The Joy Formidable
It Might Get Loud:
The Joy Formidable Bring Their Big Roar To These United States
The Joy Formidable might be young but they have definitely been around the block in the best possible way. The three-piece from rural North Wales has graced the stage at the Reading and Leeds Festivals and has landed support slots for Editors and even Sir Paul McCartney. With basement-bred bass lines and very direct female vocals they have been compared to The Breeders, and rightfully so. The trio will be basking in the Austin, Texas sun during SXSW on the week that their debut full-length, The Big Roar, drops on Canvasback/Atlantic Records. After being given the runaround all afternoon by a manager who repeatedly calls me “love” and expresses his gratitude for my patience while dining with the band in a restaurant in Spain, I finally connect via phone with lead vocalist and guitarist Ritzy Bryan.
Where am I reaching you today?
We did our last French show last night and then drove through the night in quite a small van and arrived mid day today in Barcelona. We’re enjoying a really rad day off together.
You have been praised by rock goddesses Courtney Love and Garbage’s Shirley Manson for your music and have been compared by many critics to great rock bands from the 1990s. For those readers who are Joy Formidable virgins, what you’re going for sonically?
Ultimately our own sound. We have been compared to so many different genres and styles. I like the fact that people can’t completely pinpoint us. As a band I think it’s flattering to be mentioned by Shirley Manson and Courtney Love but we definitely stand alone in what we’re doing. We always have and we write ultimately for ourselves. I don’t think any of the comparisons get it completely.
You spent time stateside in Washington D.C. right before forming The Joy Formidable. What were you doing there?
I was fleeing. I was just trying to escape the UK for a little while. I needed to get away and went on a complete whim to actually au pair in DC, which is just ridiculous in retrospect because I’m not a maternal person. It was very much a disguise for doing music. As a songwriter I was quite isolated and I definitely learned to enjoy my own company and the company of my guitar. I spent a long time writing and playing and took a lot of comfort in that period, really.
You’re a relatively young band yet you and bassist Rhydian Dafydd have known each other since your childhood in rural Northern Wales. Tell me about your relationship and how it evolved into your current project. When did you guys meet back up?
I think we were always aware of each other musically. We were definitely aware that the other was creative and doing music but never got around to actually, you know, joining up and writing together until several year later when we both had been doing our own thing for a quite a while. Definitely the fact that we come from exactly the same area – we grew up and went to the same school together – I think there was a familiarity from the start that was very solid. Obviously the music was first and a relationship developed from that. I think it’s a very special, intuitive, writing dynamic that developed. You know, we definitely enjoy not having to dissect things too much. Things come very naturally. It was a very long-winded path to actually join forces. We kept missing each other.
When you’re in a band you spend so many days together on the road. Can guys and girls in a band together just be friends?
[Silence] Well I have been in a relationship with Rhydian, the bass player. We’re an item but you probably won’t tell. Like I said, the music has always been our very first passion, not to take anything away from the relationship. [Chuckles] I have to be careful not to take anything away from the relationship!
In terms of being on the road together, the three of us are very steadfast friends and we’ve got very good, easy chemistry. Somehow all our idiosyncrasies seem to make sense together.
Your EP A Balloon Called Moaning was picked up for US release by Passion Pit’s label, Black Bell Records, and you made your introduction to American audiences alongside them. You even paid tribute to them by performing their track “Moth’s Wings” during a recent SPIN acoustic session. How did you hook up with Passion Pit?
When they toured the UK they heard the EP because the EP had just been released and it was just all quite coincidental. We were touring in the UK at the same time and were listening to Passion Pit’s EP – that was our soundtrack in our band – and it seemed like they had been listening to A Balloon Called Moaning, so they invited us to join them in the UK and then they invited us to do two shows in the US, two or three shows, in New York.On the back of that we sold out both our shows at Mercury Lounge. We have really enjoyed touring in the US. They definitely gave us a great introduction.
Are there any up and coming UK bands that readers should check out before they blow up?
We have been touring with The Chapman Family from the north of England and Airship. They both have albums out this year that I’m really looking forward to. I started listening to the new Boxer Rebellion and that sounds great. We’re also label buddies with Grouplove who are from LA and we’re really looking forward to their releases this year. We definitely like to listen to lots of different stuff.
I see that you’ll kick off your US tour at SXSW this year and it looks like you scored some great gigs; both a showcase of your own at Buffalo Billiards and a spot at the Rolling Stone Party. SXSW is typically a launch pad for bands in the United States. Have you played the festival before and what will you do next after these Austin performances?
