make it what it was. That twang. You don't get that with an East Midlands accent.
Andrew: The first time I saw him, he was playing at the Jamcafe, and I was stood outside because it's always rammed out, and at the end of the last track he threw the mic down and walked out and up the street and away, and I thought; who was that?
When your live performance boils down to you and a laptop, isn't that as constrictive as being in a band, if not more so?
Jason: Well, yeah, to an extent; what you hear on CD is what you're gonna hear at a gig, but that's fine with me. That's all I want to do with it. If MF Doom can turn up at the Roundhouse and do everything off a laptop, why can't I?
Andrew: And it's no more constrictive than being in a regular band, really, especially in the more popular songs a band has, where the audience still expect to hear this bit and that riff.
Jason: And the thing is, I've never worried about pleasing the audience because I already know the music is good, so I'm never nervous, whereas when I was in a band I'd be wondering about what could go wrong. So now I always go on stage with that air of confidence, because it's just standing up there, backing track, done.
Andrew: I find with Nottingham that a lot of the audience in the gigs you play are musicians, and there's a percentage of Nottingham people who are very muso - they're not gonna like what we do at all. To them, I'm up there pressing a button and he's not got a beautiful singing voice, and they dismiss it straight away. I've done gigs before I met Jason, and I knew I was basically providing the background music for other people's drinking. The thing I like about playing in Sleaford Mods is knowing that whether you like us or not, you can't ignore us.
Seeing as you're not shy in documenting your life in painful detail, is it hard to go back to your old stuff? Is there anything in there that make you think; Christ, what was I like?
Jason: The past...I was on a death wish, really. Drink-driving, falling around, getting sacked from jobs, upsetting a lot of people...doing really stupid things. I can't listen to a lot of things I've done, to be honest - there's a lot of stuff in there I don't want to go back to. Really bad relationships that have sent me over the edge, crap job after crap job. It was like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning on crack.
When we told certain people that we were going to talk to you, Jason, they all said; "You think he's a right arrogant bastard at first, but then you talk to him and he's actually a really decent bloke"
Jason: Yeah, I get that all the time. Why? Because I care about music, and I believe that it's not about going round thinking you're something you're not and trying to get signed - that your music should do something different, have integrity, and say something. And yeah, in the past I've been quite venomous towards other acts, thinking that they weren't getting it. Which is probably stupid...in fact it is stupid, because a lot of people do get it in Notts. But at the same time I'm 41, and I've been about a bit.
You've renowned for 'having a word' about certain people on your tunes. Have you ever had any comeback off anyone?
No, not at all. I did a tune on my first album called My Music, which was about a couple of people who were well-known round here who I'd done a session with, and things got a bit frosty and I felt I wasn't getting straight answers from them. So my way of reacting to that was knocking them in a tune. At the time, I didn't care what people thought, and I wanted to offend. And I found that especially in Nottingham there was a lot of back-slapping, a lot of yes-people. Nobody seemed to be honest with each other; it was, be nice to everybody just in case they can do something for you. What I was doing was a reaction towards that, more than anything. And I've had people say; "What you having a go at them for?" Well, why not? It's a laugh, in't it? Who gives a shit?
We've been told that Showboat, off your new album, is about our cover shoot at Rock City.
Jason: Yeah. Partly. I saw the usual people sucking up to the big boys, which is rife in any industry, and I've always seen that as something to stand up against. I didn't like the way certain people conducted themselves at that do, either; they were rubbing people up the wrong way. All a little bit too frivolous. Nah. Not having it.
There's a definite surge of positivity in the local scene these days. What's your take on it?
Jason: Well, there's a lot of people getting interest from record labels - doesn't mean what they're doing is any good, does it? For some people the whole point is and always will be getting signed and doing bland pop songs, but that's not my definition of a 'scene'. There's certainly a lot of people playing, but I'm not inspired by a lot of it. I see a lot of pale imitations of what's happening in London, which is bad enough as it is.
Andrew: There are bands in Nottingham that I've seen and they're really good, but it's something I've heard before. When you actually know the bands it's really difficult to feel them like a punter would. I'm one of those people for whom music is my job - I can digest and understand it really quickly and then move on.
Jason: The reason me and him are so sure about Sleaford Mods is we know it represents who we are, where we live and what we see on a day-to-day basis. It doesn't want to be anything other than what it is. A big slab of realism. The whole country's dying on its arse, and people are singing about why don't we all come together, when they ought to be pissed off.
The new generation of bands and artists - they're not very political, are they?
Jason: The drug culture that's been around since the late 80s - that didn't help. So did Britpop - that Liam and Noel mentality where you take what you want, get whatever you can, walk around telling everybody else that they're shit and do loads of coke. Bragging that you've never read a book. Stupid.
Do you think your attitude has held you back in any way? Do you feel certain venues keep you at arms length?
Jason: I think it means we don't get approached by certain people, yeah. My girlfriend feels that's why its probably taken seven years to get an interview with your lot. I've played at most venues. I probably wouldn't get invited onto a lot of gig lists because I'm not the same music as most people. When people go out, they want to hear bands, and something a bit more melodic. I'm not the type of person who hangs about muso venues, in any case; I'd rather be sat in a regular pub.
What's your favourite venue round here?
For me, the Chameleon is the best independent venue in Notts, because there's always a great sound in there, what with it being a danky little dirty toilet. I like the crowd there, too; every time I play in London people really get it, and I get that sort of reaction at the Chameleon too. People are starting to warm to us, now the country's in the state it is.
The new LP, Wank - a bit of a departure from your Northern Soul loops...
Jason: It's a bit more accessible, I think - the sound is a little more home-grown, with a verse-chorus-verse structure instead of a straight rant. It's more of a collaboration with Ferney now - he gets what I'm on about and it's more of a partnership. The Wage Don't Fit is my favourite tune off it at the minute - that blue-collar frustration, going to work every day, get paid very little for doing very little. People have said it's a bit post-punk, and I sort of get that - the rumbly bass and the jagged synths.
What are the future plans for Sleaford Mods?
Jason: Keep going. Keep recording. I kinda like the fact that we're not some big industry thing, and we can do things on our own terms.
Andrew: There are two audiences in Nottingham, discounting the musos - the pub crowd and the art crowd - and it's important that we're somewhere inbetween. Although I did got someone at The Chameleon come up to me at a gig recently and say "Oh, Jason's not as angry as he used to be, is he? Is it because he's had a baby?" and I thought, who are you? Some art chick that wants to watch someone being really angry? That is so trendy, that you need someone to be angry on your behalf.
So what needs to happen to the local music scene to make it better?
Andrew: Musicians need to stop listening to and imitating their favourite artists. If you want to create something different, listen to something different. There are people in Nottingham who are brilliant and you can hear a pin drop when they play and the whole room gets goosebumps, but it's all a path well-trodden.
Jason: Stop thinking about the deal, and the tour, and getting signed; think about what you're creating, and be honest.