Interview Yard Act: Meet the Leeds rock band to watch in BBC Sounds of 2022’s long list
Making the BBC Sound of 2022 long list came as a surprise to Yard Act.
A group of big names in the industry, including Ed Sheeran and Elton John, have indicated 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 backed up by James Smith’s sharp comedy and his observations of subtly political figures, poking fun at society without hammering a message we’ve all heard before.
“We’re not the kind of band you’d expect to see on this list,” James told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“It’s just us and Wet Leg who are even bands, so we’re outliers in that sense.
“But something resonates with people and I’m glad we had the platform to be exposed to a much larger audience that wouldn’t necessarily hear from a band like Yard Act.
“Whether it connects on a larger scale doesn’t matter. I really want it, but if we don’t, at least we become a guinea pig to the general public. “
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Yard Act was 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 borrowed bass guitar, performing a handful of shows in Leeds with a big reception – before March came and the pandemic kicked in.
Undeterred, the band released four singles, including their hit Fixer Upper, working remotely recording and sending ideas.
James said: “After realizing that it was going to take over two weeks, we decided to release our first single to continue.
“Because it was working pretty well, we had to follow him. It wasn’t a band, it was drum machines and home recordings and it shaped the way we work. This is how Fixer Upper was born.
“We had no idea he would do what he did. We knew it was different, but we weren’t sure if people would just think it was ridiculous. “
Fixer Upper follows a self-confident fictional character “Graeme” as he plans home renovations at his second home – based on a merger of people James knew growing up.
It’s the mark of a Yard Act single; a political dossier that bypasses radical declarations by zooming in on character studies that delve into the complexity of society.
James added: “If you write in the style that I do, about people, places and modern society, I think it’s impossible not to be political.
“It is an imminent presence in everything we do, you cannot escape the government and their actions weigh heavily on everyone and appear in our lives every day.
“We’re trying to look at it in a more complex and balanced way that doesn’t just go directly against something or state the obvious.
“Characters are a great way to see things from a different perspective, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
“I have always found stories to be the best way to tell the truth.”
The long list of Making the Sound of 2022 was the icing on the cake for the band this year; James ticked off his three-part list of squeezing a 7-inch record, appearing on Later with Jools Holland and performing at the Leeds Festival.
The band must have gotten to grips with the scene quickly this summer, now joined by guitarist Sam Shipstone and Jay Russell on drums, with a busy six-week schedule of concerts and festivals.
Yard Act will take on America next year and return to the festival circuit, ending with a homecoming show at the O2 Academy in November.
“It’s going to be special,” James said.
“This will be the greatest show we’ve ever played. We grew up as young adults and as a band in venues like Brudenell, Wharf Chambers, Belgrave and Chunk.
“It’s support and it’s enriching. I have met almost all of my friends from the Leeds music scene playing in bands and going to concerts.
“Your friends shape who you are – in that sense, Leeds has had a huge influence on my life and that carries over to my writing.
“You can also find good characters in Leeds! I always watch the people of Leeds to see what they are doing and if they inspire me.
The band is releasing their best performances online in the run-up to Christmas with a ’12 Days of Yard Act ‘plug.
This is an opportunity to introduce new listeners to the sound of The Yard Act, but it is not just a simple exhibition.
The campaign raises funds and awareness for Simon on The Streets, a Leeds-based charity that provides practical and emotional support to the city’s homeless community.
James said, “I’ve talked to them a lot over the years and seen their work so I know it’s a real grassroots charity.
“It feels like the loneliest and coldest time of year for people who are struggling to find housing and get off the streets.
“Any awareness and any money we can help with is always a good thing. “
Push their sound with the debut album Overload
Yard Act will release their debut album, Overload, early next year before the band embark on their first flagship tour.
Listeners can expect the unexpected, James said, with the fluid disc plunging into a character’s journey across 11 tracks.
“Our first singles were to find our marks and play with ideas,” added James.
“We wrote the album as a singular piece. In terms of the lyrics, I push further than I did with the character studies, by going deeper.
“And musically, the group went further. There are more interesting sounds there.
“He’s doing what the Yard Act has done before, but he’s doing a lot of things that I think will surprise people – especially towards the background.”
The group’s third single from the album, Pay Day, is a contagious track that mobilizes against capitalism and gentrification.
“It’s one of the more abstract pieces on the record,” said James.
“The track is one of the first where I didn’t go into a detailed character study, I wanted to leave it a little more ambiguous.
“It’s a study of gentrification, class fetishism and how zones are co-opted because they have a slight edge and seem exciting to experience.
“But eventually, they lose it all when some people move in and launder them.”
Overload will be released via Zen.FC on January 7th
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