Bryget Chrisfield got herself a faceful of remorselessly candid and cosy recollections when she rocked up to meet Jason Williamson (words) and Andrew Fearn (beats) of hallowed UK electronic-punk duo Sleaford Mods.
When STACK arrives at the designated interview location – a neighbourhood café in Carlton North, a trendy inner-city Melbourne suburb – Sleaford Mods are already seated at a table with two other lads who turn out to be their tour manager and sound man. Wordsmith Jason Williamson’s vibe is exactly as expected (very intense geezer), but beatsmith Andrew Fearn has a disarmingly sunny disposition that takes yours truly by surprise.
This Nottingham punk duo absolutely blew the roof off The Croxton the night before this interview, and their simple gigging requirements of mic-plus-laptop made us wonder what they request from venues in advance in terms of stage set-up. “Yeah, nothing, really,” Fearn allows. “Some beer…?” Williamson ponders, “Yeah, just a table and beer innit, really.” “Someone‘ll always come out and go, ‘Do you need to load your stuff in?’ And we‘re like, ‘No’,: Fearn chuckles. “At festivals, [the tech crew] love it ’cause they get a li’l break, you know?”
At the aforementioned Sleaford Mods gig, we noted a posse of peeps – right down front, stage left – spitting every single syllable back at Williamson. “Same in Sydney,” Williamson enthuses. “Normally, at most gigs, you get people mouthing the words, but they‘re doing them completely wrong.” Fearn continues: “And we’re looking at them going, ‘Oh, yeah?'” Williamson admits, “You can’t look at them, it puts you off! You’re like, ‘Wha’?” Then Fearn grins, “You can see their brain going, ‘Oh, no! I thought I knew it!'” Williamson guffaws and then Fearn insists, “It’s really cute, though.”
One of Sleaford Mods’ first ever public performances was at art gallery Nottingham Contemporary, as part of a tribute to Saturday Night And Sunday Morning author Alan Sillitoe. (Turns out Sillitoe’s son, David, directed their Mr. Jolly F-cker film clip – see above.) Of this gig, Williamson recounts: “It was a weird one, ’cause [eyeballs Fearn] you’d turned up, and you looked really pissed-off, and I said, ‘You alright?’ And you were like [puts on moody voice], ‘Yeah’.” Fearn interjects, “I hated that place, though.” Williamson continues: “But by the end of it we were steaming, weren’t we? And I remember you come boundin’ over after the gig and went [employs one of his famous ‘dickhead’ voices], ‘Oi, Evenin’ Post wanna interview ya!’ Like we’d made it,” he laughs.
“It was surreal, though!” Fearn defends. “It was like a vigilante attack; an assault on the venue. It’s a bit hoity toity, d’ya know what I mean?”
Lunch is served and some kind of salad is placed in front of Williamson (we would’ve put money on him going for a full English breakfast, but there ya go!). In between mouthfuls (he’s a very noisy eater, by the way), Williamson tells us about the new Sleaford Mods record All That Glue: “It’s like a retrospective, really. Particularly for countries like Australia, New Zealand, and America, where the audience isn’t as big as in Europe or the UK – we thought it was a nice little showcase to reintroduce the older stuff to you, because a lot of it went under the radar, really, because of the DIY nature of the releases when they came out back in the day. And also there’s seven unreleased tracks on it as well, isn’t there?” Williamson seeks input from Fearn (probably so that he can get stuck into that salad). Fearn laughs, “Yeah, there‘s some new tracks… so it’s got some integrity to it, you know?”
All That Glue is a collection of bangers, rarities and unreleased gems spanning Sleaford Mods’ output across the last seven years. While listening to this record ahead of our chat, the following lyrics jumped out and made this scribe chortle: “Baa baa crack sheep have you any rock?” They both crack up before Fearn observes, “Genius.” Once he’s finished another gobful, Williamson offers, “A lot of those are written furiously and it just came off, you know.” Was he just kind of riffing over the music when coming up with the lyrics for that song (Jolly F-cker) then? “Sure! Well, I think I wrote some in Andrew’s flat when we recorded it as well.”
“It all came together quick,“ Fearn recalls. “We have to have a good time while we’re doin’ it, otherwise it sounds a bit laboured as well.”
Particularly in a live setting, the dialogue sections of these tracks – during which Williamson takes on multiple characters – are an absolute hoot. (Too many expletives to quote here, but check out Jobseeker below and you’ll get the gist.) That’s gotta be fun to perform live, right? “Yeah, yeah, it’s a laugh, innit, you know?” Williamson concurs. “When it feels right, yeah! I still like doing that, d’ya know wha’ I mean?”
Comparing the immediacy with which Sleaford Mods used to approach songwriting to how their songs typically come together these days, Williamson reveals: “Now we sit back and we think about it more. We’re obviously older, different people – those early albums have got a message and that message stays with that album, d’ya know wha’ I mean? It’s important for us to move on with it.”
In another one of All That Glue‘s standout tracks, McFlurry, there’s a sample of a bloke discussing the effects of various illicit drugs. Where did they source that from? “I recorded that when I went to Morocco, and I got to know this guy from Brighton, a plasterer, and his brother. I can remember he goes, ‘What’re you doin’ with that phone?’ And I said, ‘Look, I’m recordin’ it. Do you mind?’ He went, ‘Well, as long as you don’t mention me name.’ And I said, ‘Well I’m not gonna do that!'”
“That’s priceless, that conversation,” Fearn says. “He sounds like the Camberwell Carrot guy from Withnail & I… He can’t pronounce his Rs, kinda thing.”
Reflecting on the rise of Sleaford Mods, Fearn reckons it was largely due to the fact that there was “nothing original” happening circa 2012-2013. “It felt like a low ebb for music and culture,” he opines. “It was all the manufactured indie bands, and just the boring, contrived-ness of it all felt really institutionalised. I think that was part of the reason behind our success, in a way: the timing of it all.
“When it first kicked off, I didn’t expect it. We’d both been making music for a long time and neither of us had had any success, and we weren’t getting any younger, and it was just to have a go, wasn’t it? There were no expectations with it, really, and, I mean, I was actually quite cynical about it, in a sense.”
“Yeah, you were,” Williamson chimes in. “I think you were cynical about the live thing. The recording – studio-wise – you were totally into the idea and open to suggestions.” “There was no agenda or power trips or anything like that,“ Fearn agrees. “I’ve always protected my love of making music, and through the times of being skint, that’s always got me by. So I’ve always valued that.”
All That Glue by Sleaford Mods is out Friday May 15 via Rough Trade/Remote Control.
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