zero airs and graces

Troubadours of modern truth: Alex Cameron and Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson in conversation
By Clementine Zawadzki | Music | 10 March 2022

Photography by Alia Raheem

The synergy between Alex Cameron and Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson is thousandfold. It’s hard to tell where it starts and ends, but their shared sentiment goes beyond music and lyrics, and straight to the heart of what makes them great storytellers; raw, honest truth with zero airs and graces.

This mutual respect and admiration instigated their collaboration on the title track and closer of Alex’s upcoming new album Oxy Music; a record that once again sees Alex’s proclivity for light and shade take centre stage, this time exploring how, if given the perfect storm, the grips of addiction could take anyone down an unsuspecting path. Of course, it wouldn’t be Alex or Jason if this dark detail weren’t accompanied by soaring beats and well-timed comedic moments to soften the blow. Their knack for balancing these elements in a dance-inducing haze is in total harmony here.

In conversation below, the pair discusses their destined meeting and how they managed to keep their adulation for each other’s work under control to forge a friendship in the unlikeliest place; the music industry. As Jason details below, truth is the driving force to their craft, and in a world where celebrity is so often carried with pretence, Alex and Jason are the genuine articles. They tell it like it is, the rest is up to you. 

Photography by Cameron Carter

Jason Williamson: So, long time mate. Are you all right? It looks nice and sunny over there.
Alex Cameron: Yeah, I’m all right. How are you? I’m in Los Angeles. It’s my second to last day here before I go back to New York. I’ve been missing you.

JW: You too, mate. It’s good to hear your voice… and see you, obviously, complete with bed-head. If that isn’t bed-head, I’m really sorry [laughs].
AC: It’s a little bit of bed-head, but I thought I was looking all right, frankly [laughs].

JW: You always look all right. You’re a consistent inspiration, Mr Cameron.
AC: I’ve been doing a lot of press for the record, and a lot of people have been really interested in how we started communicating with one another and our connection. Some people say, “I couldn’t imagine you two collaborating,” whereas I feel really connected to your music and it makes total sense to me.

JW: I think as soon as I saw your album cover for Miami Memory that was it.
AC: That’s wild.

JW: It took me in. I thought, “There’s a delinquent.” But you know, you’re far from it. You’re very serious and into what you’re doing, and I’m similar.
AC: I think when we did that session together and started talking about the music, there’s a wavelength I sort of found… some people share it and some people don’t. Some people I find are very focused on whether they’re the ones who have done the so-called ‘creation’.

JW: Yeah, sure
AC: Whereas, my priority has always been service to the song. Even if I’ve been tasked with helping someone, whatever that job may be, I think the best idea wins. I immediately shared that outlook with you. I could see with you it was just about the song, no ego. I was really inspired by that. That session we had together was really special to me, and stays in my head really clearly.

JW: Yeah, it does me too. There was never any question of it being some traditional ego set-up or status over status. Some people thrive on that. After hearing your music, it’s so imperfect, but in the way music should be…
AC: That’s very sweet…

JW: It doesn’t conform to strict regulations. I think there’s a lot of conforming to pop structures, which I have no problem with whatsoever. That’s what drives me as well. But it’s in your lyrics and the energy of it where that separates and really confronts you. I don’t think you can fuck around with something like that, can you? You’ve got to really love it to be able to do something like that, because it’s a fine line…
AC: It’s such a fine line, and I’m reminded when people ask me questions about what leads me to make those decisions, like why is the music pop and bright, and why are the lyrics sometimes leaning towards the darker side, and sometimes it’s a struggle to find a clear answer for that outside of, “That’s what I do.” It’s intentional and I do it with a purpose, but that’s just what I like, that concoction. If my songs were just very flaccid and typical lyrically, then I wouldn’t be making music. I just don’t want to do that.

JW: No, you wouldn’t. That wouldn’t be what you are, it would be thousands of other people. Even if you were doing dodgy lyrics over the top of what you do, it would still be brilliant. I don’t want to blow smoke up your arse, but it would! It’s really addictive, and your sense of melody and the way music itself connects to you is brilliant.
AC: It’s amazing hearing that from you because – I’m sure I’ve told you – but I’ve been watching you [Sleaford Mods] at festivals for years before you reached out. Take your mind back to any festival gig in Europe between 2016 and 2020, and I bet you I was there for at least half of them in the crowd.

 JW: That really shocked me when I shared some of your stuff on Instagram and you got in touch and said, “I’m a big fan,” which was… I just thought you were leagues in front, like this guy just totally knows what he’s doing and he’s in front. There’s very little that pleases this man, you know [laughs]. When you said you were a fan, I knew I could manipulate that and form a friendship with you.
AC: I totally get it. We’re probably both of that mindset, because I was like, “If I could only meet Jason,” because I’m such a fan of your lyrics and I was instantly connected. There’s this ‘voice of God’ quality to what you do and when I say that, in some ways I mean the Christian god, the vengeful god, like disappointed, like, “I see all and I’m not happy with the state of things.”

JW: Book of Revelations [laughs].
AC: Yeah. But then there’s this tenderness, this human side to it. I mean it in a literature sense, like a narrator voice, but also this third eye quality to it, which I think is just so poignant and powerful. I still read over the lyrics to what you did on Oxy Music, because that poem of yours at the beginning of the outro are some of my favourite words I’ve ever heard ever.

JW: Oh, thank you.
AC: I say it to myself walking along the street. I’ve learned it off by heart, just so I can know the words. And I show people, like, “Read this, listen to that, like… you better sit down, because you’re about to hear some words.”

To me, the music is, to a certain degree, just a lump… the music is the potato, and until I put the eyes, moustache, and the hat on top of it, it’s not Mr. Potato Head.

