A chart battle, sold out shows – YARD ACT’s debut album was a genuine sensation. As they return with their first new material since, it’s time to head to ‘The Trench Coat Museum’. Read our latest Dork Playlist cover feature now.
Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Patrick Gunning.
Yard Act have been talking about switching things up since before they released their chart-crashing, Mercury Prize-bothering debut album ‘The Overload’ at the start of 2022. Despite the success that followed over the last 18 months, the band have stuck to their word for comeback single ‘The Trench Coat Museum’. Or, as guitarist Sam Shipstone puts it, “we’ve gone full The Chemical Brothers”.
The band also giddily reference Daft Punk, New Order and Rage Against The Machine on the joyous new track. “I hope it brings people a fucking good time. We were never going to do the same thing again,” starts vocalist James Smith, before explaining how a lot of the post-punk bands Yard Act were grouped together with have dabbled in dance music “but we’ve just really gone for it.” Why? “Because we like that music. The second album has got a lot of variety on it as well,” he teases.
‘The Trench Coat Museum’ is the first thing the band have created while in the same room, with a bulk of ‘The Overload’ written and recorded while skirting COVID-enforced lockdowns. It’s also the first thing percussionist Jay Russell has been involved in full stop. “I’m going to get all the hate when people don’t like it,” he smirks. “It just feels communal,” adds James.
A bold evolution from what’s come before, rather than a complete reinvention, ‘The Trench Coat Museum’ still has Yard Act’s biting sense of humour (“I still get positively sick when all the bellboys call me sir”) but leans into the introspective second half of ‘The Overload’ rather than the snarling social fury of the title track, ‘Land Of The Blind’ or ‘Dead Horses’.
In fact, James started writing it after being offered some free designer trench coats. “I didn’t take them at the time, which I now regret because I could have sold them on eBay and made some decent money. I thought ethics were important, for some reason,” he smirks, with the other members of the band now mocking his decision. But the offer got him thinking about how the trench coat had become associated with Yard Act, and James in particular, despite it starting out as an in-joke. “I wore Ryan’s trench coat at our very first gig because I thought it would be funny, but I ended up feeling really powerful in it,” he admits, so it continued.
Still, that moment of reflection became a “jumping off point for thinking about my own ego after the success of the first album”. Before James had written a word for Yard Act’s second album, he was convinced that ‘The Overload’ wasn’t going to be his legacy. “I knew I had better stuff in me, but I had this weird fear I was going to die before I had a chance to release it,” he explains. “It became this really big thing that shifted into me questioning why I was so obsessed with what people would think about me when I was dead.” Add in some worries about climate change, the inevitability of death, fast fashion and how the trench coat used to be a war coat, and you’ve got the bones of ‘The Trench Coat Museum’.
“I knew I had better stuff in me, but I had this weird fear I was going to die before I had a chance to release it”James Smith
“It’s about perception, and how people’s perceptions of things changes over time,” explains James, who found himself asking why we care about how other people perceive us. “Ultimately, the conclusion that I came to is that the only legacy that I leave behind is my son, and how they perceive me is the only thing that truly matters. It’s my job to show him what I believe is the right way to exist. Everyone else doesn’t actually matter,” he explains, with these themes also acting as the jumping-off point for Yard Act’s as-of-yet unannounced second album. “I did get caught up caring about what people thought about me, and I still do,” he continued. “It’s a hard thing to let go of.”
Despite clocking in at over eight minutes long and tackling “ego and future”, ‘The Trench Coat Museum’ isn’t exactly dripping with self-indulgence. Instead, it’s an existential crisis wrapped up in a pulsating blast of euphoria, which the band believes is what the world needs a little more of right now.
“Political music is becoming a parody of itself,” explains James. “I’m very sceptical about how many people can do it, and be interesting with it,” he continues, saying how easy it is to fall into a rhythm of anger. “Writing about how shit everything is, as if it’s some enlightened view, just dates things.” After touring the world for the past year, the band also found themselves asking if they wanted to keep hammering home the same, frustrated point.
“Really, you want to elevate a mood, and right now there’s a hedonism that is surging through people that comes from being told we’re fucked on all fronts. It’s ‘100% Endurance’, isn’t it?” he asks, referencing the band’s own ode to living in the moment. “If we’re all going to die, why not just have a good time. People are pushing for a more elevated and excited way of living. They’re finding joy where they can, rather than allowing themselves to be crushed.”
“If music and writing is a personal journey, I don’t want to box myself in by constantly telling myself how shit everything is. I want to find something new,” James continues as Jay explains how constant anger is “not great for your own personal well-being either.”
Yard Act decided to return with ‘The Trench Coat Museum’ because it was the first track they finished with co-producer Remi Kabaka Jr., but they couldn’t make it work as part of their upcoming album. “It feels more like an advert or trailer for the second record because it sets up all the themes,” says James, who’s convinced that if it does well, the label will try and shoehorn it on at the end of the next record as a kind of end-credits song. “But there’s no space for it on the vinyl, so it doesn’t count,” he says. “It feels like a standalone. It sets out our stall that we’re not going to do the same thing again but it also doesn’t say where we go next.”
There have been clues that Yard Act have been looking to shake things up. On their recent headline tour of the UK, dubbed a farewell to ‘The Overload’, breakout track ‘Fixer Upper’ was noticeably absent from the setlists. “Well, some of them are going to have to go,” shrugs James who saw it as a chance to test the waters. “Let’s take out one of the big ones and see if we survive without it.” The only backlash they received was a handful of people on Twitter and that doesn’t really count, does it?
“Political music is becoming a parody of itself”James Smith
“I don’t want to be one of those bands that keeps releasing new albums but only playing one song off it,” he continues. “If you get stuck doing it, you can never escape it.” They also want to avoid becoming a band who never plays any of the hits. The trick is apparently to keep writing bangers. The dream is, in five years’ time, to have a perfectly quartered wheel on Setlist.FM, with Yard Act playing five songs from each album. “Sipho’s doing an orchestral album, Jay’s been put in charge of the dance album, Ryan’s doing the hardcore punk album and I’m overseeing them all,” says James, refusing to confirm if he’s joking or not. “You’ve got to move on and dropping ‘Fixer Upper’ was a step towards that,” he adds.
“Putting out new stuff and feeling like you could get laughed at or be about to properly embarrass yourselves is an important thing,” says Ryan. “It means you’re pushing yourself.”
“There have also been times where we think we’ve gone too far, but as soon as you put James’ vocals on it, it feels like Yard Act,” adds Sam. “Because of that, we don’t need to be fearful.”
The response to ‘The Overload’ helped with the band’s confidence as well. “I trust the vast majority of people who like us, like us because they get that we’re going to do different stuff,” says James. “I see the reaction ‘100% Endurance gets and how it’s connected with a broad church of people. That fills me with hope. I’m really excited about the second album. I’m so confident in what we’ve made, I’d really love everyone to like it, but I’m not scared.“
“I definitely don’t want to stay in my line,” continues James, with the band more creatively ambitious than they’ve ever been. “Listening back to that first album, I can hear a band tentatively doing stuff but never fully going for it.” ‘Trench Coat’ alongside whatever follows, is Yard Act at their most confident. “I just want to do great shit, and whilst we’ve got a bit of a spotlight on us and a label giving us money, let’s not shrink on that. Let’s blow all the money on stupid, brilliant stuff that’ll help us try out ideas. I’m not arsed about making lots of money,” he shrugs. “You get free coats from fashion designers when you’re famous; you don’t need much more.” ■
Yard Act’s new single ‘The Trench Coat Museum’ is out now. Follow Dork Playlist on Spotify here.