Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson: “Things got quite emotional and that turned into inspiration…”

Handmade collage by B.

English duo Sleaford Mods discovered their signature “shouting over beats” style by accident; known for its punk spirit and radical heart of working-class, social commentary and observational themed lyrical content giving a snapshot of the challenges of daily life. Latest album Spare Ribs takes us beyond what we know and gives a deeper personal insight, Williamson getting introspective and reflecting on his early days, partly inspired by time spent in lockdown due to the global pandemic. Gimmie caught up with Jason to chat about the new record.

How did you first discover music?

JASON WILLIAMSON: As a child, through films really, and children’s television and the records my dad would play.

Why is music important to you?

JW: I just connected with it as a person more so than I have with anything else. I find it… not an easy thing to communicate and express myself in, but it’s more of a suitable thing; I just naturally connect to it.

I was listening to the song ‘Fishcakes’ from the new Sleaford record Spare Ribs and reading about it, you mentioned that when you were a younger you had spina bifida and that you went through spine surgery; during that time were you listening to a lot of music? How were you passing the downtime?

JW: No, I wasn’t, I don’t think. I was in hospital for about a month. There was a lot of sleeping. A lot of trying to figure out what I was going through and why. I was too young; I was only thirteen. A lot of it was I just didn’t connect with much really. I was just a young kid doing whatever I was doing.

Can you remember when you first wanted to start making your own music?

JW: When I was about twenty-one. I really got into indie stuff, Stone Roses and The Wonder Stuff I was listening to a lot of, and I joined a few bands in college. I tried singing and I realised that it was something that I could do.

When making things, what are the things that matter to you?

JW: That it satisfies my own needs and whatever those needs are. Generally, it’s got to be good, I’ve got to think that it’s good, I’ve got to feel that it’s good. That is obviously something that is tailored to my own tastes. It’s quite a personal thing. I have to feel that I’m satisfied with it, ya know what I mean?

Totally. When writing Spare Ribs what were you feeling? What were you working through that writing and getting this stuff out was helping with?

JW: I just kept going back to the idea and refining it with each of the songs and studying it, like I do with any album. Just to make sure what has been recorded and submitted is up to scratch. It’s just a fine tooth combing process. It’s quite tormenting and quite intimidating going into the studio, even if you think you have ideas, it can be quite frightening, it’s quite terrifying, ya know what I mean? [laughs] …’cause especially with Sleaford Mods, it could fall on it’s arse at any minute because it is so minimal, there’s not that many components to it. It’s really just that… going back to the personal process again.

I find a lot of Sleaford Mods songs to be observational and more about outward kinds of stuff but I feel lately you’ve been writing more personal songs.

JW: Yeah, that was down to the kind of history with the operation and my back, which I got a back injury over the summer doing too much exercise in the house, I couldn’t go to the gym during lockdown. I went to see a specialist and they brought all the operation up again and I only found out then that I was suffering from spina bifida; that’s what I was born with, a really rare form of it. Things got quite emotional and that turned into inspiration and content to put into songs. A couple of them especially ‘Mork n Mindy’ and ‘Fishcakes’, the last song on the album—they deal with my experiences and memories as a kid.

When I’m listening to those two songs in particular, you can really feel that emotion in your voice. There’s almost like a real sadness in there, it’s really emotive, it was making me teary. I could feel your pain, you guys captured that so well.

JW: That’s really nice to know actually, that it evokes those emotions, I think it certainly did for me… especially ‘Fishcakes’. I tried to give over that experience of what it was like growing up in the early ‘80s. But I didn’t want to make it a self-pity type song; I was quite concerned about that. I think I did eventually pull it off though. It’s really nice to know it evokes those emotions in people.

It gives another layer to Sleaford Mods; it gives us more understanding about you. Everyone goes through stuff in their lives and when you hear someone else being so honest, you can really connect with that.

JW: Thank you.

Were those two songs hard to record?