Photography by Cameron Carter

JW: I think that was the perfect theme for us to collaborate on.
AC: Yeah, we were pushing each other. It’s interesting because the idea of rock ‘n’ roll and drugs is all very trodden territory, but then all of a sudden you realise these stories end up being so personal, and when you breathe in new elements and give it this folk story. I feel like even in sober environments there’s this temptation to rattle off war stories, like, “You’ll never guess what I bloody did.” If I’m having a drink, I don’t want to talk about it, but if I’m in a position where I don’t want to drink anymore, it feels OK to talk about it.

JW: Definitely, I agree. You almost don’t want to be reminded of it if you’re full of it, but if you’re not, you begin to objectify it and look at it on the tableside, don’t you?
AC: I think one of the messages that you helped me shape that song was the only way through the murk, the unknown, the almost-apocalyptic qualities of partying, substances, and socialising is really how you bounce off others, because everyone’s having their own journey. That song became so important on the album – one of the big pillars of the record – because it’s like the final statement. It’s because you and I have this shared dialogue, these dark thoughts about dark times, and then at the end we sort of come to this unified agreement which is like all you can really do is talk to people and listen to people.

“You and I have this shared dialogue, these dark thoughts about dark times, and then at the end we sort of come to this unified agreement which is like all you can really do is talk to people and listen to people

JW: That’s what it boils down to at the end of the day, isn’t it? That message also transfers itself onto stuff like your latest one K Hole. I thought a little bit anyway, where you’re talking about it again in an objective way. In a way that can only be done and talked about when you’re through it and out of it. And have also spoken to yourself about it.
AC: I’ve spoken to more and more musicians over time and I’ve found that it’s quite common to complain about having to write lyrics. I’ve gone through periods where the words have maybe been more challenging to write, but I’ve never dread having to write lyrics.

JW: I never dread it, no. It’s the eyes, ears, and mouth to the body, which is the music, isn’t it? The lyrics are the personality and the public face. To me, the music is, to a certain degree, just a lump… the music is the potato, and until I put the eyes, moustache, and the hat on top of it, it’s not Mr. Potato Head. The lyrics are – without sounding like a wanker – the gateway to your soul. You need to be talking about life and it’s such a weird thing. I don’t generally draw anything positive from existence to a greater extent, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but I tend to be more interested in the darker things, and the things that carry struggle, pain, and truth. If you’re going to look for truth, it’s largely a dark subject, you know. It’s important to latch onto that, I think. That gives it the energy. Lyrics are never a chore, ever.

AC: I feel like I’m at my most grateful when I’m able to just write lyrics. That’s what I try to earn, that position of trust in myself. It’s very common these days for people to self-describe as ‘creators’ or ‘creatives’ and I’ve really started to have a disliking for that term. I think I’m more finding songs than creating them, because it’s all just expression and dialogue to me, like conversation. So it’s like, “Am I creating it or am I giving myself a bit too much credit there?”

JW: No, I disagree. What do you mean by finding words?
AC: Maybe I’m just trying to put it in a way I can understand it better, because I do have a tough time giving myself credit for things. I’d rather feel like it was a moment that inspired me as opposed to my own sense of brilliance or something.

JW: Oh god yeah, you can’t go down that road because that’s just a recipe for disaster.
AC: When a term like ‘creative’ or ‘creator’ gets thrown around, it loses its potency.

JW: It’s not so much the idea of ‘creative’ or ‘creator’ that puts me off, but ‘artist’ or ‘genius’ – they’re dubious areas to walk into. I think ‘creative’ there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s a neutral term, it’s just an expression of what you’re doing, and I think that’s far enough. I guess people who don’t even do good things are creatives, it’s just they’re not very good.
AC: I like that [laughs].

JW: I think you’re a bit of an enigma like that, Alex, because I don’t try and think too much about how or why you connect the things you do to yourself, because it’s literally so favourable that isn’t of importance to me. You’re also not somebody who suffers fools and silly statements, so there’s no point trying to be false around you. I know we’re being very complimentary today, but you’re just not like that. When you talk about your parents, and your brother, and the job you had before, and where you come from, and the way you talk, you’re quite a local lad almost aren’t ya? But then you’ve got this absolute injection of glamourous rock ‘n’ roll, like the purist thing a lot of people try to get but can’t quite manage it. You’re either born with it or you’re not. I think you’re one of those people.
AC: Oh man. That means a lot. I mean, it was getting to a point where I was starting to idolise your writing and your performances a lot. I think it’s hard to find kinship. It’s such a competitive… I think the most peaceful thing about becoming friends with you is that sense of genuine understanding – there’s no bullshit involved. If we were working other jobs we’d be mates.

Photography by Cameron Carter

JW: Definitely, you have that kind of energy about you.
AC: There are so many people whose music I admire or admired, but once I met them it dwindled and disappeared because there was no magic. I don’t like the idea of only being magical if you’re a musician or an artist. I like the idea of everyone having that sense of you can either have it or you don’t. There are people out there that shine walking down the street…

JW: Yes! Absolutely. I think it’s just a horrible business to be in if you’re looking for friendships [laughs].
AC: I’m probably an arsehole for even suggesting that I’m trying to find friends in showbusiness…

JW: No, not at all. I’m trying to reach out and build bridges with lots of musicians, and it’s a really hard business to do that because people are always on the move. But I’ve got quite a good connection with you I think, and we’ve known each other for a couple of years. It takes a long time. But at the same time we always communicate and keep in touch, and most importantly, we managed to write a really good song together.

Alex Cameron Oxy Music is out 11th March via Secretly Canadian.
Alex plays London’s EartH on 22nd April and Wide Awake festival on 28th May.

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