YARD ACT – Interview

Foto-© James Brown

Der erste Paukenschlag des Jahres? Einige sagen er kam von The Weeknd oder FKA twigs. Wer es mit Post-Punk hält, denkt mehr an Yard Act. Man kennt die Band seit The Trapper‘s Pelts aus dem Jahr 2020. Im bemerkenswerten Song über einen Pelztierjäger poltert Sänger James Smith wie Namensvetter Mark Edward in The Fall: „Shut your fucking trap or I‘ll eradicate nature, right now forever.“ Nicht gerade sensibel, das. Noch bekannter ist Fixer Upper. Hier lernen wir einen Engländer namens Graham kennen („Two homes and a Rover, comes from hard graft, I‘m not minted, I earnt it“), der sich über polnische Handwerker beschwert („The bloody builders are refusing to finish the job until I pay ‘em“). Die Kunde von Geschichte und Song hatte sich auf der Insel wie ein Lauffeuer verbreitet. Viele glaubten schon, James sei ein kleiner Graham.

In Wahrheit ist der Sänger nicht auf ein Doppelleben aus. Er verzichtet auf dem Debütalbum von Yard Act auf weitere Episoden aus dem Leben von Graham. Zu sagen hat er trotzdem einiges. Ihn nerven das System („Fuck me, how am I supposed to cope in the age of gentrified savage, there‘s no hope“The Overload), gewisse Musikvorlieben („Are you seriously still tryna kid me that our culture will be just fine, when all that‘s left is knobheads Morris Dancing to Sham 69?“Dead Horse) sowie Geldgier („It appears we‘ve both become rich, it appears we‘ve now got gout, it appears we have no shame.“Rich). Unterstützt wird er von Bassist Ryan Needham, Drummer Jay Russell und Gitarrist Sam Shjipstone, die seinen Vortrag mit beißenden Riffs und treibenden Rhythmen adäquat unterstützen. Man denkt neben The Fall an Half Man Half Biscuit, Sleaford Mods und Talking Heads. Wir freuen uns, dass James sich Anfang des Jahres Zeit genommen hat, die ganze Aufregung und das Album The Overload genauer zu erklären.

Happy new year, James! How did you spend the festive period?
Happy new year to you, too. It was a nice bit of downtime before 2022. I had a really quiet one at home with my family. I found it really good to hit refresh and reset.

People are looking forward to hear the Yard Act album, you can feel the expectation with cover stories and album-of-the-month plaudits. Compared to situations you had been in as a singer and musician before, how would you assess the current development?
It‘s quite nice to get broad approval from lots of journalists. Hopefully when everyone else hears the album, the majority will feel the same. It takes you by surprise, you think you‘ll hit a peak of how much you‘re going to get. Then more praise comes in which is great. It still doesn‘t feel real really, it‘s quite weird.

One of the reasons for the applause is the way you fill the role as the lead singer. You love to use as many words as possible. Have you always been a talkative person?
It simply is my inability to shut up. (laughs) It comes from an overactive brain, I think. It‘s like letting off steam, letting your force out of your head via your mouth.

Did it start in school?
I always do it when I‘m being given permission. By permission I mean a situation when I‘m on stage or on a podium or in an interview. Then you can witness an amplified version of me, the character of James from Yard Act. I‘m actually quite quiet outside of that. People probably won‘t believe this, I‘m actually quite shy and I don‘t tend to talk until I know people. My brain differentiates between the two situations, between private life and publicity. At school I was a bit of joker early on, and then it died down when I went to uni, when I was 18. During that time I felt overshadowed by the confidence of a lot of people. You realize it‘s all hot air, but I kept my mouth shut and felt crushed by them for a few years.

You‘re not originally from Leeds, but from Warrington in the North West of England. How does the mentality in that region influence your life as a singer in Yard Act today?
The North West sense of humour is quite specific and quite niche. It‘s built on taking the piss out of people and being taken the piss ouf of, it‘s a humility thing and it‘s a way of keeping everyone humble. That area of the country is quite good at keeping people grounded by pulling them up on things and taking the piss. It‘s something I‘ve always been quite comfortable with. In other parts of the country and in other circles of friends they don‘t get that sense of humour sometimes and it comes across as slightly more offensive when it‘s not meant to be. It‘s just gentle ripping really. That area in the North West, it‘s quite small with a small upbringing, it‘s normal humble working people. Therefore it‘s quite indicative that my ambition in life was to get to Leeds, not the grandest of ambitions. I wanted to get out of Warrington, I wanted to get out from under my mum‘s feet. Manchester was bit too close to home, so I chose Leeds because of the uni as well, that‘s quite exotic for me.

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Tall Poppies is about remembering things from back in the day. You‘re talking about a footballer who‘s playing for Crewe Alexandra and who lives the typical village life.
That‘s basically autobiographical about me. I was crap at football, but it‘s about the village I grew up in and how that village changed over the time I was there. It wasn‘t far away from the Man United and Man City training grounds, that brought a lot of money into the area. A lot of footballers started to move close to the area and it became quite a nice destination to visit and live in. It‘s about people I went to school with, about friends and people I know, about me, and it‘s about how you make these choices. Some people choose to stay. I chose to venture as far away as Leeds, other people choose to move to the other side of the world. Ultimately every decision you make changes the course of your life. I wanted to move to a city and form a band, that was the ambition I had… (laughs)…but not London, it was too big and scary….it was like, let‘s move to Leeds.

