Featured image: Phoebe Fox
Every so often a diamond in the rough comes along and inexplicably becomes the mouthpiece of a generation. A band that makes post-punk music fuelled by witty lyrics and an addictive beat, Yard Act is exactly that. Tackling political issues from social class to capitalism in their music and calling out inappropriate behaviour at their gigs – they are one of the few bands left standing for something, rather than nothing. The band consists of James Smith (vocals, lyrics), Ryan Needham (bass), Sam Shjipstone (guitar), and Jay Russell (drums).
Releasing their highly acclaimed debut album, The Overload through their label Zen F.C, and Island, it soared straight to number two, and now they’ve been focusing on releasing new music they love through their label, including Baba Ali. They’ve finished their first-ever U.K and Ireland tour – which entailed opening their shows with the Ukrainian national anthem, never playing the same set twice, and receiving 40 creme eggs from their fans. Taking their songs on tour from their hometown of Leeds to further afield, it’s as if they were always writing music worthy of acclaim – they were just waiting for the world to catch on.
They’ve recently covered ‘Tiny Dancer’ on Elton John’s podcast, ‘Rocket Hour’, and were mentioned by the Foo Fighter in an interview with Rocksound as one of the bands they’re most excited about. Also, named as “one to watch” in the BBC’s Sound of 2022 shortlist, they’ve certainly made waves in the industry.
aAh! Magazine sat down with Sam Shjipston and Ryan Needham to find out more about their favourite memories from their first U.K tour, scooter accidents, and their prospective album two.
Thank you for meeting with me today, how are you?
Shjipston: Good, good. I’m glad that I’m seeing lots of people’s rooms. I’m assuming you’re in your room? Because you see mine and I actually feel like this is too much of my private life but share and share-alike.
That’s the effect of COVID, you’ve managed to see a lot more of people’s lives than you’d usually.
Shjipston: That’s true. Oh God, I gave up my day job last year. But there’s this one particular Zoom interview with this guy. I didn’t work with him but it’s just him and his painting in the background. And then, later on, some of this ‘Oh, what’s that painting’. He’s like, ‘Oh, this old thing? Oh, yes. I bought it…’ You’ve done that on purpose!”
I can imagine because obviously, you’ll be seeing a lot more of people’s things. How have you found managing this during COVID and not letting too many people into your private life, but still wanting to put yourself out there?
Shjipston: I went really west with it. I took a very hard-line approach in the first year and I completely cut out all relationships with others. House parties now.
You’ve finished your first UK headline tour. Do you have any favourite behind-the-scenes memories from it so far?
Shjipston: I know that there are some but I can’t think off the top of my head. There are so many good things. There must be something we can say. One of them was quite funny in Manchester. This is not a good story. But I was like, ‘I really want to go out and get some crap takeaway and some vapes’. They thought I was joking because that street is notorious for vape shops and bad takeaways. I was like, ‘No way, I’m in my land’.
Needham: I got a fake Gucci scarf for a tenner which was pretty badass.
Shjipston: That street is so weird, it must be illegal. I don’t know how they get away with it.
Needham: Of course, it is. It’s fine though. I think Dublin was good as well. You don’t get that much time to go off and wander really. But we had three hours in Dublin and we went and did the sort of touristy stuff. We looked at the castle. You can get a bit of downtime, which was pretty nice. We just sat in a park for ages and people watched. It’s cool.
I quite like how you didn’t actually play the same set for each show twice. What was the reasoning behind this? Sometimes when you have an album you normally do it in the order you want it to be heard.
Shjipston: It’s partly James [Smith]. He just hates to do the same thing twice. But I like it too. Yeah, we’ve never done the time twice, maybe accidentally but we never consciously ever do that.
Needham: That was something that I had to learn quite quickly. I quite like order and if it were down to me I’d do the same set every single night, and I know exactly where we are. But I’m kind of coming around to this way of thinking. The chaos of it is actually quite nice to lean into sometimes, I think.
I also like how you began playing the Ukraine national anthem from the start as well. What was the intention behind that?
Shjipston: I woke up angry. It was a selfish way of sort of dealing with that anger. I looked up the Ukrainian National Anthem and listened to the melody. It’s quite marrow, the band is it in. I thought about playing it on guitar but then, I thought you actually could play a gnarly version of this. So yeah, it worked all right. I think.
Needham: It sounds well metal, doesn’t it? When we’re playing with a three-piece punk-rock band.
Shjipston: I do like that melody. I think it’s a good one as national anthems go.
That’s kind of finding inspiration from around you in the strangest places. Where is the strangest place or songs come together for you?
Shjipston: A lot of the pieces have just come from sitting down on a laptop and just doing something over and over again, waiting to see what fits. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that really inspired.
Needham: I wrote a lot of the early baselines and drum loops in the place that I used to work, which was a screen printing place. There was often quite a lot of machinery, quite percussively going on in the background and I always wonder whether that especially bled into the earlier stuff. The kind of repetitive thing with the bass, maybe that kind of bled in there a little bit.
Shjipston: Going through all of the tracks on the album in my head, it was all just sit down and then it comes there.
