Yard Act at Reading 2023: “We’ll headline. Not in five years though, next year”

Yard Act may say that playing Leeds will mean more to them, but making your main stage debut at the legendary Reading Festival is nothing to be sniffed at.
Photo credit: Patrick Gunning

Yard Act may say that playing Leeds will mean more to them, but making your main stage debut at the legendary Reading Festival is nothing to be sniffed at. Neither is the fact that stages so big actually make sense for a band that, at the beginning, seemed anything but the sort of act that would find themselves here. A brilliant debut album, a fierce chart battle and relentless touring means the Leeds quartet belong in such lofty company, even if they’ll always be a little different from their peers.

As they approach their second full-length, and with recent single ‘The Trench Coat Museum’ still ringing in our ears, we pinned them down after their set for a quick catch-up. Turns out, they’ll be headlining the whole thing next year. Who knew?

Two years ago, when we chatted, you said that you’d be fourth from the top of the main stage in five years. Do you think you’re still on track for that?

James Smith: I reckon now I’d say we’ll headline. Not in five years though, next year.

‘The Trench Coat Museum’ obviously dominates when you only get a half hour slot, how do you work with that?

James: I think the ending allows it to work. It’s such a bop that it feels easy to incorporate. Having backing dancers on stage for it also helps – that was an inspired idea from our manager. Then he started to backtrack on it after we agreed it was a good idea! But of course it’s a good idea, you’ve always got to try new stuff.

Do you find the setlist needs more balancing now you’ve got stuff like ‘The Trench Coat Museum’ but also ‘100% Endurance’?

James: I’m not sure we have trouble finding the balance to be honest – ‘100% Endurance’ is a nice breather at the end and it has a good moment. It’s one that people tend to know and it’s one that I think reveals that there’s more to us than just being lairy and loud.

Ryan Needham: It actually got me today. I got quite emotional while we were playing it, which was nice.

James: I’ve never tired of playing that song. There’s not any that I’ve consistently not enjoyed, but then you are faced with some days where I’m just not really feeling ‘Payday’ or one of the others. But I’ve never phoned that song in. So that’s nice for us and hopefully nice for the audience, too.

Do you guys all agree on which songs you want to be playing?

James:  Everyone’s pretty consistent that they don’t want to play ‘Quarantine The Sticks’. That seems to be the runt of the litter, but the rest we all like to swap and change.

Ryan: I always want to play the bangers. I’m kind of on my own there a bit. I just want to play hits.

James:  I think that’s why we throw covers in and stuff, because it keeps it interesting for us. I think when the second album is out, having two albums of material with the EP and standalones, it’s gonna be challenging, but fun. 

We were talking about this earlier actually. Obviously we’re nowhere near that stage yet, but like the way The Cure play for like three hours. Chris who plays sax for us is a massive Prince fan and he was saying when the last bass player joined in the 90s, she was told ‘you have to learn 240 Prince songs’ because she didn’t know what he was gonna play. And I respect that commitment to your own work. 

Fairweather fans are gonna want to hear the hits, but you’ve got to cater to the bigger fans as well, because they might want to hear a tune, like ‘The Incident’ or ‘Tall Poppies’ that we can’t play every night. So being able to switch the set is important.

The album’s got a lot more variety on it than ‘The Overload’.

James Smith

We’ve touched on it before, but dropping ‘Fixer Upper’ from the set and it not going catastrophically wrong must be a nice vindication of what has come afterwards for you guys as well

James: It’s funny, but ‘Fixer Upper’ isn’t one of the fan favourites anymore. I think there’s a lot of people that came on board after it that aren’t as aware of it, which is nice to know. Hopefully there’ll be a lot of people that come onboard for album two that aren’t aware of ‘The Overload’ and then slowly will become familiar with it, I suppose. But you can’t play the same thing every night. If you want to be genuine with the crowd, I think you have to just switch it up. So that’s something we’ll continue to do. I’m looking forward to having new ammo to put in the sets to be able to do that a bit more.

‘The Trench Coat Museum’ isn’t going to be on the new album. Why was it left off?

James: It was left off because we had more songs and it felt like it stood alone. There were other songs that felt more important to the sentiment of the album. The second album definitely has a lot of ‘Trench Coat’ in it, in parts. There are more electronic and dancey elements. But it’s not a sole indicator of the album. The album’s got a lot more variety on it than ‘The Overload’.

This is the first album all four of you have been involved in the writing of, has that changed the dynamic?

James: I feel like everyone’s spurred each other on, and everyone’s brought their own thing to it. Everyone’s been one upping each other. The second someone raises their game with something, you kind of go back and revise your own. 

It’s been a really fruitful, exciting process, the way we’ve worked together has been really joyous. I’ve never felt so creatively empowered by the people around me. People say that sometimes leads to weak art, but Obviously there’s friction. There’s debates to be had, people want different things, but it definitely comes from a place of care. So everyone hears everyone out. It’s really nice.

You toured a lot after the first album, has it been nice to slow down a little bit and get a bit more room to enjoy things? 

James: I’ve stopped drinking, which helps massively – I just feel more connected to everything when we’re on stage. Sets are emotionally draining, too. I come off stage and I feel fucking zapped.

Ryan: There’s a real adrenaline comedown. Even saying that as a person who stands completely still for the whole set, I still have a peak of adrenaline!

James: We can afford to do a bit less now, which is nice. It’s good to have earned that position and be able to put our foot down a bit rather than just burn ourselves to the ground.

Ryan: But I do think we all came from a background of bands that didn’t necessarily get the chance to do a lot of this stuff, so we really hit the ground running and worked hard.

And which of you has to do the silent disco now you’ve signed up for it to DJ at midnight?

Ryan: James and Jay. Their DJ sets are incredible. I’ll just stand there with a tinny.