Following the release of their superb debut album “The Overload” and a campaign to get the album to number 1 in the album charts, we spoke to Ryan Needham of the band Yard Act.
Often before a band is about to explode, there is a feeling of anticipation that the band are ready. While Needham denies he ever saw anything like the success he is experiencing happening so quickly, he did believe he had found something special.
“It didn’t feel as though we were about to explode or anything like that really. For me, it was just sort of one foot in front of the other. On a creative level though, I knew we had something special. It was just that sort of magic that you only feel a couple of times.”
“It happened so fast, we only formed in 2019. One minute we were writing from behind our computers late at night, the next its email after email and now here we are. That’s something I didn’t see coming.”
Formed in 2019, just a few months before COVID-19 turned the world upside down, Needham and lead singer James Smith set to work on their songwriting. Needham described how purely from a musical point of view; the period of lockdown may have been a positive for the band’s formative months.
“We did 3 gigs and then it was the lockdown. Me and James just started writing really and I think weirdly apart from the horrors of the fucking pandemic, it was a benefit to us because it allowed us to focus on the writing process. We know how horrendous the situation has been during the pandemic but for me who always had music as a part-time thing, it was exactly what I’d wanted to ages: time to play and write.”
Needham even suggests that the lockdown may have changed the signature Yard Act sound.
“If we’d been in a practice room, which wasn’t allowed at the time, I think it would have been a little bit more singy-songy. Some of the earlier stuff was but because the process became more me and James sat around a computer, usually late at night, he was able to get more lyrics in.”
“Creatively, having restrictions can be important because with those restrictions in place it forces you to work in a different way. It wasn’t about playing live anymore it was about making music from behind a computer.”
The bassist, who previously played for another Leeds outfit Menace Beach, offered an insight into the creative process behind The Overload.
“It was kind of like making an electronic record really. It was just sending ideas back and forth. I would be at home and write drums and bass to send to James. Menace Beach was super noisy and full, there was like 3 guitars, but this was completely different. James would be like ‘send me some dead simple drum and bass.’ The more time I spent on it the more I enjoyed a completely new way of working. I would send him about 10 songs a day.”
Needham talks of his bandmates glowingly but reserves special mention for the lead vocalist James Smith.
“Of the ten I’d send him, about half of them wouldn’t see the light of day, but that was fine, we’d just move on. And the things James would come back with made it worth it you know? James honestly wrote Tall Poppies in about 45 minutes. I’m honestly sat there like ‘how the fuck are you doing this?!”
The release of the album was followed by a relentless campaign aiming to get the album to number 1 in the UK album charts. Social media post after post, video after video; the band would perform in record stores through the week in the hope that they would be able to sell vinyl copies. The Facebook post made by the band even describes having the marketing manager of Island Records “marching around Brudenell in a hi-vis vest rattling boxes of cassette tapes in people’s faces yelling to “buy buy buy.”
The band, though delighted with the success of the album insist that the campaign was just a further extension of the art. The campaign shines a light on the hopelessness of the overload of capitalism that the country and beyond has found itself slumped in. This Is something that Needham thinks is important to shine a light on. It’s the type of thing that the band relishes and The Overload is no different, loaded with commentary on things like capitalism and Brexit.
“The record can be enjoyed if you don’t want to get bogged down in the message. There’s enough of the other stuff for you to enjoy, but I think the message is important. The division in this country, especially since Brexit and mainly fuelled by the right-wing media was crazy to watch. Such basic things you would learn about in school about propaganda or whatever were playing out before our eyes.”
“Everyone on the left thinks they’re right, the right think they can’t be wrong. In the end, everyone’s just shouting into the void in the middle and making no progress. I think what James has written here is saying ‘this isn’t getting anyone anywhere.’”
Needham’s words to Urbanista before the interview ended are important to consider when listening to the album. It’s not a criticism or judgment but more about looking at how to fix a mess.
“We aren’t trying to preach anything; we’re trying to remain aware of where it’s landing with people. It’s not about kicking people when they’re down its about having a discussion and looking at what the fuck we’ve done to ourselves as a country. I’m really glad that we’ve been able to throw our thoughts into the discussion through this album.”