‘When I gave up drink it was a hallelujah moment’: Sleaford Mods interviewed at Glastonbury

In the first of the Guardian’s onstage talks with musicians at the festival, frontman Jason Williamson and producer Andrew Fearn talk candidly about substance abuse, class and turning 50

There are infinite ways to start your day at Glastonbury: as you mean to go on, with a pint of cider for breakfast; daydreaming in the long line for a coffee; perhaps something holistic in the green fields to atone for the night before.

But over on the east side of the festival on Friday morning, a throng of people kicked off Friday by watching Sleaford Mods interviewed by music editor Ben Beaumont-Thomas in the first of the Guardian’s onstage talks at the William’s Green stage.

Wearing shorts and looking bright-eyed, frontman Jason Williamson and producer Andrew Fearn took questions submitted by Guardian readers. They talked candidly about growing up working class, how becoming successful affected their identity and kicking – and addressing the roots of – substance addiction.

The band formed in Nottingham and was a way for Williamson to write about “failure”, he said, describing himself as a “total loser” at the time: “boozed up, drugged up, really not very nice … lots of mental health issues. We can all say that these days. It’s quite clear that anyone from my generation – or any generation – with issues with substances or alcohol that they can’t stop that there’s some sort of trauma.”

To this day, he said, he was still “guided by my own negative aspects” as a songwriter: “jealousy, negativity, paranoia”. He rejected the idea that it was in any way disingenuous for a now-successful musician to continue to write about struggles in his earlier life. “That might get interpreted as me trying to sound like I did eight years ago, which is bullshit – I’ve done my apprenticeship.”

Sleaford Mods interviewed by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on the William’s Green stage.
Sleaford Mods interviewed by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on the William’s Green stage. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

He continued: “Your personality’s still what it was back then. You [may be] living in a middle-class area but the way you talk, what you laugh at, how you are, you can still tell. If I tried my hardest to be middle class I couldn’t do it.”

Asked about their famously scabrous approach to social media, Williamson recalled how he would get off tour “in a really aggressive mood”, and search out people who didn’t like the band as a way of “decompressing”. He admitted that he had recently said to his wife that it was “a form of punishing myself because I felt that way about myself”.

“It’s related to the working-class question,” said Fearn, “feeling bad about who you were.”

Both Fearn and Williamson discussed turning 50 and undergoing seismic recent life changes. Fearn stopped smoking as much weed and joined a gym to start weight training.

Williamson addressed his substance abuse and stopped drinking. After his last bender, he said, he drank half a can of lager and realised he had to stop. “I’d tried everything,” he said. “When I gave up the drink it was like a hallelujah moment, really.”

Nonetheless, he said, change took time. “I still wanted to do it,” he admitted of cocaine. “It took a while to get rid of the impulse to go and buy a load of gear and sit in a room. It was a powerful thing.” He credited his kids, his partner, the band and having the means to seek help with aiding his recovery. Otherwise, he said, “it was only gonna go one way”.

Looking to their own futures, they discussed their admiration for US punk musician Ian MacKaye, who fronted the bands Minor Threat and Fugazi and runs Dischord Records. “He’s like, whatever, he has no hang-ups,” said Williamson. “That’s what I wanna get to.”

The session concluded with Williamson expressing his typically unfiltered views on UK politics. “The country got fucking ransacked,” he said, and admitted that he likely wouldn’t vote at the next election.

While there were some good people in politics, he said, and “a way to live under this system of chasing money”, he had “generally lost hope [with politics]. But I’m aware of the fact that I’m in a privileged position and I can afford not to vote … Let’s face it, if you’ve got Labour and Keir Starmer telling us to put ourselves behind the fucking Queen, I mean, come on!”

Where do you find hope, one reader asked? Fearn and Williamson both laughed. “In your own personal space,” said Williamson. “Where else can you find it? It’s the reason people have families. They’ve got a point, it’s really nice. It’s why people have relationships, friendships.”

• The Guardian’s interview series continues at Glastonbury this weekend, with Self Esteem (Saturday) and Angélique Kidjo (Sunday) interviewed on the William’s Green stage at 10am each day.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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