We spoke to Yard Act's Ryan Needham ahead of their gig at Rock City

Photos: Phoebe Fox
Interview: Sophie Gargett
Thursday 07 March 2024
reading time: min, words

They’re ace, top, mint, boss - they’re Yard Act! Ahead of their forthcoming return to Rock City, we spoke to bassist Ryan Needham and discussed blowing up, working with Elton John and the new album Where’s My Utopia?  


Since I first had the pleasure of discovering Yard Act around 2021 it seems like you’ve exploded in terms of fame. What's the past few years been like?

When we started in 2021, we hit it hard with touring and everything that comes along with it. We’d all been in bands before, but they had a year or two lifespan, so we were taking it seriously, but it was a heady abandon and we kind of just said yes to everything. And then we quickly ran out of steam and we pulled it back in. And then the lockdowns just kind of weathered the storm.

It was kind of odd, just one outlandish thing after the other kept happening. The Elton John phone call and you've been offered this and that. It was kind of wild. I mean, it's easy to forget what the world felt like at that time as well. 

When we got to the middle of 2023, as we got into the second album, that was when we had a chance to take stock and look back, because you can't really do that when you're in the middle of it. It just kind of feels like just let's just get through this next few days. But it’s been great.

Speaking of Elton John, how did that collab come about?

He played one of our songs on his Apple radio show, and James responded. And then we had to do a cover for something and we thought we know Elton’s a fan, let's do Tiny Dancer for a laugh. Then he obviously somehow heard of that and got James’ phone number one day and he thought it was someone winding him up, but they’ve kept in touch. When we went in the studio with him he was doing his final tour, but now I feel like he just can’t stop and he wants to make weird prog records and collaborate with people, and we said yeah sign us up for that man.

I'd love to play those big stages but on our terms and not have to do the anthemic rock thing. I don’t think we’ve got it in us

In terms of the new album, I feel like it's got a bit of a party while the ship goes down to it. You've had loads of fun with the videos as well. So like what's changed with all of that new stuff?

James’ lyrics went a bit more internal. He was basically describing our experience over the last couple years, which did often feel like the ship’s going down. But yeah, I think he just got to a point where it's like I'm clearly writing about my experience here. So he kind of lifted the curtain on a few abstract things and I think he just found confidence to make it a bit more of a personal record really.

It’s deep. I think even though it’s personal there's a lot of universal themes. Yeah, and it's still got the humour and the party vibes. It's a classic thing that bands like Belle & Sebastian or The Smiths do so well, like slightly miserable lyrics over banging songs. 

There’s some sampling and some new voices on the record, can you talk a bit about that?

Yeah, on the first song there’s an announcement, that is a sample we paid for, but then for the rest of them we recreated them ourselves with comedians. We kind of just rang some mates up. So Nish Kumar does a bit that sounds like someone from the 1920s. Rose Matafeo is on there - she was in our last video - she does a song at the end of Down by the Spring. The sort of Shakespeare parts that sound like old weird vampire stuff, that’s all David Thewlis. So we really had fun making all that stuff.

You’ve gone from playing places like The Bodega at Dot to Dot to festival main stages and now Rock City. Do you have a preference, and do you worry about going too big?

We still have a bit of a measure of both at the minute. I’m a big fan of The Strokes, and seeing them play new stuff, you can tell that kind of space and that size of stage influences the way they write. That first Strokes album, for example, has that small dingy club vibe. 

I'd love to play those big stages but on our terms and not have to do the anthemic rock thing. I don’t think we’ve got it in us. But someone like Pulp occupy that space well. Obviously they’ve got a huge legacy behind them, but they used to write about bedsits and that kind of thing.

It's just a lot more comfortable. Especially, since I’m 43 now, doing like 250 shows a year, it's kind of nice to have a bit more space, backstage showers, all that kind of stuff. Makes your job a little bit easier to do. But when you play somewhere like Bodega and you turn up, get plugged in and play. You can't get that feeling on a big stage.

So the new album Where’s My Utopia? is released on 1 March and you’ll be playing at Rock City a few weeks later. What else do you have coming up?

Rock City I’m really looking forward to. I’m from Derby originally, so I went to loads of gigs in Nottingham as a kid. In the mid 2000s I saw The Strokes there, Queens of the Stone Age, Interpol, some of the NME tours. I actually saw The White Stripes at The Bodega when it was called The Social, and they were just breaking, so that was pretty wild.

Get tickets for Yard Act at Rock City on Thursday 14 March 2024 here.


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