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Yard Act: “We’re all just weird creatures bumbling about on this rock”

As Yard Act gear up to release their brilliant debut album, they tell Rolling Stone UK all about the story so far

By Nick Reilly

Yard Act
Yard Act (Picture: James Brown)

“I think we’re all just all these weird fucking creatures bumbling about on this rock, not really knowing what we’re doing,” says Yard Act’s James Smith. “And I find humour and comfort in that.”

Observations on the world at large are deeply embedded in the Leeds band’s early tracks and are a large part of the reason they’re being touted as one of Britain’s most thrilling bands.

Rooted in post-punk, Yard Act’s songs take jagged guitars that evoke the poppy highs of the genre’s ’80s golden era and pits them against Smith’s sardonic and often surreal lyrics, which use fictional characters to make subtle statements about the state of Britain in 2021.

On the early single ‘Fixer Upper’, he assumes the character of a property developer called Graham to paint an image of a place where altruism and understanding is far from the order of the day.

“We’re gonna put Poundshop terracotta frogs everywhere/And wrap solar power fairy lights round the gutter,” he sings. “I got a prosecco o’clock poster half price in Ikea/It goes nicely with the existential fear that I feel.”

These cartoonish images are also peppered through the band’s debut album, which arrives as one of 2022’s first impactful releases. And thankfully that means another appearance from Graham on title track ‘The Overload’.

Yard Act standing next to a car in front of a brick wall
Yard Act, 2021. (Credit: James Smith).

“I’ve always done it in my writing, juxtaposing the surreal with the mundane. But it’s tangible; it’s not abstract and it’s a good way of explaining where you are, but not predicting where you can go,” Smith explains.

“I don’t feel the need to just sell who I am explicitly as my style of writing. For me there has to be that element of keeping things vague enough that I’m not predicting where things will go.”

But that gloomy outlook is a contrast to Smith’s own upbeat nature. He threads a subtle streak of positivity throughout the record, which comes to a head on closer ‘100% Endurance’. The song uses an alien invasion to convey the message that there’s beauty in the futility of knowing how insignificant our lives are.

The band’s rise began during the first coronavirus lockdown back in 2020. They had formed a year prior when Smith moved into a flat with bassist Ryan Needham. As the pandemic meant that gigs were entirely off the table, they were forced to rely on online commentators for a response to their early tracks. “It was weird watching that unfold. People were saying nice things about us on the internet, so that was nice. It was addictive, but it’s not really real.”

What is real, however, is the band’s ability to attract friends in high places. Cillian Murphy has constantly championed Yard Act on his BBC 6 Music show, while Elton John previously said of them: “I love it and I wonder how they do it.”

Offering a humble estimation of that endorsement from the music veteran, Smith replies: “I’m just really glad it was someone whose music we all genuinely love. It could have been someone we weren’t actively fans of, which would have been awkward. But he’s just an incredible songwriter and I have a huge amount of respect for the time he spends listening to new music and chasing new talent.”

So, is a team-up with Elton, fresh from his recent collaborations album, in the band’s future? “I’ve said I want him to give Bernie Taupin a few weeks off so I can just do the lyrics for his next album. I’m hoping we get to meet him. I’m happy to put him on the guest list for any gig — put that in the article in the hope he reads it and knows he’s always welcome.”

Louche lyrics and barbed vocal delivery aside, the buzz around Yard Act owes a lot to Smith’s presence live, too. Stalking the stage with a distinctive overcoat, floppy hair and NHS prescription-style glasses, the comparisons to Jarvis Cocker have proved inevitable.

But, with Smith’s lyrics being as pointed and acutely British as they are, a post-punk Alan Bennett might be more appropriate. “I’ve always admired the way that Jarvis Cocker interacts with crowds because you can see it’s off the cuff,” he says of the comparisons.

“I want Elton to give Bernie Taupin a few weeks off so I can just do the lyrics for his next album”

“I haven’t styled myself on him, but it is a distinctive look and he wears it well. Dare I say, it doesn’t look too bad on me, either. Between the glasses and the trench coat, I’ve just got a look down that works for me. But it’s all part of the character and theatre of what I do.

With their album set to drop at the beginning of 2022, Yard Act are on a path to becoming one of the year’s defining bands.

And if not, Smith’s experience of watching endless hours of children’s television as a recent father means he’s already got his next career path planned.

“Music supervisor on Hey Duggee — maybe that’s where I’m aiming for after album 2?!”

Somehow, you sense that CBeebies won’t be calling on his services for quite some time.