Slouch to 10k: Leeds post-punks Yard Act on ‘flexing’ with Top 10 album Where’s My Utopia?, Belfast debut at Imagine! festival and morning running routine

David Roy chats to bassist Ryan Needham from chart-bothering Leeds post-punks Yard Act about the challenges of making their hit second album Where’s My Utopia? and their new tour, which includes a debut Belfast gig next week during the Imagine! festival...

A photo of the Leeds band Yard Act
Yard Act PICTURE: Phoebe Fox (Phoebe Fox/PA)

“WE’VE just been out for a run,” enthuses Yard Act bassist Ryan Needham when he answers our call bright and early on the opening day of the Leeds band’s tour for their recently released second album, Where’s My Utopia?.

“We don’t know what charity we’re doing it for yet, but there’s three of us and we’re going to try and do 10km every day.

“We’ve got like 32 shows, so that’s 320km over the next two months.”

That is certainly an ambitious goal, even for those of us who won’t also be preoccupied with putting on an energetic display of eclectic post-punk-based entertainment in a different town or city each night.

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Leeds post-punks Yard Act posing in a pond with a skeleton
Yard Act The Leeds band, and friend. PICTURE: Phoebe Fox (Phoebe Fox/PA)

“Well, we’ve not publicised it yet,” admits Ryan.

“We might yet have to scale it back a bit. But, you know, at the moment we’ve got that ‘day one’ excitement, so it’s good to enter the tour with a sort of healthy, positive mind.”

It’s definitely not rock and roll behaviour, in a way that’s perfectly in keeping with Yard Act’s genre-blurring ‘keep them guessing’ approach to their music, which runs the gamut from slow and soulful introspection to fast ‘n’ funky anthemic anger – occasionally within the space of the same song.

Formed in 2019 by Needham and singer James Smith, the band (which also features drummer Jay Russell and guitarist Sam Shipstone) quickly built up a national following which thrust them into the upper reaches of the charts.

Debut album The Overload hit number two in early 2022, was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and saw them collaborating with celebrity fan Elton John on a reworked version of its key track 100% Endurance.

Follow-up record Where’s My Utopia? put Yard Act back in the charts at number four when it was released at the start of this month.

Now expanded to a septet for live shows with the addition of sax/keys man Chris and backing singers/dancers/music video stars Daisy and Lauren, the new album finds the group embellishing their post-punk-based sonic palette with snatches of sampladelic hip-hop, disco, dance pop and lo-fi experimentalism.

The cover art of Yard Act's second album Where's My Utopia?
Yard Act - Where's My Utopia? The band's second album reached number four in the charts earlier this month

It features catchy hook-centric singles like We Make Hits – an upbeat, dancefloor friendly autobiographical ode to Yard Act’s unabashed mission to create subversive pop with commercial appeal – and Dream Job, alongside strange and affecting new songs like the broken beats-driven Down By The Stream, funky, strings-enhanced cowboy ballad The Undertow and the atmospheric, slow-building epic Blackpool Illuminations.

Where’s My Utopia? also sees recently sober frontman James successfully tilting his lyrical gaze inwards, away from the state of the nation griping/sniping which dominated the first record.

“I guess where the first one was quite politicised, this one’s got more of an emotional heart to it,” offers Ryan of this shift in focus, which finds their singer in a more reflective, confessional mode.

“It’s a bit more romanticised, but it’s still heavily self-critical. It’s like, ‘This is what I feel and I could be a complete f***ing idiot for thinking it, or I could be wrong’.

“The first one was a conversation about sort of a more political landscape – this is definitely a conversation about a more sort of emotional and internal landscape.”

As for the more eclectic sounds employed/deployed on Where’s My Utopia?, Ryan feels that they managed to broaden their horizons enough on the new songs to keep things interesting for themselves without going too far off piste.

“We did flex a bit,” he tells me, “but I think, because James does have such a distinctive style and voice with his lyrics and stuff, I feel like he’s such a main part of the band that it allows us a bit more leeway, you know what I mean?

“Like, underneath, it will still sound like Yard Act so long as it’s got James doing his James thing on top.

“But it’s different for all bands. I know there are bands that I like, when they stride too far, it’s a bit like ‘is this the same band?’. Although, if they don’t stride at all, then it’s like, ‘you guys must be really bored doing the same thing’.

“So it’s a tough one. But the minute you start second guessing is the minute you’re not being true to yourself, so you’ve kind of just got to go with what’s coming out and hopefully not over-think it too much.

“It’s a cliche, but you shouldn’t pander – you should follow what seems to be the true path, really. Normally, the music does guide you, if you let it.”

Working out how to best represent the new songs live proved to be something of a challenge for Yard Act, but according to Ryan, they have managed to get all but one track sorted for the new tour.

“I’m really looking forward to playing Down By The Stream,” he enthuses.

“I sounds pretty huge live. It’s got some samples firing off from Chris, and his sax too. There’s quite a few where the sax has taken a bit more of a leap to the front.

“We’ve kind of re-imagined Grifter’s Grief too: it’s got a bit more of Love Cats, Cure vibe that’s slightly different to the album version, but it’s really good fun to play.”

However, sadly it seems that the aforementioned epic Blackpool Illuminations will be notable by its absence from Yard Act’s set lists – at least for the time being.

“We’ve not currently learned it, mainly just because it’s about 20 minutes long,” admits Ryan.

“We kind of ran out of time in rehearsals. So we’re gonna be working that up in soundchecks and having some fun with it. But every other song on there, we can play – and they all sound pretty bangin’.”

The band are also excited about their imminent return to Ireland, following their Irish debut in Dublin last year.

“We absolutely loved Ireland,” says the bassist.

“None of us had ever played there before, and I’d only ever been to Dublin a couple of times for weekends and stuff. This will be our first time in Belfast as well, so we’re super-excited about it.”

Yard Act, March 19, Mandela Hall, QUBSU, Belfast; March 20, Vicar St, Dublin. Tickets via imaginebelfast.com/ticketmaster.ie.

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