With this seventh effort, UK Grim (twelfth if you count albums prior to Andrew Fearn’s arrival), Sleaford Mods follow up the popular 2021 album Spare Ribs, which managed to crack the UK Top 5. At the time, the UK was grappling with the pandemic, Brexit, and turbulent political and cultural unrest. If the lockdown helped focus the duo’s anger on Spare Ribs, UK Grim sees them reacting to an increasingly complicated post-pandemic world and is a real middle finger to the prevailing gloom.
Led by singer Jason Williamson’s acerbic attacks and Andrew Fearn’s austere, minimalist production, UK Grim is probably one of the Nottingham duo’s most scathing and hard-hitting records. But while there is plenty of rage on UK Grim, there is also plenty of heart, introspection, and subtlety. The album also features a collaboration with Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction and Florence Shaw of Dry Cleaning.
“In England, nobody can hear you scream,” Williamson chants on the title track. He may not scream, but he knows how to make himself heard, and we listened to him and his partner in crime Andrew Fearn, who is not usually prone to journalistic chatter, in a recent interview with the pair.
PAN M 360: There isn’t a shortage of topics to write about. War, the pandemic, inflation, despair, poverty, UK politics… So many that it might even be hard to choose! How do you come up with lyrics for a typical Sleaford Mods song?
Jason Williamson: It could be anything, really not necessarily politics, although that plays a big part into it. It could literally be anything, whatever springs to mind, whatever I feel is satisfying my need to express some anger, or some sorrow, or whatever. You know, I mean, there’s a lot of introspective stuff on the new record. And that kind of trend continues from Spare Ribs. For whatever, really, it can be nonsense, absurd. You know, it can be completely weird, whatever, whatever sounds right, even if the words don’t mean anything.
PAN M 360: Then Is it harder to find beats that will go along with the lyrics? Andrew, I was wondering how much time you spend creating those beats and how you work, to try not to repeat yourself but rather reinvent yourself.
Andrew Fearn: I make music all the time, even if I wasn’t successful, I’d be making music every day. It’s quite good because I can just make stuff that I think will work for Jason. I can just send over a load of stuff.
PAN M 360: So you both work on music, or it’s mostly you, Andrew.
Jason Williamson: It’s actually, Andrew, yeah.
PAN M 360: And what comes up first, words or music?
Jason Williamson: Words or music. It doesn’t really matter. The words mean something but they don’t get elevated until Andrew sends music over.
Andrew Fearn: After 10 years of doing it together, I kind of know what’s something that he can get his teeth into, We’re not to reinventing the wheel here, you know, it’s quite obvious. Quite often the tracks are the wrong way around as well. So what sounds like the chorus will be the verse and vice versa. For as long as there’s like two parts, which are usually the same thing. (laugh) I mean, we’re keeping it open. But making something that’s enjoyable to put some lyrics to ultimately.
Jason Williamson: You know, it always looks after itself. I mean, obviously, I have to write lyrics and obviously, Andrew has to write music, but when the two meet, they kind of look after themselves, almost, you know what I mean?
PAN M 360: On this new album, you have again some collaborators, as for the previous one. This time it’s Florence Shaw from Dry Cleaning, who is featured on the track “Force 10 From Navarone,” and Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction for the track “So Trendy.” For the former, it’s a bit of a given, but for Jane’s Addiction, it’s a pretty strange combination, isn’t it?
Jason Williamson: Well, we did some demos in March 2021, before we went on tour, and one of those was “So Trendy.” We put it into the back of our minds and we went on tour for a year. But around sort of like May time, Perry Farrell’s manager got in touch and asked if we’d liked to write a song with him. So we said yes, even though we’re not avid Jane’s Addiction fans. But we’ve always thought he was quite interesting. And that became apparent as soon as me and Andrew were like, “Yeah, why not? He’s a cool bloke, you know?” So it took about six months to write that song, it was going back and forth. It’s different.
PAN M 360 : So did he contribute to the lyrics too?