JW: No, not at all. I just got on with them. I knew what they needed. Once Andrew [Fearn] got the gist of what I was after, it was just a case of pressing record. We did ‘Fishcakes’ in a couple of takes. It was pretty sort of “bom bom bom”.

Was it called ‘Fishcakes’ because that’s what you used to eat a lot growing up?

JW: Yes, well, where I grew up, the housing estate where I grew up on, it always constantly smelt of fish cakes… or occasionally smelt of fish cakes! This really massive scent of it, it would drift down the street and that did remind me of being a child growing up in that period.

Another song on the record ‘All Day Ticket’ is another track I feel is personal with a lot going on there.

JW: ‘All Day Ticket’ talks about karma, about how somebody can find themselves in a great position but all of a sudden that position will just vanish and they will hurtle back towards the old way they used to live, which wasn’t great. It’s about them connecting to the reasons why they’re back in that crappy position, whether they admit that to themselves or they blame other people for it. So, this is what that songs about; its kind of about karma, about taking stock of your responsibilities and being honest with yourself.

Did you find yourself doing that when writing and having a lot of downtime because of the pandemic to reflect?

JW: Yeah, a little bit. Some of it, the pandemic, made me quite angry, in how the government handle it and are still handling it and how we are as a nation in England still ruled by an aristocracy, all of these things were exposed even more I thought during the pandemic. It made me really angry, that went into it. Also, a lot of recollection. A little bit of soul-searching perhaps… ‘cause you’re just stuck in the house all the time. It’s also laced with the usual trademark humour that we do that I still find quite interesting.

When reflecting and soul-searching, have you ever tried mediation?

JW: Oh yeah, I do a lot of meditating, especially at night. On tour I do it a lot as well. It’s definitely something that I have looked into.

What kind of meditation do you do?

JW: Phone apps, where it’s someone talking, you eventually fall asleep, stuff like that. I find it quite useful really.

Before you mentioned karma, that and things like meditation are from Buddhist philosophy; have you looked into that?

JW: It definitely can be… a bit of Yoga Nidra, Pilates, but I generally haven’t dived into any of that. As you get older you kind of pick some of that up anyway, don’t you, naturally if you’re in the position where you’re thinking about yourself as a human being and how you’re moving forwards and how you cope with life. You eventually connect to stuff like that.

Is there a philosophy that you like to live your life by?

JW: I don’t know really. Just to carry on and keep doing and being as alert as I can be and to make the right decisions in a controlled and calm manner. I think learning to incorporate patience into everyday things is the real, real goal. Being calm can attribute much more to a positive experience on a daily basis than not being calm, ya know what I mean… taking stock and stepping back and not panicking is something I am increasingly finding myself wanting to move towards.

It can be a hard thing to cultivate in the climate we find ourselves in with everything that is happening in the world. I walk out my front door and there’s something that can make me angry.

JW: Oh god yeah, don’t get me wrong! There’s a barrage of stuff out there that on daily basis I suffer with really badly, in the sense of frustration, in the sense of being aggressive, but when it comes down to it, when you’re on your own and you’re at the point when you’re going to boil over, that’s where I try and step back now. I find that’s becoming increasingly more possible to do.

When you first started Sleaford Mods, what initially inspired you to do it?

JW: I really like the punk aspect… I accidentally found this formula of shouting over beats and realised very quickly that it could be something bigger than that initial discovery. Also, that it could carry so many approaches because before I was only doing a traditional approach which was guitar and vocals, a traditional band setup, which I found quite restricting. When I stumbled over this formula, this really early form of it, that’s when I started to get other ideas.

I was so excited when I first found Sleaford Mods, it made total sense to me being someone that grew up on both punk and hip-hop, you combine two things that I love and doing so it made you unique. You have so much spirit and I believe what you’re saying.

JW: Thank you very much, that means a lot!

Is there anything that you haven’t talked about in regards to the new album that you’d like to?

