Cillian Murphy settles her beef law with court
No promising group is not it want a famous fan, especially when that famous fan is celebrity music executive and Golden Globe Award-nominated actor Cillian Murphy. After spending his early years touring as the frontman of an experimental rock band called The Sons of Mr. Green Jeans, Murphy left the mic behind to pursue a career in television and film, a trajectory that has put the Irish-born actor on a collision course. with Leeds-based band Yard Act. James Smith, lead singer of the post-punk band, first crossed paths with Murphy while working as an extra on the third season of Peaky Blinders. In the chaos between takes, the two interacted and the experiment – unbeknownst to Murphy – has stuck with Smith ever since.
Formed in early 2020, just as the pandemic wiped out any touring possibilities, Yard Act – made up of Smith (vocals), Sam Shjipstone (guitar), Ryan Needham (bass) and Jay Russell (drums) – nonetheless built an avid audience (diehards include Murphy and Elton John) eagerly awaiting the return of live performances. Last week the band released their first LP Overload– a collection of 11 witty, political and yet hugely danceable tracks – that went straight to the top of the UK charts. Although Murphy no longer performs, the Irish-born actor regularly hosts radio hours on BBC Radio 6 and hosts a podcast about his favorite bands. In the years since his fateful encounter with Smith, Yard Act has worked its way onto Murphy’s roster. As the band didn’t seem to be going anywhere, we had the pair on the phone to purify the air.
CILLIAN MURPHY: Hi, James!
JAMES SMITH: Cillian! How are you?
MURPHY: It depends. Are we going to end this once and for all?
SMITH: Yeah, let’s start with the drama. We can solve it during this interview. Everyone gets a happy ending. [Laughs.]
MURPHY: You’re gonna have to give me the details of the beef, so I can see if I can remember and defend myself.
SMITH: You basically pushed me. It’s not like I went on a plane—You still pushed me hard. Let’s say you were in character. You were Shelby-ing it up. It was a Peaky Blinders scene in an old car factory, and you let us workers in. I was the last to pass, you left a pretty strong tear on my left shoulder. I fell head first into the factory.
MURPHY: So, we’ve met before. We can count that as a first meeting.
SMITH: Is that how you greet all your fans?
MURPHY: I don’t remember. But I apologize.
SMITH: Oh no, that’s fine. No apologies necessary.
MURPHY: How long ago was that? It must be like three or four years ago now. Was the band going at this point? What were you doing then?
SMITH: I was in another band at the time called Post-War Glamor Girls. I was doing a lot of extra work on television, because it paid well.
MURPHY: What other shows could we have seen you on?
SMITH: Pardon me for the ass kiss, but it shows what a huge fan you were. The extras agent always sent me tons of on-location show opportunities, and I never did because I had no interest in traveling. But when the woozy Blinkers opening came, I had to do it.
MURPHY: Have you been treated well? I always worry about the background actors…
SMITH: That was great. And it was just being on a set, it’s huge. It’s a world I’d watched unfold for two seasons. I was a fan of the show, so it’s just fun to be on. You just finished the season six, right?
MURPHY: We completed six last June. It should be out next month. It’s the last season. where are you now? Are you on tour?
SMITH: The album is out now, so we’re kicking things into high gear. We have to reschedule all European dates, unfortunately, as moving between countries is not really an option. It’s sad, but we have plenty of upcoming dates in the UK. Then we have North America, East Coast and SXSW in March. Then the west coast in April. It’s been a pretty busy year.
MURPHY: I had tickets to see you at The Button Factory. I was really looking forward to this concert, but damn Covid. How does it feel to go out and play again?
SMITH: It was a massive rush. We started releasing music during the lockdowns and getting some attention on the internet, but we didn’t know if it was real or not. We were getting to the point where we were like, “Yeah, maybe it’s just a bedroom project.” We played to empty halls for years before we started Yard Act, and we’ve been in a pandemic ever since. The truth is, when you’ve done that hard work of playing back-to-back shows in front of disinterested crowds, you’re not so keen on going back to it. We had the opposite experience last summer, where we kind of built a fan base without having to tour.
MURPHY: Just on the Internet?
SMITH: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
SMITH: The shows last summer were amazing. There is something about knowing that a large crowd is on your side. We went to festivals last summer and there were tents full of people who knew who we were. I mean, they knew half the whole thing! I’m trying to do everything in my power to make sure we don’t become stale live, which is getting harder and harder. Did you hear the record? Did someone give it to you?
MURPHY: Not yet, but I’ll buy it on vinyl. I always buy vinyl.
SMITH: It’s nice to know that it will be part of your collection. I hope you like. I’m proud of it. We kind of tried to tell a story about it, from start to finish. I can’t wait to play it live.
MURPHY: When did you record it? How did it come together?
SMITH: Early last year. We recorded in Bristol with Ali Chant, who has worked with PJ Harvey and Aldous Harding. I had a great relationship with music and with records during the pandemic – I was listening to a lot of things much more intensely than I had in a few years. Every time I heard something I liked, like the Gruff Rhys record, Babelsburg— I turned it over and saw Ali Chant’s name on the back of the disc.
MURPHY: Yeah! I love this disc. And now you’re signed to Island Records… Shit man, no pressure.
SMITH: I mean, it’s not where we thought we’d end up. They understood that we were like, “We don’t want to be this ‘post-punk band.’ Eventually we were like, ‘Let’s roll the dice and see what happens.’ So far, it’s been a lot of fun. Even little things, like having a budget to make a music video.
MURPHY: They have a pretty incredible roster.
SMITH: Who’s your favorite?
MURPHY: Well, at the time, U2. I listened the Joshua Tree on tape again and again growing up. When I put it on now, it still gives me chills. This is them at their best. This track, “Bullet The Blue Sky”, freaked me out. Bono has real character in this song, and it was unlike anything I had heard before. You do this character building so well. I’m sure you’ve heard this question a million times, so forgive me, but what is your process? How long have you been writing lyrics like this? Because they are brilliantly unique.
SMITH: The process is, I write in a burst, then I leave it. When I come back, I remodel it, then the characters are formed. Most of the time, they just had fun together. Everything I’ve done so far has been a matter of luck. I really feel like I got away with pissing on it.
MURPHY: Can I ask you about my favorite song, “Peanuts”? I don’t know if this character is you, or if he’s fictional, but I strongly identify with him.
SMITH: Come on, tell me what you identify with.
MURPHY: I guess it’s people who use negativity to define themselves. The song came to this idea in a surprisingly incisive and funny way. I fucking love him, I love him so much.
SMITH: Thank you. There’s a bit of me in every song. The point is, each of us has to fight the world in our own head. It can sometimes feel like a competition, having the most problems. That’s something I wanted to address with this song.
MURPHY: It’s kind of about neurosis, but it’s done in such a way that it seems pretty forgiving. It relieves me every time I listen to it.
SMITH: I’m really glad it’s your favorite. It’s kind of the underdog on the LP in a lot of ways.
MURPHY: The spoken word bits in these songs…it’s very bold, but it works.
SMITH: This is my calling card. What are you working on at the moment?
MURPHY: I’m making a movie called Oppenheimer, a photo of Chris Nolan. This is Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. I play it, so it’s kind of a biopic. So we’re starting that soon. Right now I’m trying to understand quantum mechanics. [Laughs]
SMITH: And what do you think of quantum mechanics?
MURPHY: Piece of piss.
SMITH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s easy isn’t it?
MURPHY: Well, we’ve solved our fame problem. I hope to be able to see you play live, when it will be.
SMITH: All the beef is mashed. I look forward to the next time we meet, Cillian.