Yard Act Break Down Their Debut Album The Overload Track By Track: Exclusive

Vocalist James Smith breaks down each song on the UK band's debut LP

Yard Act, photo by James Brown
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Our Track by Track feature gives artists the opportunity to share the inspiration and stories behind each song on their latest release. Today, Yard Act frontman James Smith takes a deep dive into the songs behind their debut album, The Overload.


British post-punk band Yard Act have unveiled their debut album The Overload today (January 21st).

It’s safe to say that Yard Act are observers: The Overload is filled with statements that summarize our modern condition, both in their native England and the rest of the world around it. Led by frontman James Smith and rounded out by bassist Ryan Needham, guitarist Sam Shjipstone, and drummer Jay Russell, Yard Act are among the newest class of conscious rockers coming from across the pond.

Every sound in The Overload feels deliberate, and the same can be said about Smith’s lyrics, which can range from hilarious to heartfelt in a single bar. There’s a great deal of tension that defines this album; tension between mindlessly obeying the capitalist ruleset that we’re given in order to keep ourselves afloat, or to rail against the ruleset entirely. “That’s what The Overload is, essentially,” says Smith. “It’s everything happening at once, and it’s our tiny feeble minds trying to process and cope with it. Good luck.”

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Not only is the album littered with sharp criticism, it’s filled with characters, references, cheeky wordplay, jokes that last longer than you think, denial, contradicting sentences, a sense of true exhaustion, and an appetite for destruction. And all the while, many of these tracks are upbeat, frenetic, and undoubtedly dance-worthy.

Prior to releasing The Overload, Yard Act released the title track, as well as singles “Land of the Blind,” “Payday,” “Rich,” and “Pour Another.” Yard Act also landed on our list of the 15 Rising Artists to Watch in 2022 and are set to embark on an extensive 2022 tour across North America and Europe (tickets are available here).

Stream The Overload and check out Smith’s Track by Track breakdown below.


“The Overload”

This serves as an overture to the album, really. It’s written from the perspective of someone sitting in a pub overhearing snippets of all these different conversations from different characters and acting as a vessel, a medium even, for their thoughts and opinions. That cut and paste approach means it’s hard to decipher where one person’s musings end and another’s statement begins, and that felt important to me.

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It felt like a fairer representation of why human existence is at the point that it is right now. It’s not clear cut, it’s not a binary, much as we want it to be, society doesn’t prevail because of the absolute, it struggles on in spite of it. It’s our ability to compromise which helps us to coexist.

Anyway, by verse two, the medium seems to have channelled a direct line with a much stronger spirit, because it’s dominated entirely by this character called Graham, a man more sure of himself than most. Maybe it’s both a blessing and a burden that the rest of us can learn to compromise with the Grahams of the world which allows society to stumble on. I don’t know?

The Graham that manifests in this song is a little more vicious than the Graham from “Fixer Upper.” I’ve defended Graham as a harmless relic of the past prior to this, struggling to stay relevant in the modern world, but this one feels a little more dangerous. Maybe it’s the heightened paranoia that’s come with two years living through the pandemic that’s given him a little more edge. He’s still like the rest of us though, no matter how tough he acts. We all succumb to the fear most of the time, and it explains a lot about why we make the decisions we make.

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That’s how the chorus works. I imagined it delivered by a greek chorus, omnipresent, encompassing the themes of not only this song, but the whole album. That’s what The Overload is, essentially. It’s everything happening at once, and it’s our tiny feeble minds trying to process and cope with it. Good luck.

“Dead Horse”

This sees the medium leave the pub, shaking themselves away from the pub-rant plain and stepping out into modern England. I see it as the start of Act One, which is “the rise” of the album’s arc, along with the following two tracks. Musically, it’s got a real Western feel to it, thanks to Sam’s beautiful guitar work. It really gives it a sense of “lawlessness,” which to me, serves as a great, slightly comical motif for post-Brexit Britain.

Speaking of which, I don’t want bang on about it, because it’s boring, and every band is constantly banging on about it now, but it warrants mention because we’re living through it, and for quite a lot of us, it’s frustrating and real and embarrassing, and it’s influencing our writing, but you already knew that. It does matter, but it doesn’t matter. It is what I’m writing about, but also it’s not what I’m writing about.

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Whether or not we’d left the European Union, all these themes would be relevant, because England/Great Britain is a stubborn stump and the roots are knotted and gnarly, and as a country we are still too scared to look at them closely, and until we do, until we truly understand the tangle, I’m going to make my money talking about how fucked up this all is. “Dead Horse” is straightforward, everyone is doing “Dead Horse,” but it needed to be said again, didn’t it? Cha-ching.

“Payday”

On the surface, it’s about gentrification, and it questions how connected everything really is. At what point are you responsible for the repercussions of your own actions, butterfly-effect style? You don’t think about the Chinese factory worker throwing themself off the roof when you buy the iPad. China is fucking miles away. You don’t see the glaciers dripping when you bite into your steak, or touch down in Corfu. At what point do we become immoral, and can you ever really be held to anybody else’s standards but your own?

