Where’s My Utopia?

Where’s My Utopia?

There was a point early in the creation of the swaggering second record by Yard Act when the Leeds quartet realized they were holding themselves back and needed to let go. “We were putting some drones and synths on the track ‘Fizzy Fish,’ which was the first one we wrote for the record, and someone raised the point that we weren’t going to be able to do it live,” vocalist James Smith tells Apple Music. “But we quickly agreed we’d worry about that later. Once we cut our losses with the idea of how we could do it, there was no real discussion on the areas the album went to.” That sense of daring is at the heart of Where’s My Utopia?. The four-piece has emerged with a kaleidoscopic pop record that dramatically builds upon the playful post-punk of their 2022 debut The Overload, its expansive sound taking in Gorillaz-meets-Ian Dury future funk, art-rock wigouts, orchestral epics, careening disco punk, and explosive indie sing-alongs. The Overload earned them a Mercury nomination and the chance to rerecord 2022 single “100% Endurance” with star fan Elton John, and its follow-up finds Smith searching for meaning in the wake of all his dreams coming true. “The record is about me realizing that the thing I’d wanted since being a teenager wasn’t going to magically solve all the problems that I live with,” Smith explains, “and the idea that everyone just has problems regardless of what position they’re in. I’m starting to wonder now if we just create them for ourselves because it shouldn’t be this hard.” It’s a narrative arc delivered with Smith’s trademark humor but always laced with poignancy, their anthemic hooks even sharper than those that fired their debut to success. Where’s My Utopia? is a bold, brilliant second album from one of the decade’s most imaginative bands. Smith guides us through it, track by track. “An Illusion” “This song definitely sets the score for ‘This isn’t a minimalist guitar post-punk album this time.’ The chorus lyric really sets up the whole premise of the situation I ended up in—that I’m in love with an illusion—and the idea that being in a successful band would solve my problems. Then, whilst my head was so buried in this world that I couldn’t get out of because of how much energy and time it was sucking out of me, all my other principles fell by the wayside. This song’s probably harder on myself than most are. The verses are about me being pissed, which I was for 18 months, and basically being just a bit useless, which I’ve got out of now. I stopped drinking off the back of the touring, I learned that I had to.” “We Make Hits” “This was one of the last songs written. We wrote it in Ryan [Needham, bassist]’s spare bedroom in a break from touring. I think Ryan had been going for that kind of French disco, Daft Punk, Justice vibes and everything fell out of me quite fast. I started by writing the story of me and Ryan and how we started the band. With this song, we were acknowledging that we’d always had ambition and we’d always wanted to do something bigger with music. Even though, at our core, all we wanted to do was make music, we always knew we would quite like to see what it was like on the other side and achieve something.” “Down by the Stream” “This was written in Turin. Everyone else had gone out for a meal and I decided to stay in the hotel room and wrote it using Jay [Russell, drummer]’s laptop. I’ve been looking back on my childhood a little bit more since my son was born and projecting him into scenarios I was in, even though historical truth and accuracy is a vague thing in terms of songwriting. It’s not literal, but it draws on my childhood. I was framing myself as this struggling person who was having a bit of a rough time, doing the woe-is-me thing about being in a successful band. I realized that if I was going to ask that empathy of the listener, then I should make sure that there was some corruption within me as well and highlight that I’m not some innocent person. It’s me dragging myself through the mud to let people know that I’m capable of being a dickhead just like everyone else.” “The Undertow” “‘Down by the Stream’ starts by the stream and then the stream leads to the sea, and that’s where the sharks start circling. We’ve ended up at sea on ‘The Undertow.’ The stream is the journey into adulthood and the sea is the murky open waters of adulthood and being out on your own in the big, bad world, then getting caught by the undertow of the industry. This is a thank-you note to my wife, really, who’s supported me through this entire caper that I’ve ended up on and been solid as a rock through it. There’s a part of me that’ll never be able to understand why I was selfish enough to do this for a living and leave my family behind to do it, so I’ll always live with that.” “Dream Job” “I caught myself writing the chorus in an interview when we were in Europe. Someone asked how it felt to have done a song with Elton John and have a Mercury nomination and all these things and I wasn’t really in the room and I just went, ‘Yeah, it’s ace, it’s wicked.’ I just started listing all these positive words without actually taking stock of what they were saying. It’s funny because I don’t really know how those things have affected me. I definitely wanted them and I’m glad I got them but they just happen and you move on. You get asked about them a lot, and the truth is that you don’t really think of them. I feel like the second you start wearing your achievements with pride, you’re dead in the water. I think the whole album is trying to strike that balance between being cynical and maybe a bit arsey, but also going, at the same time, ‘Things are great!’ It can be both, and it is both for us, and that’s life, even if it’s your life or my life in this band I’m in.” “Fizzy Fish” “The lyrics changed a lot on this one—I was literally writing about Fizzy Fish sweets for about three verses originally. With those seeds, you don’t really know where you’re going with them a lot of the time, but you let your mind chase after it and see where it goes. The Fizzy Fish, it was nostalgia, it was going back to the playground and that’s me having a conversation with another version of me from my childhood or a parallel universe. Again, it’s set in a lake, going with the water theme, because that’s a stagnant body of water that’s separate from the sea. It stands alone from the rest of the album. It’s set in my subconscious. ‘The Undertow’ through to ‘Grifter’s Grief’ is one narrative arc that follows me going into this successful Yard Act. ‘Fizzy Fish’ is me learning to cope with this newfound spotlight and who I am, whether I’ve changed from who I was, whether that’s positive or negative and the fact you have to create new masks to deal with a public-facing job because you don’t want to give too much of yourself away but, ultimately, to connect with people is the entire reason you’re making music.” “Petroleum” “This is based on an incident that happened at a gig at Bognor Regis at the start of 2023, the point within the story where I hit the bottom. I bottled the gig. Not anything drastic, we got through a set, but I was really disappointed in myself and my performance that night. I told the audience I was bored and I didn’t want to be there. We’d bitten off more than we could chew and I hadn’t had a break in 18 months, and I had a bad gig. This looks at the idea of what is expected of musicians when they perform live and this consumerist demand that they deliver. I realized that people don’t actually want honesty, they want the version of honesty they’ve paid to see. It’s learning to deal with these extra masks that we develop. I was trying to get to the core of ‘How can I channel a true version of how I’m feeling into an enjoyable performance that people deserve to see?’ This whole song reignited my passion for playing live and I’ve since learned how to process my emotions and funnel them into a performance that creates something that I’m proud of.” “When the Laughter Stops” (feat. Katy J Pearson) “It’s maybe a reaction to a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, Yard Act is the fun band, the jokers, and they don’t take it too seriously,’ and we don’t—because you can’t—but it’s that whole sad-clown complex. We’re not base level: We feel things just the same as everyone else! A lot of this album is rooted in that paranoia of not being able to maintain this—because it felt like I couldn’t do it if what it took to make a living from this job was those first 18 months over and over again. Fortunately, it’s changed, it’s fine but it has to stay at this level for it to be OK. If it drops back below, it’s hard work being in a band.” “Grifter’s Grief” “This is to do with the fact that my entire job now is based around sucking electricity out of giant venues and getting on aeroplanes and constantly burning up road miles and air miles and sea miles just to selfishly make a living whilst the planet burns. I spoke to my dad about it and he was kicking off about something and I was like, ‘Yeah but, Dad, I do that, I get on planes all the time.’ He went, ‘Yeah, but you need to do it to work.’ And I was like, ‘But I don’t. I could get a job that doesn’t involve that.’ It’s that everyone’s selfish inherently, I think.” “Blackpool Illuminations” “This is probably the most important song on the album. When we do the zany and comical stuff, we’re always trying to do it so you can pull the rug from under people with a song like this and prove what we’re capable of if we really put our minds to it. We supported Foals in Blackpool in May 2022. I had such nostalgic memories of Blackpool from going as a kid. My wife and son came and joined us for those two nights with Foals, and we had a couple of days and weekend in Blackpool because I wanted to show my baby where I had holidays as a child. Seeing him walking along the promenade, I saw myself in him and realized that he was just following the exact same footsteps that I did when I was a kid. [The song] follows my journey through childhood to that moment, really—these footprints of the past that we leave and then the future treads over them in a very similar way.” “A Vineyard for the North” “This is the note of hope that comes at the end. Climate change punctuates the album but I didn’t want to write too heavily about it. I read an article that French vineyard owners are starting to buy land in the south of England—because of the rising temperature, the south of England is now [in] prime condition for growing grapes for champagne. I was thinking how, as it gets hotter, it works its way up the country. It’s clutching at straws in a sense but it’s more to do with human nature and our ability to adapt and problem solve. I don’t think the answer is that everyone in the north starts buying vineyards and growing grapes. But, in essence, it is that things will change and we’ll have to adapt, and there’s hope and there are avenues we can always take.”

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