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Posted by on 2021/05/25 under Life

I must admit, it took me a while to appreciate Sleaford Mods. I’d heard the name, read some reviews, and from that info assumed that they were just going to be another semi-controversial urban rap outfit and probably not my kinda thing at all. But gradually, I realised that my preconceptions were totally wrong. I started to hear tracks and, rather than rap-wannabes, the vocals were delivered in a ranting style more akin to John Cooper Clarke or early Mark E.Smith (circa ‘New Puritan’) while the musical backing owed as much to minimalist industrial tape loops as it did to beatboxes. On top of this, the lyrics were unpretentious, but full of anger and humour in equal doses, both entertaining and invigorating. So, I finally get to see them live, and they lived up to expectations, while the recent ‘Divide & Exit’ album was one of the best releases of 2014.
Initially, setting-up an interview didn’t seem like a problem. My old friend Richo (who had released the excellent ‘Mr Jolly F***er’ 7” on Fourth Dimension records) put me in touch with Steve at Harbinger Sounds, and we tentatively arranged an interview around their upcoming London gigs at the 100 Club. But things are moving fast for Sleaford Mods, so not only are both gigs sold-out, they’ve also agreed to play a short instore set at the new Sister Ray record shop in Shoreditch, and there’s also an increased demand for further interviews. No worries, says Steve, we’ll still sort it out.
So, Friday afternoon and I trek along to Shoreditch to find the shop. It’s quite a small place, stocking vinyl-only (Yayyy !) and both Jason and Andrew are already there, along with my old friend James who, it turns out, is also their press agent. We’ve got a while to wait, so there’s time for a quick beer, and then the orderly queue files quietly into the shop to see the gig. There’s not much room, but then again, the band don’t have much Marshall stacks or anything, so it works out fine. They play for about twenty minutes, including ‘Middlemen’, ‘A Little Ditty’, ‘Mr Jolly F***er’ and ‘Jobseeker’, then there’s time to hang out and chat with the fans before heading back to the 100 Club. By this point, I’m sorta winging-it as far as the interview goes, but I manage to get a lift in a cab with James and Jason over to Oxford Street. It’s not a long distance but at this time on a Friday evening, the roads are pretty slow moving so there’s plenty of time for general chat.
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Once at the 100 Club, there’s another interview waiting for Jason so he disappears off to do that. Whilst this is going on, I watch the opening performer, Mark Wynn, who seems to be some sorta karaoke-based comedian / performance artist. All quite eccentric, equally grating and amusing. I really wasn’t sure what to make of it, and I mean that in a good way.
Then,I finally get the call, and it’s time for my interview. I catch up with Jason in the recently refurbished dressing room (no more leaking drains… the whole atmosphere of the place has gone !) and I begin by commenting that Jason and Andrew seem to have pretty different musical backgrounds ?
‘Yeah, although we both like hip-hop and rap, and we both like punk. I don’t think he’s so taken on the Mod stuff, really, but he can appreciate it. I suppose we’re kinda similar in a lot of ways. But he comes more from a sorta electronic background, and he’s also into some sorta rock stuff, you know, Hawkwind and all that type of s*** !’
When you first started playing music together, was it meant more as a studio project rather than a live band ?
‘Oh, definitely a studio thing. He was not interested in doing live stuff at all. He just wanted to record, and really that was our initial thing. We just wanted to get something down and recorded.’
Although your earlier releases were in a similar direction, do you think it’s true to say things didn’t really become focused until Andrew became fully involved ?
‘Yeah, definitely. He bought a much-wanted second dimension to it, something I had been gagging for, to be honest. I just figured it would happen eventually, as long as I kept going and kept gigging… Sleaford Mods had developed quite a strong reputation on the local circuit by the time Andrew came along, so he really strengthened it bigtime.’
You were saying that Andrew didn’t want to play live at first, but you had been gigging just on your own before that…
‘I gigged Sleaford Mods on my own for about four years or so, just with the aid of a backing track. But as I mentioned, I was becoming aware that it needed something else. Andrew was hesitant at first, but we got offered a slot at The Rammel Club festival, which is a prominent noise/punk festival in Nottingham, and that encouraged him a bit more. By then we’d already been writing together for six months or so, and I guess he just felt confident enough to start playing live as well. It took him a while to come around to the idea. I kept asking him and he kept saying ‘No’, but eventually it got to the point where he said he’d help me out if I wanted him to do it, and I think that’s when it all changed and things really started happening for us.’
