Long before the festival’s opening day ended with a party-heavy co-headline set from Foals and an emotional closing show from Sam Fender, the band opened the main stage with a raucous early afternoon gig – re-enacting the choreography from the video to recent single ‘Trench Coat Museum‘, culminating in frontman James Smith being carried away.
We met the band backstage shortly afterwards for an interview, before bassist Ryan Needham took lead of the conversation by discussing the etymology of everyone’s surnames.
“I always felt it meant ‘need food’, like ‘you need some ham’,” he said of his own. “It means ‘need home’.”
Guitarist Sam Shipstone meanwhile, claimed that his originates from coming “from a really bad line of boat builders” before the band pondered if drummer Jay Russell’s surname was simple from the sound of “people knocking about in the bushes”.
After that, we got to talking about Reading, Leeds, Japan, and what’s next.
NME: Hello Yard Act. You guys went to Leeds Festival as punters in your youth, so you must appreciate the spiritual importance of being here?
Shipstone: “2002 was your first festival? And mine was 2001. That amazes me. I went the year they burned Leeds Festival to the ground. 2001 – look it up! It was our Woodstock ’99.”
Opening the main stage is no mean feat, but you smashed it. You had quite a lot of moshers for an early day set.
Smith: “We’re always grateful to the moshers. They bring the set to life, it gives us energy to feed off. Everyone was having a great time. We had a great time, it was really cool.”
first show- Yard Act
had no clue who they were. went just to check out main stage. fuckingnincreduble. got jumpscared by fake statues. may be one of new fav bands. pic.twitter.com/s0EoQDFDp1
— snow ❄️ – reading fest (@snow_i_guess) August 25, 2023
We had a great time, especially during new single ‘Trench Coat Museum’. You really scared some people when your mannequins came to life and turned out to be dancers…
Smith: “Yeah! We’ve figured out how to make inanimate objects come to life and dance for a brief period.”
Shipstone: “I really love that we’ve got professional dancers who imagine that they’ll be onstage dancing, but we’ve just got them stood bone still for 20 minutes. Can you imagine thinking that you were going to be doing that as a professional dancer?”
Smith: “It’s quite a good flex, because they get paid the same but then we don’t utilise their skills. The power is in when you strike, not how much you strike. I don’t know if that’s technically true. Actually, one punch could kill a man.”
Needham: “I stand very still when I’m playing bass.”
Smith: “Yeah, but when you put your foot on the monitor everyone notices it.”
And James, how would you describe the experience of ‘pulling a Beyoncé’ on the main stage of Reading?
Smith: “What’s she done?”
That was a compliment for your amazing choreography…
Smith: “Oh yeah, she dances! I thought I was about to be told that I’d ripped somebody off again. ‘Oh, they’re just like Beyoncé now – not an original idea in their heads! Have you started having dancers and doing dances now, because I think you’ll find Beyoncé has already done that!’
“I got really into it. I’ve never done a choreographed dance before, and I think I’ve found a new hobby. That and playing the saxophone are the two things I’m going to practice and get better at.”
Needham: “Was it nice being carried by the dancers?”
Smith: “Yeah! It was really nice.”
Needham: “It looked amazing. Christ-like.”
So on the next album, are you going to go full Lady Gaga – pyro, dancers, the works?
Smith: “Yeah. I’m not into pyro. We found out how much it costs, basically.”
Last time we spoke you suggested that album Number Two was within touching distance of being finished?
Smith: “Yeah! It’s got a gospel choir, string section, flutes, everything on it. It’s finished.”
When do you think we can hear the next taster of it?
Smith: “I believe some time between the beginning of September and the end of next summer. Maybe October.”
That’s pretty non-stop. Do you have a holiday planned?
Needham: “We have a holiday in Jay’s house. He’s built a studio, so that’s our holiday.”
Smith: “You’ve been on holiday without me to Jay’s house?”
Needham: “Yeah, we’ve just been doing stuff without you.”
Smith: “I know you do. I just blank it out. We went to Japan for a week as a holiday after we played a gig there. We used the gigs as an excuse to pay for the flights out of our own pockets. We’re a business now – a partnership in Yard Act Ltd. After that we just had a week in Tokyo and it was gorgeous: neon everywhere, one of the busiest cities in the world.”
From Tokyo to Reading, how are you going to spend the rest of your day?
Smith: “We’ve just seen Last Dinner Party, they were really good.”
Needham: “We can see The Killers on Sunday at Leeds. We’re doing a silent disco on Sunday so we’ve got an afternoon off then we’ll go watch The Killers.”
Smith: “I think ‘Sam’s Town’ is one of the greatest records ever made.”