The Overload

Yard Act

The Overload

As frontman James Smith and bassist Ryan Needham were holed up in Leeds, writing the songs that make up Yard Act’s debut album, the pair weren’t thinking about a record until they almost had one in front of them. Instead, they were caught up in the sort of heady, creative whirl you get from a new group flexing their songwriting chops. “We knew we were writing a lot, but there was no form or structure to it; it was just loads of ideas,” Smith tells Apple Music. “It was when we started to realize how much material we had that we said, ‘All right, now is probably the time to go in and have a go at the album.’”
That spirit of artistic delirium runs right through The Overload, where wiry post-punk grooves and buoyant indie anthems-in-waiting frame Smith’s wry, cutting observations on life in modern Britain. “We realized there was a theme running through the songs,” recalls Smith, “an anti-capitalist slant to the whole thing. We came up with this idea of an arc about this person’s journey trying to become a success and how that pans out.” The Overload is a thrilling snapshot of pre- and post-pandemic life, less a black mirror to the early 2020s and more a vivid, full-color one. Here, Smith and Needham guide us through it, track by track.
“The Overload” James Smith: “The song was originally a really pounding house track that Ryan had sent, but I heard the beat differently and put this sped-up drum-and-bass loop over the top of Ryan’s bassline. As soon as I put that on it, the energy made more sense. There’s a chopped sample break running underneath the whole thing that really completed it and gave it that manic feel.”
“Dead Horse” JS: “I was always pretty keen on this being early on in the album. It feels like the culmination of all the early singles, finally figuring out how to write in our own style.” Ryan Needham: “I think, lyrically, James had a little bit of extreme anger around the time of the Dominic Cummings [a former Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister caught breaking public health restrictions during the first UK lockdown] stuff.” JS: “Yeah, it did come from that little month of anger. The bass was on groove; it was really good. And the lyrics played well—there were some good lines in there. It represented where we had got to up until that point.”
“Payday” JS: “This was written to fit in on the album to coax the narrative along. Originally, it was a really lo-fi demo and then we lost it. When we redid it, we built in all these 909 electronic drums and then Sam [Shjipstone] put this really mad funk guitar on it that was exactly what it needed. It is just one of the more straight-up songs, a vehicle to get onto some of the more creative stuff. I tried to be more abstract with the lyrics—didn’t want to do the overly talky thing, so I left a lot more space in the verses so that chorus can come through a bit.”
“Rich” JS: “It’s a really simple bassline that I was hypnotized by. It was written when Yard Act had just started doing OK. As some of these crazier offers were coming in, I could see it maybe reaching a level where we became part of the culture and made a living off it. I pondered on this idea that music is one of those things where, if it goes, you don’t really have control over how much money you suddenly earn out of nowhere. For so long, you are on the bottom rung and money is tight, and then, all of a sudden, the floodgates open and you can make loads of money really easy. That was it, but applied to the narrative of anyone that has an idea that becomes popular.”
“The Incident” RN: “This was loads of fun. It’s a bit of an outlier on the record—it’s what sounds most like us live. I had been listening to loads of stuff like Omni and stuff like Elastica—this wave of what everyone was calling post-punk bands at the time. I wrote guitars for this one, everything, I got carried away.” JS: “I think you came up with some really interesting, busy basslines for this one.”
“Witness (Can I Get A?)” JS: “This predates this lineup and lockdown in terms of the lyrics and the bassline. It was sounding quite generic, a post-punk sort of tune from the really early days where we had a couple of jams in late 2019.” RN: “Then, we tried it like the Beastie Boys.” JS: “We wanted to do a hardcore song, but that wasn’t really working either. Then, we did that sort of Suicide drum thing with it. As soon as it went like that, it always reminded me of the start of ‘Doorman’ by slowthai [and Mura Masa]. We just wanted a really fun song to close the first side. There’s something about one-minute songs—they are underrated.”
“Land of the Blind” JS: “Ryan sent this drum-and-bass groove, and I was instantly really smitten with it, and I wrote the lyrics really fast. It’s one which has most of the demo vocals on it. We were in lockdown and Ryan got his girlfriend—who clearly can sing, but she doesn’t consider herself a singer and doesn’t perform or anything—to do all the backing vocals. They just come out so human. If a proper singer had done them, it wouldn’t have sounded right. It really shaped the song.”
“Quarantine the Sticks” JS: “This was one of the last songs written for the record, another one that joins the narrative. The basslines are really good on this—they dance between different keys, which makes it really unnerving, and it’s got Billy Nomates [post-punk singer-songwriter Tor Maries] doing backing vocals on it as well. It’s quite melodic and quite a strange melody, and my voice wasn’t really holding it on [its] own. But there was a hint of something there, so we asked Tor to sing on it.”
“Tall Poppies” RN: “It started with that simple bassline and then it just went on—I looped that bassline. I would send James a loop and then, about an hour later, I would get back something fucking epic, like ‘Tall Poppies.’ There was no craftsmanship on my part; it was basically like handing James a trowel and some bricks and he comes back with a finished wall.” JS: “There was something about the motor of the bassline. The first thing I got from it was that it felt quite reflective and suspensive. Off the back of that, I had that spark for telling the story of this person’s whole life, from cradle to grave.”
“Pour Another” JS: “This was one of the harder ones. Ali [Chant, producer] didn’t really like this one. He kept pushing it away, but we were adamant it was good and there was something in it. ” RN: “I wanted to have a bit of a Happy Mondays sort of thing. The lyrics are funny, and the humor carried it in that way.”
“100% Endurance” JS: “We thought the album was probably going to end on ‘Tall Poppies,’ and then, at the last-minute, Ryan sent this new demo over and it became ‘100% Endurance.’ I wrote all the lyrics to a WhatsApp video loop of it playing on Ryan’s speaker in the studio. That is the audio we used on the recording. The first take I recorded on my computer that I sent to Ryan. It felt like we had finally figured out the album, which was interesting because when we went in that first week, we thought we might come away with four or five tracks and then see where we were at later in the year. We didn’t expect to finish the album in a week.”

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