Over 14 years and 10 albums, Sleaford Mods frontman Jason Williamson built a reputation around his street-savvy stage persona, spatting terse invectives over minimalist rhythms and melodies of his multi-instrumentalist bandmate, Andrew Fearn. The Brit’s viewpoint — and Midlands-inflected delivery style — strictly were blue-collar and anti-Tory, and fans loved him for it. Or as one recently posted on the duo’s Twitter feed: “From one working-class kid to another, thank you — you sing what I want to say.”
But during the pandemic quarantine, oddly enough, his confidence began to falter, until he was grappling with a serious identity crisis at age 50.
“I started doubting myself, and it started on lockdown, with too much thinking, too much self-reflection, and it got quite claustrophobic,” says Williamson, who eventually found his churlish voice again on the Mods’ new 11th effort, “Spare Ribs,” already a Top 10 hit in England after its Jan. 15 release.
“I didn’t really come to a conclusion. I just carried on analyzing myself until my attitude started to change a little, and I stopped feeling so insecure. It became a case of just moving on and not dwelling on it too much.”
But the experience gave him the courage to not only double down on his tough-talking bravado but expand on it, artistically.
Since its 2007 debut album “Sleaford Mods” — named for the Linconlshire hamlet near where Williamson was born in Grantham — the group had a decidedly laddish edge. But this time around, a softer feminine touch was added to Williamson’s sprechgesang (the vocal style between speech and song), in initial bouncy single “Mork n Mindy,” which features the velvet vocals of Bristol post-punker Billy Nomates (aka Tor Maries).
Its current follow-up cut, the jagged-riffed stomper “Nudge It,” boasts a chant-along cameo from Amy Taylor, the powerhouse anchor of Australia’s proto-punk Amyl and the Sniffers. It puts a playful new polish on the band’s fiery vitriol, which remains as strong as ever.
On “Mork N Mindy,” Williamson is almost sunnily singing as he recalls childhood memories, some of which are quite dark. He and a sister (who died at birth) both suffered from spina bifida, with his being corrected by a tumor-removing spinal operation.
Watching TV sitcoms was one fondly-remembered small comfort. “And ‘Mork and Mindy’ was a really popular show when I was a kid, and symbolic of my childhood, and it kind of married itself to that song’s lyrical imagery,” he says.
Elsewhere, he’s more blunt. The bass-minimal “Shortcummings” derides former Boris Johnson adviser Dominic Cummings, who broke his own governmental lockdown restrictions last year with a 260-mile drive to visit a scenic castle. And the jittery “Spare Ribs” title track addresses how casually expendable human lives seem to have become in the COVID-19 era.
“We are all potentially spare ribs, connected to the body of the economic model,” says Williamson. “In the same way that the human body can rid itself of a few spare ribs and still survive, so the economic model can rid itself of a few million human beings and still continue to thrive. The idea came to me in light of all the needless deaths at the start of the pandemic.”
Don’t even get him started on Brexit. “It’s s—- a complete, absolute nightmare,” he says.
Perhaps the strangest thing to emerge from this period of self-doubt is Baking Daddy, the campy new kitchen character created by Williamson and his wife, who manages Sleaford Mods. It’s a Twitter series in which the shirtless, apron-swathed artist gives how-to oven tutorials, utilizing recipes from Britain’s renowned Primrose Bakery.
“This is no joke. ‘Baking Daddy’ is properly serious,” he says, adding that yes, he is wearing pants beneath his kitchen counter. “I first got into baking when I met my wife about 10 years ago. I’d just been used to drinking beer all day and generally getting myself into a mess. But she started baking cakes when she’d come stay for the weekend, and it just went from there, really. So we were just trying to think of ways to make ourselves laugh during lockdown, and we came up with this one morning.”
Williamson, who has been sober for five years, is the father of two kids, ages 9 and 2.
He no longer fears a recurrence of his morose coronavirus condition. “I think you should constantly stop and assess yourself,” he says. “Because being motivated to be creative is the important thing, isn’t it? And the minute that I haven’t got any ideas? Hey, I’m down for the count!”