You‘ve started to work with Yard Act properly at the beginning of 2020 at the start of the pandemic. What was it like to work under unusual circumstances?
Many aspects of the lockdown and the pandemic haven‘t been easy for us. I won‘t want to be insentive to people who had a much rougher time and I don‘t want to bulldoze over bands who were further on in their careers, where they had albums coming out and it completely pulled the rug from under them not being able to tour. It was purely luck that we were at a point where nothing was happening and it gave us all the time in the world to sit in and write songs. Fortunately I didn‘t get writer‘s block, I wrote our first album. I‘ve spent too long looking at the news and I brought songs out of it and I‘ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my own past. I couldn‘t really observe people because I wasn‘t in social situations. I had to observe people from my memories. I was okay with it and quite naively I hoped when the lockdown happened that maybe the world would be more into it and up for slowing down and approaching a slower pace of life. That didn‘t happen obviously. Everyone was desperate to fire up the engines again and start running around the world. You‘ve got to keep up with the others sometimes.

You and Ryan have both released three albums with former bands Post War Glamour Girls and Menace Beach. What went wrong for those bands?
Creatively it did work. We kept writing and recording and were really happy with the music we put out. As far as I was aware Menace Beach was working. I saw Ryan as a successful contemporary in Leeds. Menace Beach were doing a lot more than we were doing. Ultimately when I started speaking to him it was…nah, nothing‘s happening, the wheels are falling off, we might be doing this tour but no one‘s coming. It was the same with us. Something sparks or it doesn‘t. You have that window to run with and see how far you can get with it and see where you end up in a few years time. That‘s the business side of it. On the creative side I‘ve always written songs and I think I realized by album three with Post War Glamour Girls that I was never going to stop. It just so happened that other members didn‘t want to carry on making music. You hit a point in your life in your late 20s where people tend to get tired of it, if it‘s not a paying job. They want to do different stuff. I found a new band, I found Ryan and it happened.

You tend to name bands and tunes after other artist‘s songs or albums. Why did you name the first Yard Act album after a song by Talking Heads?
It‘s actually named after a Sugababes song.

Which is Overload, without the article. The Talking Heads link makes sense though. You can hear the influence in Yard Act much more.
It‘s funny, we were talking about this the other day. Sam, our guitarist, who brings a lot of the Talking Heads vibes with his guitar parts, particularly on the track The Overload, he‘s never really listened to them. He was like, everybody keeps saying we sound like Talking Heads, but I‘ve only been listening to Fela Kuti. And I said, alright that‘s what Talking Heads were listening to. But I‘m a big fan. I love how David Byrne particularly brought left-field ideas and politics to a mainstream pop audience by the mid-80s when they were doing Speaking In Tongues and Little Creatures. It‘s something I aspire to. I know it‘s a different landscape now, but they got how to be themselves in a more commercial arena, and that‘s cool.

Do you listen to a lot of R&B avidly?
Yeah, that song Overload especially, we listened to that one a lot. That‘s a really strange tune to be a pop song. It‘s really cool. They had so many great songs! Push The Button is a massive tune. We spend a lot time listening to pop music from the period of our youth and looking how songs that strange could infiltrate the charts. We always try to work out how they did it. Any great written song is an influence for us, we‘re always studying and magpieing through pop culture to find stuff that interests us. Yes, we are Sugababes fans, that‘s an exclusive for bedroomdisco.

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Lovely. How important do you find bands in the Leeds post punk scene around the year 1980, the Gang Of Fours and Delta 5‘s?
Really big Gang Of Four fan, me. I was already listening to them a lot before I moved to Leeds. There was actually a local label that did Entertainment! from start to finish with local bands re-recording the tracks. Post War Glamour Girls were asked to be one of them, but we chose guns before butter. Leeds is really at the heart of a lot of political movements. It‘s got a big student population, it‘s where the Reclaim The Night march happened when the Yorkshire ripper was out. It was quite a huge feminist movement. And I think it‘s also where the first trans-meeting group happened. There is a lot of political interest in Leeds, and Gang Of Four and Delta 5 and also Chumbawamba are a reflection of that.

You‘re also very political in Yard Act, particularly in the song Dead Horse, in which you talk about „this crackpot country half full of cunts“. Do you think that an indie band in 2022 has to have a political opinion because of the problems we have?
You don‘t have to be a political band. You can say things with your music without saying things to a point. It‘s important to remember that there are a lot of bands out there that make people think and that don‘t have lyrics. They‘re instrumental and can still move people and conjure emotions in them. It doesn‘t have to be about politics or social situations. In this band we write about modern Britain, about society and things around us. I think it‘s impossible in 2022 not to write about politics in Britain, because they infiltrated very aspect of society in such an intense and overwhelming way that we can‘t quite escape them. We have to live with the choices of this government day in and day out.

Like the decision not to bring the modern train line High Speed 2 to Leeds. Apperently there‘s no money for the planned extension to the city anymore. People in Leeds are offended by that arrogance.
I think here they‘ve used the pandemic as a cloak of darkness to get away with this because people haven‘t been talking, haven‘t been out in the street. They‘ve pushed through so many things whilst people have been distracted by the pandemic. They are upset, there‘s discontent, but there‘s also exhaustion now. We‘ve hit a point in the cycle where people have gone beyond anger. Society shifts, the mood shifts and swings, with the Omicron variant taking over people are really struggling to react to anything beyond that. And also this stuff just isn‘t put in front of people in the news. A lot of people aren‘t going to see or read about High Speed 2 being scrapped, they aren‘t aware of it. It‘s a complex and hard situation to be in, but the government‘s doing what it wants because it has such a massive majority. As a band we have to respond to that. Also because we still don‘t know what the rules are when we want to play on the continent these days. It‘s going to cost you a lot more money or it might be way more complex. No one‘s given us any answers, we‘re still in the dark. There‘s no positives to Brexit at all.

Yard Act Tour:
05.02.22 Hamburg, Molotow
09.02.22 Berlin, Badehaus
10.02.22 Köln, Blue Shell

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