A new neighbour called Graeme, a proud graduate of the University of Life; a woman named Grace, who’s just killed her imaginary husband via a peanut allergy; the mysterious Trapper, who flogs fur pelts on a Monday afternoon. These are just a few of the curious characters that Leeds quartet Yard Act have given us a glimpse of in their singles so far.
Having formed in 2019 when bassist Ryan Needham moved in with vocalist James Smith and the pair decided to make good on countless promises of working together, it didn’t take long for Yard Act to solidify themselves as a band with a knack for curious character studies. First came ‘The Trapper’s Pelts’, a stomping stream of consciousness which introduced their world, before its follow-up ‘Fixer Upper’ - in which James embodies the aforementioned Graeme - arrived in all its spiky post-punk glory.
“I did an interview with someone and they said, ‘Oh, Graeme’s a horrible person and I hate them and I’d never want to meet them’,” notes James, when digging into the subject of his characters. “I got really defensive,” he laughs. “He’s this amalgamation of men I grew up with and knew, and I was like, ‘No, they’re not! They’re an idiot, but they only have the resources that have [made] them into the person they are.’”
For James, his satirical storytelling arrives as less of a political statement and more an exploration of the grey areas within society. In their four tracks so far - see also: ‘Peanuts’ and ‘Dark Days’ - he’s invited listeners into the stories of a distinctly eclectic group of individuals. And while he manages to do so in a deft, tongue-in-cheek manner, this is not about pointing and laughing at people’s lives.
"[We] made a pledge to each other of, ‘Yeah, we’ve been doing this for years, we clearly wanna do it so let’s make sure we do it properly and not fuck it up.’"
— James Smith
“Even though the songs can sound really specific,” James explains, “I think it’s really important that you can still take different things away from it, and there’s never necessarily a statement being made. That’s not something I’m particularly interested in; putting my own opinion on things to a point where I’m telling people that I’m right. Life itself is such a complex thing that people should just let [the songs] wash over them, and take what they want from it.
“Writing in different characters has been really liberating,” he nods. “But you have to remind yourself, and everyone else, that these people do exist and the world isn’t this place where people are perfect. People are fundamentally flawed and that’s really important. It doesn’t make them bad people. Everyone has their issues, or their problems, and we can detest them or laugh at them, but it’s just part of life and cracking on with it.”
It’s this potent narrative that has already marked them out from the crowd; despite having only been able to play three shows to date, they’ve already bagged spots on the 6 Music playlist and have “been selling t-shirts to Brazil and America.” James is even working on a companion book, which began life as a 2,000 word short story and has now grown into a 30,000 word novella. Safe to say, they’ve gained an opportunity that - thanks to previous musical endeavours in Post War Glamour Girls and Menace Beach - isn’t lost on them.
“I think part of the reason that Yard Act has been doing quite well quite quickly is because we’ve learned from past mistakes,” James agrees. “Even after ‘Trapper’s Pelts’ came out, we knew it was different to anything that either of us had previously done. Something was registering, and both Ryan and I made a pledge to each other of, ‘Yeah, we’ve been doing this for years, we clearly wanna do it so let’s make sure we do it properly and not fuck it up.’ So far, so good…”
As featured in the February 2021 issue of DIY, out now.