The Joy Formidable’s Ritzy Bryan
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Welsh band The Joy Formidable lives up to its name—and with a name that could easily eclipse the caliber of music produced, that’s no small feat. Lyrics off 2011’s The Big Roar acknowledge grief with euphoric honesty, while huge guitar lines buzz like a swarm of hornets and burst of power. Last year, the band proved to be a kinetic force on both sides of the Atlantic. Its song “Endtapes” was featured on the Twilight: Breaking Dawn—Part 1 soundtrack and the group shared a tour bus with the Foo Fighters, delighting hopeless romantics and rock fans alike. With the band’s March 17 show at the Bluebird Theater (with A Place To Bury Strangers) and follow-up album fast approaching, vocalist and guitarist Ritzy Bryan shares insight into the band’s creative process, loss, and the dichotomies that shape its music.
The A.V. Club: What kinds of stories or emotions does The Joy Formidable try to tell or evoke through its music?
Ritzy Bryan: So many. There have been a lot of things that have inspired this band, inspired the songs that we’ve written. There’ve been a lot of personal circumstances. At the same time, we’re very aware of our surroundings and observant of society and the culture we live in. There’ve been an awful lot.
It’s incredibly important in this band that there’s a real heartfelt, a very, very sincere background to the songwriting. There’s a very genuine emotion in the tracks that we write. That leads to the hope that we want to evoke. None of this is a job. We’re not just going through the motions each day repeating the same thing every night. We definitely want to challenge people.
AVC: In an interview with Spin, you said the band works to build power, not volume. How does The Joy Formidable help fans feel that during a show?
RB: I think it would be all about the genuine connection with the band and the songs that [we’ve] written. That’s always the core thing with The Joy Formidable; it’s always about the song, the roots of that song or what inspired the feeling of that track.
It’s not just about getting up there like it’s a job or it’s a routine. Then, that’s where the true power lies. That’s what people go to shows to hopefully see. It’s that commitment to something emotive. That can be very dynamic and not just one type of emotion or one type of sentiment throughout the set. There’s a huge range to the songs we’ve written as well.
AVC: In a different Spin interview, you mentioned that the band likes to experiment musically. What boundaries does The Joy Formidable push?
RB: It can never just be pushing the boundaries for some kind of gimmick or trend to get a reaction. The main thing is the emotion behind the song. At the same time, we’re not just a guitar band. We’re very, very comfortable experimenting in lots of different genres.
We’re confident with our producers. We’re confident with our instruments. I think when you feel like that… you can really go outside of the boundaries and try different things.
AVC: “Whirring,” off the band’s last album, has received widespread acclaim. Could you explain the story behind that song?
RB: It’s always difficult to try and summarize a track. It’s always kind of a retrospective look at the time when it was written. It was written in North Wales. The band was formed, and Richard and I began writing together for the first time. There’s a real dichotomy of emotions that pushed this band along.
We’ve had some really turbulent circumstances, but at the root of it all there’s a chance to overcome all that, an eternal optimism of always wanting to push through. I think “Whirring,” more than some of the other tracks, really captures those two conflicting emotions: that frustration, almost, of things not going right, but at the same time, feeling through that—that euphoric, hopeful look to the future that things will sort out.
AVC: What experiences have most helped the band evolve and grow?
RB: We’ve always been very personal, and we’ve never wanted to divulge too much about what’s gone on in our past. But, we’ve had a lot of grief. We’ve lost some people physically. I know on other levels, we’ve lost people who’ve maybe not left this mortal world. But, we’ve lost people in different ways. I think that was very much the core of The Big Roar, dealing with a lot of different types of loss and how sometimes it isn’t a physical loss, how that can be almost worse in some respects because there isn’t any closure. I think that lack of closure and the frustration that wells up, that constant fight of trying to move on, was definitely a big part, emotionally, of this band.
We love life. There’s so much magic that life can throw up. There are so many moments that are sublime. There are so many things that you can turn to, that constant interplay of being in love with the world but at times feeling quite deadened to it and trying to move from one state to the next constantly.
AVC: As you’ve been on the road and working on your next album, what advice did you wish you knew when you first started out?
RB: There are no lines. There are no distinctions formed. You can literally one day be doing shows and acoustic sessions, and late that evening in the early hours you’ll be mixing a track or recording a song. We never really felt the need for advice, and I’m loath to give advice to other bands. Sometimes we get asked, “What should we do?” Everyone’s journey is so, so different. I think the most glaring thing sometimes is how dynamic you have to be. It’s about having lots of different head spaces for different things, and they can all happen at once. That is never a problem if you truly, truly love what you do.
You have to absolutely have an undying passion for the music that you’re making. There’s not a lot of time to sleep and for socializing, but you don’t miss that if you’re so consumed by what you’re doing. That’s definitely how we feel.
Everybody wants to be in a band these days. It’s so glamorous. If you want to really be in a fucking great band and be creative and be original, you put in a lot of hours. It consumes your life. You do that very, very happily.
AVC: Has touring affected the music for your next album?
RB: We’ve done a lot of touring. We love being on the road together. It’s been a huge part of the background of this band. It’s been very honest. We’ve done a lot of shows, and we’ve played all over the world. We spend a lot of time together. It’s difficult to say, because I’m just judging it from the path we’ve led. I feel that we’ve evolved very, very naturally, just from the sheer amount of playing that we’ve done. From the onset, we had a special chemistry when it came to playing live. It was intuitive, and we felt like we understood what we wanted from the live dynamic of this band. From the sheer amount of touring that we’ve done, I’d say that’s become even clearer, in that sense. We’re in a really good place collectively. We’ve finished the second record now.
It’s been a beautiful album to make. It’s not been too comfortable, at the same time. It’s been very quick and fruitful. Everything’s come together, and it feels really good.