The Joy Formidable’s
Ritzy Bryan, The Best of the 2014 TVD Interviews

One of the worst things you can do to a band on the rise is call them the “second coming” of anything, or to compare them to what’s come before. The offense is especially egregious when it’s an ambitious band that does everything in their power to exceed expectations—a band like The Joy Formidable

We have been big fans of TJF for a while now. One of the things we love best about the Welsh band is not their guitar-driven, genre-defying big pop sound, but their big hearts and their complete willingness to share in their success. It’s that sentiment is what makes the band’s latest singles project so compelling.

When I asked if there was anything else she would like to talk about, singer Ritzy Bryan immediately said, “It would be great if you could talk about the bands on our B-sides.” After countless months on the road, and prodigious songwriting for a brand new album, her primary concern was that we talk about the other great Welsh bands who took part in their new project, the Welsh Singles Club

The Welsh Singles Club features a new mash-up of The Joy Formidable’s grungy pop-rock sound with traditional instrumentations and all-Welsh lyrics on limited-edition 7″ vinyl. In the spirit of collaboration, these unique singles are split with a different Welsh band on the B-sides. The Singles Club kicked off in June with Aruthrol (which means “Formidable” in Welsh) backed with a B-side from psychedelic rockers Colorama. The series continues today with the release of Aruthrol B, featuring a hypnotic new TJF song, “Tynnu Sylw,” backed with B-side from drone-rockers, White Noise Sound.

The Welsh Singles Club is only the beginning of the end of the beginning for The Joy Formidable. Ritzy clued us in on a new album they’re finishing at their rural North Wales studio/retreat, the challenges of and passion for writing in her native tongue, and how The Joy Formidable is bringing it all back home in more ways than one. 

You’ve been described as having taken up the cause that Britpop and grunge abandoned over a decade ago. At the risk of over-simplifying for those who are just learning about you, do you feel like that’s true at all?

I don’t know. I always find it quite difficult when people feel that way about what we do. I think that there’s certainly the conviction of those sorts of eras running through the music…

But you don’t like being pigeon-holed, of course.

Well, yeah, we’re certainly unapologetic about being a guitar band. But in the same breath, I suppose we’re lots of things. We don’t like to feel the restrictions of being purely a guitar band, too. And definitely, I think there’s so much scope for guitar-driven music. There’s so much originality you can find in that genre. I think we still feel like we’re bringing something fresh. There’s a lot of “retrofication” these days, you know what I mean? [Laughs]

The one reason [guitar bands] have kind of been struggling has been is because of the sense of what people expect of us as a guitar band and what a guitar band can do. There’s obviously been so many great decades of great guitar music, and yeah we love those two genres you mentioned. But I think it’s really important that you push it to something new—something you find yourself—you make something original in your own voice as a band.

That’s why we dip in to lots of genres—lots of different sounds and inspirations. We like to push what it means to be in a guitar band, but keeping the aesthetic of that conviction and the unapologetic-ness of those eras as well.

And you’re known for being one of the finest live bands touring right now, on top of exploring such a variety of sounds. Now you have these split singles of traditional Welsh arrangements with a big, guitar-driven pop sound. What was the impetus behind them? 

So, we’ve come off tour, and we’re in the studio at the moment. I think the one thing that we’ve really enjoyed about the Welsh Singles Club, and an area that we’ve touched on in the past, is the Welsh language lyrical side to this project. We’re really busy making our next record, too. It’s a real kind of free-for-all.

I don’t know…maybe there’s something about the fact that we didn’t really have any ideas. We had these Welsh songs that we’d written on the road, and I kind of felt like we could produce them and do what we wanted with them. [The split singles are] in that area of experimenting for the next record; and [the new record has] sort of grown out of that period. In between, we’ve built this studio here in North Wales and we captured a bit of that moment of being a band again in a room together, instead of constantly on a tour bus.

It’s going to be quite interesting how we bridge from the last album to the album that we’ve almost finished. I think it will be interesting to look back and see how the Singles Club relates to the new album. Will they be a sort of bridge from the second album to the third, or will they sort of stand alone as kind of experimentation?