We have never played it before. We’re really excited…to be out in Austin to celebrate the release of our new album which is out the same weekend. After that we’ve got our largest US tour to date. We have certain spot dates on the East Coast and West Coast. We have been itching to do it for a while but we have had time constraints preventing us from just digging in. This tour should take us to a lot of places that we have never been before.
Who will you tour with?
We have a great band called The Lonely Forest [from Washington State] that is opening for us but we haven’t actually decided on a main support just yet.
I often hear about young bands having to struggle to “make it.” Has The Joy Formidable paid its dues?
Alright, well, I don’t think anything that’s worth it is ever easy, you know? That’s how you become as good as you can be. There has to be some of challenge and struggle involved in order to appreciate it. It depends on what you consider struggling. I mean, we’ve toured a lot. Obviously we have done things ourselves for a very long time. We have a great label now but for a year previous to that we were very self-contained. That to me isn’t a struggle. It’s just part of it. We revel in that. We just want to release good records and be involved in everything that we release and do. If you set yourself up like that then you’re definitely going to have a pretty heavy workload but that’s what we want.
Your new album, The Big Roar, is already out in the UK but will be released stateside on March 15. You produced the album yourself. Tell me about the process.
It’s the same recording aspect as A Balloon Called Moaning. We recorded in our…I’m not going to even call it a studio. [Laughs] It’s a very, very modest makeshift studio in the corner of our bedroom in a tiny room in South London. In that sense it’s been our obsession over the last six months that it has taken to finish it. It’s so spontaneous. It’s all about capturing moments when they come rather than booking studio time and having a very strict time when the magic has to happen. Since the EP we started working with our live engineer, our front of house sound guy [Neak Menter]. The relationship with him developed because nobody knows our live sound as well as he does. We wanted to capture more of a live aesthetic with our new songs so it was great to work with him. On top of that we worked with Rich Costey in LA and we took tracks to him when they were ready just to be mixed. He brought them all to life. Those three tiers, us tracking it and capturing all the charm of being able to do it ourselves, very naturally, very honest, along with Neak and Rich felt like the perfect combination.
The Big Roar will be your first release for Atlantic Records and there’s no denying that major labels sometimes throw in major roadblocks. Did creating a release for a major label prove to be any different from your indie releases?
No, I think it’s all about the people you work with. [Atlantic Records’] thoughts for the future fitted identically with what we want to be and continue being as a band so I don’t believe it makes a difference. We’re very headstrong as a band because we have had the control for quite a while. They embraced [our identity] and they brought things to the table that improved things for us. Realized moments. That’s the eternal hope for the next year.
I read somewhere that a fan created a video for “Austere” that was banned from YouTube because it featured women masturbating. What did you think about the ban?
It’s definitely our most infamous video release! We get a lot [of fan videos] and we really enjoy them. It’s really touching when somebody has taken the time or been inspired by the music that you’re making enough to make a visual for it. I thought it was a really great video; a really clever take on the track, and superbly executed. We had a real chuckle when that landed in our inbox. We definitely have a very loyal fan base. They’re quite vocal.
That can be good or scary, I guess?
Yes, it can definitely work both ways. It’s great when you feel that people are connecting with you to the extent where they feel the need to contact you or do something for the band. It’s been very touching just how many people have offered us somewhere to stay on this next tour. We have had so many invites we could almost base the entire tour on them; just staying at different peoples’ houses.
That’s how people do it in the US! Americans love rock bands.
I know! It’s really great to have that sort of welcome.
Does being a talented and attractive woman in the music industry have its advantages?
[Hesitates] Um, it shouldn’t. I think it’s definitely something to be…it’s just difficult to make the differentiation, to be honest. First and foremost for me I want people to be critiquing us all – not that I give a fuck about what anybody thinks either – but I want people to be enjoying us on the basis of the music whether or not it’s female fronted, male fronted, gorilla fronted. I certainly don’t enjoy being celebrated. It should just be about the quality of the music and the quality of the band. At the same time it’s great when you hear a great female voice in music that has something to say, you know?
What is your biggest challenge in trying to conquer the US?
I honestly don’t think that we view any of it as a challenge. We’re definitely on a mission. We want to get out and do it and have no regrets. We’re really looking forward to digging into North America. We’re going to be seeing you plenty in 2011.