The narrative of poor-kid-done-good is what keeps the capitalist dream alive. The sliver of society that are born into poverty and manage to escape it are championed as proof that the system works, that hard work pays off. That anyone can get it, if they really want it. We know that’s not true, but that mentality snares you, because you should be rightfully happy that people have escaped the pit of poverty, that they’ve pulled their family out of it, too.

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It’s conflicting, because it reinforces the narrative, the false narrative that hard work always pays off, and therefore capitalism works. “Payday” is about playing the game, throwing the towel in, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

“Rich”

So, that makes “Rich” the natural successor to “Payday.” That’s the end of the story right? Success! Status! Security! Except, there’s always more money to be made, and you’re deemed a failure if your life starts to head back in the direction it came from. “Rich” is about being so lost you’re sure you know exactly where you are and how you got there. I also wrote it because I thought it would be quite funny if Yard Act made a shit ton of money after I’d written an anti-capitalist concept album. It’ll be funny if I’m singing this song on stage when I’ve made my mint.

Will it even mean anything though? What’s changed, me or the song? Am I phony for singing it? Is it failsafe because I’ve mentioned it now, is it a cynical exercise in irony? I realize I’m talking about three or four different things at once here, and it can sound a bit all over the place. At worst, it makes no sense, at best it comes off as pretentious, but that’s the point I’m trying to make when I write anything, really.

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Things only really make sense if you exclude the bits that don’t back up the point you’re trying to make. I’m a hypocrite, just like everyone else. I don’t have the answers and I’m just trying to do the best I can. It’ll never be good enough, though. Enjoy the ride; life is short and you never know what’s ’round the corner.

“The Incident”

“The Incident” is what’s around the corner, and this song, along with “Witness,” serves as “the fall” narrative of the album’s arc. The incident could be anything, but it serves as the disruption, which could be positive or negative, depending on how you look at it. In the moment, when the house of cards falls and the rug is pulled from beneath, the character of this album is only ever going to see this as a negative.

But with the passing of time, comes the opportunity to reflect, and The Incident is a catalyst for change. They say change should be embraced, even if you’ve committed a crime. I imagine you could learn a lot from prison, but I’d rather not go. Fortunately the richer you are the better your lawyer will be, so I’m probably not going to prison. I mean, the character is not going to prison. I’ve not committed a crime. I’m writing in character. I’ve never been to prison. I’ve never been to court even! My wife did once, for not paying for a TV license. Court, not prison. Also, I’m not rich. Yet.

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“Witness”

“Witness” seems like quite a throwaway song in a lot of ways — much like rich people’s general regard for the law, you can dismiss it as beneath you, but there are clauses in that contract if you know where to look. There are clues in those lyrics if you know where to listen. I’ve not explained a lot of what’s been going on across side one, because I want you to find it for yourself. Answers on the back of a postcard.

“Land of the Blind”

“Land of the Blind” is a song about the art of illusion, and how self-confidence can really inspire conviction in a trick. Confidence is such a powerful tool, and we are so often willing to believe what we are told by the most confident people in the room, because the alternative of doubting them is to exhaust ourselves laboring the point by trying to talk louder than them.

Nobody wants that. Most people just want to get on with enjoying their short lives with as little stress as they possibly can. So, exhausting as it still is, closing your eyes whilst you let the mad bastards do their stupid tricks often seems the most reasonable price to pay. It’s about justice, really. “The Land of the Blind” could well be the jury in the courtroom. I wonder if they’ll make the right call.

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“Quarantine The Sticks”

The Sticks. The Suburbs. Whatever you want to call them. A lot of weird stuff happens in sleepy towns. Shady fuckers are everywhere — it gets talked about a lot, yet no one ever mentions it. Curtain twitchers! This is the part of the story where the real world really starts to melt away. There’s an arrest happening through the cracks in the blind.

Like I say, I’ve never been to prison. I never want to, obviously. It’s a very fucking weird and barbaric thing to lock people away for their mistakes most of the time (I’m still up for keeping the genuinely deranged locked away and off the streets until we figure out how to solve these problems though, DON’T WORRY!). The world is so weird.


“Tall Poppies”

You’d have a lot of time to reflect on everything spending 24 hours a day in your cell, I imagine. Your past, the future. That’s what this song is. Reflecting on a whole life, a shared existence.

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“Pour Another”

“Pour Another” zooms in on the post-party conversations many hedonists will be all too familiar with. It leaves the impending doom of daily life in a world on fire at the door, at that point in the night when you don’t want to let go of the moment you’re in, when everything is perfect and everyone is your new best friend. Those moments fade, because nothing stays as it was.

You’re woken with a bang and you have to face the truth. It finds our hero (anti-hero?) returning from their solitary confinement. Returning to the people who were always there for them before the chaos ensued. It’s the end credits to a feel good film and it fades away, just like the good times always do.

“100% Endurance”

And then you’re woken with a bang. The new world, seems much the same as the old in the cold light of day. Everything you talked about changing last night feels impossible with a hangover. But you get up and you make your body move, because deep down you know that something is better than nothing. Always. We move until we don’t and we exist because we do. That’s beautiful, and I find it humbling.

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The Overload Artwork: