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Yard Act on Their Debut Album “The Overload”

Character Studies

Jan 21, 2022 Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue
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Amusing characters populate some of the songs of Leeds, England post-punk four-piece Yard Act, including those on their debut album, The Overload. Midway through the album’s title track, frontman and wordsmith James Smith sings from the perspective of Graham, who dispenses unwelcome advice about how they’d be “better off kicking that dickhead singer you’ve got in out the band” and should stick to covers and avoid political lyrics, especially if they want to perform at a pub called The Grand run by a landlord named Fat Andy.

Earlier non-album single “Fixer Upper” features Graham again, as he refurbishes a house and apologizes to his new neighbors about all the commotion. “The bloody builders are refusing to finish the job until I pay ‘em,” Smith sings. “But I told ‘em, no one pulls a fast one on Graham.”

Smith confirms that many of his characters are based on real people.

“There was a Fat Paul and a Small Paul, who were two blokes from the pub in the village I grew up in,” he says. “There’s a lot more to come from Fat Andy.” Smith reveals he’s written a novella called Car Boot Man that Fat Andy features quite heavily in. Graham and Fat Andy are “both amalgamations of different people that are basically all insecure men.”

“There are slithers of me in there as well,” Smith continues. “Poor Graham’s just frightened really. I’ve decided that the Graham in ‘Fixer Upper’ is very different to the Graham in ‘The Overload,’ and I kind of like the extremities of Graham’s prejudice or beliefs can fluctuate depending on the scenario. He could be quite a sinister man or a bit of an idiot from the past. If I didn’t know them, I wouldn’t write it. I wouldn’t cast judgment on something unless I felt I knew it inside out.”

This has led to some confusion from listeners. “Well, a lot of people do seem to think I’m called Graham, which concerns me!” Smith laughs.

Yard Act also features Ryan Needham (vocals, bass), Sam Shipstone (guitars), and Jay Russell (drums). “Me and Ryan started making demos around September 2019 when he moved into my spare room for a few months, in-between houses. We’d been threatening to do it for years,” Smith says of the band’s origins.

Debut single “The Trapper’s Pelts” suggested their irreverent take on post-punk via socially aware, character-based commentaries would dominate the musical landscape over the coming months, and those predictions weren’t wrong. Essentially a Leeds supergroup, Yard Act’s members are present and former players from the likes of Hookworms, Komakino, Cruel World, Post War Glamour Girls, and Menace Beach. Smith acknowledges late 1970s punk legend Ian Dury (of Ian Dury and the Blockheads) as a clear influence. “I’ve always loved his wordplay, because there’s something about the humor in it.”

But beyond the irreverence, The Overload also references what’s happening in the UK right now under Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, especially on the song “Payday.” While Smith says he tries to “refrain from being overtly political” with his songwriting, he also admits: “I think it’s inevitable that you can’t not mention the austerity and the lies of what’s happened with Brexit, because it’s formed so much of the state of this country’s mindset. It’s shaped the day to day lives of so many people, so it drops into there. But at its core I’m still trying to document people over politics, if that makes sense. I also don’t think you can escape it in this day and age if you’re going to write a socially documented record in 2021 or 2022. I don’t think you can ignore the political landscape of the country.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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