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FILTER 50: Getting to Know: The Joy Formidable

By Jessica Jardine; photo by James Minchin III on January 18, 2013


FILTER 50: Getting to Know: The Joy Formidable

Being snowed in might force most people to subsist on beans and toast or down a bottle of Jack to pass the time. But for the members of Welsh band The Joy Formidable, it provided the ideal opportunity to hunker down and record a second full-length album. 

At the end of a recent American tour, the trio found themselves stuck in Portland, Maine, with mountains of snow outside their door. The wintry weather provided the perfect, sealed-off atmosphere for lead singer and guitarist Ritzy Bryan, bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas to finally lay down the tracks that had been buzzing around their tour bus for the previous few months. 

“I relay the story now and people think, ‘You’re fucking crazy,’ because it was really cold, we’re snowed in and I think to people it sounds like, ‘Oh, you got cabin fever,’” says Bryan. “It sounds kind of strange but we were just having a really great, fruitful time. We really couldn’t record fast enough. It was not a difficult second album at all.”

The recording process was made even easier considering that the band tour with a mobile studio, which makes sense given the amount of time they’re on the road these days. On the heels of last year’s major label debut The Big Roar, Bryan and company found themselves playing nearly every major international music festival—from Glastonbury to Lollapalooza—on top of their own headlining tours. Audiences grew considerably, in part due to the song “Endtapes” being included on the soundtrack to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn.

The Joy Formidable’s brand of dreamy, driven shoegaze has thrived in the live setting; fans resonate with the searing live performances that showcase the trio’s ability to temper powerful percussion and heart-melting melodies in songs that feel alternately frantic and soothing. It’s an impressive feat to pull off, resulting in critical raves in addition to an exponentially growing fan base. And like true maniacs, the band have barely given themselves a moment to breathe before heading out to promote their upcoming sophomore effort, Wolf’s Law, via their own international tour and a European trek supporting Muse.

According to Bryan, they’re not immune to the frenetic pace of their rapidly rocketing careers. “We’re feeling a little bit crazy,” she laughs. “It’s one fucking hell of a journey. One minute we’ll be in an arena and the next minute we’ll be in a very sweet, little North Walian bar. But we’re really enjoying it out there.”

It took four years from their formation in 2007 for the threesome to release a full-length album, which meant their fans were kept satiated through a series of EPs and singles—including the delightfully titled 2008 track “My Beerdrunk Soul Is Sadder Than a Hundred Dead Christmas Trees.” Bryan and Dafydd had already suffered bruises from playing in two bands that fell apart—Tricky Nixon and, later, Sidecar Kisses—before bringing in Thomas to create The Joy Formidable. Fortunately, it was love at first jam for the new trio. 

“If you’ve had a strange dynamic in the previous band, you come to really appreciate when something is special,” says Bryan. “As soon as the three of us got together, we knew we’d chanced upon something that was definitely unique.”

More than anything, the three members share an openness to absorbing a broad mix of music while out on the road and recording together. During the lead-up to Wolf’s Law, Bryan even turned her bandmates’ ears towards Disney animated films. “It sounds crazy, but we were really turned on by how intricate some of the changes are and the choral effect and the strings,” Bryan says of the beloved anthems. “Even though a lot of those soundtracks have got a very distinct milieu to them, we wanted to do something like that.”

The end result is an album that ensnares the untamed freedom of their previous efforts with an added poignancy and thoughtfulness. Also taking profound inspiration from the recent passing of her grandfather and his love for old Perry Cuomo and barbershop tunes, Bryan’s voice on Wolf’s Law has become a powerful, emotive weapon. On the title track, her vocals are both vulnerable and blistering as they cascade to an emotional zenith above mounting piano and strings. But just when your eyes might begin to feel the slightest bit watery, there’s a track like “Cholla,” which blasts out the gate with a steamroller guitar hook that would make Jack White proud. It’s a fitting album of contrasts for a band that appreciates thunderous, speed-metal-inspired percussion as much as Sleeping Beauty’s vibrato. 

But for Bryan, much of the credit goes in great part to that unplanned winter retreat in Maine. “I think that the patience and solitude roots back to the fact that we could lose track of time and exhaust the music and the writing. It was a really, really great place for us to go.”  F




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This article is from FILTER Issue 50