As the dust settles on 2021, it's safe to say we've been through it. The pandemic kept testing our limits as we stayed locked in our bedrooms. Politicians pushed us further back into the dark ages. Keyboard warriors came out in droves to drive home just how divided we've all become.
Thank God, then, that four friends from Yorkshire decided to document it and call it a debut album. And if it wasn't for Yard Act frontman James Smith's oven, we might not have got this post-punk meets Britpop meets noughties indie-rock mash-up at all.
"Every year when Bake Off comes on, I'm like, 'oh yeah, I'll try that', but our oven's shit, so we can't even get the right heat," he exclaims, veering off-topic from the influences of the pandemic on the album to the influences of it on him. "I can make a good Focaccia, though."
Thankfully, it's not just baking bread he's good at it. Alongside bassist Ryan Needham, drummer Jay Russell and guitarist Sam Shjipstone, James has held up a mirror to modern British life in a post-Brexit, post-pandemic world. Built on corruption and fear, fake news and lies, it's all a bit worrying.
"There's a lot about corruption and lies on this album, because this disbelief and fear in the establishment isn't an unwarranted feeling and shouldn't be dismissed," James suggests, as he highlights how the pandemic revealed just how much mistrust is placed in our government. "You shouldn't do exactly what the government say all the time; the problem is that a lot of people are being fed false information by equally shady organisations."
Of course, debut album 'The Overload', as you might imagine, isn't a political punch-up between the left and the right, the north and the south, the rich and the poor. It's a character study on a country gone wild.
"A lot of those themes come through on the album, like paranoia and disbelief, as it's more of a study on how and why we do the things we do," he admits. "It's pretty messy and pretty complex, and it doesn't give any answers; it just asks a load of questions."
If 'The Overload' does anything in 37 minutes, it's certainly 'ask a lot of questions'. Billed as a concept album, you'll meet a motley crew of characters that aren't too unfamiliar to you as you take a whistle-stop tour through modern-day Britain. It's like having a mirror held up in your face at a family do down your local. It's about you and everybody else, and it all comes down to James standing in front of that mirror.
"There are parts of me in every character that crops up. I'm not going to deny that I have less appealing sensibilities like everyone does, and I've really tried to get myself out of that headspace of thinking I'm right, and I'm doing the right thing, and I'm better than other people because I'm switched on," he asserts, as he points out just how much of a reflection 'The Overload' is of himself as it is everyone else.
"What the whole album comes down to is deconstructing the vague consensus of what the left-wing believe by deconstructing myself and seeing it from other people's angles and seeing the humanity in everyone. At the end of the day, you've just got to let people do what they want to do, everyone's just trying to get by, and everyone's knackered."
In fact, Yard Act owe a lot to producer Ali Chant (PJ Harvey, Perfume Genius, Soccer Mommy). But not for his technical wizardry. No, of course not - for lending them a book. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman changed James' outlook on life. And by chance, changed the course of the album.
"It was quite a revelation when I realised it wasn't my job to change the world. For a long time in my early 20s, I felt like that and was traumatised by feeling responsible for everything," he explains, building up to how the book's helped mellow out his inner madness. "I take a lot of comfort out of that book because it makes me realise that it's not all chaos, and there is a narrative, and we're all kind of bound by it."
The narrative we're bound by, or so it seems, is influenced by the book's concept of two systems: the fast, instinctive and emotional and the slower, deliberative and logical. James took it and flipped it on its head for his study into British life.
"I didn't want to look at people as if they were systems; I wanted to look at what systems do to people," he explains, adding: "It's about how easily people can fall into traits and habits and cycles and other systems."
'The Overload' is in many ways an existential listening experience as much as it's an essential one. When James warns you'll have more questions than answers, it's true. Because that's what happened when Yard Act wrote it.
"The news will have us believe that we have to, for the sake of humanity, change the way we live and then you start asking, how important are we? Like, life has always carried on; something will sprout.
"The humans aren't the story of existence, we just think we are a lot of the time, and it's scary when you look beyond that, and it doesn't mean trash the fucking planet and don't give a shit, but it means asking yourself the question of 'who are you? Why are you here?'"
These are big questions, and when you start diving deep into politics and putting a mirror up to the world around you, not everyone's going to nod their head in agreement. There's going to be kickback. It's something Yard Act are unsurprisingly not all that fussed about.
"I don't think I'm going to be that much of a nuisance that people are going to kick off, but then maybe if we get massive, it'll fuck loads of people off," he laughs, the thought of doing an Oasis and starting a revolution from his bed becoming an attractive one. "I don't worry about it, and I don't think you can. I think you deal with it. If it becomes an issue, you remain transparent and open and listen to what it is – but if it's just someone who doesn't like it because they don't get it, then they can probably fuck off."
Yard Act aren't a band to be brushed aside. They won't be tucked under the rug or thrown in the cupboard. And they won't stop standing for what they stand for. 'The Overload' closer '100% Endurance' is a testament to that.
"If you talk to someone long enough, you'll find the human side because we don't do a lot of talking these days, and the pandemic really heightened that," he sighs, disillusioned as much as he is inspired. "Online sparring is not a humanising thing; it's really dehumanising. People just want to get their point across, and no one's really listening.
"When you remove those structures, and you just teach someone one on one, you'll find most people care for someone, and they show that real human emotion. That song is about trying to make people realise that you can apply that beyond your circle, especially if you're not in fear, like when people are happy, they're genuinely nicer to everyone around them."
Every generation needs a group of go-getters to get behind. Every generation needs a band who brings the brains and the bops. And this generation, matter-of-factly, needs Yard Act.
Taken from the December 2021 / January 2022 issue of Upset. Yard Act's debut album 'The Overload' is out 21st January.
Featuring Måneskin, Mayday Parade, Yard Act, Volumes and more.