Their 2011 LP, The Big Roar, sums up Welsh band The Joy Formidable quite neatly: it is insistent but composed; it is loud but never desperate, and it is epic – brimming with palpable passion and a headstrong, completely heartfelt urgency.
Longtime friends Ritzy Bryan (lead vocals, guitar), Rhydian Dafydd (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Matt Thomas (drums, percussion) have been relentlessly powering the steadily growing force that is The Joy Formidable since forming in 2007. According to Rhydian – on a break from rehearsals in London – their 2008 EP, A Balloon Called Moaning, kicked off an almost frenzied chain of events: they’ve toured almost constantly, opened for huge acts like Foo Fighters, released the aforementioned The Big Roar, got their Endtapes track on a Twilight OST, played The Late Show, created some stunningly beautiful videos and somehow managed to pen a sophomore release due out later this year. Enthusiastic? Tireless? Dynamic? Yes, yes, and yes.
Where are you now?
We’re in London just in the midst of rehearsals; it’s been very busy but all is good. We’re very excited to be heading to the States very soon.
I love starting by discussing a band’s name – can you tell me about yours?
It’s a little hard to explain. We feel like it’s a bit of a gut instinct when it comes to choosing names; it has to do with emotional associations and how you feel when you hear it. We’re big fans of language and phonetics and it just seemed liked the words matched our sound and aesthetic at the time. There’s a duality to it we quite like, too: it suggests being both serious and playful…I’m sorry, it’s a bit tricky to summarize.
I can imagine. I was simply curious to hear what you’d say because when I first heard the name, I was immediately attracted and curious but I can’t tell you why. A band name either grabs you or it doesn’t.
One thing that’s for sure, it isn’t meant to suggest literal joy or that we’re a band who’s into happy stuff all the time; that’s certainly not what the band is about.
So why start The Joy Formidable?
Music has been a big part of my life – all of our lives – and it’s something we can’t really do without. I’ve known Ritzy a very long time; we sort of worked together back up in North Wales. It’s strange…I was based in Manchester and Ritzy was actually in the States after university. I was getting a band together and needed a guitarist and we just crossed paths again. We came back to North Wales and started writing together.
And you knew right away that your writing was special?
There’s a commitment there. What we’ve written documents everything we’ve been through emotionally. Our motivation is always purely creative; we need to be creative. It certainly wasn’t about becoming successful; it’s just about doing this thing – whatever it is – and that includes playing live and feeling that pure excitement that comes from the chemistry we have together; when that goes, we should just give it up.
Not everyone would agree, but I see music as a brave career choice because there’s nothing about it that’s guaranteed. What did friends and family say when you told them you were doing this band thing?
Hmmm…I don’t really know actually (laughs). I’m very headstrong and this means a lot to us so people’s opinion fall to the wayside, unfortunately. We always knew this was what we wanted.
I saw a tour playlist that you posted to your blog that featured M83, Cake, UNKLE, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello… It was all over the place. Does the band bond over the same music or do you all have fairly distinct tastes?
A little bit of both and I think that’s what makes it so great. We feed off each other. Ultimately, we can all detect a soul and a conviction when it comes to music within our wide range of tastes. Soul and conviction isn’t specific to a certain genre.
It’s one thing to play in front of your friends and another to play in a club in your hometown, but what’s it like to travel to North America and play in front of crowds here? Is it daunting?
No, not daunting at all. It’s a beautiful thing. First and foremost, we believe very strongly in what we’re doing and we’re very proud of how we do it. We’re very critical of ourselves and would never release anything we’re not totally proud of. We’re committed to the whole process and the whole art, if you like. It warms the cockles to know that people are connecting to what we’re creating and that we get to share that with them. We start from a place of creativity and passion and we’re doing this for the right reasons. I think if you’re in it for the wrong reasons – to be cool, to be famous, to be rich – then that makes things precarious. People coming to our show is always a pleasure; it’s never scary.
You’ve played with some huge band like Foo Fighters and Jane’s Addiction – what’s that experience like?
It’s nice. We’ve supported quite an eclectic array of bands and that’s encouraging to me. We’ve not been kept confined to a specific genre. The key again is that we’re utterly behind what we play and write. Playing with an act like the Foo Fighters is a lot of fun because they know what it’s all about and they’re interested in treating people well. Sometimes you can get treated like you’re beneath the band you’re supporting and that doesn’t interest me,but Foo Fighters treat everyone as equals and know that we’re all here for the music. It was a great tour with them.
Do you find it reassuring to see popular bands like that behave in such a down to earth way?
It reiterates the ethic that we have already, for sure. We respect the music and have no interest in self-indulgent thinking. When you’re confident with what you’re doing you don’t need to shout about it – you just get on with it and do it and let the music do the talking. I think that kind of thinking is rare, you know? A lot of new bands coming through now get some hype behind them and instantly believe that they’re the best thing since sliced bread. Time and time again, six months later, nobody gives a shit about them.
I have to confess how I discovered your band: a friend, Christopher Mills, posted the video for Whirring on his Facebook wall. That video combined with that great name…I was hooked.
Oh, yeah? (laughs)
He always makes such visually-rich videos. Tell me, what’s shooting like for such an effects-driven video?
It was exciting. With Chris, we felt we’d met someone with just as much imagination with us. We’ve always handled our own visuals including artwork and videos, and sometimes when you pair up with someone you have concerns about whether you’ll be on the same wavelength. We’re control freaks, but we felt like we could relinquish control a little bit with him. He understood what the song and the band were about, so excitement is definitely the word that describes the work we did on that video. We got Chris to work with us on a couple of songs because of that; we felt like we’d found a real gem in him.
So you discuss concepts together, and I imagine you reviewed storyboards and whatnot – but what was it like to watch the finished video for the first time?
I kind of had an idea of what it was going to be like but I certainly couldn’t have imagined how well it ended up all coming together in the end. It certainly didn’t disappoint. Chris works in a very unique way; his process is quite clear. It wasn’t all talk…It was more doing.
Back in the heyday of MTV there was no doubt that videos were essential, but now that fewer and fewer are played on TV and YouTube and music blogs have become the main outlets for them, would you say that having a great music video is any less important?
They’re important to me, I know that. It’s integral to have these creative elements around a band even if they do sometimes get overlooked. Without them, everything would just become homogenous. You have to push back that process of supply and demand sometimes…
It’s just that some bands are content to let the record company design their cover because they’re more interested in being out on the road playing as many gigs as possible. Others, like yourselves, really believe in presenting ‘the whole package’ and believe that aesthetics are all-important.
You should do what you want to do and follow what’s important for you creatively. Surely there has to be more to a band than playing live – opinions and creativity need to be expressed.
Do your fans appreciate this aspect? Tell me about them.
I think so, yeah. I think to be a fan of our band, a certain emotional investment is required. Our fans tend to be very real and not fake. They understand our material and come out to as many shows as possible. You know, we have no qualms about this: our music is out there in all kinds of different formats for different people to digest, and that’s exciting for us.
You definitely seem to have all the right things happening – a succession of new releases, opening spots for esteemed artists, snazzy videos, frequent tours… Does it feel like this is coming easily or does it still feel like a lot of hard work?
It’s a very interesting word, ‘work…’ You definitely can’t take anything for granted. We enjoy and stand behind everything we do. I wouldn’t say this has been a dawdle, but if you want to call it work then I’d say yes, its been hard work from the start and nothing’s really changed. What’s encouraging to us is that we get to do something that connects with people and it’s been very organic right from the start. Everything’s fallen into place in a very natural sense – through word of mouth – and that’s as it should be, really. We’ve very happy and have always been very happy with how things have gone for us.
You have several more dates in March – and then what?
Well, the second record is now done and we’re about to go and mix it in April after the tour…And then of course there will be a lot more touring coming up around that. We’re very proud of this release; it’s been…(laughs) a very hectic turnaround because you guys in North America are just hearing the first record now, but we’re very pleased about this next one.
What can you tell me about it?
I would say it’s a very ambitious record; I think there will be people who’ll be surprised by it. We didn’t just want to replicate what we did before so it covers a lot of ground – but the voice and the soul of Joy Formidable are still very much there. I’m very excited to share it with people.
North American fans can still catch The Joy Formidable during their final spring tour dates. Their sophomore LP will arrive in late 2012.
The Joy Formidable Tour Dates
Mar 23 – Cincinnati, OH @ 20th Century Theatre *^
Mar 24 – Atlanta, GA @ Masqureade *^
Mar 25 – Asheville, NC @ Orange Peel *^**
Mar 26 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club *^
Mar 28 – New York City, NY @ Terminal 5 *
Mar 29 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer *^
Mar 30 – Boston, MA @Paradise Rock Club (SOLD OUT)
Mar 31 – Montreal, QC @ Cabaret Mile-End *^**
Apr 02 – Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace (SOLD OUT) *^
* with A Place To Bury Strangers
^ with Exitmusic