Yard Act on humour, social unrest and making “prog, honky tonk” with Elton John

Yard Act on humour, social unrest and making “prog, honky tonk” with Elton John

Yard Act have spoken to NME about what this year’s shortlist for the Mercury Prize 2022 says about guitar music – as well as plans for their next album and working with Elton John.

  • READ MORE Mercury Prize 2022: why each nominee deserves to take home the coveted award

The Yorkshire band were speaking to NME from the London launch event for the prize yesterday (Wednesday July 27), where their acclaimed debut album ‘The Overload‘ was named as one of the Albums Of The Year alongside albums by the likes of Sam Fender, Nova Twins, Harry Styles, Little Simz, Self Esteem and more.

They were in attendance without frontman James Smith, “because of the trains,” said guitarist Sam Shjipstone, adding: “support the strikes.”


Asked what the Mercury Prize shortlist says about music in 2022, Shjipstone replied: “There’s quite a lot of guitar music on it, which is quite weird. People are finally realising that the guitar is the greatest instrument ever made!”

Bassist Ryan Needham added: “There’s quite a lot of rage and unrest lyrically across the whole thing, which is nice to see. It just kind of reflects the general vibe of the country and probably the world.”

Yard Act play William's Green at Glastonbury 2022. Credit: Andy Ford for NME
Yard Act play William’s Green at Glastonbury 2022. Credit: Andy Ford for NME

As to why their own album ‘The Overload’ made such a breakthrough, Shjipstone put it down to the band’s attitude.

“There’s a lot of humour on there, buried among the more social commentary aspects of it. That’s quite refreshing,” he argued. “We’ve been lumped in with the post-punk thing, and there’s not a lot of humour among those organisations historically!”

It’s been a busy summer for the band, with Yard Act recently revealed as the most booked act of European festivals this summer. Asked if the four-piece were feeling the strain yet, the guitarist told us: “It’s not really started yet, so I’ll tell you in a couple of months. We’re raking the money in! Only joking. It’ll cover the tax bills, broken guitars.”

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Not only that, but Sir Elton John also followed up his months of heaping praise upon the band by joining them on a new version of their single ‘100% Endurance’.

“Not to sound big-headed, but I didn’t think very much of it until the day, then it was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s coming to a fucking studio that we’re in!’ We just started rearranging peanuts and turning a candle. It was really intense,” said Shjipstone.  “He was nice though. He’s a really personable person, if you’ve ever met him. You don’t feel too uncomfortable around him for long.”

Needham continued: “It was really intense for the first 10 minutes, then we just started working and everyone locked into the roles that they do best. He just sat at the piano and did his takes. He used to be a session player as well, so it was just like a day at the office really. It sounds weird to say, but that’s all it really was.”

Drummer Jay Russell agreed that it was surprising how down to earth he was with the whole process”.

“He just wanted what was best and right for the song,” he said. “He didn’t want to shoehorn any in that didn’t belong there. He wanted to play what was right and it was a good experience.”

Yard Act pose with Elton John
Yard Act pose with Elton John in the studio. CREDIT: Rachael Paley

While admitting their might be “a bit busy for a bit” to work with him in the immediate future, they teased that their could be scope for a more unexpected repeat collaboration.

“He was talking about the future because he says he’s retiring from live music,” said Needham. “He says he just wants to make prog records, so I think you should just link up with him, Sam, and make some psychedelic prog record. I think you’d be good at that.”

Russell then laughed at the prospect of the duo creating “prog honky tonk.”

And what about new material from Yard Act? Have they been thinking about their second album?

“We’ve thought about it every night for six months – waking up in a sweat!” laughed Shjipstone, before Needham revealed: “It’s good, we’ve started working on a few bits and set the rehearsal room up. I’d say we’ve turned it into a studio, but it’s not really. James has got a lot of ideas, he’s got a good angle on it. I think it’ll be another loosely-based concept record.

“We’d never played live before we wrote the first one, so playing live will make it a bit different in some ways.”

Does that mean the album could be more lively and heavier?

“Maybe in places, but James changes his mind so often that it might end up being a folk record, you know?” Needham ended. “Or he might sack us all and do it with Elton John. Who knows? We’ve just got to wait and see what happens.”

Watch our full interview above, where the band also tell us who they’re tipping to win the prize, and covering Tom Jones with Smith’s grandad.

The Mercury Prize will reveal the winner at a ceremony on September 8 at London’s Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith.

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