JW: The two guest collaborators Amy Taylor from Amyl and the Sniffers and Billy Nomates who is an up-and-coming singer in England, those two for me really did transform the advancement we made in production on this album. We really took our time to make the production on this album better than the last one. The inclusion of those two have definitely completely changed it. We’re really happy about that.

Please check out SLEAFORD MODS. Spare Ribs out now via Rough Trade. Watch Sleaford Mods live in Brisbane, Australia. Watch Amyl & the Sniffers do a Sleaford Mods cover live on Gold Coast, Australia.

Amyl And The Sniffers’ Gus Romer: “I was losing my mind, I was so nervous. It’s insane. I hadn’t experienced anything like that before”

Original photo Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade collage by B.

Melbourne pub punk band Amyl and the Sniffers need no introduction. We recently chatted to bassist Gus Romer to find out about the progress on new music, how he came to join the band and about their travels all over the world.

When we were teeing up this chat you mentioned that you’re a late sleeper; have you always been one? Is it because you’ve played so many shows – I think around 250 or so in the last year – that contributes to you keeping late hours?

GUS ROMER: In the past two years we’ve played a lot of shows. I’ve always been like that though, I’ve always cherished a good lie in [laughs].

How did you first discover music?

GR: From a young-ish age my mother always had an emphasis on my brother and I learning an instrument, doing something musical.

Why do you think she pushed you guys towards something creative?

GR: She’s an art teacher, so we’ve always done creative stuff from the start. It’s a good outlet to always have, something to do and something to work on.

You’re originally from Tasmania?

GR: Yep, yep.


What was it like growing up there?

GR: It was great! I love Tassie a lot. Super small. Super beautiful. Pretty cold [laughs].

What kind of stuff were you into as a kid?

GR: Mainly music, bits and bobs, that came in and out of my interest because I spent most of my childhood and teens just skateboarding, I was really into that!

What bands were you listening to?

GR: At the very start when you’re really young it’s just listening to the radio and whatever is around you. I got really into the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Led Zeppelin and Rage Against The Machine. I fell off for a while and got really into hip-hop for a few years in my teens, that’s all I listened to, I wasn’t into too much else at the time. Later on I got back into punk rock.

What hip-hop were you listening to?

GR: I was really into Big L and MF Doom and Wu-Tang.

Did you start off playing bass? Was that the first instrument you learnt?

GR: What got me into playing bass was that in primary school we had a strings program where you could get out of class for an hour a week and this person would come around and teach a few kids how to play. I played the cello. When I finished primary school and went into high school, I obviously couldn’t do that anymore, so I got a bass for my birthday. I joined this band with my friends.

Was that the band Bu$ Money?

GR: No, that was way later. This is when I was younger. I got into playing bass initially from that transition from playing the cello.

Did you have a bunch of other bands before Bu$ Money?

GR: Bu$ Money was when I started listening to more local music and shit around in my scene in Hobart and what inspired me to get back into it and have a crack. Even though I didn’t play bass in Bu$ Money, I played drums.

How did you first get into your local scene?

GR: There’s not a great deal of places to go out and drink in Hobart. The Brisbane Hotel was where me and my friends always went ‘cause there wasn’t a bunch of dickheads there. There was alternative people, more like-minded people. I started going to drink with my friends, I started going to more shows from that and really started getting into it. I thought, this is pretty good! I’m gonna have a crack. I got one of my friends and a guy I worked with and pretty much forced them to start and be in a band with me! [laughs].

What local bands were you listening to and seeing live?

GR: Treehouse were a big one! I’m a big fan! The Dreggs, are a great, great Hobart band. There were a lot of bands that came and gone. Native Cats are a great, great Hobart band!

How did you end up being in Amyl and the Sniffers?

