It’s a seemingly ever decreasing occurrence that tectonic plates shift into place and stars align to set the stage for one act to hijack the conversation within the country’s music landscape.
Cut to the latter half of January 2022, and collective social media feeds across the UK synchronise into a unified pattern: Yard Act.. Yard Act.. Meat Loaf has died.. Yard Act.. Yard Act. The band’s debut album, The Overload, is on course for a shock number one spot in the chart – quite a turnout for a quartet who talk-sing ruminations and caricatures on middle England over angular post-punk riffs.
Yard Act are truly on the campaign trail. Performing three or four shows per day in record stores and far flung towns across the country. Their ever-growing social media platforms are being spammed with a serious attempt at causing this chart upset, albeit delivered with a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of the ridiculousness of it all.
A European tour has been delayed due to Covid complications, so – one week after holding the gaze of the nation – the quartet are back in their rehearsal space, much like every other day of their previous eleven years in Leeds.
“It was good to go out and meet loads of people: fans, and all the people who run and work in the record shops who have been super supportive,” Guitarist Ryan Needham recalls over the phone. ‘Early on, when we were contacting all of these people ourselves through our own label Zen F.C, so it was really great to say hi to people.. and try to blag free records’
The release of The Overload (which ultimately lost out on the top spot to Years & Years) capped a unique ascent. Having performed a couple of shows to classroom-sized audiences prior to the pandemic, Yard Act emerged from lockdown to be greeted by festival crowds of 3000+ across the UK and Europe, following the success of early singles ‘Fixer Upper’ and ‘Dark Days’.
Propped up by considerable radio support, these tracks captured the mood of a divided country, casting a light on subsets of society who are all-to-easily ignored until a referendum comes around. Buy-to-let landlords, cash in hand car boot tradesmen and jobsworth small town police officers were all pushed to the fore in YA’s formative singles, characters who are products of an unforgiving world; striving for their own idea of happiness amidst miseducation and insecurities of all varieties.
This didn’t escape the notice of the music industry. And after accumulating decades between them in DIY and independent passion projects, Yard Act found themselves to be hot property.
Ryan looks back to the halcyon days of Autumn 2021, “It was after we were featured on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist.. We had about 6 emails from a few majors and large indies, just introducing themselves”. These initial conversations included a rep from Yard Act’s eventual label Island Records commending their track ‘Hard Days’ [referring to last year’s single ‘Dark Days’].
“We just spoke to everyone, the indies and the majors,” Ryan continues. “Then we had the zoom call with Jack [Greengrass, Island Records] and we thought he was great”. Despite their own trepidations about major labels, the four members of the band continued talks with Island, and signed a deal, with their all-but completed debut album already ready to go.
“Any validation that you’re not completely deluded is always nice”
Yard Act’s acclaim continued to grow, as the faces at their shows stretched beyond the realms of BBC 6 Music Dads and the band became a force to be reckoned with. As 2021 drew to a close, a spot on the BBC Sound of 2022 shortlist beckoned and the release of The Overload already started to feel like a date worth taking note of.
As surely as day follows night and LadBaby releases a shitty Christmas song, however, any act who has found acclaim in the indie world before enjoying the perks and reach of a major label is sure to come under fire from pockets of indie-purists. The Quietus dubbed Yard Act’s collaboration with Island ‘landfill sprechgesang’: the high-budget hijacking of the UK’s vibrant talk-punk scene.
This approach to vocal delivery, which had been popularised by artists including Black Country, New Road, Dry Cleaning and (in a more traditional punk manner) IDLES and Fontaines D.C, has caused genuine excitement across the Atlantic and punctuated a moment that the UK & Ireland’s music community can be truly proud of.
Truthfully, this scene was already reaching saturation and the limits of its powers without a company with the clout of a major moving it out of the underground and onto the tracklists of Now! That’s What I call Music compilations [theoretically speaking, we don’t actually know if Yard Act are to feature on a Now CD]. The notion that any early adopters of this scene, be it Brixton Windmill regulars or So Young Magazine subscribers, should feel surprised or slighted at this transition is nonsensical. A musical moment has happened that we can all take pride in, and now it is progressing to make space for the next thing.
Yard Act’s journey into major label life also holds perfect parallels with the themes of The Overload itself. The strive to find success and value in an unforgiving world, be it the music industry or the post-thatcher towns of northern England. The question of societal pockets projecting their own moral compass onto the decisions of others. And the working class’s complicated relationship with money and integrity: a discourse that has become increasingly tribal as the financial chasm between Britain’s rich and poor appears larger than ever before.
The music press as a whole have gushed over The Overload, with 4 and 5 star reviews raining down upon the four-piece. “Any validation that you’re not completely deluded is always nice,” Ryan laughs when speaking about the reception of the album. ‘I’m not gunna lie, it’s been lovely’.
This symbiotic relationship with music journalists is reflective of Yard Act’s refusal to believe their own hype, alongside the self-aware manner in which they accept criticism alongside the plaudits. It has to be said, however, that this may be easily done when the ratio between the two is so heavily skewed in favour of the positives.
“I do read everything, because I think that music criticism is hugely important,” Ryan says with sincerity. ‘Even pieces like the one in The Quietus, who were pretty critical, are important… it gives us more of a feel for what we’re doing than an endless list of eights and nines out of ten.”
“Having come from a pretty DIY setup, we obviously had our own ideas about major label people,” he continues. ‘Being a little bit older [band members range from early thirties to their forties], I can remember that conversation in the 90s around people selling out. I don’t believe that exists anymore, cause well, there’s nothing to sell.. we’re buying in, if anything!’
As with all of Yard Act’s interviews, there is a sense of transparency and earnestness in the way that Ryan is happy to discuss any topic openly, with no more pretence than you would expect from a chat with the guitarist from a local covers band.
“We’ve all started doing music full time this year, but before this, we’ve always worked.” Ryan was a Screen Printer, where he worked alongside the drummer from Pulled Apart By Horses. And vocalist James taught music and worked as a support worker for a friend with cerebral palsy.
As time runs out on our call, and his next interviewer begins to buzz through, the guitarist signs off with a considered take which is very difficult to disagree with. “The 20 year old me would have been more suspicious of this break, but we’ve all done the independent thing before,” Ryan says, fondly. ‘It’s really great, but after twenty years in bands and two years of being indoors, it’s time to roll the dice. We were so lucky to get this chance, so we thought we’d go with it.”
Photo credit: James Brown
The Overload is out now via Island Records, read our 8/10 review here