Who is the most unexpected fan that you’ve had of your music so far?
Shjipston: There’s been quite a few haven’t there. It did occur to me that if you’re a band like Coldplay, that’s not interesting anymore. Because everybody in the whole world is going to do music. There’ll be more and more, I think.
Needham: My main surprise, which sounds like a cliche and a stupid thing to say, I’m really surprised that my mom likes this band because it is definitely not her thing. But she’s well into it now. That’s been my biggest achievement, in terms of personal celebrity fans. The Elton John thing was pretty crazy. The whole year has been a bit of a whirlwind of like, ridiculous thing after ridiculous thing happening. It’s been a bit of a mad couple of years.
Shjipston: I’m really glad your mum likes it. My grandad used to do music. I nicked one of his tracks and we put it on ‘Peanuts’. I never asked my gran, who’s still alive. I hope she never hears it. She’ll be so annoyed.
Needham: Do you think?
Shjipston: Yeah, definitely!
Needham: You think she’ll just think you’re making fun of it?
Shjipston: Definitely. She’ll be upset though.
Needham: You’re not though. It’s an amazing piece of music.
Did you both grow up in musical families?
Needham: No, I didn’t.
Shjipston: My mum’s mum was a stage performer. But my mum was not that way inclined at all. In fact, my mum’s quite weird in that way. Quite inhuman in how little music she engages with. She just doesn’t listen to music. It wasn’t even pushed as a kid either. She pushed some things but not music.
Needham: Mine were music fans. We always had music in the car and stuff, everyone was singing. But no one could play instruments.
Shjipston: What about you, Camilla?
I wish. My mum used to sing in a band and I tried playing guitar but couldn’t stick with it. Instead, I decided to talk to people who are also passionate about what they do.
What prompted you both to get into music, if you weren’t really pushed into it?
Shjipston: I really fell for it as a teenager. It just was a massive bug. Part of the reason why I came to Leeds was that there were musical people everywhere. Just something you feel inside and want to do. I think you’re probably the same Ryan.
Needham: Yeah, definitely. I was like 16 or 17 in the mid 90’s. That’s what was on and was just popular culture. It was like, Blur, Oasis, Alaska, and all that kind of stuff. It was just like, ‘I definitely want to do that’. And just coming from a sort of semi-rural, suburban background. It just looks quite an amazing way to live out your life.
Shjipston: How naive we were.
I can relate to that as I went from Cumbria to Manchester for University and for the music scene, which was a big change.
Needham: How did you find that move, did you feel that you’re quite overwhelmed? Because I came from a smallish, sort of village in Derbyshire to Leeds. I was really homesick and pretty overwhelmed, for definitely a year or so.
I definitely was overwhelmed but becoming part of the music scene helped.
You’ve also got your new label Zen F.C. What made you want to create it?
Needham: It’s the way we’ve all come through as bands with independent labels. It’s just a nice thing to be able to keep doing. It sounds lofty and big-headed, but we’ve been afforded a little bit of a platform to be able to do that. We put the first EP out on that label and that’s still generating a bit of money. We’ve all been in bands before and there have been people that have taken a chance on bands that we’ve had with just small labels. Just being part of that culture and being able to still work within those things is important to us all.”
Shjipston: It’s good. A bit of a vanity project, but it’s just really exciting. When you hear something, we’re afforded the luxury of being able to pay for someone to make 500 7 inch records like Baba Ali, and we’re going to do one for Benefits. It’s just something that I’d like to keep going. It’s good fun.
Is there a particular date that you’re most excited about on your U.S tour?
Shjipston: I just hope to meet some vibey people and have some good audiences. We’re going to quite a few places in America that I’ve never been to.
Needham: It’s weird because of the obvious ones like L.A and New York. From a few years of touring and especially, after the last run, the ones you expect to be the one that was like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to play here.’ They’re never the ones. It’s the smaller ones, like Michigan. That’s going to be the one that will leave a lasting impression on you really. You just never know. But obviously going to New York and playing Coachella is still going to be pretty badass. It depends on the vibe. You can never tell.
Can we expect any more music anytime soon?
Shjipston: Yeah. I don’t know when. Will it be this year?
Shjipston: Maybe we’ll do something this year. We’ve definitely written lots of stuff already, so it’s there.
Is there anything which you’ve never been asked but you wish that you had?
Shjipston: I wish I’d been asked, ‘Sam, do you really want to drive around this car park on your scooter with your helmet and gloves off?’ That would have been good to get that question before I fell on my face and broke my wrist and lost a tooth. There are these photos where we were holding the Monopoly money out of cars and it was that photoshoot. We were in a carpark driving scooters. I fell off it and hurt myself.
Needham: It was touch and go. You had to play with a brace on your hand didn’t you?
Shjipston: Yeah. I broke two bones in my hand.
Needham: I don’t know about other questions. I don’t like to look back.
Where are you looking to in the future?
Shjipston: “Album two. This is an odd band and I feel like we could do non-musical stuff that would work as well. I can’t wait to see what we can do with live shows and what we can do with video formats. It’s a vibe.”
Yard Act’s latest album The Overload is available to stream on Spotify.