For more than a decade, Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods have been refining and expanding upon their unique brand of minimalist electro punk and unflinching social commentary, culminating this year with top three album UK Grim and a tour taking in some of the biggest venues they’ve ever headlined. Frontman Jason Williamson joins Headliner for a wide-ranging chat about new EP More UK Grim, toxic masculinity, politics, and why 2023 has been the band’s finest year yet…
“We’re a fully operational machine, as the empire once said, “laughs Sleaford Mods singer and lyricist Jason Williamson. “It’s professional now; it’s above board; it’s legitimate; and I don’t have a problem with that.”
We’re talking about the 2023 iteration of Sleaford Mods, and how Williamson and his musical companion Andrew Fearn have conspired to glide almost seamlessly from niche, underground agitators to Alexandra Palace headliners and chart summit botherers in recent years. All without compromising the fundamental ingredients that make them the such a unique, genre-defying force.
Fearn’s minimalist basslines and lo-fi beats, which defined their early work, remain but the surrounding textures are more sophisticated, more dynamic these days. Likewise, Williamson’s sweary invective is sharper – and often funnier – than ever. The aggression and poignancy are still there, but it feels a touch more controlled, more melodic. Especially compared to their output pre-2019’s Eton Alive.
On the live front, it’s still just Fearn hitting ‘play’ on his laptop and Williamson at his mic stand spitting lyrics with trademark twitchiness and aggression, but this hasn’t stopped the pair conquering ever-bigger stages. Their Alexandra Palace show on December 2 will be Sleaford Mods’ biggest headline show so far, while their support slots with Blur at Wembley Stadium this summer went down a storm.
For Williamson, who is joining us over Zoom from his hotel in Berlin on a rare day off during the Germany leg of their European tour, there are several reasons as to why the band has continued to confound expectations. But principal among them is their change of management in 2019.
“Our previous manager was… I don’t want to sit here and start slagging anyone off, but he reached a point where he couldn’t do anything with it and it suffered,” he says thoughtfully. “It wasn’t maximised. There is an argument to say why should it be maximised? Let it be. And that’s fine, but I always wanted to get as big as we could right from day one. And our new manager has helped shift the dial in a lot of respects. She’s broken down walls of communication, got us talking to the record label, got us thinking about how we can progress the sound. That brought out the best in us, which our previous manager wasn’t interested in doing.
“It became evident that our songwriting started to excel with Eton Alive and with Spare Ribs and UK Grim, and the audience grew because of that,” he continues. “The songs are perhaps a little bit more agreeable now in a commercial sense. I don’t particularly want to aim for Wembley Arena, and the thought of these big gigs is quite scary. But that’s the way it is, and if you want to survive you’ve got to maximise it. And I want to survive. I don’t want to go back to work. Fuck all that shit. I’ve done enough of that. As far as I’m concerned, Sleaford Mods is still interesting and still exciting.”