Yard Act: Dark Days EP – review and interview.
Yard Act: Dark Days EP Zen FC Out Now From Fixer Upper to Peanuts; and everything else in-between encapsulated on their new EP; Leeds’ Yard Act presents Dark Days. And despite the apocalypse during office hours; it’s an endearing showcase of what has been achieved, before, during, and after the shutters were pulled down over […]
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Yard Act: Dark Days EP
From Fixer Upper to Peanuts; and everything else in-between encapsulated on their new EP; Leeds’ Yard Act presents Dark Days. And despite the apocalypse during office hours; it’s an endearing showcase of what has been achieved, before, during, and after the shutters were pulled down over the country; but disclosing an opening where Loach meets Lynch, where Section 25 play Studio 54; a fantastic signpost to new directions.
This isn’t, and it never is, a review.
This is more the outlining of the economics of a pop group.
I’m curious and I’m corrupted and I’m confused. Maybe you are too. You most likely are. But I still hammer away at the old girl with stickers on her skin and coffee stains on the keys and pineapple juice inside the screen like my life depends on producing some good work. Like it depends on finding the right words. And what better time to be doing such a thing than Right Now; in this limbo; this lockdown; this endless unfurling of uncertainty, entangling all those who try to prize apart the playwright’s thumb; the very shadow of which we are squashed under.
The same could be said for Yard Act. A band from Leeds. More of a Trojan Horse in a trench coat kind of idea rather than your typical group. More of infiltration of your archetypal post-punk pub-poet band, those settled, and satisfied, with drumbeat and bassline churning and whirling below every sentence. And, although Yard Act appreciate that kind of angular, awkward, savage bombardment of information, attacking from both sides; this Minimalism; and its various permutations; it’s their irony; their intelligence; their headstrong humour; their exclusivity; their self-imposed limitations, and standards of execution, entire degrees of separation away from the rest of the post-crop, as a means of making the most noise; which liberates them from the shackles of what has been haphazardly, and blindly, mislabelled on the tin as: Post-punk.
Their fabulous EP, a compilation of sorts, is an assertion of this idea. The Dark Days EP was released last year and presents what Yard Act has had to offer up until now. The latest songs, Dark Days, and Peanuts, released in January and featured on the EP, oozes a kind of calculated rant those familiar with Yard Act will now understand as foundational; yet also point toward new directions of experimentalism and adventure. An EP representative of their desire to bludgeon structure and torch chords and say no to the orthodox tropes and pale traits, which paint people into particular corners of convenience and accessibility. They have quickly established their sound as being a combination of different interlocking parts which draws from a range of different sources (Wacky, Postcard jaggedness; jittery, dizzying, dissonant early 80s Creation angst; Northern post-war brutalist industrial robustness, and tight, tessellated, breezeblock electronica); therefore enabling them to play with, and rearrange a basic, impressive formula of thoughts; a clever process of putting together different pieces; assortments of oddities which haven’t even been rehearsed by the band themselves thanks to…well yeah, that thing.
But no matter. They’ve been busy.
Hampered not one bit have Yard Act been despite the rules and regulations thrust upon the public. Instead, ever the restless minds; trying to make sense of this notion that the grass is, and has always been, rumoured to be greener on the other side.
The grass is artificial.
They have seized the opportunity to write and record, a bright, striking burst of creativity in lockdown, and briefly together when we could breathe. In either case, a definite feeding the fire continued to spread. One which burns from within them and peels back the cloak which covers the country to reveal the characters tumbling throughout each Dark Day. I had the pleasure of interviewing, and simultaneously investigating where Yard Act fit on this maddening, modern map. More to the point; what their frontman, and mouthpiece James Smith; wants Yard Act to be…or not to be (inside joke between me and the man himself which will never see the light of day so help me god).
LTW: I’m intrigued where kind of Yard Act are, and came from, at this moment in time. When I reviewed your first couple of releases, Trapper’s Pelt and Fixer Upper, I was immediately engaged with it. because it didn’t sound like IDLES. It’s strange that post-punk is this kind of ambiguous, multifaceted music genre so you don’t have to be this loud, raucous guitar band but you can be stylish and sexy and intellectual and pack an equal punch. With that in mind, how did you stumble upon, or come to develop this kind of sound we’re experiencing currently with Yard Act?
James Smith (vocals): The sound that we’ve got? I don’t know. We didn’t really think about it. I mean one of the key things sonically was, we wanted to make it as….it was spawned out of economics really. We wanted it to be as minimal as possible so we could get to gigs without being stressed about losing money. So that influenced the sonic side of it, making it as minimal as possible. Even to the point where I was like, ‘well I’m not going to play guitar’ because it just crowds it, and it’s extra stuff to set up on stage. Extra things for sound men to get wrong when they don’t know who you are and you’re rocking up to a venue in a rush, extra things to fit in a car. Can we do it in a car? That all went out the window because we didn’t get to do any gigs. And it kind of changed since then. I was mainly influenced by hip-hop and electronic music and doing that in a band format. Letting a loop do its thing and then the vocals on top.
LTW: You can definitely detect that on things like The Trapper’s Pelt and Fixer Upper. It has that spareness and that space and slightly industrial things going on which are a little bit monotonous and relentless and repeated on this loop. When you’re dealing with that kind of approach, but in the context of a band or with guitars, you kind of got more scope to play with. Without that ceaseless noise or mud between your ears, the economic reasons behind what you’ve done are fucking amazing; and that’s represented on the Dark Days EP. So yeah it was more economics rather than influences…
J: Yeah, economics to start with. And then it was bolstered further by the pandemic because we started to write remotely with computer recordings. Rather than be in a practice room and sort of dictating it because I just sort of write the lyrics, like my purpose in the practice room would be solely to write lyrics, sometimes on the spot, sometimes I’d take the chords away and write to them as sort of phone recordings. But then there would be points where I’d go, ”ah that’s good. You need to play it for twice as long to fit the parts I’ve got”. Whereas when the pandemic happened it all of a sudden was Ryan would send me a loop, one or two parts, and I’d just chop it up and loop the bits I needed. Which was how Dark Days was written. Two basslines over one drumbeat. And I just put some structure to it and wrote lyrics to the structure. And that’s kind of influenced how the album’s coming on. So yeah, economic and er…what’s the other word? Pandenomic? Circumstance!
The idea of minimalism is a key, as is the loop; and unavoidable feature, throughout Yard Act’s work. These facets provide grounding for the lyrics to walk on. An arrangement of space; to see what punches through. But always with that marvellous, syncopated strut encouraging the songs to peacock below the streetlight. Some lyricists are kind of appointed by default or some are just fucking awful and should edit the whole thing to the point of erasure, but this is cheeky and camp and flamboyant and funny and forthright. As best represented on their newest release. The Dark Days EP is a showcase of progress but applicable to the current vibes emanating from the Yard Act cannon; a reflection of converging summersaults of loops which cushion the fragmentary anecdotes and observations of Smith; his sideways experiences expressed best when settled upon a distressed, yet strategic palette of boisterous, palpitating noise.
The title track is airtight and swaggers with an unstoppable, robotic groove. Parts-Madness oddball pop and parts-Mekons raging, raw-meat heat and throbbing, bursts of bass emerge from the corners of the song, never becoming overly busy and blocking the screeches of sprightly, fizzy guitars, each bent to the point of being broken, unfurling and scratching the spine of monotonous, mechanistic drums, circling the same spot of dirt on the social club carpet, lost in their own hypnotised mind amongst a savage, freaky dance of clever musical counterpoints.
All seemingly at odds with each other, but a part of the same, delirious whole.
Upon all of which, a cherry is placed. This dizzying, satirical spin of the daily details; the sincerest we can ever really be, is satirical after all, as James Smith’s howling vowels pop up from the page and ape you with their voyeuristic nuance. They uncoil and envelop and wind themselves back up again; that earworm of a chorus; a chant of the masses; attack you like one person approaching another in the street; or one person approaching his own reflection in the street but the confrontational overtones still resonate just as loud: ”my best ideas are borrowed, but never half-baked, they’re hard to swallow, I’m an acquired taste’’.
It’s an honest entry into the diary; punchy, pulsating prose composed of candour to cut through the endless weeks of wet clay, the plasticity of existence, the carnivalesque quirks and corrupted properties of the common people; a half-cut confession to the self about the absurdity of the every day; a state of surrealism at the street level projected from ”the mundanity of me’’, as Smith refers to it. All moving, toward the pulsebeat, an overload of poptones, Ken Loach and Lene Lovich, Truffaut and Au Pairs, Honey Bane with a glass heart wrapped up in fine layers of sickly, transparent plastic. And; to Lydia Lunches’ specific cut of velvet mornings in a cosmic north, waking up in the arms of a stranger with the taste of yesterday impressing itself an ulcer on the tongue.
A mundanity we all recognise. Reflected in the dark mask. The bottom draws of a bottomless day. A bite out of the capsule, thinking it was cyanide, but it just crumbles in your mouth as an orange and lime tic tacs. And we have some of the known tropes; readily in the presence of the useable attributes of Yard Act on display. No thanks to songs we by now, know all too well. Trapper’s Pelt still just as intact as we remember it. All conveyor belt groove and mechanical drive. Bass and drums cascade like cowboys and Indians, pissheads, and community support officers meeting in the middle of a city sinking into the concrete, to the relentless groove, rooted in the sewers, dystopian disco-punk sharpening all the angles. All falling and flailing into place whilst guided, goaded, and compellingly narrated by a telephone call to a switchboard in the strange, lonesome leisure centres of outer space.
Or the Bacchanal fever meets Bauhaus’s Dark Entries on Fixer Upper. A blistering demonstration of discordant, cacophonous pop. A smart, sarcastic, wrathful dance-punk jam. Both solid and unstoppable, oddball-loose and interlocked. Bright pieces of light, and liquid spillover, intense to the point they could burst at the seams at any moment. But there’s fresh air here too. A dipping into other, deeper waters; resurfacing as something surprising; a desecration of prior designs; an expression of their inner necessity to acknowledge the opposite of what should be done; in Yard Act’s eyes; the logical choice to beget change; to engender fluidity and stimulate evolution. Not to just be this or only be that, but to have feet in both worlds, and ultimately cauterize the common category.
LTW: Tell me about Dark Days. When I wrote about you initially when you had a couple of tunes out, and Yard Act was still a relatively young thing, where do Dark Days and Peanuts situate themselves on the timeline? Are they lockdown-related things or were they around during pre-pandemic?
J: I think Peanuts was pre-lockdown. Ryan was a screen-printer and he used to work quite late at night. When the paint was drying he would have a break so he tended to record demos on his break, then I’d get there quite late on. And I’d just rifle through all these loops and riffs and find summat that I liked. Fixer Upper and Peanuts were written in the same session I think. But Peanuts…the poem came from the fact that the demo just ended and I carried on talking. And then off the back of that, It got taken to the practice room so we must have still been practising, this must have been November 2019. We took it to the practice room and we were like, ‘that’s the bit with the spoken word’. And I just kept making it longer and longer. Sort of as a joke. To wind them up and then it got to the point where I figured out a story for it. And then it was the length it was. And then it was, ‘this has got to be a single’, but can’t chicken out. The poem being the length it was, if we edit that out it was just a standard, post-punk song. That was kind of the theory behind that. Was that we didn’t want to just make it into a 2 minute, catchy, post-punk song. So we added that. Dark Days…that was written in lockdown.
I was sat here and…yeah it was last summer. And then we recorded it in the August when the lockdown eased with Ross Orton in Sheffield. We’d only just found our new guitarist; he’d only just joined and we actually hadn’t had any practices. Maybe we had like 2 before he came. Kind of got a few in before we just went into the studio and recorded before everything was quiet…sort of lockdown; we were allowed out. And yeah we recorded that live with Ross. Dark Days was written after but we felt like that was the end of the first phase for Yard Act. It felt like the one with the catchiest chorus. It felt like a good place to end it with and to go, ‘here’s what we’ve done with this sound’ with a single off the back of it. To be honest; with Trapper’s Pelt, we knew what it was. But Fixer Upper, and then Peanuts were written, especially Peanuts, it confused us when they took off because that wasn’t the intention at the time, we didn’t think they would get us the attention they did. Especially not Peanuts. It was a bit of a spanner in the works because…Fixer Upper had been successful, we kind of did that, and self-sabotage a little bit knowing that we had Dark Days to follow it. But then Peanuts was more popular than Pelt. It didn’t really do what we intended it to do. And all that has made me, try not to overthink. And also Fixer Upper was a demo. A remix of a demo that Ross Orton did in lockdown. So everything you’re not meant to do, we did. And it kind of reassured us not to overthink what we do or try too hard.
There’s a lost art to trying not to overthink everything. To let the pieces fall into place but in a way that feels organic. But there’s a conscious effort to avoid the potential pitfalls that come with compromising the primary vibe of a track in replacement for something more digestible, agreeable on the ears, and easy to chew on. The key example, in this case, being Peanuts.
It more an experiment with the mechanics of what makes music work than an average song. It possesses all the energy and enigmatic, erratic charm of what Yard Act has concluded as their strong suit. But with Peanuts, tables are turned, heads are emptied, to be examined, and stuffed with something unexpected as some malicious, ingenious trick. Until floors become ceilings until we can unveil that part of ourselves that notices the letter between A and B.
Right now, and how exciting, how entertaining, they already feel the need to demonstrate a torching of the outmoded chords, an amputation of the atrophied limbs; and crumble the popular song structure which says one thing ought to follow the other for success to be guaranteed. But to hell with success why self-sabotage is a more dignified way to die. A more decent method to put pen to paper. Smith says his Yard Act writing process springs from a constant source of material he always recycles. ”I’ve always written, whether its songs or lyrics, I’ve always sort of kept progress of what I’m doing”. An impactful parting way to prevent stagnation, efficient and effervescent, bubbling with an exhaustingly long, spoken-word monologue, scrawled onto supermarket receipt; scribbled onto bedroom walls in moments of rapturous, creative climax, recited straight into the stare of a camera most likely shooting a kitchen sink drama.
And that the kind of narrated tales from deriving from various versions of things started and finished at various times, then either stapled and sellotaped together to create the final strike; the whole blow: ”A lot of the time I’ll start a story, and leave it, and wait until I have the write the song to finish it. So I’ll probably write a verse, and not know where it’s going or who the character is or what the scenario is. I always find I can finish it when I get the right sort of riff off Ryan. They’re always the ones he thinks are throwaway and the ones he’s put loads of effort into I ignore. That’s like the way it works”.
And it utterly dazzles when it crashes back into what captivates the ears and tingles the skin in the first place – bass and drum grooves which glide wildly in their own sacred state of mind; sharing the same trampoline, and together providing a sexy, stretch of the groundwork for the wayward, offbeat guitar melodies to slither across and slide into. And picks up where we left off before the worm’s sermon, as they jump and jolt and swagger from side to side, kissing and cutting, taut and raw, momentarily torn to pieces, all mischievous and unhinged, moving with agile footwork, never clogging any corner that might otherwise, in the context of any old post-punk tune, occupy.
LTW: I want to talk about this term ‘post punk’ really. Because in my mind, is a misapplied term to groups that aren’t post-punk and they just kind of exist in their own sphere and they lazily labelled with this term. So in this current age of bands being incorrectly clumped into post-punk, what do you think of that?
J: I think a big thing about the post-punk thing now…I mean if we’re talking about the first wave of post-punk from like 78-81…I was really into that all 10 years ago but it never really struck me as being a sound, it was more of a movement. Then it got really confused and now it just means The Fall. This doesn’t make any sense to me because the Fall sounded different… there are so many different iterations and versions of the Fall, that when someone says it sounds like the Fall, I don’t really know what they mean. I think a lot of people probably just mean the Brix era, which unless you’re a fan of them, it’s probably the only era you’re really familiar with…maybe the really early stuff.
I used to love Orange Juice and all the Postcard Records stuff like Josef K and Fire Engines, and then stuff like Talking Heads which grew out into its own sort of mammoth, alternative pop thing. So I didn’t know what it really means. But before it meant The Fall, in 2005, it meant Joy Division, when everyone was a post-punk revival band like Interpol and Bloc Party. And now it just means they sound like the Fall, but they don’t, it just means their singer’s talking, rather than singing. And to be honest, maybe it is an influence to some people, obviously, I’m a fan of the Fall. I think the people who think it’s the same as the Fall don’t really understand us or the Fall. If they’ve made that connection they’re not listening to it deeply enough. It’s whether people listen to the songs and the ideas or they listen to the sonics and how they relate to that side of critical thinking and not everybody engages with music in that way. So I understand if my voice sounds similar to Mark. E. Smith’s, coz I sing through my nose and draw out my vowels when I’m reading, it’s not gonna sound too dissimilar to anyone but…It’s a bit of an obsession with some factions of the press and that at the moment. But that’s not really what we’re about.
Having said that, about 10 years ago, we were doing post-punk when it wasn’t popular. And maybe we saw a bit of gateway out when IDLES opened the floodgates, with Shame and Fontaines D.C was the other big ones that came through. We kind of knew there was a scene for it again and probably thought, ‘well we can fucking do that, we know that’s not what we are’. We’ve said it in a few other interviews. We definitely Trojan Horsed it, to get a bit of attention of the back of some of those groups but knowing we were gonna subvert it and move away from it as soon as we can. Which sounds quite cynical.
LTW: I was interested in this notion of you pretending to be a post-punk group and the strategy involved in that…Because I’m like you in that there’s this kind of swell of cynicism inside of me when I notice bands doing different things with their references and doing intellectualised and invigorating, unique things, in the middle of this murkiness or maze of so-called post-punk with an intellectual lyricist who likes a rant and then the requisite appears to compare them to The Fall I suppose. So I love that notion of pretending to be something, i.e. a post-punk band, as if to say, the general guise of such a thing has become an easy one to adopt or adorn.
J: Yeah maybe! Maybe it is. Because it’s not real. I don’t know. I wore a trench coat as a joke and that got out of hand. Like I’ve never worn a trench coat in my life until we did the photo shoot and it’s just funny as fuck now that I think we’re going to do a ceremonial burning of it when the album comes out. But it’s certainly weird. That’s how people relate it by going ”oh that looks like something I’d like”. I’d rather be cynical than naïve.
Yet these moments of cynicism and naivety have enabled Yard Act to calculate, what’s the best form of noise is for them. The outsider on the inside looking out. They enable the group in question to be forthright with their own identity. It’s a slaying of the way forth through the vines of the times; a kicking against the hardened clog of the quagmire; this concretized wall of meat-and-potatoes rock. One which has possible points of reference in everything from no wave to post-punk; but understand how such terms can be troubling and uncomfortable and inaccurate despite what style of signifier should suddenly sprout from the textbooks. Instead; to be cynical and be stubborn and give us a glimpse at what old tricks can do when a box has been ticked, but another box, a better box, is drawn beside it – as if to say there’s more than meets the eye; there exist other ideas at work, a sense of deception afoot. All the more apparent when you dig a little deeper into the arteries and annals of Yard Act’s offbeat and often; if you ask: unobvious, set of selections from their pocket-size musical compendium. Less is more remember.
Not so much a radical departure; but a representation of what’s good, what’s working, and what’s worth adjusting and adapting to satiate the unimpressed, yet unendingly inspired artist; finalising the fundamental act; unwilling to be tethered to the exact centre of something, instead favouring greater flavours on the peripheries of appeals; Yard Act establishes tropes; then torch them. Dark Days put that into practice. It’s strategic career suicide. But there’s a continuum throughout the work which, judging by what took us from the start, to now, and pointing its finger to newer horizons where the landscape is constantly transforming, into landfill; it’s one that can be manipulated and never cease to catch the imagination like it’s the first time all over again.
So this is the observation of a band building of a foundation then blowing it to pieces. Rebuilding something familiar, but different; with the one sole remaining brick; laid and now behaving as the link between Trapper’s Pelt, and Peanuts; all able to be realized in the EP itself. The latter in particular oozes with an amazing demonstration of when Smith ”having the confidence to fucking just talk”. At a time when ”Yard Act was starting to get a bit of traction and people responded to it, I found it way easier to write, because I knew what I was writing for. Not to sort of repeat ourselves, but the essence of what Yard Act was got easier for me write to. And my confidence grew from it actually.”
This isn’t a stage built to slag off; it’s just a chance to confirm what things the group is not. A form of unfurling the very essence of a new group. An invitation to correct the connection which resurrects Ian Curtis to anybody with a fucking baritone. To regurgitate the correlation between Mark E Smith and anybody who speaks, rather than sings. To renounce the easy options; the orthodox opinions; a castration of the label a decrying of the titles that people like to list and see if they stick (The Fall, Pulp, LCD). This is Daftendirekt and Fodderstompf. This is Chicks on cheap Speed, caught swallowing Gang of 4’s Anthrax like a flimsy, paper bag full of dolly mixtures. Section 25 at Studio 54 and Subway Sect supporting, all-smiles Bedsitters and Container Drivers, Blockheads and Frankie Teardrops, Quando Quango’s Genuis, and Pulp’s Babies mingling below the neon exit glow. Each smoking cigarettes and decorated in their own brand of slick lipgloss; the only thing they have to live on.
LTW: I’m glad you said Dark Days was this kind of symbolic line that’s been drawn under stage one. For me, it’s an exciting time to be writing about music. I think the reason for that; is that as I’m developing strengthening my skills as a writer and document certain things that are occurring in music, you guys and other groups, are kind of undertaking a similar kind of journey. In terms of where can a direction take you toward next and what kind of sounds are you going to explore…there’s a kind of distant, connected relationship going on between people who are writing about the music and those who make it. So that’s a good thing. In my mind, Dark Days and Peanuts sound distinct but still cohesively involved with that first phase of the band. Where is the thing going to go next then? Album?
J: There’s an album recorded. It opens up the sound a lot more. It’s not as raw as Dark Days. Takes element of the electronic side of Fixer Upper. But it fuses them….there’s a lot more drum machines. The album is a concept album. Like a rise and fall story. So it’s written from the perspective of one character this time around rather than one for each song. So it’s a cohesive album. And the back end of it kind of opens up into a more sort of melodic, sentimental sound. Which was kind of, without overthinking it, a design to move…to kind of mirror the character’s journey and Yard Act’s journey as well. Away from the postpunk thing and open up our own sort of doors. We could kind of step into different directions and not get backed into a corner.
There’s a lot more electronic vibe on some of it. There is a tune that sounds like a drum and bass tune on it actually. Yeah…It’s kind of all a vehicle for the vocals but making sure the music…on an album you can expand on what you’re doing and create a whole sort of world. Whereas the individual songs dip into different worlds. But with the album, it’s nice to zoom in on one. When you’re writing about what you’re writing about. And I think the album, it’s not a drastic departure but I hope it will make people understand that there is…well I’m not bothered if we don’t, but it should make anyone who says it’s a post-punk band realize that the label doesn’t make sense.
Although; what we recognize as Yard Act today, is years in the making. It makes sense to us now, because of mistakes, good mistakes, important mistakes, Smith made in the past. ”For a long time without any kind of attention before Yard Act; my writing was all kind of scatty and all over the shop and never stuck”.
But whereas creating something cohesive and tangible that people can understand and relate to; once you’ve kind of got an audience and some attention that’s when you can start playing around with it a bit more. And the album is a product of that”. And now feels a need to execute his intrigued, enigmatic self, the driver behind the wheel, as an experiment in the composure and poignancy in what has been learned, a configuration of different things; art and angst. action and spite, intermingled.
LTW: Was that a kind of process of finding your voice as well? Did you have to learn the hard way and develop this kind of distinct vocal, as different from your other groups? Like when was the moment when it turned into writing from prose and perspectives and the music as a carrier for that and as that being able to relate to more people in perhaps more meaningful ways?
J: I think actually the biggest things, we’re kind of discussing pretending to be a post-punk band, and saying about this cynicism, this is actually the first time I’ve performed before which is actually completely me. And like reflecting on my own projects…you probably won’t know them, but I used to a group called Post War Glamour Girls which was me at my angriest. It was like sort of Yard Act times ten, all the time. And that’s an extension of a small part of my personality. That can manifest itself sometimes but it’s not how I live my life day today. I became a sort of fatigued by having to switch into this character which was so, sort of aggressive. And when that ended I ended up doing a soft, sort of country project. Which was kind of like, me at my most mellow and happy. Which is also not me.
All the time. And Yard Act is the first time where I’ve got that balance between the aggression, mellowness, and the sound, the humour, the sarcasm, the mundanity of me and accepting that I’m not a David Bowie or a Prince type character. But I have got my own thing to put across. And Yard Act is the first time I’ve felt my most human. By doing it in character I’ve actually been able to be myself more than I have in the past. Which has been quite interesting. It’s quite funny how that makes sense. Graham from Fixer Upper isn’t me but at the same time, the first lines are between me and the character I’m playing. It breaks the 4th wall. Maybe that’s why it’s resonated. I don’t know what’s happened this time. I think there’s been a few things but…it’s interesting how it’s me but I also mask it. And its manifestations are me, and it’s me controlling and manipulating my own emotions probably, for artistic gain.
LTW: You mentioned the idea of humour. For me, humour can provide this clever vehicle to infiltrate people in unusual and profound ways. I don’t want this to turn into an interview about bitter and cynical we can be about labels and genres and post-punk or whatever, humour is this fantastic lubricant for conversation and for language. Is the use of humour an important element for Yard Act?
J: I might look this up actually. I’m sure humour and humanity stemmed from the same word. (A brief pause for James to pull out his phone and investigate the potential correlation between Humour and Humanity). I don’t know. I think that humour is really viable. Because your situation doesn’t…I don’t know how you would process things without making fun of them. And that doesn’t mean maliciously, it could just be that thing to help people persevere through the darkest moments of their lives. People use it as camaraderie and help carry each other. It doesn’t translate across different cultures in the same way. People understand humour, even when they don’t. It’s like a secret club, a code if you get the same joke. We all need it. Laughing at situations is one way of controlling it.
Characters are clothes; available to change every day; a new face; another smile and a pair of eyes. Another pair of shoes; another walk. And this walk takes us elsewhere. To where the 4th wall is a blue plague on a luxury apartment’s side – ‘and here is the 4th wall’. A wall composed of the skulls of cracked actors stacked on supermarket shelves.
Which is very well why it could resonate. Why it should resonate. Reverberate far unto those deluded with hubris. A part of the urban arcana; the disturbing furniture of this realities’ drab fabric. Hoping to unload and evoke the loneliness of the hollow men. Conveying the grey and the inevitable inertia. Of pub occultism and motorway service astrology. But not without humour. A humorous way to summon up the faulty emotions in oneself and manipulate them for creative purposes. Articulating the banalities and boredoms of modern life, the pot to piss in the rainbow’s end.
And one cannot help but be charmed by his fire. His Not so much a vague shrugging of the shoulders, but an entire shaking of the head; hoping it rights the wrongs. And although he’s not bothered; because there are better things to disquieten a group, any group – than be bothered. Well…being bothered about the product is crucial; being bothered about comparisons to this and that; to then and to there; aren’t on the top of the Yard Act agenda. Because James is ”bothered about is making music I like. I’ve never been bothered with being loyal to one genre. But I understand that you have to have some of it, I now understand, and this is where the cynicism comes from”.
It is not one thing, and it never will be. Groups exist in their own spheres. Connected yet indifferent to the aesthetic essences which enable the tag to be taped on. So post-punk is a label still stuck to the forehead of bands confounding the gatekeepers and pigeonholers in 2021, despite the term being applicable to bands specific to a section of history that symbolised the philosophising of punk, and turned its spit into acid; the antichrist into an operative polymath. It’s over 40 years old. And Yard Act, like Fontaines D.C, like Shame, like Squid, like SCALPING, like LICE, like Viagra Boys, like IST IST, like Girls In Synthesis, like Billy Nomates, and even the cream of abrasive trailblazers behind them accustomed to the thrusts of alternative, outsider-punk culture; Protomartyr, Preoccupations, Ice Age, Snapped Ankles, Sleaford Mods, Savages, Ceremony; are days old really. And they take from post-punk, that which can never really be isolated to a set of musical conditions. That which can never really be constrained to a solid, set of parameters for too long. Instead favouring the ideologies involved – to experiment and articulate the internal demented nerd; the bookish, adept, sarcastic mantras; to unleash the organic tragi-comic intellectual. In a class of their own. But an important part of the chain reaction and all its scorching, psychic links embody.
And this is some time in the making; a kind of summary of the different sides Smith has shaped himself as but; like genre; like post-punk; like matter; it can be broken up and boiled down into some introductory pack of possible features; a recycled line of factory resets. But we’re not dealing with genre, or post-punk, or fucking matter; we’re dealing with human beings. In their own ethers. Blackened by the smokestacks. The science behind the genuine visionaries; the longevity of this recent punk rise; is a lie.
And this is a rise. Not a revival.
A fast rise. A rise that will blind you. And even if Yard Act know what they’re not. It’s far better to know than be ignorant and easy to please. So take note and pay attention. This involves you.
Photos by James Brown.
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Ryan Walker is a writer from Bolto. His archive can be found online here.