Everyone Wants To Talk To The Sleaford Mods About U.S. Politics
Everybody wants to talk to the Sleaford Mods about U.S. politics. Or at least it seems that way when skimming recent interviews with the Nottingham-based post-punk, rap-punk duo. The fiercely political band has just embarked on their first North American tour — coincidentally the same week that the UK government kicked off its withdrawal process from the European Union (a.k.a. Brexit).
“There’s a very similar thing going on,” Andrew Fearn, the band’s instrumentalist and beat-maker says, perched on a bench in the backroom of Brooklyn speakeasy the Richardson. He’s zipped snugly against the chill in a blue windbreaker and a baseball cap, dressed like your older brother’s funny best friend — mustache and all. “It’s different, because we’re different countries, but with Brexit and [leader of UK Independence party Nigel] Farage and Trump and whatever he’s doing… there’s a similar kind of madness to it all,” he adds.
“Similar. Conservatives, Republicans — extreme Republicans, extreme conservatives,” singer Jason Williamson says by way of agreement, splayed on a chair in grey sweatpants and a tweedy jacket — a professor on casual Friday. “It’s what both of our countries seem to be dominated by.”
The duo have been interviewed myriad times since and before the early March 2017 release of their tenth album, English Tapas (Rough Trade Records), and it seems as though they’ve played de facto therapists to a parade of distraught journalists.
“It wasn’t an interview, really,” Williamson says of a recent chat with a journalist. “He was just telling me about the country. The state of America. He didn’t really ask me questions, but he did. If you know what I mean. He seemed quite shook up, to be honest.” There’s a similar current running through other interviews with the band: fear, confusion and a kind of need for kinship with the Williamson and Co.
“The content of what we’re doing is of its time and relevant,” Williamson says, tapping his fingers on a table strewn with empty coffee cups — this is their sixth interview of the day — his golden wedding band glinting in the gloom of the bar. “We’re living in very close political times. I think it’s an anchor for them — for most people who want to discuss that. There’s not a lot of bands doing it, is there, really? The ones that are, who say they are, not really…”
“We were struggling, really struggling, weren’t we?” Williamson asks his band mate. Fearn nods. “There was no way we could have done any other music. We were just down and out. Surviving on the bare minimum. So we are a product of that and I think we’ll be known for that forevermore.”
“[We were] just expecting nothing to happen,” Fearn adds. Both men are in their forties and Williamson has talked extensively in the past about his plentiful string of jobs, most recently “sorting out rate council tax and benefit queries for people on low incomes,” as he told the Chicago Tribune. He’s now, finally, a full-time musician. “[We lived] an existence where we almost accepted that nothing was ever going to happen. Not even with music, just with your life,” Fearn says.
Although the Mods have captured the attention of the press of late, they’ve been kicking around for roughly six years. And they’ve stayed consistent; heavily inspired by the Wu-Tang clan, Sleaford Mods records feature Williamson spitting over Fearn’s hammering beats, snarling about acquiring gainful employment (2008’s “Jobseeker”) Blur bassist Alex James’ artisan cheese line (2015’s “Rupert Trousers”) and “pretentious little bastard[s] on social medias” (2017’s “Just Like We Do”). The band’s style has been described by Noel Gallagher as “just two guys, one clearly mentally ill, who’s just shouting like Brown Bottle about fucking cider and fucking shit chicken.” To be fair, this was after Williamson said that Gallagher had “blood on his hands” due to his success and opined that Britain was suffering a serious dearth of protest music.
Formerly a fan of bands like Oasis, Williamson was in a string of “guitarish” bands before meeting Fearn and forming the current iteration of the Mods, which eschews guitars all together in favorite of a more dancey, grime-tinged sound. Fearn, for his part, was in an indie band when he was seventeen, but quit after two shows. He still remembers the lyrics to his first song, however. “It was called ‘Sixteen Leaving School,’ he says. “It was really cheesy. ‘Getting no help/Called a fool/Sick to death/Need advice/Join the dole/or pay the price.’ I don’t know how I just remembered that… That’s really weird.”
“That’s fucking brilliant. That’s wicked!” Williamson says, laughing as he rocks in his chair.
Despite being in a band together, the guys have pretty disparate musical tastes. While Williamson has basically been enjoying Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road for the last two weeks, Fearn likes to type key words into iTunes and listen to whatever comes up. “I like the diversity of listening to something that maybe I shouldn’t be listening to,” he says. ‘So I typed ‘madrigal’ and it came up with all this lute music. There was a lute album for thirty-four quid. It sounded like Blackadder, kind of. Like Tudor music.”
The men seem a bit mystified by their recent success — which includes the official stamp of approval from punk icon Iggy Pop. Pop called them “the world’s greatest rock & roll band” on his BBC radio show.
“It’s really a bit weird, isn’t it?” says Williamson of Pop’s praise — although he admits that he hasn’t yet listened to 2016’s Post Pop Depression. “We’ve never thought we’d get accolades from someone like that. To get more than one hundred and fifty people into a room to watch us was fantastic.”
And they don’t take their recent good luck lightly. Williamson and Fearn are serious about their job — and they see being in a band as just that: a job. Although Fearn frequently swigs from a beer (or three) on stage while his beats careen into the venue, he’s not really that into drinking. When he’s playing a show, those onstage beers are all he consumes.
“I think people drink too much, really,” he says. “I’m going to get booed for saying that.” He’s still a bit hazy from jetlag and the couple of gin and tonics he downed the night before with the band’s manager aren’t really helping — mostly because he imbibed at what he now realizes was five a.m. UK time. “Nottingham’s kind of one of those towns where it’s not that great, but it’s full of great people. So you go out, it’s Friday night, but you wouldn’t go home until Sunday. Because there’s lock-ins at the pub and someone’s having a party and then the drugs come out. Most crap towns in England are like that because I think it keeps people’s spirits up.”
Williamson, for his part, used to be a hard partier, but has since cleaned up his act. He recently told the Tribune that he stopped drinking and doing drugs last June and even started going to the gym — albeit once a week. “It’s a job. I mean, we have a laugh, but it’s a job,” he says of the band.
And that job starts full-force that night — with the Mods’ first U.S. tour date at Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s venue the Warsaw. The one thousand-capacity room is sold out and a cadre of local journos pack the list. The band’s last New York show took place three years ago at Williamsburg venue the Wick, so they’re not sure what to expect.
“Someone threw a pint at me, but I don’t think that’ll happen again,” Williamson recalls, musing about how a large portion of the audience were British expats.
Well, if recent interviews are any indication, the guys are more likely to be fielding political panic than flying lager.
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