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The strange thing is, although technically Andrew doesn’t do that much onstage, there does see to be a real chemistry between the two of you, and it’s good to watch…
‘Yeah, I think so, definitely. For some reason it works… I just really needed someone else on stage with me. I wasn’t convinced that it could carry on just with me up there. It needed someone else, another aesthetic, and I think we work really well together. It just came through relentless gigging – the only way !’
You’ve spoken in interviews about being influenced by Mod and Punk, although musically what you’re doing is something quite different. In what ways do you think those influences come through ?
‘Well, I think they were quite separate as individual things to begin with, but as time has gone on, they’ve become pretty meshed, from about 1979 onwards. I think Paul Weller did a pretty good job of bringing the two things together. I think it’s just the attitude behind the two things that influences what we’re doing.’
Lyrically, there’s certainly some similarities in what you’re doing with some of the original Oi bands…
‘Yeah, I was into that, and I think it was quite important, you know, the fact that it could be quite vulgar but also sound really good. You know, bands like The Business… That really struck me, because there’s nothing like that going around now. That whole genre has been firmly buried, and considered racist or right wing, even though most of the true Oi bands weren’t like that at all. I just liked that kinda basic anger with a shop-floor attitude. They would talk about things that needed to be talked about when nobody else was doing it, and they did it in their own way, to the best of their abilities. I always found that really intriguing, because they were making the most of what they had. So, yeah, that was a big influence on me, as well as the first wave of Punk, and some of the later stuff. I mean, I loved English Dogs, who were also from Grantham, and other bands like Anti Pasti. Not extensively, but just certain tunes that I’d end up listening to, on repeat. I just liked to pick up on the attributes they had, and that kinda went into what we’re doing now.’
The thing that really sets you apart is that you seem to have really found your own voice in the way you deliver your lyrics. It can be compared to Rap, but in many ways, it’s really more of a rant…
‘Yeah, that’s what it is. I mean, I was involved with other bands before this, but I look back and think, well, Sleaford Mods, that’s it. Anything else I did before this was just s***. I was never very good because I was always trying to be somebody else. I realised when I started doing this that this was it and it was just up to me to keep it going, and try to take it somewhere.’
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Is the way you use language in your lyrics pretty important to you ?
‘I think so… slang is important… swearing isn’t so important, that just happens anyway, but I really like to use slang. I mean, I don’t think the way I use swearing is particularly offensive, because the way I use it, the tones aren’t as harsh as if someone were using it aggressively. You know, there’s no intent to harm someone. I mean, some of the most offensive or intimidating people don’t swear at all, but other people swear all the time just because it’s their everyday language. What I like to do is play with words, letting them roll off each other. It’s like Rap, almost, but not in that usual way. It’s all in the presentation. It doesn’t really concern me when people concentrate on the swearing and stuff, but it does piss me off. There’s a lot of ignorant people out there, but they can say what they want. People can be very quick to throw stupid s*** at you, but I guess we can all be guilty of that…’
You cover a lot of subjects that most lyricists would avoid. Is there anything that you’d feel uncomfortable to talk about ?
‘Only things that were forced, or false. I mean, I wouldn’t divulge really personal things, because I don’t see the point. I haven’t got a need to discuss those sorta things with a crowd, if you know what I mean. That’s the sorta stuff that I have to try to understand on my own. But, yeah, I’m pretty much happy to cover anything else.’
Do you get much room to improvise your lyrics when you’re playing live ?
‘I think so. There’s the whole physicality of it in some of the vocals. If you’ve got the verses down tight, then you start to find yourself moving around a lot more freely. It always seems a lot faster live than you are on recordings, and you find that you finish things a couple of bars early, so you put on some ad libs to fill it out.’
You originally come from Grantham, which is usually associated with Thatcher. But is she still such a big deal in the town itself ?
