Yard Act Says It's Not All Bad (Just Most of It)

There's no time like the present to release an album wrought with righteous anger and confusion. Sure, that's been a punk-rock philosophy for as long as we've had punk and rock—but Leeds, England band Yard Act's 2022 debut, The Overload, feels very much a product of its time.

In between the wry wordplay, urgent instrumentation and scathingly dry—very Leodensian—delivery, The Overload is pensive and observant. And, perish the thought, just a little optimistic.

James Smith, Yard Act's frontman and lyricist, chatted with Newsweek ahead of the band's Coachella debut and first-ever tour of the West Coast. As he spoke about finding joy in chaos, his Zoom camera showed him on a quiet walk through Leeds, his 1-year-old son swaddled and strapped to his chest.

The Overload came out this past January. I would love it if we could start by walking backwards through the production process a little bit, and how the album came together during this very strange, very surreal period.

I mean, it kind of crept up on us that we'd written an album. Obviously, the majority of bands have the kind of vague aim of writing one. You kind of know that it comes at a certain point.

With Yard Act, we didn't really know we were writing the album when we were writing it. A lot of what we'd written whilst being sort of trapped in our houses and holed up in our bedrooms and writing remotely became the backbone of the album, because we were content with what that atmosphere kind of captured. And then we just booked into the studio and built on that.

The first week was January 2021. We booked two weeks to see what would happen—not really being a band that played any shows, or actually being a band that was a solid lineup beyond me and Ryan, the bass player. We went into the studio for a week and surprised ourselves by coming out the other side with a finished backbone of an 11-track album.

James Smith Yard Act Coachella interview leeds
James Smith, the singer for Yard Act, performs during Weekend 2 of Coachella. Scott Dudelson/Getty

It's interesting that you're describing it as sort of having come together by accident, because tonally and lyrically, it feels very much like a product of the very weird, disillusioning, upsetting, surreal environment that we've been living in. Was all of that natural or was it sort of concerted?

I think for me, it's been on my mind for a long time. I felt disillusioned with the way the Western modern world works for a while. And it's something that I've kind of been mulling over and having more and more conversations about prior to that.

I assumed that absolutely everyone was in agreement with me on these issues anyway. So I hadn't gone beyond the realms of just direct anger and expression about those things. And it had reached a point of absurdity, where everything was kind of laughable to me. And it became kind of like making a sort of mockery of the circus of affairs we kind of ended up with.

I was actually very, really, really hopeful in the early months of the pandemic that it was going to trigger a shift in society. I think, really naïvely, I thought that so many people were going to learn that they didn't need to go to the jobs that clearly didn't need doing. And there would kind of be some sort of revolution. And maybe there'd be some sort of real advocacy for universal basic income. And maybe everyone would realize that they didn't have to constantly commute and travel everywhere on fossil fuels.

I thought that was going to happen, and then everything switched back to the way it was so fast that I kind of accepted that we're on this path, and we can't control it. And I think that's when the crux of The Overload was really formed. You can't be enjoying [this], but let's do it with a nod and a wink. And that became the story.

I was listening to the album last night to try to decide for myself if it's an optimistic message at the end, or if it's bleak with a wink and a nod. And I think "100% Endurance" definitely changes the calculus for me as a closing track, because it is much, much softer and more compassionate. Was placing it at the end of the record a deliberate choice to sort of soften it?

Yeah, completely. I think beyond that, it's like a sort of payoff for anyone who's got that far. It's an 11-track album, and that's the 1 in 11. You have that sliver, you have that chance. I think it quite accurately sort of divides up the general feeling of hope versus hopelessness. Those cracks of light still shine through.

And usually, I like to leave things ambiguous. I'm quite happy to say that it is an optimistic track, and it more aligns with the general power that I do feel in optimism and love and positivity.

Nine or 10 tracks of misery is not as powerful as one track, when it hits right. I said "track," but I kind of just mean in general: for every nine out of 10 times you feel like s**t, the one time you feel great, it does outweigh all those. And that's for me what life is about. It's that pursuit of that moment where everything clicks, and they happen more often than we realize.

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James Smith talked about the new Yard Act album, "The Overload" before his Coachella performance. Scott Dudelson/Getty

Coachella is kicking off a West Coast tour for Yard Act. Is that exciting or daunting?

You get the sort of the dual-edged sword. There's boredom and excitement. You grab a beer, and then you kind of repeat the same actions in every city you're in. Because that's kind of the routine. That's how it has to work—and I'm really excited about the West Coast! [But during] long periods of touring, the hard half is being away from my 1-year-old son and my wife. You don't know how you're going to feel day to day.

But most jobs don't require you to have the excitement and enthusiasm of a rock show every night. It's really important to kind of dig deep in yourself and find that part of you that cares, and the reason that you want to connect with an audience, and the reason that you want to deliver something special that you believe into to the audience in front of you that night.

It's hard when you're doing it every night for months on end. But that's part of the puzzle and it's great to be trying to solve the puzzle [rather than] not doing it.

What was the last song you had stuck in your head?

[scrolls through phone] Hang on, I want to get the title right.

I'm gonna die of delight if it was "Baby Shark" or something.

The last song stuck in my head was "Love and Hate in a Different Time" by Gabriels. That's what I've had on the last few days, it's a great tune. It's got that raw energy. This song feels like it's being played for the first time. And that's why I love it.

[My son] does like "Baby Shark" though.

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