“You go back to the formula and try to shake it up as much as you can.”
When their eleventh studio album, Spare Ribs—the seventh from the current duo of vocalist Jason Williamson and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Fearn—came out in January 2021, Sleaford Mods reached a new level. The minimalist post-punk act from Nottingham in the UK fine-tuned their sound and included a couple collaborations, all while putting out one of the best albums of 2021.
Since then, their fanbase has grown significantly, especially across the Atlantic. On May 20, this uniquely intense, poignant, and profound duo will take the stage at the Sinclair in Cambridge. Fellow Brits Sorry will open the show, not to be confused with the Boston band of the same name.
Williamson and I spoke about the direction of their latest album, doing cameos on TV shows, his vocal delivery, and plans to work on a new album later in the year.
Spare Ribs has a little bit of collaboration with Amy Taylor from Amyl & The Sniffers and Billy Nomates featured on a couple tracks. What made you and Andrew want to bring them into the fold and how much of an impact did the both of them make on the album as a whole?
They both completely changed the musical landscape for us. If it wasn’t for those collaborations, I don’t think the album would have been half the record I think people take it for. The idea of bringing people in to collaborate with didn’t save our skin, but we were both looking for something new from the sound. We had a meeting with Rough Trade and our manager kind of suggested that this might be a road to go down, so we talked about that with the label and then we went from there.
You’ve done a bunch of collaborations over the years, like with the Prodigy for “Ibiza” along with a few hip-hop artists and a few other electronic acts. From your perspective as an artist, what do you like about crossing over from your style to another’s to establish that collaborative vibe?
I think it’s just learning and trying to get new colors to add to the palate. Perhaps I take more from some than I do others; some are just guest spots on hip-hop records, but I think all of them are valid experiences. It’s good to get yourself in there with other people just to broaden your horizons a bit and to get a better idea of yourself in music as well. Before, I was a little bit cautious, but I think we live in an age now where it’s impossible to overexpose yourself. It’s just impossible because you’re kind of constantly doing that anyway with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you’re always online.
The internet is vast, bands are finding their own audiences in their own channels and in their own vortexes. It’s like little creative bubbles all over the place.
It’s like having a million different niches.
Big time, so I don’t think these days that overexposing yourself is a thing.
Recently you’ve done some acting, cameos on the TV shows Peaky Blinders and Landscapers. Who approached you about these roles? Were these your first ever experiences with acting or do you have a prior background in it?
I’ve always wanted to do it, I wanted to do it way back but I couldn’t really find the drive to continue to do it. I studied at a college, I went to drama school to do auditions but I didn’t get in anywhere and then I discovered music. When the band started to take off I took advantage of that and I started making little inroads into doing little small parts. I’ve had about four or five and I enjoy doing it. I’m not sure if it’s something that I’ll keep doing but I’d like to. I find it really interesting but we’ll see, It’s a hard one.
When it comes to the evolution of Sleaford Mods, one element I’ve noticed is the growth of your vocal delivery. The past couple of records, especially since Eton Alive, seem to have you singing a lot more and utilizing your vocal range rather than doing slam poetry and borderline ranting. Do you feel more comfortable singing and adopting this approach in this environment with you and Andrew, or is it because you feel it works best for certain songs?
I just like it. I don’t know if it suits the song better or if I should just shut the fuck up, I just really like it and I want to do that. You’ve got to be happy with what you’re doing and there are some times where it’s wiser to stick to the formula because the other idea isn’t so strong, a little bit infantile and not as effective. You go back to the formula and try to shake it up as much as you can. I think with a lot of these songs and the new stuff we’re writing, why not?
We’re around seven albums in together. We’ve got an audience and it’s still growing, but I think the only way to maintain that is to try to push the idea of what we are further. Obviously it’s got to work, it’s got to be right so it gets harder.
Everyone knows how crazy the past few years have been with the unrest, uncertainty, and division while being in this quasi-post-pandemic stage. In the United States, we’re in post-Trump and I know in the United Kingdom you’re dealing with post-Brexit and Boris Johnson, so with all this going on do you feel that the music of Sleaford Mods has a higher level of importance these days with the political leanings that you have and how the band gravitates to a working class audience?
No, I don’t think so. We’ve been around for nearly 10 years and I think we’re by no means out of ideas. The market hasn’t shifted, so to speak, and even if it does I think we’ll be alright. I don’t know if our words are as poignant as they were because simply we’re a part of a lot of people’s consciousness. It’s not fresh, it’s not coming out of nowhere, it’s not surprising you and I think sometimes bands like that are more powerful but that only happens once in your career. Obviously, people still listen to the lyrics and there’s certainly no drop in quality of observation in the political side of things, but I’m not sure if it has the immediate power it did 10 years ago.
There’s always been this cultural divide between British music and American music where sometimes it’s harder for a British band to get an American audience on the same level that they have at home. A lot of dates for this tour you’re on have already been sold out, so what’s your impression of achieving something that a lot of your contemporaries haven’t gotten to yet in the States where you’re selling out American clubs?
I think I’ll feel a lot better about it when we’re doing 2,000 capacity places and selling them out. At the minute, we’re doing 1,000 capacity places and they’re all pretty full but we kind of did that four years ago. Because of a lot of crap we went through finding different managers, it stunted our growth a bit so we’re almost having to start again in the United States. I’m really pleased that we’ve sold out the Los Angeles shows, New York City looks like it’s selling out, and there are a few others that we’ve sold out, which I’m very happy about. I want to try and see if we can grow on that and make it bigger.
You mentioned how you’re kind of working on new music with Andrew, so can we expect a new album or EP later this year or next year?
Next year, I think. We’ve done about 25 songs and it’s not clear whether any of them are any good (laughs), but hopefully fingers crossed we should have something by the end of this summer to be put into action for an album.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.