Jason Williamson: Yes, he did his own verse, and, came in with the choruses and added that really nice harmony behind mine on the chorus. It’s quite a bright song, but at the same time, sounding very not bright at all. (laughs) It’s quite dark as well. And it’s got that kind of metal machine, Dead Kennedys guitar sound to it, you know what I mean? it’s really quite abrasive. It works, you know.
PAN M 360: So that’s Navarro’s guitar?
Jason Williamson: No, it’s Andrew’s guitar.
Andrew Fearn: Dave only does it once in the track, near the end of the track, a little guitar riff thing.
Jason Williamson: We didn’t feel it needed too much of it, you know. So it’s an interesting try, one that initially I was a bit concerned about, because it’s quite bright, but it works!
PAN M 360: And what about that one with Florence Shaw? That was more obvious, I believe.
Jason Williamson: It’s a little bit more in keeping with our sounds, yes. But again, it’s quite sinister. It’s possibly some of the best music Andrew has done, I think. It’s really good. I don’t know what it is, to be honest… But yes, I would say it’s closer to the Sleaford sound.
PAN M 360: Would you say that UK Grim is more of an English album than the others?
Jason Williamson: I mean, we’re quite English, you know? (laughs)
Andrew Fearn: I’d say it’s a bit more international, in a sense. It definitely got more similar themes or vibes. I think it sort of reflects the fact that we’ve been out and seeing bits of the world in some way. Not directly, obviously.
Jason Williamson: I think the title, the jacket of it is very English. And the optics are very centered on this country.
Andrew Fearn: No getting away from that, isn’t it?
Jason Williamson: No. it’s the post-lockdown album, where the energy hasn’t been released, and where the aggression and the anger and the unreasonableness are at a very high level in a lot of people since lockdown. So I kind of looked at it like that lyrically, you know?
PAN M 360: There was a lot of stuff that happened in Britain in the last few years. Maybe it inspired you to write about those topics and have a more Britain-focused album somehow, lyrically speaking.
Jason Williamson: Yes, but I guess all our albums are really English. Because we do sound so very English. So, therefore… And the music, I think in a lot of respects, is of this country, it just reminds me of the rhythms and the feeling and the energies of this country. Yeah, that’s an interesting observation.
Andrew Fearn: Well I suppose the influences are a bit more like late ’80s hip-hop, and, you know, smash someone up a bit more, rather than sounding like some sort of punk. It’s still very British, but it’s more ’90s British musically in a way, you know? All electronic, which is still a very British identity. Britain’s had some great electronic bands through the ’80s and ’90s.
PAN M 360: On the song “D.I. Why,” without naming them, you poke at certain types of bands. I mean, your feud with Idles was well publicized, so will this song stir up some more shit? But maybe it’s what you guys expect?
Jason Williamson: I didn’t do it to stir some shit, I just did it because I think they’re such cunts, you know. Somebody reviewed it and said that my Achilles heel was letting people like this bother me and that we should be above them. And they’ve got a really good point, to be honest. At this stage in our career, we shouldn’t even look at it. But I always remember what it was like to be nothing, and then to feel like I was being lectured by these idiots … I kind of almost automatically responded to it. Because I know that they’re all a set of jealous bastards who can’t do anything themselves, and they’re still in the same situation, releasing the same music. Some of them might be happy with that. But as you and I well know, this industry is full of people who want to get somewhere. So, you know, it’s just me having a go at them really. It’s not me being right. And it’s not me being wrong either, I suppose.
PAN M 360: So you guys have been accused of what exactly? Selling out or succeeding?
Jason Williamson: Oh God, yeah, selling out… I got accused because I kind of had a more reasoned view of Spotify. That didn’t go down too well with some of these people that believe that it should start paying you. It’s not going to pay, Spotify will never pay you ever, look at it. I’d be surprised if it did, you know. It’s just not Bandcamp. So the idea was just to skirt around it. It’s an obstacle you need to get over, like any obstacle. You know, they’re always there. If it’s not corporate record labels, it’s always something else. So, then I got accused to be in this, and I was obviously softened by success. Just bullshit fucking bullshit. It’s just naivety, you know, but at the same time, I find myself moaning about it and it’s quite petty really, isn’t it? And I like the pettiness… The pettiness really feeds into the lyrics sometimes, I am attracted to the idea of intelligence to a certain degree, reasonableness, and pettiness. They pepper lyrics in a way that makes me feel like I’m speaking something that is legible and truthful, rather than just being whatever, just talking about dog shit that nobody can really relate to.
