“We wanted to have a strong female presence on the album, we felt that was kind of important…” hmv.com talks to Sleaford Mods
Sleaford Mods are nothing if not prolific. Since their breakthrough album Austerity Dogs hit the shelves in 2013 the lo-fi duo has delivered another four full-length albums, a handful of EPs and even a documentary in collaboration with filmmaker Christine Franz – the superbly-titled Bunch of Kunst – which serves as both a story about their unorthodox rise to prominence and a rumination on the state of the music industry in general.
Less than a year after the arrival of their first compilation album, 2020’s All That Glue, Sleaford Mods are back with another brand new album Spare Ribs - their eleventh in all, and their first ever to feature outside collaborators.
Spare Ribs makes its arrival in stores on January 15th and ahead of its releases we caught up with vocalist Jason Williamson to talk about how they put the album together during breaks in lockdown, why they decided to open the door to collaborations, and how Jason has been working on his acting chops…
Considering the whole country has been locked down for the last year, you seem to have managed to stay pretty busy – there was the compilation out last year, you’ve done a few solo bits / collaborations, and you must have been working on this new material in the meantime too – when did you start working on tracks for the new album?
“January, this time last year. We went into the studio in mid-January and did all of the singles then, actually. We did ‘Mork ‘n’ Mindy’, ‘Nudge It’, ‘Shortcummings’, we also did ‘Elocution’ and ‘Thick Ear’, as well as about five other songs, but they weren’t up to much, really. But it was kind of early versions of all those singles and album tracks, so when we got back into the studio in July, we spent a week going through stuff that we thought could be good candidates for the album."
Has lockdown changed the way you made this record? We sort of imagine Andrew locking himself away for weeks on end and then sending you a load of beats, is that how it normally works?
“Sometimes, yeah. He’ll do a couple of days though, and that’ll usually be about half way through the sessions. He’ll amass a load of backing tracks over the course of a year or whatever and start sending me stuff, and as the album sessions are going on, it’ll sort of become clear whether we need more ideas or not.
"Generally though, he starts to get his lab coat on in a condensed and intense sense about half way through an album session."
What was the first track you finished for this one?
“The first track was… f**k, I don’t know! 'Elocution'. I think…”
You’ve got a few collaborators on this record too – isn't that the first time that’s been the case?
“It is, yeah. We wanted to try and push the production on it, and we didn’t want to ‘get a producer in’ because we thought it would be disastrous. And we talked about getting someone in to mix it, but you could just see Andrew’s face screwing up. He’s quite precious about what he does.
So we were trying to think of other ways to push things, and aside from going back into the studio two weeks later, which always helps, we thought about getting people in to collaborate with."
Can you talk us through some of the people you’ve worked with on this one?
“We’ve got Billy Nomates, first of all. You’ve probably heard of her, she’s a sort of up-and-coming singer in the UK who got in touch with Andrew about two years ago, and we started discussing this weird music this woman was sending and blah blah blah. But we got into it, you know? It’s really good, and it became quite clear that what she was doing was very valuable indeed.
We just got talking to her, I did a couple of collaborations with her on her self-titled debut album. And then I wrote Mork ‘n’ Mindy, and I could sing the chorus, but it just sounded like it needed someone else, so I asked her if she wanted to do it and she was up for it.
We saw that there’s Amy Taylor from Amyl and the Sniffers on there too...
“Yeah, it was the same with Amy really. I don’t know, Amy just sort of seemed to be particularly in tune with what I do vocally. I think how she writes lyrics, how she sings, and how she solders these things to the music of Amyl and the Sniffers is really interesting.
They seem like quite like-minded artists to yourselves in a way…
“Yeah they are, to a certain degree they are. And they’re women, we wanted to have a strong female presence on the album, we felt that was kind of important.”
The beats go to some really interesting places on this record – the last time we spoke (before Eton Alive) you talked about how you’d been listening to a lot of 80s R&B and how that had sort of influenced what you were doing – was there anything that had that kind of impact on this one?
“No, not really. I mean, I suppose people do sometimes assume that you’re always listening to music the whole time, but I haven’t listened to any music for ages really! But in the background it’s all the same old sort of stuff I guess, hip-hop, soul, that sort of thing.
“Actually, saying that, I have been getting more into singer-songwriters, more acoustic things, pop in the traditional way of approaching it, folk music and stuff like that, because I did want to try and spread that angle of what I’m doing singing wise, definitely. I think also, with that soul influence that we talked about before on Eton Alive, I really saw a lot of that in Billy Nomates and what she was doing on her album, so that was something that was especially attractive about trying to get Tor in to do something with us."
From a lyrical point of view, the new material seems a bit more structured compared to some of your earlier stuff like Tied Up in Nottz, which is much more stream-of-consciousness kind of style…
“Yeah, I mean I really don’t know how I could keep on writing ‘Tied Up’, even though it’s quite an alluring idea to want to keep repeating yourself. It’s important to try and push it, and it wasn’t an overly-conscious thing either, you just get into the studio and you’re happy just doing a rant, you want to try and do something else.”
Do you tend to have a sort of lyrical theme in mind when you start writing for an album? Do you think in terms of albums, even, or is it more about individual tracks?
“Yeah, yeah of course, although sometimes there are themes and sometimes not. There are multiple themes within each song, that’s just what we do, but are some that spread throughout. ‘Fishcakes’ and Mork ‘n’ Mindy, for instance, both talk about childhood. ‘Nudge It’ talks about class posers and bullshitters, and stuff like ‘Out There’ and ‘Top Room’ both talk about lockdown. But a lot of the songs carry sub-topics as well."
So obviously touring is pretty much impossible at the moment, but are there any plans to take the new material on the road maybe later this year?
“There’s going to be announcement soon I think, apart from that I can’t really say much. But we can’t really do a lot, we were going to do a live-streamed thing but we had to knock it on the head because of COVID hitting again. We couldn’t justify it, really, there would have been about 20 or 30 people working on it.”
We saw you pop up in Ben Wheatley’s reimagined take on Rebecca too, how did that one come about?
“Yeah, I know Ben a bit, he directed the video for Mork n Mindy as well, which we were really happy with. But I’ve been doing a bit of acting work anyway."
You’re racking up quite a few entries on IMDB, is acting something you’d like to do more of?
“I want to do a bit more if I can, you know? Its quite challenging to try and recreate a character and put that energy into it. I mean, I don’t have a great opinion of myself as far as my acting capability goes! But it’s a real challenge, I really like it. It’s pretty much like performing, almost like a gig in a lot of respects, I figure see what you can put into it and see if you can do it. It might fall on its face, just the music might, but yeah I definitely want to do some more of it."
You’re done a few solo bits and collaborations over the last couple of years too, are there plans for any more of that?
“There’s going to be some more I think. Again, I can’t really say much because I’ve been told to keep my mouth shut. But I worked with a couple of people last year and that’s an ongoing thing I think. It takes a long time, and you also have to get used to other people’s working practices, and indeed what they want. And if they don’t want you, well, that’s it! But yeah I’ve been enjoying it. I’m trying to spread my wings and see what happens. To do a Sleaford album every two years is a buzz, and Sleaford is still the main thing, definitely.”
Spare Ribs is out now - you can find it here in our online store.