by Tobias Hudson
Hot off the release of their debut album The Overload, post-punk outfit YARD ACT hit Glasgow last week with a show at Mono. The rowdy Leeds-based outfit have been gathering an impressive list of accolades ever since their success over lockdown, and I was excited to see what their live shows would bring to their already aggressive tracks. Baba Ali supported with a haunting collection of sleazy RnB tracks that you could really dance to. Some great songs for the middle-class hipsters in the room, but perhaps slightly out of place for the older demographic who were there to drink beer and scream a chorus or two.
After a lively build-up by the band, vocalist James Smith bounded onto the stage, complete in a full-length khaki trenchcoat and Doc Martins, the predictable vintage Casio on his wrist glinting under the bright lights. He sipped red wine and bantered with the crowd over the gushing instrumental that revved up the atmosphere and got the fists pumping. The music suddenly crashed in and the band got started in full form.
They waltzed through a catalogue of hit singles and deeper cuts. Admittedly, YARD ACT don’t yet have the most extensive catalogue to draw from, but there was still enough on offer to keep the audience on their toes. Anti-capitalist anthem “Payday” led into the dark madness of “Peanuts”. The touching versus on “Tall Poppies” about a boy as he grows up in a small village were somewhat washed out by the on-stage aggression, but the audience all knew the words anyway. A highlight was “Rich”, a single that I hadn’t enjoyed too much on first release. On-stage however, the simple idea was transformed into a spiralling song that descended into a scream-fest.
Interesting to note that their debut track “Fixer Upper” was missing from the setlist. Despite it being a crowd-pleaser, I couldn’t deny feeling a little disappointed that it didn’t make an appearance. The band have been on record to say they want to move away from their “earlier songs”, despite them only starting a year ago! And despite the great songs, I couldn’t help but wonder whether post-punk had gone beyond. The look, the sound, the Yorkshire shiver of his words felt oddly familiar. Has punk music become archetypical now? It’s almost not worth thinking about.
After about half an hour, James started to mention that they’d almost reached the end of their set. A bemused crown laughed it off, but were surprised when only ten minutes later he finished a track and darted off stage. While there was no doubt a sense of disappointment in the air, driven by the tepid ENCORE chants that lasted all of about thirty seconds, perhaps James was still feeling under the weather from his illness. But all in all, it was a fantastic night enjoyed by all!
I was lucky enough to have a brief chat with Ryan Needham (bass) and Sam Shjipstone (guitar) after the event, and was able to ask them a questions about their new-found success and how they create music:
Thanks for joining me guys! So how does it feel to be back out after lockdown, creating new music and touring all over the UK?
Sam: It’s great doing it again, really good. In the second lockdown, I had a friend who said to me that all he wanted to do was play a show in Barnsley, on like a Thursday and that’d make him happy. It’s so funny because before we would’ve thought twice about it, but now it really shows you just how important it is to have in your life. Chuffed. Definitely more dramatic now than it’s ever been as well, to play to nobody and then to play sold-out shows from the off, it’s just a pleasure really.
Ryan: Yeah, it did feel like we’d almost skipped a couple of steps. You know when you get a level-cheat on a computer game, it almost felt a little bit like that. But yeah, it is territory we’ve done before, but it’s just nice man, to be out in front of vibey crowds and see people that just want to be in a room getting attacked by live music.
I know you’ve both played in different bands before, but was there a specific angle you wanted to approach YARD ACT at musically?
Ryan: Yeah, it was quite natural really. I was a fan of the stuff that James had been doing in his previous band, and then he did a past called Post-War Glamour girls that was a bit dark and wordy, and drew heavily from influences like Nick Cave, almost quite gothic. Then he went down a country route, and then it seemed that our paths just merged together, and we decided to embrace that culture of very lyric-heavy music that seemed to be coming more accepted. And James is fucking great at doing it, I said to him that he definitely needs to keep doing it. Originally, it was going to be more lo-fi, and it just came out like Yard Act! We just vibed off each other and it came about naturally.
Sam: I think Yard Act did play a couple of shows before the first lockdown and I went to see them, and I really wanted to play in the band. I also felt that I could as well, so Ryan invited me along. Firstly I had to use a different type of guitar from what I’m used to, ditch all the pedals and just play it out of the hands. But I’m really glad it works well.
There’s been a bit of a boom in the post-punk scene recently. Do you think there’s a reason for that?
Sam: It’s so hard to say. I’ve heard other journalists say that as well, asking if we’ve tapped into anything particular. When a certain musical style becomes popular you never really know why. It may not be obvious to the musician’s at the time. There are a couple of things I’ve noticed though. We’re moving out of the era of very self-conscious political music that was happening recently. It’s more mature now, especially older white men who have to deliver it in a different way. There’s a bigger appreciation for music with slightly stranger elements in it now as well.
Ryan: Yeah definitely, and I feel that’s especially true of the abrasiveness and the tension in our music. The anger feels of the time, there is a lot of unrest now. Maybe people want to see that mirrored back at them, and that might be where the inspiration for us to do it came from!
Is it ever difficult to match up James’ spoken words with a suitable instrumental?
Sam: Yeah I did, but it was a good challenge though. The big one I remember is from The Overload, where there’s a really irrational guitar line that needs five parts instead of four that makes it so hard to write. He definitely sets the structure, and we use it. We just work around him really and let the lyrics have space to be up front and centre.
You’re signed to a label now, congratulations! Some punk bands might view that as going against their ethos, so what can we expect going forward?
Ryan: We’re signed to Island records now which is great in some ways! The good thing is that although they are part of a huge conglomerate, the people we work with day to day all come from the same background as us and have the same ideals. It is a very complex problem, but thankfully we get to work with a lot of creative people who love music. And going forward, it seems they’re going to let us work on our own really! They trust us and we trust them, and it’s a great relationship. Sam: What’s great as well is that the pressure isn’t there either! So we plan to just keep making good music, and hopefully bring the cool points! It’s been a great experience!