The prescience of SLEAFORD MODS shouldn’t be overlooked. Since the release of Austerity Dogs in 2013, the band have remained a litmus test of public outcry. It’s music that feels and fights with the collective experiences of those under the polished shoe of coalition cuts. Vocalist Jason Williamson is brutally honest, but perhaps it is he who is most bruised by his prosaic accounts of fighting the good fight. It’s a familiar cycle of broken mirror anarchism. A game rigged so those in the reflection perceivably bring on their own fate. Those at the bottom deserve to be at the bottom, we’re told. If you don’t believe that now, the season finale of Benefits Street should have rammed the point home.
If not prescient, then, the Mods are very least the rebellious town criers manning the periscope of the many. Their charged instrumentation and jaw-aching lyricism is the most accurate opinion poll out there. In this slew of musical upheaval comes Eton Alive, the duo’s fifth full-length record. It’s serious and loose in equal measure; it finds the jittery pulse of Williamson’s now familiar series of characters, through which he narrates with a newfound vigour. In comes more joviality, singing and melody, but the firm point remains, like Andrew Fearn’s musical backbone, still yet to show the weight of five albums. With two shows in the region pencilled in on the band’s latest tour, Elliot Ryder checked in with Williamson to better understand what it’s like to be Eton Alive.
Eton Alive generates an apt set of imagery for the current state of affairs. Is perceiving things in a dark, humorous way a reliable coping mechanism for yourself?
I don’t know, actually. I’ve not had to cope with it like some people have. When the coalition came into power, and the next Conservative government, the band took off. So, in the last seven years I’ve been in a good, though not massively good, financial position. Better off than I was, anyway. So I’ve not had to cope, in that sense. But in a sense of the anger it produces, a good way of battling it is to take the piss. I like the naivety of it, you know? The whole resistance in the ‘you posh bastaaaards’ taunt. There’s something I really cherish in that. It’s the kind of humour I was brought up with. As you say it’s quite prevalent. I thought it was an apt title for the ongoing theme of the nation since the Brexit result. You know, people aren’t shocked anymore. They’re just dumbed down, powerless, weak. It feels like people are being eaten alive. We’re being consumed.
Sonically, your music hasn’t strayed too far from Divide And Exit – offering subtle changes along the way. Do you think it’s over-emphasised for artists to take a new direction with each new release? Is the term progression quite toxic to hear?
It is if the whole body of your work is changed, it doesn’t work. It sounds too forced when people try to consciously overhaul their sound. Tame Impala are a good example of musical progression, the way they moved from prog to more punchier, disco-inspired tracks. Ours is a slower progression. I’d like to think this album is quite different than the last one, with a bit more of the singier stuff weaved in between. But ours is a strong formula; it doesn’t feel like it needs a dramatic overhaul. Plus, I’m always suspicious of people who attempt to do it, as normally it’s not done that well.
As someone who can look back on a chronicle of their stream of consciousness, how do you think the expectation to progress affects the sincerity of your writing?
You try to put these things to the back of your mind. It does bother me though. But I’d like to think it doesn’t alter how I write. I try to get to the nucleus of the writing subject, and I’ll just keep refining it and refining it until it’s something I’ve produced without worry over other people’s perception. That way it’s more an honest account of what you wanted to write down in that moment.
You’ve made some changes in your lifestyle in recent years. Do you think that there’s a further expectation to hear this on the new record?
Not necessarily, no. You know, sobriety and the changes in my life are not really something that I promote though my music. Mainly because a lot of people don’t get to the take the time to make the changes I made. Fortunately, I had a bit of money and I was able to go and see someone to help sort my head out. You know, have the time to talk and retrain myself, take up exercise. It’s just not something that I’d ever have been able to do if I was still on minimum wage. So, I think it’s important I don’t chuck it down people’s throats and start talking like I’m some enlightened person, know what I mean?
Is there ever an element of escape in your social commentary?
There’s definitely escapism in my short stories. They’re all based on memories or experience, so you’re able to take yourself back to those times. Some of those times when you were a kid, those that you really cherish, the words help transport you back to that, that environment. On the whole though, that’s about as far as it goes really. In the songs, there remains an element of fantasy to them, such as lines built on aggression, beating people up, those sort of things – you know, definitely the kind of things that I’m not doing day to day. In many ways, you can embrace these false happenings as a means of relieving frustration.
The current social climate offers little in the way of normality, thus meaning any form of commentary has a surreal element. Does it unsettle you that your prognosis of the nation on records leading up to Eton Alive is now something that’s shrugged off as a sign of the times?
It was obvious what was going to happen, wasn’t it? There were lots of people that forecast the fact it was going to get worse, that people were going to become a lot more insular. It’s something that’s spoken about a lot on the new album; how these issues have refined themselves in recent years. These are all just classic traits of capitalism, really. It’s not surprising. You try to reason with it and inject an element of whimsicalness, like saying, ‘Oh, it can’t be that bad’. Fair enough, in some ways it isn’t, but predominantly it is, and it’s getting worse.
Are bands like Sleaford Mods a product of socio-political upheaval, or inspired by it?
Both. We’re all involved in modern civilisation, and that’s dictated by those two factors. Everything is political these days.
Could Sleaford Mods exist if Britain was historically socialist in its sensibilities?
It would, but it would have been different. I was influenced to do Sleaford Mods by the music I was listening to and my conditions and circumstances. If we lived in a fairer society it may not have had the same drive. We’re human beings, and the word fair is seemingly not as popular as chaos or murder, or any of these other negative traits that the human condition is capable of. I think it would be very unrealistic, at this point in our existence, to think we could achieve any kind of socialist utopia. As a race, we haven’t even been around for a million years, so we have long way to go before we reach a climate where Sleaford Mods could exist in a different light to what it does now.
We can imagine there’ll be a headline such as ‘Sleaford Mods’ answer to Brexit’ in one of the big press titles coinciding with the release of your album. Do you ever feel slightly fetishised as an articulate voice of the working class?
Perhaps when we came out it was fresh and people weren’t used to hearing what we were saying at that time. Now people have gotten used to it, you know, coming back with the whole ‘here they are again’. Perhaps we are of our time. I don’t think we are, though. It seems people just view the content of what we’re saying as though they’re used to it, as though it’s all just second nature to them now. People are just waiting around for me to say something, and, me being me, I’ll just say it. So, it’s probably a mixture.
At Bido Lito! we’re celebrating our 100th issue this coming June. As part of the celebration we’ll be speculating what the state of Liverpool’s independent music scene will be in in another 100 issues’ time. For context, I’m currently speaking to you a matter of yards away from an enormous apartment complex that’s resting on top of the former Kazimier venue. Is there any way of slowing the neoliberal tide of economic anxiety?
I think there’s going to have to be some major upheavals. The elite have got a firm grip on everything. It would be a case of them being enlightened and perhaps easing off. Only that way will things get a little better. I can’t really see an uprising because we’re so controlled; all the mechanisms to maintain that are firmly in place. It’s a move that will have to come from the elitist side of existence. It’s a big question, though. Who knows what’s going to happen. Everyone adapts. Some fall through the net and others survive. That’s the case of what it’s going to be. It’ll come down to a case of morality. The best way to cope with all of this is to be someone that others can turn to, when they need to.
Sleaford Mods play O2 Academy on Saturday 2nd March and The Live Rooms, Chester, on Thursday 4th April. Eton Alive is out now via Extreme Eating.