Gear Talks: An interview with Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods

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Gear Talks: An interview with Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods

Sleaford Mods Jason Williamson Interview
Words by Isabella Venutti

Ahead of the band’s upcoming Australian headline tour, Jason of Sleaford Mods chats about the source of his fierce creative energy, he and Andrew’s songwriting process, and the conditions that make for the perfect live show.

Though underscored by the gritty synthetic textures of Andrew Fearn’s electro-punk arrangements, Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods’ lyrical diatribes throb with a malaise that is painstakingly human. 

Read up on all the latest interviews here.

Listening to the band’s most recent album UK GRIM is like standing at the mouth of a provincial UK mainroad’s honk and chatter – a barrage of the anger, self delusions and fallibility of its inhabitants blowing your hair right back as the beats clatter on.

Though the band aren’t necessarily chronicling the depths of contemporary life with an optimistic eye to the present,  if we’re widely acknowledging that things are shit, if anything, it’s Williamson’s sheer tenacity and charisma as a performer that will leave us wanting to linger in the dark for a little bit longer.

Ahead of the band’s upcoming Australian headline tour this June, I sat down with Jason to chat about the source of his fierce creative energy, he and Andrew’s songwriting process, and the conditions that make for the perfect Sleaford Mods show.

I’d love to start off by chatting to you about your single with the wonderful Florence Shaw of Dry Cleaning “Force 10 From Navarone” – when I saw that you had collaborated I was really compelled, because I can see thematic similarities in both of your respective work, in that you chronicle a sense of malaise within contemporary UK society – how did this collaboration come about?

Thank you. Well, we’re big fans of Dry Cleaning, they supported us on our UK tour in 2021 and it just went from there, really. When I started writing Force 10, it became clear that it would sound brilliant with Florence’s vocals on it. And so I kind of asked her, with fingers crossed, and she said yes, so I was like, yes! So, it didn’t take that long really! She came down to Nottingham and did it in about an hour. It was pretty phenomenal, you know what I mean? We kind of had a talk about what I was looking for in the song, and she went with it. It was done pretty quickly… and it’s the best song on the album for me.

I kind of see the two of you,  lyrically , almost as found object artists, pulling together these abstract fragments of the everyday that come together to create a whole. I’ve read that Florence writes down snippets of strangers’ conversations out in public to form many of her lyrics – what does your process involve, how do you go about translating the culture you’re absorbing and living in into your lyrics?

Probably in very similar ways to that, I guess. There’s definitely an element of that. Without a doubt. 

It’s a super interesting way to work. How does your songwriting process play out in collaboration with Andrew? Do you the two of you usually begin in the box with a beat, or do things stem from your prose, do you always write together or do you each bring ideas to the table and experiment?

Kind of both! I guess it depends – Andrew sends me the music a lot of the time and I kind of work on it like that. But then, we’ll get together and write a song from scratch, so either way it can work. I guess that’s how we’ve always carried on – d’you know what I mean?

Totally… because, it’s quite an immediate sound, for me, when I listen to the band it kind of sounds like your vocal performances are done in one really fierce, galvanising take – but I’m sure there’s a lot of tinkering around in the process.

Totally, yeah. They aren’t laboured over forever and ever, you know, the longest I think we spent on a song was perhaps ‘Nudge It’… With Amy Taylor… that took quite a while. Or even ‘So Trendy’ with Perry Farrell, that took about three months to do. But generally, they’re kind of one week, to two weeks or even two or three hours, you know what I mean. 

So it all depends on the energy of the song?

Yeah, I mean as we carry on there’s a lot more fuck ups than there is instantaneous successes, because we’re experimenting more. We’re learning to do things slightly differently.

With your performance style, and the way that you write lyrics in mind, I was listening to one of your previous interviews and I was really intrigued by the fact that you have an acting background. I can see a lot of poetry in what you do, lyrical prose… certainly theatre…

Thank you.

My pleasure, it’s true! You play a lot with the rhythmic use of words which I find really interesting… so I was wondering, do you find that you channel your creativity from the same force when you approach these different mediums?

A little bit, yeah. I think it all draws from experience… from progressive thinking… a constant analysis of everything. Anger is definitely a thing there… frustration – all of the other negative aspects that come with your personality. I guess when it comes to acting, it’s just experience from situations. You pull out whatever you feel would match the character. 

It’s almost like that [Stanislavsky] method of delving deep into the personal.

A little bit, definitely. I try not to concentrate too much on preparation for it. I don’t know… I don’t know if that’s laziness or if that’s [laughs] –


Yeah, I don’t wanna get too deep in preparation for it… I don’t know if that’s good thing, I don’t know.

Just before you mentioned progressive thinking, are there any performers, or, individuals, even entities – not even necessarily music related – that you’ve come across creatively that you think has really informed the way you write and perform today?