PAN M 360: So rather than asking you to name a few of these bands, I will ask you which band or artists you really like. Obviously Amyl & the Sniffers and Dry Cleaning. Any others?
Jason Williamson: Oh, that’s really nice. Lovely. Thank you. What bands that we like currently? Dry Cleaning. Obviously. LoneLady, I’m listening to a lot of. She’s from Manchester, she’s been around for about 10 years. She was signed to Mute. I think she’s left Mute Records now but she’s really good. You ought to check her out, quite minimal, it kind of reminds me of Andrews’s music a little bit. What else? What are you listening to Andrew?
Andrew Fearn: No thoughts really… I mean people that are small. There are these guys from Newcastle called Badger. They’re like a two-piece sort of electronic music-style band. Yeah, a lot of things, really a lot of unheard-of artists. But then I buy a lot of records as well. So I bought some more Autechre reissues today. An Adrian Sherwood record too, Dub No Frontiers. It’s absolutely brilliant. It’s like dub-reggae but the vocals are all female. Like the first track is sung in Mandarin, then in Japanese, Hindi… And it’s just cool hearing females singing in different languages overdub. It sounds fresh.
PAN M 360: You both are at an age where one usually settles down, comes down, resigning itself. And you’re just the opposite. So how do you explain this refusal to, let’s say, fall in line?
Jason Williamson: (sigh) Well, I mean, some people say we fell in line a lot a long time ago, you know? But, no, it wouldn’t sound very good if we fell in line, would it? It would sound absolutely terrible (laughs).
Andrew Fearn: Jason was in a relatively low pay job. And I was in part-time working, or unemployed… so, you know, it’s not like we’ve come from any kind of privileged background. We’re from that kind of scene. I mean, why can’t we be successful? You know what I mean? It’s the best thing to do! (laughs)
Jason Williamson: I mean, we wouldn’t fall in line. We won’t get producers in at this stage. I don’t think we’ll ever do that. Because it would just kill it. And who is going to step forward and do something as good as Andrew? Unless someone’s gonna step forward and blow us both away. Then even that, you know, you kind of feel a bit cheated.
Andrew Fearn: You don’t want to have Mark Ronson come in! You would think “Who is that?”
Jason Williamson: Oh that would be fucking terrible (laughs). To me, this is what falling in line will be, getting a producer. And, I don’t know, just being a bit more shiny, having everything like fucking tuned up on your songs. Not good. We just don’t because we care about music. I really like the music. It really turns me on, it’s fucking great. You know, every album, every demo he (Andrew) sends over, it’s a challenge, it’s interesting, it’s colourful. And I wouldn’t want that to change.
Andrew Fearn: We’ve been able to do it our own way. We’ve been able to create our own style. And, you know, we’re not making hip-hop, or we’re not just adding to a genre that’s already there. We create our own music. So I don’t think anyone will be able to do it. You know, they could impersonate what I do, but I think you’d be able to tell that it wasn’t made by me. And that’s not me showing off. I’m quite flawed in the way I produce music, but then that’s what gives it a lot of character.
PAN M 360: I read recently an interview you guys gave, I think it was with the NME, that the further you go with this, the more you both feel like stepping out of the mould. So what mould are we talking about?
Jason Williamson: That was me saying that. I think that we both feel as if like, we can relax a little bit with the strict formula we had before. You know, loosen it up a little bit and warp it, and mold it a little bit more, and try other things out. Like the collaborations; we initially were skeptical about them, but they really work. The production from Andrew’s side has improved, it just got better. His variations on the stuff he does, and how he makes his stuff. Quite a lot of things can be possible with the sound. And I would imagine that, as we keep going forward with this, other things will reveal themselves, you know … There’s a cycle of shouting male, white bands in this country that keeps going round and round… I think the main thing, from my point of view, is not to be worried about what’s going on around us so much, and just do what we do.