Jason Williamson found a formula that dealt with depression and chimed with the disquieting mood of a nation. In this extract the Sleaford Mods mainman tells Tom Hodgkinson about turning angst into art on his new album, Eton Alive, and puts on a show for photographer Chris Floyd
Jason started the Sleaford Mods in 2007 and through talent and determination has pulled off a remarkable achievement in both becoming a pop star as a middle aged man and creating a wholly new sound that resurrects the anger of punk. The band has been successful enough for him to quit work, the source of much of his anger. While other bands stick to well-worn themes of love or the beauty of waterfalls, Jason and beats master Andrew hymn the bleakness of austerity culture and the humiliations of paid employment.
Tom Hodgkinson You’ve put your finger on a feeling common to lots of men who have been through rave and Brit Pop: a sense of disappointment.
Jason Williamson I got to the point where I had nothing and I was working shit jobs and I wasn’t that person I used to be. I was sofa-surfing, house-sharing. I started to ask who I was. I started feeling extreme anger, resentment, failure. But then it also cleansed me. I remember seeing a guy I knew driving in a BMW and he ignored me and it confirmed it all for me. He was blinded. It was all a load of bollocks.
TH Some won the game and some lost.
JW It’s sink or fucking swim, isn’t it? Now I’m more successful, I look at the guy in the BMW and think he just saw it for what it was. He didn’t take too much coke, he turned up for work, he saw the bigger picture.
TH You must have been thinking a lot.
JW I had nothing, just stupidity. I spent my money in one weekend and wouldn’t have anything for the rest of the month. I wasn’t destitute but it wasn’t good. I was in my mid-thirties, I’d chosen to do something creative and I figured doing menial jobs would fund that. If I’d been a bit better with money it might have done. I started getting in trouble around 2003, getting sacked from jobs and doing more drugs, getting more unstable and depressed.
TH But then you made a conscious decision to turn this into creative fuel.
JW Not until about 2007, when I discovered a formula. I found the Sleaford thing by mistake. It was a real vehicle for getting all of this angst off my mind, just shouting over something. I started to take what I’d been feeling and put it onto records.
TH So it was good for your mental health?
JW At first it actually deteriorated. But it gave me a lifeline, creatively speaking, because I was lost. I love music and writing music. I’d gone from playing in bands to digital music, sitting in a room with a computer and a microphone. I thought it was more contemporary, it suited me better.
TH You have said The Streets were an influence.
JW They were, yes. They showed me I could do the rap thing or the spoken word thing in a very attractive rhythmic way, as a white person. I had thought it was just a black thing, but it’s not. The Streets opened that up to me.
TH Are there any writers or musicians who are heroes for you?
JW In the day there was Paul Weller, the Wu Tang Clan, the Pistols, Public Enemy. I wouldn’t say they were heroes but I admired them.
TH I learned recently that Public Enemy were inspired by The Clash – the sound and the look with the camouflage and the political aggression.
JW It’s weird, isn’t it? You often find black artists trailblaze and white artists follow.
TH You have written about combining the day job with doing the band. You worked for the council, is that right?
JW I was a benefits advisor. I left just as the coalition took over. Osborne and Cameron’s austerity measures hadn’t kicked in but things were being taken away and people were getting desperate. Interviewing ex-soldiers who would get nothing and were suffering from post-traumatic stress and needing medication and funding… That made me hate the army. But the band was getting somewhere. Stewart Lee turned up to a gig in London. I thought: this is going somewhere.
TH Pulp were on the dole for nine years. It was like an unofficial Arts Council, there wasn’t a stigma around it. That’s all changed.
JW Yes, it’s got so hard to go on the dole now. Since the coalition you can forget about it. Longest I did on the dole was six months and that was probably in 2007.
TH Were there some jobs you enjoyed more than others?
JW I enjoyed working at Little Chef. The only thing going was this job so my Mum took me up for the interview and I got it. I wasn’t hygienic at all, I was drunk behind the counter. I got sacked for falling out with one of the waiters. They didn’t pay me for three months, I’d just nick bottles of wine and drink. It was a free-for-all.
TH Do you think of work as a kind of slavery?
JW It is. Not if you’re earning a decent wage and have a career or went to university to train for it or even stumbled into it and found out you’re very good at it. Work isn’t so bad, then. But at the same time, with more money comes more stress.
TH “Posh slavery” is what a friend of mine calls well-paid work.
JW In Western society, once you have food in your belly you can either have sex, get pissed or buy something. If you can’t do any of those three then it is like a fucking prison cell. At least you can consume well in a good job.
Directed by Chris Floyd
Assisted by Andras Bartok & Berit von Enoch
Edited by Josh John