Living North Talks to Sam Shjipstone and Ryan Needham from Leeds Band, Yard Act
I happened upon Yard Act in the most organic way one can stumble across a new post-punk sensation – on my friend’s sofa, back from a gig which we’d waited years to be rescheduled, chatting away. In that period where music becomes white noise to fill dead air in a conversation, I was captured by the brussen chants of Yard Act front man James Smith on their single The Trapper’s Pelts, a punchy monologue about a pelt salesman in downtown Leeds, sung over a chunky driving riff.
The Overload paints a world filled with charming pastiches of Northern characters and social outcasts – the old guard in the local flat-roof pub resistant to change, the struggling market salesman, the mate who went to university and became increasingly distant. Yard Act are clearly skilled satirists of post-pandemic Yorkshire, a topic they explore with such humour and cheek that I wanted to delve deeper into how their music was informed by millennial life in Leeds.
‘I think where you’re from is the drive of authenticity in punk music, speaking about where you’re from and what you know,’ guitarist Sam Shjipstone tells me. ‘The same with working-class art as well, it has a strong sense of purpose and a sense of place – I think the history of punk music shares the history of the working class. Leeds really matters, I’ve been here a long time. I’ve played here and lived here all my life, that upbringing has informed the music very strongly.’
Whereas many bands become defensive over being pushed into a certain genre, Yard Act don’t suffer from a confused identity; they wear their inspiration on their sleeve.
‘Our music is post-punk, really. I love it when bands do this, I feel it in myself sometimes, when someone categorises you there’s that part of you that goes, “No I’m not! Don’t pigeon hole me, you haven’t taken into account all my various…”, but it is nonsense,’ Sam laughs. ‘We are quite rightly in that post-punk bracket – there just isn’t really a community for post-punk. Most of these other post-punk bands, we might have some sort of affiliation with them, but we don’t work with them or live around them or have them in mind. It’s a strange community to be in.’
What separates Yard Act from the post-punk crowd is their humour, something which bassist Ryan Needham highlights as a contrast to others in the genre.
‘The thing with post-punk that I take issue with is that I don’t always associate it with having any element of humour, I always think of it as being a bit po-faced – it’s all long coats and black and white photos. I mean, we do that as well,’ Ryan laughs. ‘But humour is a great tool for Trojan horse delivery, sugaring the pill a bit,’ Ryan explains. ‘Maybe it comes from the working-class background, a defence mechanism where you go to yourself, “I’m going to say this controversial statement” and then fall back on, “Nah, mate, don’t worry I was only mucking about!” when people take issue. Maybe that’s a Northern thing as well and I don’t know how healthy that is, but that’s a part of it,’ he reflects.
‘I’ve heard it said about American bands that they do struggle to have that sort of silly, self-referential, almost ironic take – they’re very austere,’ Sam agrees.
One character in particular within Yard Act’s discography has taken on a life of his own – Graham. Everyone from the North knows a Graham, he’s an experienced alumni of the University of Life, he’s seen more wars than you’ve had hot dinners, and he’s overly friendly to strangers that just want to have a drink in peace, as Sam explains.
‘Graham is a more complicated character than I think people are receiving him. He’s not someone to simply just hate, he’s someone that I think most of us know. He lived through a bl**dy golden age of humanity, he did well for himself, but the environment allowed that to happen – and he’s incredibly ungrateful,’ Sam laughs. ‘He’s definitely misplaced.’
‘For the Overload video, it was interesting that when people were taking shots of the Graham character, people were commenting and getting him completely wrong,’ Ryan adds. ‘They jumped to, “Oh so he’s this massive racist, aggressive man?” People didn’t quite grasp the nuance of it. It’s weird, because it’s a very specific person we all know. It’s like that guy you meet at a wedding who you spend 45 minutes chatting to, and then as soon as you start to think, “Oh, this guy’s sound” he says something awful that makes you go, “Woah, where the hell did that come from?”,’ Ryan laughs.
‘Graham is the person from a certain era that’s being dragged through change, he’s taking time to catch up – some people just don’t have the emotional vocabulary or education that others have been lucky enough to have. Everyone’s moving at difference paces, I find that really interesting,’ Ryan concludes.
Hot from a UK-wide tour and fresh off the heels of playing iconic California festival Coachella and Texas’ South x South West, Yard Act show no signs of slowing down. Riding high on a plethora of positive reviews and currently boasting the best selling vinyl record of 2022, Yard Act can look forward to another triumphant series of UK live performances.
Check out Yard Act’s upcoming gigs at yardactors.com
Go-to karaoke tune?
Sam: It’s a bit depressing but I really like Out of Time by Blur – it’s very crooner-esque
Ryan: I always go for Prince, like When You Were Mine. They often only have Purple Rain, but I prefer doing the sort of new-wave Prince.
Best gig venue in Leeds?
Sam: The Brundell for me.
Ryan: Belgrave Music Hall, Wharf Chambers is also really good – that’s a bit more DIY. Holbeck is great too.
Best coming-of-age album?
Sam: I’m 36, so it’s probably Blink-182 for me.
Ryan: The Postal Service, maybe? There’s certain albums like the Blink-182 and The Postal Service LPs as there are certain books like The Catcher in The Rye – when you’re 15 it doesn’t make much sense, but it all clicks later on.
Favourite gig from the tour?
Sam: Manchester for me, the crowd went crazy. It was quite chaotic. It was at the White Hotel – that venue is so grimy, it’s brilliant.
Ryan: I loved Nottingham, I’m originally from Derby so that’s the closest to a home show I’ve done so far. The Bodega is where I went a lot as a kid. In the mid-2000s I saw The White Stripes and The Strokes play their first album tour to like 40 people there, so that venue is super important. It always feels magical when I go back there, I love that place.