A thudding, repetitive beat booms its way out of a massive PA. There’s no band – just two wirey blokes on a huge festival stage.
One has his hand in his pocket, the other hand nursing a beer as he bobs back and forth to the rhythm. The other is pacing back and forth, all jitters and shakes, before arriving at the microphone stand and bellowing out the words, “FUCK OFF, GLASTONBURY!” Glastonbury, in response, cheers as loudly as it can.
Sleaford Mods, the gentlemen in question, are so much more than just your average lager-swilling meatheads down at the local pub – but in a few very crucial ways, that’s exactly what they are. They arrive at album number nine this week with English Tapas, and although that number may suggest impulsive productivity, the Mods themselves will attest to the fact it’s not always that easy.
“I think the process, for me, tends to start up about three months after something’s been released,” begins Jason Williamson, the figurehead of the project who provides vocals and lyrics. “We’d begun work on this record in about January of last year, but it took us a little while to get back into the swing of things after [2015 record] Key Markets. The floodgates hadn’t quite opened yet between Andrew [Fearn, producer/multi-instrumentalist] and I at that point. It actually took us until about April to come up with anything new that we found really interesting, not long after we’d put out [2016 EP] T.C.R., when we went to London to work on the album.
“Andrew tends to work pretty similarly to myself, so we were in sync for a lot of the process. By August, he was sending complete instrumentals over, which gave me a chance to really look at how I wanted to approach each song and what subjects I wanted to broach.”
Originally, Sleaford Mods consisted entirely of Williamson going on extensive spoken-word rants about the world around him – see the seething ‘Graham’ or the unemployed anthem ‘Jobseeker’. In more recent years, however, Williamson has focused more on singing and choruses within the songs. It’s not in any sort of attempt to go mainstream – that remains of little interest – but rather an evolving idea of what Sleaford Mods can be.
“It had been rearing its head more or less since the start of the project, even before Andrew joined,” says Williamson. “English Tapas has singing on it that’s a lot more refined than what was on Key Markets, and I’m finding that to be the case with every release. It’s a lot clearer – it’s a lot more distinct.
“At the same time, though, it’s got to be right. It’s got to fit with the song, and it can be really difficult to figure out what goes where in that respect. This sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight – it takes years for things to formulate properly. I think, with future releases, our songs are going to feature a lot more singing. “It has to be done in a way that makes sense for us, though. It has to suit us. The sound of what Sleaford Mods is has really changed, and I think if we make another album then it will be reflective of that.”
The ‘if’ in Williamson’s reply brings into question the uncertainty of Sleaford Mods’ longevity – although, to be fair, he couldn’t have anticipated just how far the project would go when he started performing under the name some ten years ago. The world around Sleaford Mods has been constantly swept up in the winds of change – and not necessarily for the better. English Tapas is unapologetic in its mix of the personal and political, easily surpassing that of their 2014 breakthrough Divide And Exit. For Williamson, it’s about catharsis and making sure those who actively work against lower classes and minorities are held accountable.
“I did my best to not just write about these issues for the sake of it – just because that’s what’s expected of me and of us,” he says. “You’ve got to be really careful with this sort of stuff. The political climate shifted so quickly last year – it came at all of us so fast. There’s the argument that having a pop at people like [Brexit campaigner Nigel] Farage is too easy – that they’re an easy target – but I tend to think that those people are easy for a reason. Every time we do an album, we talk about stuff like this. My focus as a writer tends to go for the mood on the street rather than some sort of complete character assassination. It all depends, though. Sometimes it can be a mixture of both – which is especially the case when you look at some of these guys with their fucking stone age policies.”
Touring is already under way for English Tapas, but a maiden voyage to Australia still eludes the band – for now. “I’m a family man – I’ve got a couple of kids,” Williamson explains. “If I’m going to be away for an extended period of time, it’s got to be within a window that was feasible. The timing has to be just right. I do have a lot of people from Australia that get in touch, so we’re definitely going to make it over there at some point.”