Yard Act interview: Meet the Leeds rock band tipped as one to watch in the BBC Sounds of 2022 longlist

The minimalist rock band speak to Abbey Maclure ahead of their debut album and first headline tour

By Abbey Maclure
Saturday, 18th December 2021, 4:45 pm

Making the BBC Sound of 2022 longlist came as a surprise to Yard Act.

A raft of industry greats including Ed Sheeran and Elton John have tipped the Leeds-based rock band - who only released their first single 18 months ago - as one to watch next year.

The band's minimalist sound is fronted by James Smith's sharp comedy and character observations that are subtly political, poking fun at society without hammering down a message we've all heard before.

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Leeds rock band Yard Act - frontman James Smith, bassist Ryan Needham, guitarist Sam Shipstone and Jay Russell on drums - have made the BBC Sounds of 2022 longlist (Photo: James Brown)

“We’re not the kind of band that you’d expect to see on that list," James told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"There’s only us and Wet Leg that are even bands, so we’re outliers in that sense.

"But something is resonating with people and I’m glad that we’ve been given the platform to be exposed to a much wider audience that wouldn't necessarily hear a band like Yard Act.

“Whether it connects on a bigger scale is irrelevant. I really want it to - but if it doesn't, at least we get to be a guinea pig for the general public."

Yard Act will release their debut album, Overload, early next year before the band embarks on its first headline tour (Photo: James Brown)

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Yard Act formed in September 2019 when bassist Ryan Needham found himself living in James' spare bedroom in Meanwood.

They started experimenting with a drum machine and a borrowed bass guitar, performing a handful of shows in Leeds to a great reception - before March came round and the pandemic intervened.

Undeterred, the band released four singles including their breakout hit Fixer Upper, working remotely by recording and sending across ideas.

Yard Act will take on America next year as well as returning to the festival circuit, ending with a homecoming show at the O2 Academy in November (Photo: James Brown)

James said: "After we realised it was going to be more than a couple of weeks, we decided to put out our first single to keep the ball rolling.

“Because it did quite well, we had to follow it up. It wasn’t a band, it was drum machines and home-recordings and that shaped how we worked. It's how Fixer Upper came about.

“We had no idea it would do what it did. We knew it was different, but we didn’t know if people would just think it was ridiculous."

Fixer Upper follows a cocksure fictional character, 'Graeme', as he plans some home renovations on his second home - based on an amalgamation of people James knew growing up.

It's the mark of a Yard Act single; a political record that bypasses sweeping statements by zooming in on character studies that delve into the complexity of society.

James added: “If you’re writing in the style that I do, about people, places and modern society, I think it’s impossible not to be political.

“It’s a looming presence in everything we do, you can’t escape the Government and their actions weigh heavily on everyone and appear in our lives every day.

“We try to look at it in a way that’s more complex and balanced and doesn’t just directly oppose something, or state the obvious.

“Characters are a really good way of looking at things from a different perspective - putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

“I’ve always found stories are the best vehicle for telling the truth."

Making the Sound of 2022 longlist has been the icing on the cake for the band this year; James has checked off his three-part bucketlist of pressing a 7 inch record, appearing on Later with Jools Holland and performing at Leeds Festival.

The band had to quickly get to grips with the stage this summer, now joined by guitarist Sam Shipstone and Jay Russell on drums, with a hectic six-week schedule of gigs and festivals.

Yard Act will take on America next year as well as returning to the festival circuit, ending with a homecoming show at the O2 Academy in November.

"That's going to be special," James said.

"It will be the biggest show we’ll have ever played. We’ve grown up as young adults and as a band at venues like Brudenell, Wharf Chambers, Belgrave and Chunk.

“It’s supportive and it’s nurturing. I’ve met almost all my friends in the music scene in Leeds from playing in bands and going to gigs.

“Your friends shape who you are - in that sense, Leeds has had a huge influence on my life and that trickles into my writing.

“You can also find good characters in Leeds! I’m always watching the people of Leeds to see what they do and if they give me any inspiration.”

12 Days of Yard Act

The band are releasing their best performances online in the run-up to Christmas with a '12 Days of Yard Act' plug.

It's a chance to introduce new listeners to the Yard Act sound, but it's about more than just exposure.

The campaign is raising cash and awareness for Simon on The Streets, a Leeds-based charity which offers practical and emotional support to the city’s homeless community.

James said: “I’ve spoken to them a lot over the years and witnessed first-hand the work they do, so I know it’s a really genuine, grassroots charity.

“It feels like the loneliest and coldest time of the year for people that are struggling to find housing and get off the streets.

“Any awareness and money we can help with is always a good thing.”

Pushing their sound with debut album Overload

Yard Act will release their debut album, Overload, early next year before the band embarks on its first headline tour.

Listeners can expect the unexpected, James said, with the fluid record delving into one character’s journey over 11 tracks.

“Our first singles were us finding our feet and toying with ideas,” James added

“We’ve written the album as a singular piece. Lyrically, I push it further than I have done with the character studies, going deeper.

“And musically, the band have pushed themselves further. There’s more interesting sounds on there.

“It does what Yard Act already did, but it does a lot of stuff that I think will surprise people - especially towards the back end.”

The band’s third single from the album, Pay Day, is an infectious track that rallies against capitalism and gentrification.

“It’s one of the more abstract tracks on the record,” James said.

“The track is one of the first where I’ve not gone into a detailed character study, I wanted to leave it a bit more ambiguous.

“It’s a study of gentrification, class fetish and how areas are co-opted because they have a slight edge to them and they seem exciting to live in.

“But ultimately, they lose all that when certain people move in and whitewash them.”

Overload will be released via Zen.F.C on January 7

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