Yard Act interview: Leeds band on second album Where’s My Utopia and upcoming city-wide takeover

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In an early morning video call from his home in Leeds, Ryan Needham, bass player with indie rock band Yard Act, is pondering the pitfalls of trying to follow up a successful debut album.

“Album two is famously meant to be quite a difficult one, isn’t it?” says the 43-year-old of Where’s My Utopia?, which is out tomorrow, two years after their first record, The Overload, stormed to number two in the national charts.

“But the first one had done really well and I found that to be a bit more reassuring. (When) we made it we didn’t know if it would ever find an audience because not every record does.”

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Perhaps just as significant though, he feels, is the fact that this is the first album they had made as a four-piece, since guitarist Sam Shipstone and drummer Jay Russell joined him and vocalist James Smith.

Leeds band Yard Act release their second album on Friday (Photo by Yard Act)Leeds band Yard Act release their second album on Friday (Photo by Yard Act)
Leeds band Yard Act release their second album on Friday (Photo by Yard Act) | Yard Act

“On album one it was kind of me and James, it was written in lockdown and it was not how you’d ever choose to make an album with a band, so this one feels like the first one for all of us,” he says.

“Because we were so busy (touring) the first one, we kind of know each other inside out creatively and it was just flowing, we worked fast and it was good.”

There is no “magic” formula for success, though, he appreciates – not even for pop acts.

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“I think that’s what also makes this whole thing completely addictive and makes you want to keep doing it because you want to crack the code, but maybe you never will,” he reflects.

The running theme of Smith’s lyrics in Where’s My Utopia? is about the struggle of being in a successful band. Needham acknowledges that it is “tricky territory, you can come across as ungrateful, moaning b***ers, but it’s not that”.

To launch the album, on Saturday the band have planned an ‘all-day takeover’ over of Leeds (Photo by Yard Act)To launch the album, on Saturday the band have planned an ‘all-day takeover’ over of Leeds (Photo by Yard Act)
To launch the album, on Saturday the band have planned an ‘all-day takeover’ over of Leeds (Photo by Yard Act) | Yard Act

The “main takeaway” from the lyrics for him is something more universal, addressing ambition. “That happens in anyone’s job, really,” he says.

“Constantly chasing for a thing and then when you get it it wasn’t what you were expecting...James’s only reference was in a band so it’s his experience, but it is weird.

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"People in bands who are trying to be in a position that we’re in reading interviews with someone saying it’s a real struggle and it was horrible, no one wants to hear that when that’s what they want to do, so I admire that he’s gone with that angle, but it’s a lot more nuanced than that.

"If you scan a headline it can come across as ungrateful but it’s more nuanced and a bit more honest, kind of exploring what I just said rather than moaning about having to do 10 gigs in a row.”

The song We Make Hits might come across as “a bit of a throwaway joke” to some people, Needham says, but at its heart he feels it is “quite a sweet song about mine and James’ – well, all of us, really – songwriting process”.

“It’s a bit of an origins story, really, a bit of a love letter to the experience of making music with a group of other people that you love,” he explains.

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Musically the band have expanded their musical palette on Where’s My Utopia?, with the party vibe contrasting with more serious lyrics.

Needham says: “I always like it when artists do slightly miserable lyrics over a party song – The Smiths do it really well. It’s a good trick and we’ve used that a few times on this record.

There’s a lot of introspection in the lyrics. It wasn’t as calculated as this but I think in hindsight having that backdrop to the introspective lyrics is going to help them translate. We’re playing bigger rooms now and we want to have a fun time when we go out and play live at festivals.

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“Also, I think the album as a whole with the little skits in between songs and the samples and the tuning in here and there and the party songs with miserable lyrics, it’s kind of a good representation of how chaotic the last couple of years were in terms of what our lives were like.

"It was as all over the shop as that seems. Because of the Covid restrictions it wasn’t like, hey, you could just jump on a flight to Los Angeles, what’s the problem with that?

"You had to be at every airport for about 15 hours and then your flight probably would get cancelled, it was all a year of that. But then it went from that to finally landing in LA and playing to a room full of people and that was where the party part comes in. It sums it up pretty well musically.”

The bassist feels that the band have “definitely” grown closer through the process of making the record.

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“I think there was a point where we didn’t, it was towards the back end of that tour. Me and James had a bit of a fallout, not going into full shut-off mode, but when you are rundown I think everyone goes into safety mode.

"There’s a lot of headphones on, sit in a van. One of the main reasons for me why the year was quite difficult was we were all hitting the booze quite hard and if you’re constantly hungover you’re just constantly in a bad mood. It’s not great for building long-lasting friendships.

"Me and James got to the end of that tour and we were getting a bit narky with each other, I know I was, but just having a bit of time being back in the studio doing what we love together (it resolved itself). We never fell out (seriously), we’ve always been pretty pally. I think being a little bit older as well, you can clock when you’re annoying someone.”

To launch the album, on Saturday the band have planned an ‘all-day takeover’ over of Leeds, starting at Kirkgate Market at noon, followed by a ‘live dub’ of the album at Crash Records at 3.30pm, and a Q&A with comedian Nish Kumar at Jumbo Records at 5pm.

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At 6.30pm there will be the first pull of their Dream Job beer, specially brewed by Anthology and Kirkstall Brewery, at Belgrave Music Hall, then a Furry Boombox DJ session at The Social at 8pm.

As a band, they seem to revel in making promotional duties fun. “I enjoy those things,” says Needham. “You’ve got to get stuck in, haven’t you?”

Kumar was one of the comedians who had joined them when they did a week’s residency at the Brudenell Social Club last year. It seems he’s become a friend of the band. “He’s great, he just wants to sit and talk about the Velvet Underground, he’s a proper muso,” Needham says. “I guess we’re similar ages as well and we’ve got a lot of musical tastes crossover.”

Where’s My Utopia? is out on Friday March 1. Yard Act play in Millennium Square, Leeds on Saturday August 3. https://www.yardactors.com/

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