Sleaford Mods look back in the face of an uncertain future
“We’re all worried about it, you know what I mean?” Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods is, of course, referring to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which in recent months has brought daily life for millions around the globe to more or less a full stop.
For Williamson, that means touring, perhaps the lone constant source of income for working bands in an era where record sales continue to be victimized by YouTube and streaming services.
Specifically, Sleaford Mods were to make their long overdue return to the States this fall. But the uncertain state of live music doesn’t bode well for the duo’s chances of making the trip any time this year.
“They’re rescheduled for October, but I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” Williamson said in a recent interview conducted via Zoom. “The gigs will be at capacity, but I don’t know if that will be authorized by then. I just think it’s impossible to demand an answer. This virus, there’s so much we don’t know. Will we get a second wave, or will it mutate? We don’t really know.”
In conversation, Williamson is open and engaged. But sitting in his Nottinghamshire home in a baggy shirt, hair in overdue need of a cut, he’s someone who seems ill fit for the term “shelter in place.” For fans of the Mods, whose minimalist electronic punk and profane but literate blue collar diatribes have earned them comparisons to everyone from The Fall, Crass, the Sex Pistols and The Streets, it’s impossible not to picture Williamson drenched in a frenzied sweat, hunched over a mic stand spitting angry, spoken word salvos a mile a minute with one hand continuously flicking the back of his head like an uncontrollable stage tic.
VIDEO: Sleaford Mods Live Lockdown
He’s a feral beast of a frontman relegated for now to being an indoor cat. But oddly enough while the pandemic has put the brakes on much of the live music industry, it’s offered Williamson and his creative other half, Andrew Fearns, some well deserved downtime to look back on their career together. All That Glue, released May 15 on Rough Trade, compiles 22 previously unreleased tracks and b-sides that paint a picture of the duo’s musical history.
“It had been in the cards for quite a while,” Williamson said of the comp. “We just didn’t know when to do it, and maybe that’s because there wasn’t really any right time. It just felt like this year was the time to do it.”
The history of Sleaford Mods takes a few twists and turns, and it’s one that extends back before Williamson and Fearn started making music together. Williamson initially spent time playing in and out of bands, among them highly esteemed indie acts such as Spiritualized. His earliest releases as Sleaford Mods owe much more to guitar rock than hip hop, but the singer’s acerbic, plain spoken lyrical approached was already well formed. When Williamson met Fearn in 2009, their partnership took the band down a new sonic direction toward grime and minimalist bass and drums. Over the course of six studio records and countless EPs, the formula has grown the duo into one of Britain’s most acclaimed and respected acts over the past decade.
The duo’s earliest recordings make up the bulk of All That Glue, but while billed as a collection of odds and ends, it’s as well curated and coherent a release as any of the band’s proper studio efforts, the most recent of which, Eaton Alive, came out on the duo’s own Extreme Eating imprint last year.
“When we released Eaton Alive and we played the Hammersmith Apollo in London and sold that out, it was such a milestone in the career of Sleaford Mods,” Williamson said. “We thought it might be a good idea to mark that and bring out this retrospective now. We didn’t want to do a greatest hits, because we’re not a greatest hits band. And we didn’t want to do a singles collection, because that’s just boring. We thought about it more as getting a collector’s piece together, something that would appeal to the really big fans of the band, and something that represents the idea of the band to us. It was an ideal excuse to combine the two.”
There has always been a provincial quality to Sleaford Mods, specifically the vivid and often hilarious way in which Williamson details the anger, frustration and disenfranchisement that comes with living in Austerity era Britain. But if the duo’s music skews toward dystopia, current events continue to validate the Mods’ angry, cynical worldview. Between a deadly pandemic that’s gripping the globe, the Brexit debacle in the duo’s native Britain or the daily inanity of Trump-era America across the pond, Sleaford Mods sound more and more each day like Doomsday prognosticators, curators behind the perfect soundtrack for today’s unnerving times.
“I think so to a certain degree,” Williamson concedes. “But I also think we’re the type of band that you either love or you hate. We’re also somewhat old. We’re not rolled out to a younger audience, we don’t get onto the primetime radio channels in the UK, apart from BBC 6 Music. We don’t get the Radio 1 slot. But our fanbase gets bigger each year. I don’t know if it will outstretch itself and the music will carry through that, but it certainly marries itself to the time. It’s hard not to, even without the virus. The music connects itself to the exterior.”
All That Glue should be more than enough to hold fans over while Williamson and Fearn plot their next move. The duo plans to enter the studio soon to work on a new record, having laid the groundwork for four tracks back in January. As for touring and performing, Sleaford Mods will wait to see what the future holds along with everyone else. How venues rebound from extended closures and adapt to potential restrictions on capacity remains to be seen. But Williamson, for one, sees the potential for a more grassroots approach to promoting live music moving forward while the industry rebounds from the fallout of Coronavirus.
“I think people won’t have a choice but to do that,” he said. “Revenue will be scarce. In a certain way, we’re in a good position. We’re established, we’ve got a big fanbase, a big following, people are interested. For bands that need to go onto that, it’s going to be harder, so I think there will be more of a DIY approach involved obviously.”