‘Yeah, but only in terms of the policies that she implemented on society. There’s that presence, but I don’t think as a person she’s really regarded that highly. I think any kinda ‘servant-of-the-State’ eventually becomes forgotten, because basically, they’re just c***s. But she implemented some serious social devices… People try to look back and consider her as this great leader, but they’re just f***ing idiots. It’s like, we’re seeing Nationalism on the rise again, and she really promoted that sorta thing. And I think she can be held responsible for New Labour, as well. In fact, she once said something about, the best thing she ever did was to turn Labour… I mean, she was one of the first people Blair invited to Downing Street, after he got into power. I remember that, and you just knew it was because he respected her.’
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With everything that’s going on in this country in the past few years, does it provide you with a lot of subject matter ?
‘Well, I think it’s more to do with the situations we end up in. It’s more hands-on, that’s what gives me the subject matters. There are a few bits in the News that will bother me, and they will filter their way into songs, but generally speaking, it’s usually just more day-to-day experiences. If there’s any politics, it’s more about how it affects you on a personal level. More domestic, I suppose.’
Are you surprised that there aren’t more young bands or musicians singing about similar subjects, or getting angry about the situations around them ?
‘No, I think most kids just seem to be so desensitised. There are a lot of things in place, loads of things to take their minds off all the s***. Individualism is still heavily promoted, you know, you’ve got to get yourself into work, you’ve got to get yourself a good job, you’ve got to do this or do that… So there’s that kinda thing that’s been stapled onto their minds. But so much of it is only short-term. It’s actually been quite ingenious, how they’ve done it.’
Actually, your gigs seem to attract a really broad audience, people from different age-groups and backgrounds. It must be gratifying that, at a time when most bands tend to get slotted into neat little pigeon holes, Sleaford Mods is appealing to people right across the board…
‘Yeah, it’s great. I mean, that’s the idea, isn’t it ? To appeal to all. I have no problem with that, although if a van of the 1% tipped-up, I’d have to think about that one…’
It seems that when you get interviewed, you don’t really get asked very much about specific songs. Since what you’re doing is based so much around the lyrics, do you find that odd ?
‘You’re right, actually, most of them don’t really ask about the lyrics. I suppose they just like the whole body of it, and for a lot of people it would be too much to discuss individual songs. It would be quite an enormous thing, as an individual work. I mean, none of the songs are ever about, like, one solid subject. There’s always snippets of other s*** in there as well, things coming in and going out…’
That being said, some lyrics do seem to invite further investigation… the song ‘Pubic Hair Limited’ with the lines ‘who gives a f*** about yesterday’s heroes’… is that directed towards John Lydon at all, because the only name mentioned in the song is Johnny Marr…
‘No, not at all, really… it was pointed towards Johnny Marr a bit, Noel Gallagher and all those f***ing people… I mean, Marr’s solo stuff is probably a lot better than Noel’s – his solo stuff is just f***ing useless ! I was really into that first Oasis album, and it did influence me a bit, but since then… That’s why the song’s directed at people like that.’
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There’s also the song ‘You’re Brave’, which seems to be about someone in particular…
‘Well, yeah, in a way. We went to a geezers’ flat after we played a gig in Belgium, somewhere near Brussels. And it turned out to be a massive place and we did loads of coke. There was a big f***ing mound of it and everyone was minted. So the song is a kinda cynical view of all of that, really.’
There’s also a line in the song ‘Corgi’, ‘Obscurity is the mark of a man’, which perhaps fits-in with some of the things you were saying in ‘You’re Brave’…
‘ Yeah, that came from when I was talking to another geezer at some noise-thing in France, and he was saying, ‘Obscurity is where it’s at, that’s what you should be aiming for’. I thought that was quite an interesting point, like, you don’t need fame and you don’t need the attention, your self is all you need to be aiming for. You just need to be comfortable around that, and the fact that your existence is just that. I thought that was quite an interesting way of looking at things.’
But, at the same time, you don’t seem to be afraid of crossing over to a wider audience…
‘No, because it’s also a job and we need to earn some money, you know ? We’re going to go for it, if we can. We’ll take it in our stride. As long as it feels okay to us, then everything’s alright. We’re not turning into wankers, so as long as we can keep that going, then everything’s fine.’