Just honesty, and being honest with yourself, I think. Trying to connect with that, rather than feeling like you have to, or you should be like something… I need to be like this… you don’t actually need to be like that. The only thing you need to be with yourself is honest, I think. That will carry whatever you do to the best possible conclusion. Trying to act out some kind of image is the wrong way to go about things, you just end up making mistakes and you’re not you, you know. In saying that though, when performing you can be theatrical, you can be completely overblown in some circumstances, but that’s good for the performance. There has to be a strain of you running through it all the time, know what I mean? 

Totally. What you’ve just said really reminds me of something a writer I really love Ocean Vuong said in an interview – something along the lines of “as soon as you start out a projecting thinking, how can I get XYZ, you’ve put yourself out the door… we’ve lost you”.

Yeah… that’s a good point actually… what’s his name? 

It’s Ocean Vuong. Like V-U-O-N-G.

And what does he do?

He’s a poet, and he wrote this really beautiful book called On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

Oh, thank you! I’ll have a look.

But, yeah, definitely. It’s gotta be something that interests you. I think that is another sign that you’re doing something that’s true to yourself. It interests you, it motivates you. I mean obviously you can be motivated by careerism and money and fame… and these things will carry, perhaps, a creative message, but only to a certain extent, you know. I don’t think it will give it much depth. And depth is the name of the game. It’s gotta be deep. It’s gotta be thoughtful… it’s gotta be progressive, it’s gotta be original, to a certain degree, I think. 

So, we’re actually an audio tech and musical instrument publication, and therefore I would love to ask you a little bit about the production process behind your most recent album – did it differ much from the way you approached your previous releases?

Was it different? Not really, I think it just got stronger. It just keeps getting stronger with each album. We keep refining our approach to it. The last two albums have been a similar approach, where we’ve used collaborations, where we’ve kind of just upped the mark with effects and sounds, or rather Andrew has, d’you know what I mean? There’s a lot more singing, perhaps, in the stuff, or a lot more alternative ideas about how I use my vocal – I dunno! The production revolutionised itself with Spare Ribs and so we’ve just been keeping to that approach – who knows what’ll happen with the next one.

Totally. I mean I’m sure both of you go off on your own and find different new workflows and ways of being creative that then inspires the other, right?

Yeah, definitely, I mean Andrew’s music is always challenging myself to bring something new to it. It’s always telling me to up the ante, so to speak. 

And the two of you generally tour as a two piece, right? The extra instrumentation, guitars etc, isn’t a part of the live set?

Oh god yeah. We don’t wanna have physical instruments… I just think it’s boring. The idea of looking at people with physical instruments – it works for some bands, but, I just find it a complete turn off, you know what I mean. 

Makes it a lot harder to tour too, right?

There is that, and I don’t know whether, as we’ve gone on, [laughs] we’ve purposely kept to the way we’ve started out because of that, who knows! It certainly helps.

I’m not sure if you’re super across any of Andrew’s live rig essentials, but do you know that there’s anything, it doesn’t even have to be gear based, are there any conditions that you think make for the perfect Sleaford Mods gig? 

I don’t know actually… just an engaging audience. We need to feed off the audience, and if they’re static it can be a problem sometimes. Especially for Andrew, he really does respond to people being, you know, sort of physically conscious about it. But you’re not gonna get that in all of the territories. You’re just not. 

Totally, I live in Melbourne and punters can notoriously have a bit of a too-cool arms crossed energy about them. 

Sure sure sure. Well, we’ll see what happens there.

You mentioned Andrew being affected by a lack of enthusiasm in the crowd – being such an energetic performer yourself, do you find that you really need a crowd’s presence to be felt?

Yeah, it helps sometimes, but generally I’m in my own world with it, so… you do tell, if halfway through a gig no one’s moving, still, it can be a little bit like it’s work – you know what I mean? But at the same time, I accept that and I always put everything into it anyway, you always do. You can’t help but put everything into it because you can’t do anything else with it. If you try and do it below par, it would just collapse. I mean, it’s a dream job, innit, really, it’s like, to come over to Australia and sell out these 1000 + venues, or whatever it is, that’s hard to do! So, that in itself carries you. 

Absolutely. And you know, it’s the same in any profession, sometimes you rock up to work and have a shitty day-

Yes, sure – totally. It is work! This is a business at the end of the day. You gotta keep the business going, you gotta grow it. That’s the idea. You’ve gotta explore that. So it’s not just about art and creativity, and spontaneity, it’s also about business. 

So what can we expect from the two of you over the next year? Are you writing at the moment?

Not yet. I dunno, we’ve got a couple of ideas Andrew’s got, but we probably won’t do anything till the end of the year, or start of next year. Who knows. The idea is that there’ll be another album recorded by… probably next September. Who knows. We’ll see.

For more information on Sleaford Mods tickets down under, head to Handsome Tours.