We definitely enjoyed channeling our creativity in a few different ways; we had a little dabble in some soundtrack stuff as well. It’s been nice to shake things up and think about things differently. Being back in a creative space after being on the road for a long time…we haven’t felt like a band in a room with no sense of time for a little while.

And having that time and space is so, so important to the creative process. I was going to ask, too, if it was your time on the road or the time in the studio in Wales that inspired these singles, but it sounds like it’s a real combination of both.

Yeah, very much so. They have their roots in being on the road. At the moment, the series is set to maybe go into next year with some other tracks we’d like to share as well. I wanted a bit of that lyrical challenge; it was something I wanted to delve into because Welsh is my second language and the lyrical side is a really big, important part of me and a part of this band as well. It’s something that’s been threatening for a while. [Laughs] We did a Welsh language version of “Whirring” and it was nice to share that in our mother tongue.

The concept started on the road, but it’s definitely evolved into something else. Like you said, it bridged the gap between being in the studio and playing together live. It’s a different context, being in the studio, than gigging every night.

What we love, too, is that you’ve put Aruthrol A and Aruthrol B out on limited-edition vinyl, which just adds to the uniqueness of the releases. I know you guys are very passionate about vinyl as well.

Yeah, we are big record collectors ourselves. It’s nice to listen to and embrace music in lots of different ways. We definitely still like to collect, still like to see the artwork unfold and read the sleeve notes. We’ve always tried to celebrate vinyl as a format with every release we’ve done.

The Singles Club is a little more Welsh-focused at the moment because there are so many great Welsh bands! There are a few areas in Wales that are quite rural in places, so it’s quite hard to know where to start as a band, having aspirations to go out and play live. It’s growing, however, and there’s a bigger network now than when we were starting out a few years ago. Now, we’ve come home and made this record here in North Wales and I think we wanted to do something that championed the Welsh music scene. There are so many bands that we like coming out of Wales, and it seemed like a really nice collaboration, really.

It’s really great that you’re doing that, too, because there’s often this competitiveness among bands as opposed to collaboration. It’s nice that you’re appreciating their talent and bringing everyone along for the ride a bit.

Yeah, and I think that’s such an important thing. There’s so much other stuff in the music industry that we can clash and fight against. I think it’s really important that, as much as we can, musicians should stick together in that spirit of collaboration and working on things together—as long as it’s not forced and some kind of gimmicky thing. [Laughs] If you like a band’s music and you’re into what they’re doing, I think it’s really important to champion the music that you’re into. If you’re a band that’s out there and you can champion bands to some extent…I think it’s an important part of it all. All that competitive stuff is just bullshit. [Laughs]

Can you talk a little bit about the new album? Or is it still too early?

Only insofar as we’ve been working out of the studio here in North Wales [recently]. It felt really good to have a space of our own. Fortunately, we’ve got no neighbors here, so there’s just been a really nice vibe to these sessions. We’ve written a lot; we’re about thirty or forty demos deep here. [Laughs] It’s really exciting and it’s nice to be back in a room together. You spend such a lot of time together on the road, but the kind of quality you need [in the studio]—where you’re sort of bouncing off each other in a creative way—no matter how hard you try, there’s always going to be a little bit of repetition when you’re out there on stage every night. It’s really nice just to be free and be a band again and have no time restrictions.

We’re in the finishing, tracking stages and down to seventeen strong songs. We just feel really happy, and there’s been really good energy. It’s really, really weird to be home after having been on the road for such a long time…it’s been nice to see friends and family, but it’s been strange to be in one place for this long! [Laughs]

And since you’ve had this steady, heady ascent, it must feel nice to be grounded for a while.

Yeah, absolutely. To just feel the pace change…especially now that we can kind of feel…well, we’re not very good about waiting around! [Laughs] Now that we’re starting to finish up the record, we can kind of feel the pull of the road even more now. It’s definitely been a real change of pace. It will be interesting to see what it’s brought to the record when we stand back and look at it all.

The Welsh Singles Club releases are available online.
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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 10/13/14.

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