You’ve recently played some support-slots with The Specials at the Roundhouse, which I’m guessing were your biggest gigs so far… How did you go down with their audience ?
‘They liked us, I think, although there were also a lot that didn’t. It didn’t bother me… The Specials loved us and vice versa, so it was a truly great experience. Terry Hall actually got in touch and asked if we would do it, so I replied, Too f***ing right ! I mean, to be honest, I’m not very familiar with any of their albums or anything, but he seems to be someone who genuinely likes our music. I don’t mind supporting other people at all, but at this stage, I don’t think we really need to.’
Going back to your early CDs, were they self-released ?
‘Err, yeah, sort of… they came out on Deadly Beefburger, which was a friend of mine, so near-enough self-released. But that stuff was just me, and I’d just use loops for the backing and get a studio engineer to produce it. I still quite like that stuff, it was good, although it’s not something that I’d still want to be doing now. I just got bored with it… I mean, after five albums, you’re bound to get bored with it ! But yeah, it was pretty good. That’s the stuff that’s on the ‘Re-Tweeted’ album, so you can still get to hear it if you want to.’
You’re also releasing the ‘Chubbed Up’ singles compilation through Ipecac in America. How did you get involved with them ?
‘They got in touch and asked if we wanted to do something. We were quite interested, so we decided to do it. Although God knows what the Americans are going to make of it ! That being said, we do seem to go down pretty well in Europe and I’m not sure if they really understand the lyrics or anything. They just seem to pick up on the energy of it. Some of them are going to understand what I’m talking about, but most of them just seem to enjoy the energy of it, I think.’
Well, you also recently played in New York for the first time – how did that audience react ?
‘They loved it ! We sold the place out, so it was great. I think they could connect with the songs about work and stuff, definitely. That stuff is such a universal pain, isn’t it ?’
Okay, finally… I just wondered, in all your time gigging, have you ever had any Mods turn up expecting a more traditional Mod band ?
‘Nah ! Hahahhaha !!!’
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At this point, we are rudely interrupted by the colossal wall of sound that is Consumer Electronics beginning their set. There’s no way we’re going to be able to compete with that, so the interview is cut short (a final few questions were completed by Jason via email a few weeks later, which is how we were also able to discuss the upcoming gigs at the Roundhouse and in New York…)
Out to the main room and Consumer Electronics are in full assault mode. Fronted by former–Whitehouse member Phillip Best, they work in a similar style of power-electronics, although the twist here is that vocals are shared with Sarah Froelich, giving the lyrical delivery a whole new female dimension. None the less, the overall sound can only be described as brutal. It’s invigorating and cathartic, although it’s clear that many in the audience absolutely hate it. But that, at least to some extent, is the point of it. One way or another, their music will provoke a reaction and, let’s face it, that’s always going to be more interesting than just being dull !
Next band are Sudden Infant, a German band who I know nothing about. Unfortunately, I wasn’t too impressed. They were okay, but after Consumer Electronics they just didn’t make any real impact. At times, they recalled Faust, maybe elements of post-punk, but they didn’t really stand-out. I took the opportunity to go outside and get some fresh air as, by this point, the 100 Club is full-up and getting pretty warm.
Andrew strolls onstage to set-up his lap-top, and a minute or so later, Jason joins him to launch into the first song, ‘Middleman’. The songs come in rapid succession and it’s fun to watch the difference between Andrew’s laid-back awareness and Jasons’ frenetic delivery. The audience response is very enthusiastic, suggesting that Sleaford Mods are going to be playing to much larger audiences over the coming year. Of course, where they go from here is going to be interesting to see. The content of their songs hardly invite radio-play, but they’ve already come this far through word of mouth so perhaps they’re going to force their way into the mainstream, whether the mainstream like it or not. That would be something good to see.
Anyway, highlights of the gig, ‘Fizzy’, ‘The Wages Don’t Fit’ and a final encore of ‘Tweet Tweet Tweet’, one of their most inventive yet accessible songs. What a way to end the evening. At the moment, you should still be able to catch them playing in relatively small venues. Do yourself a favour and don’t miss out.

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