GR: I was already good friends with the band, I met them when Declan’s old band, Jurassic Nark, came to Hobart and Bu$ Money supported them. So that’s how I met him and then I went to Melbourne soon after and hung out with everybody else; I was good friends with them and a big fan of the band. When their old bass player parted ways with the band they called me one day and said, “Move to Melbourne and join the band”. I thought, sweet! I quit my job and moved to Melbourne.

Did you have to give much thought to it?

GR: I’d already been toying with the idea of moving to Melbourne for a while but it would have taken me even longer to do if they hadn’t asked me, it was a nice little push. It got me going and got me moving. I was already such good friends with them and a really big fan of the band so it wasn’t too much of a decision. It was super natural, cool, let’s do it!

In around March 2017, I think, is when you played your first show with them?

GR: I don’t even know ‘ey? [laughs].

Do you remember anything about that first show with them?

GR: Yeah. It was the band’s second tape launch. It was at the Curtin. I was so, so nervous! I couldn’t really play bass that good. At the time I hadn’t played bass in seven years! [laughs]. I got my friend to teach me all the songs. We had one practice. I remember being really nervous and didn’t think I played that well. I was like, oh god! I blew it! I blew! They said, “Nah! That’s great!” No one was looking at me anyway [laughs]. It was a good time. A couple of drinks loosened me up a bit and I just got up and it was fine.

Do you ever get nervous now playing shows?

GR: Not at all. Being filmed makes me really nervous though and feel uncomfortable [laughs], doing an in the studio kind of thing. We played on Jools Holland last year.

I saw that!

GR: I was off it before that, I was losing my mind, I was so nervous. It’s insane. I hadn’t experienced anything like that before.

You guys have got to do all kinds of interesting things. I saw photos from when you did a Gucci campaign and walked in their Fall 2019 show and there was a photo shoot at an Archaeological Park.

GR: It was at these ruins in Sicily. It’s pretty crazy. The first time doing that and going into that it was the first time I’d ever experienced anything like it, the level of the production, the money and effort that goes into that stuff is just mind blowing! The scale is insane. For one campaign there was over 100 staff there, everyone running around doing this, that and everything. It was crazy! It was an hour out of Palermo the capital of Sicily. There were all these old, old buildings, these ruins on the coast.

Is there something else cool that you’ve seen in your travels that sticks out to you?

GR: Too much! There’s always something crazy going on somewhere. Having the opportunity… we’ve played in Russia before, stuff like that sticks out, we were only there a day and a half. Getting to play places like Russia and Istanbul, is pretty mind blowing! I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do anything like that.

What was Istanbul like?

GR: It was so cool! Definitely the coolest place I’ve ever been, we were only there for a day though. We flew in and out. I got to walk around for two hours but it was so cool. Everything was so cool, the vibe, the architecture, it was super, super beautiful.

What was Russia like?

GR: Russia was pretty, pretty crazy. We went to Red Square. It was pretty insane, the drive from the airport to our hotel was an hour, hour and a half, and on the outskirts of the city it seems like there’s really intense poverty, in the city there is so much money! On the outskirts you see massive, massive apartment blocks that look so run down and dilapidated; in the city centre it’s so clean and there’s so much money everywhere, sports cars everywhere!

What was it like playing shows in places like that? Is it similar to here?

GR: The show in Moscow was for a festival, that was the very first show we played in Europe. We played a festival to a relatively small crowd, they were getting it though and a few people even knew all the lyrics! It’s always pretty wild because you go in not expecting much and then you have people singing your lyrics back to you. It’s mind blowing!

Have you got to see many beautiful nature spots in your travels?

GR: Driving through America is always really, really cool, the diversity of the landscape; you drive through the hills of Oregon and then drive through the desert. That stands out in terms of nature to me.

What’s one of the coolest things that you’ve seen in America?

GR: It’s all a blur to be honest [laughs]. There’s a lot, a lot of driving and a lot of drinking!

You’ve been working on a new Sniffers album?

GR: Yep, at the moment we’re trying to get some songs together to become an album at some point.

