Yard Act is known for the angry, political alt-rock anthems on the band’s successful first album, The Overload, but the members don’t wear that rage on their sleeves. Instead, they display gratitude that people listen to them at all. 

“In the U.K., we had anticipated the reaction the album would get, but we had no idea what sort of reaction it would get in America,” said frontman James Smith. “We’ve been consistently blown away by how well it has done everywhere.”

Yard Act—2022 Mercury Prize and NME Best New British Act nominee—was performing in Chicago for the second time when members of the band sat down with Luckbox. Their third gig was an official Riot Fest aftershow on Sunday, Sept. 18 at The Empty Bottle. 

An overloaded debut 

In 2022, the band released its first album, The Overload, which garnered major attention in the U.K. punk rock scene and quickly gained traction in the U.S. and beyond. With an appearance at South by Southwest in 2021, a year before the album release, Yard Act made its mark on fans with only two songs available on streaming services.

At first, Smith said he was worried the music might be a bit too niche for some fans—and their music is quite niche. To appreciate it, you have to be into that talk-singing style. But if you’re a fan of bands like IDLES and shame, Yard Act is for you. It’s a fast-paced sound, focused on varied guitar riffs and sprinkled with comedic British Cockney.

Much of Yard Act’s music from The Overload is driven by anger—Smith’s neck flares in a red sweat, his veins visibly popping out. When he’s not prancing around the stage, flailing his arms, he’s likely to be on the floor screaming into the microphone. And the band mimics his expressions. Guitarist Sam Shipstone jives his hips into a groovy guitar solo. They’ll convince you to “take the money and run!”

Smith said he feels music is a spirit, with the sound a kind of ethos—but Yard Act is driven by pure rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s hard not to define them as such.

“On the pragmatic and practical side of it, rock ‘n’ roll is a catch-all for me,” Smith said.

In July, the band released the single The Trench Coat Museum, an eight-minute song with synth Depeche Mode vibes. Despite touring the world for the past 18 months. Smith said members have been conscious of not letting too much time pass before their sophomore album, Where’s My Utopia?, which is slated for release on March 1, 2024.

Yard Act album Where's My Utopia?

There are always nerves and expectations for musicians around a second album: Will it live up to the success of their first? For Yard Act, members obviously want fans to enjoy it, but they based their sophomore record on what they themselves wanted to do. And they’re proud of that.

Late in October, the band released the first single from Where’s My Utopia?, titled Dream Job. It features more of that cowbell-like sound we’ve all been wanting. The song is immediately more groovy, upbeat and crisply produced than Yard Act’s past work. Even the music video indicates a new joy in letting loose and having fun with making music.

For the upcoming album, the band homed in on more synth, electronic and instrumental inspiration.

“I prefer using those complex sounds when recording because then we can play it live well,” bassist Ryan Needham said. “It’s reverse engineering in the traditional sense.”

The band developed a technique while writing and recording the second album, by needle-dropping and making sample tunes out of whatever sounds were happening around them. Yard Act also sampled hip-hop and rock songs they love. The band overlayed those favorite songs with their original material and then removed the samples at the end.

“It became quite creative and rewired our brains in a way,” Smith said. “Like building a song that we got samples from and then writing over the top of that and pulling it, so we don’t get sued. That was quite soul-shredding because no one will ever know, technically, if it was illegal or not.”

Besides switching up its writing and recording approach, this is the first record with drummer Jay Russell fully taking part.

Smith said his worldview has also changed a lot since the first album came out. Now, he views things through a lens of empathy instead of leading with that angst.

“On the first album, there was a lot of anger and frustration,” Smith said. “It was largely written from a place of being trapped, during a time when everyone felt caged and boxed in. The only outlet we had to express ourselves was to put it into music.” 

World-changing personal events

Now, he has a lot of trepidation about landing on something that has worked in the past and just repeating it. Smith said his mind hasn’t been rooted in the real world for the past 18 months because of the way his life has turned out. It’d be disingenuous to use anger now as a tool to make money or retain a level of popularity the band achieved via The Overload, he said.

“I had a child right before the band started, and I think that has changed my world,” he said. “Now I know more strongly about what I believe in and what I want to aim for. It boils down to love.”

With a team backing them, there was always some indication and incentive that Yard Act could go bigger. But Smith feels fortunate because not many musicians taste the level of success Yard Act has enjoyed.

“People will come up to us and say how much a certain song has impacted them, and that’s very humbling and scary at the same time,” Smith said. “I think that’s the beauty of music—giving it away.”

To make sure his humor doesn’t go unnoticed, he added that, “Well, it’s not given away, technically. For copyright and legal reasons, we get paid.”   

Kendall Polidori is The Rockhound, Luckbox’s resident rock critic. Follow her reviews on Instagram and Twitter. @rockhoundlb