“It doesn’t matter where you are from or what you are doing, you don’t have to be working class, as long as you are just honest with yourself”, Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson tells Clash, ”you can’t be pretending to be something else, who needs that? It is just slowing things down.”
The idea of being honest, genuine and keeping things real is never far from the punk-rapper, singer and poetic observer of everyday life’s thoughts. It is as if Jason perceives the world through an automated authenticity filter, the filter becomes active when something doesn’t seem right, or fair to him. He appears to question everything, all the time.
Just over a week ago, that same filter was vigorously applied when he said punk band IDLES were ‘appropriating a working class voice’, during a Q&A for The Guardian. It became the hot topic of discussion that week, and it would see the likes of Fat White Family adding their comments in support, as much as bouncing critical remarks back at Jason, and adding more fuel to the fire.
“My wife was saying ‘this word appropriation gets used a lot’, but what else are you supposed to say”, he inquires. “I feel that sometimes they just play at it, but you can’t pretend to or play at it, you’ve gotta live it, you’ve gotta be it, do you know what I mean? These are serious issues that people are talking about here, but they are just turning it into a playground.”
No doubt, these are serious issues. It seems rather telling that a musician can’t be seen to express critical views about other bands or about the industry, but Jason is not surprised about the state of affairs in 2019.
“It’s hard work in this arena today. In the most professional areas of music, criticism of other people appears to be unaccepted”, he declares, “it’s seen as ‘slowing down’ profit. If you criticise a band then what you could be doing is sabotaging the whole thing that goes underneath it, the PR, the marketing, the money that goes into it. So you can be far enough in an opinion about a band, you’re endangering their profit. This is how it is, it is ludicrous, sometimes I think ‘well I’ll shut up’, but it needs saying.”
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He is still extremely passionate about being in music, aims for longevity and he clearly has something to say, there is plenty of substance and humour in his musings. For Williamson, things are in a healthy place, but they weren’t always as good as they are now. He has done more than his fair share of unskilled labour, has felt the deep sense of dread and experienced the feeling of depression when he was stuck in dead-end jobs he didn’t like, or hated.
“It has only been three years since I left work, so I am still very close to the memory of it”, Jason admits, “I did more than 20 years of it. Although I was not layering concrete, it was very bad, and it’s still very close to me.”
“It peppers the lyrics sometimes, but there will come a time when it won’t be doing so any longer, and when that time comes then there will be something else in place of it. I am totally confident that something else will come along and as long as I am true to myself, then why should I not let it?”
“It’s about making sure you are not repeating yourself. Making sure you are seeing hurdles for what they actually are. But it’s hard work because I’m in a better position now, and I live in a posh area, I have a big house, I have got more money than I ever had, so I’ve got to watch that it doesn’t trip me up, but I don’t think it has done so yet.”
Signifying the start of a learning curve, the release of the fifth Sleaford Mods studio album, 'Eton Alive', through their independent label Extreme Eating, has proven to be harder than anticipated. Having left their previous label and parted ways with management, immediate, logistical problem-solving was required. Jason’s wife, Claire, came on-board, Cargo Records UK, their current distributor joined-in; a suitable network was subsequently created and the album release campaign got up and running.
“Our departure from Rough Trade was a bit premature”, Jason concedes, “we didn’t fully realise what we needed to do for an independent release. We are not a small band anymore, so we were trying to get the same infrastructure in place we had with them, which proved quite hard”.
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As expected, the album’s chosen theme is political. If 'English Tapas' dealt with the effects of Brexit, Eton Alive is Jason’s poetic examination of some of the effects of elitism in current society.
“It’s the effects of a dominant elitist present, the shaping of policies that basically took the country to wherever over the last eight years. It’s about the mood that it has created; the desensitisation. People are numb aren’t they? We are aware of how capitalism trains people, how it separates us, we are no strangers to those truths, but it seems that the last eight years have excelled that almost, how we are and how we connect with each other.”
“The digital world has also got something to do with that. But basically, people are quite separated from each other in a lot of respects, from my experience anyway, and I’ve tried to put that feeling in there.”
The lyrics that emerge from this are an outlet for anger and aggression but are simultaneously more subtle, indirect and nuanced. The record is less shouty than any of its predecessors and with Andrew Fearn’s arrangements becoming increasingly sophisticated, the result is a more accomplished album.
“I wanted to approach it more subtly, I didn’t want to start rattling off because I’ve done that”, he explains, “it was effective but I don’t think it would necessarily continue to be as effective. As album tracks, they really work, and live they work differently. But it might all be alright.”
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On this album, Jason has been playing with the more standard song format of verse followed by a chorus on a couple of the songs, a deviation from how he would go about things before.
“That came out in a different way but then I realised that what I was doing was quite interesting, so I just continued to build on that, you can put a lot more in a monologue. I think that is what interested me a few years ago, when we first started out. I had a lot more to say and I felt confined by the normal formula, and that is why I delved more into that approach.”
The determination to deliver strong lyrical content seems to be forever on-going, it is part of his DNA, and perhaps luckily, there is always something to be angry about.
“It comes naturally. I don’t think I ever built it up. I am quite a resentful, bitter, unreasonable, paranoid, egomaniac anyway, so it’s hard not to get wound up, you know”, he declares jokingly, “no, I like dishing it out, but I don’t always like getting it back. Politically speaking, if you possess any kind of mind of your own at all, it just drives you insane, so there are things to talk about.”
Jason is aware that he can no longer refer to himself purely in terms of being working class, things are more complex. But whilst he lives in a bigger house than before, resides in a posh part of Nottingham and is generally a lot better off in regards to financial wealth, his political beliefs remain unaltered. They can be summed up as; once Labour, always Labour, and his views of what is wrong in the society we live in are exactly the same as they were.
“It’s the aristocracy; we are still ruled by the aristocracy in a lot of respects”, he declares, “the royal blood still runs thick, we are a nation connected with that idea and that’s all it is. I don’t know what else I can say to that. There is that side, and we have obviously got the people that are quite cynical about it.”
Reflective of his own political views, Jason is equally unexcited by the current state of British guitar music.
“White guitar music is quite off-putting”, he proclaims, “there seems to be one middle class presence of that kind at the minute. The guitar music of the working class is shunned and laughed at, it’s a bit stodgy and viewed as not having moved on.”
His recent financial prosperity may add some intricacy to his position, but Jason’s heritage, where he is from, is always going to be working class.
“Class is such a weight around your ankle, though it’s wrong when someone is pretending to be something else. But it’s a bit of a double-edged sword”, he concludes.
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'Kebab Spider' is out now.
Words: Susan Hansen
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