In December I think you guys mentioned you had around 12 songs?

GR: Yeah, November last year we had a fair long slog of trying to do it, trying to get something going—we got a lot of good stuff. Now we’ve just hired a little unit at a storage place near our house, which has been great. At the start of lock down we were bumming around doing nothing for the first six to eight weeks. We’ve set up in the storage unit and we’ve been hitting that up quite a bit, which has been really good. We’re trying to write new stuff and trying to do stuff that we’re all super happy with.

You all live together?

GR: Yep, yep. It’s cool. Because we’ve toured so solidly for the past two years, we’ve pretty much spent 24-hours a day with each other, we’ve been overseas together for months at a time so, it’s a pretty smooth transition for us. We all know how each other rolls.

Was it weird for you at the start of isolation not being able to tour?

GR: Kind of. It was a nice break though. We were meant to be in the States for a month, not too long after it all started. We’ve been so busy the past few years, this past six months has been the biggest break that we’ve had, the most time we’ve spent in Australia in such a long time. I’ve just been enjoying being home.

With the new stuff you’re writing have you been trying anything different to previous work?

GR: Yeah, there’s a couple of tracks that are heavier and faster, on the other spectrum there is some different stuff. We’re not trying to limit ourselves too much to a particular sound or style, just playing around and seeing what we like. Most of the time either Declan, Bryce or myself will bring a riff and we’ll jam it out. Most of the time we just try to finish it, get something and then talk about it afterwards, see what we like about it and if we keep it or don’t.

When you’re making your own music do you listen to other people’s music much?

GR: Always, I always have something going. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Dick Diver and Low Life, Vertigo—I’ve been pumping all them recently. There’s always good stuff!

Previously, just after the Sniffers debut album came out, you mentioned that you felt a really big sense of relief that the album was done and it was nice to not have to stress and worry about it; what kind of things do you stress and worry about when making an album?

GR: Well, with that, that was in the thick of us touring like crazy… when we recorded it we had come off of four months non-stop touring overseas; we flew to Sheffield in the UK and recorded the album there. We’d been away for too long, we’d work so hard non-stop touring—we just wanted to be home, we were so over it! It was definitely not the greatest time and was really stressful.

What were you tired of?

GR: We were pretty happy with what we had but we were happy to get the album out of the way. A lot of the songs, we’d already been playing for a couple of years, we just wanted to record it and get it out and never think about it or listen to it again.

Do you have a favourite Sniffers song to play?

GR: I’d probably say “Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled)”. That’s my favourite. Usually we play it last. I like the build-up, it’s fun to play.

What was the last band you saw live before lockdown?

GR: Just before everything went to a halt we were in the middle of an Australian tour, we played Sydney and Newcastle, they were the two last times I went out. I got to see Gee Tee and R.M.F.C. supporting us in Sydney, that’s always, always a great time! Concrete Lawn are a Sydney band who we are really good friends with us played in Newcastle. They were the last live shows I got to see before everything stopped.

Do you have plans yet for the rest of the year or is it too hard to plan with all the uncertainty around?

GR: There’s always stuff. We’re hoping to do an Australia tour before the end of the year, it just depends. We’re hoping to get overseas again from the start to the middle of next year. It’s a guessing game though and no one is too sure how it will go.

What have you been doing in isolation to keep sane?

GR: Now that we have the practice space we’ve been utilising that a quite a bit, other than that we haven’t been doing much… bumming around watching dumb shit on the internet and movies. The boys bought an Xbox, so they’re playing a lot of FIFA [laughs].

Last question; what inspired you to get your mullet haircut?

GR: I was really, really into the Cosmic Psychos. I was watching a lot of old footage and the doco Blokes You Can Trust and decided I wanted to look like Ross Knight! [laughs]. It’s pretty funny! I love the Cosmic Psychos.

Please check out: AMYL AND THE SNIFFERS; on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram.