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An Evening with The Joy Formidable

Last year’s release of their latest album Into The Blue brought a wave of tour cancellations for The Joy Formidable as Covid refused to release its grip on the music industry. As a great live band with a fantastic new record to promote this was probably the worst scenario for the group. However, they are now making up for lost time and have released an extended version of Into The Blue to coincide with their current run of US dates.

The band played Underground Arts in Philadelphia, PA as part of the tour and we were lucky enough to be invited to the acoustic pre-show. This was an intimate backstage setting with Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan (vocals/guitar) , Rhydian Dafydd (bass) and Matthew James Thomas (drums) chatting and playing some tunes including the new title track “Into The Blue” and ”A Heavy Abacus”, one of my favorites from debut The Big Roar. The pre-shows and their TJF Music Club, where fans can get access to exclusive tracks and online shows for a small monthly fee, are innovative ways the band have devised to connect directly with their fans.

The main gig (after a great support set from Cuffed Up) featured songs spanning their career with four tracks each from The Big Roar and Into The Blue. During the encore, the band returned to the stage sporting Phillies gear to celebrate the team making the World Series before closing the night with a raucous version of “Whirring” to send the crowd home happy.

In between the two shows, we were lucky enough to be able to spend some time with Ritzy and talk about touring, the state of the music industry and Utah (amongst other things).

You just talked about how you’ve been on tour “for forever” with The Front Bottoms and now with Cuffed Up. How’s that been going and what’s been your favorite gig so far from the tour?
Yeah. I think we’ve been out now since the middle of August. WE started off doing headline shows and then we went out with a band called Tres Leche who were awesome as well. And then, like you said, with The Front Bottoms. What’s been my favorite?

Well, we’ve done some festivals as well in between. Riotfest was really fun this year. That was a really cute crowd. There’s been a lot of variation and I think it’s really hard to choose. I’ve been quite surprised that a lot of the shows have felt quite emotive coming back. I understand, it’s a real period of uncertainty and quite a challenging period for a lot of people to kind of come back out and reconnect with live music. We haven’t seen each other for a bit and maybe, you are not as aware how powerful music has been for people to kind of get through certain things.

So, yeah, that’s the one thing I’ve noticed that it feels like the shows have just had an extra flame of emotion to them. Like, people are just feeling things kind of quite deeply at the moment and that’s probably because of what’s going on in the world at the moment.

What’s currently playing on the tour bus? 
Oh, shit. Matt’s been driving a lot, so there’s been a lot of fucking jazz fusion! It’s interesting, I’ve noticed that quite a lot of drummers, they listen to lots of things that have rhythmic displacement, right? It’s not an easy listen sometimes. So I’ve actually been on headphones on this tour listening to quite a lot of different podcasts and I’ve been going back and catching up on the Manics a bit as we’re going to see them in a week or so. It’s nice to go back and listen to some of those early stuff. 

Which classic album cover is your current mood?
I was playing Curtis the other day by Curtis Mayfield, his first solo record. And the angle is really cool where he’s laid back with a way that it makes him look kind of gigantic. It’s just very bold, but kind of laid back. So I think that captures the mood at the moment, you know? I’m glad to be back in my element, which is being out and being a musician again but I’ve been surprisingly chill as well. And I feel like I’m in a much better place than I probably was in 2019 when we did the last tour in terms of who I am as as a person these days. 

Your latest album Into The Blue was fantastic and we had it on our top albums of the 2021. it sounded like some of the experimentation of Aaarth combined with the earlier albums like The Big Roar. Was that deliberate or was it just how the album came together?
I don’t think anything is particularly deliberate in terms of like comparing it production-wise or sonically or the way that you approach a record. I think sometimes things can be a reaction to what it is that you’ve just creatively done. So Aaarth was definitely more experimental and it was more patchwork and being quite playful with some of the production. And I think there was elements of that that we enjoyed, but there was part of us just wanting to be in a room together again. 

But then we couldn’t be in a room together again. So the original plan for Into The Blue was a little bit different from how we ended up doing it. I haven’t got any regrets about that because there are things that came from that process of Matt being in England and us being in Utah that I think wouldn’t have happened if we had been in a room together in Wales, like we were meant to be.

I feel like we go into every album quite open, but after the first EP and The Big Roar, I think we were really ready to do something a little bit more challenging, Just the length of time that we’d been on those two; we’d been doing things in the UK and then we’d come over to the States and kind of re-released elements of what we’ve been doing in the previous three years. So I see Wolf’s Law as a reaction to that. We wanted to get more compositional and we wanted to experiment and add more layers. And then with Hitch, we were kind of over that and we wanted to just do things live again and just fucking let the tape record. So they’re deliberate in maybe the residue of what’s come before in some ways.

One song on Into The Blue which, to me sounds very Un-Joy Formidable, is “Somewhere New” with its flamenco guitar. Where did that one come from?
I don’t feel like it is, I mean, that’s probably the same as saying that on Hitch, “Underneath the Petal” is odd, you know? Or on Wolf’s Law, “The Turnaround” sounds quite croonary to me compared to some of the others. But it’s [Rhydian’s] track and I guess that’s the beautiful thing about our records is that there’s two main songwriters. I think there’s moments where we also need to creatively share our own individual voices as well, you know? It’s probably hard for you to guess which our mine on the record? But he’s a fucking beautiful player! 

You just put out a compilation of the Welsh songs that you’ve released over the years, Pen Bwy Gilydd. How important is it to you to keep doing songs in the Welsh language?
I think, again, it’s about what comes naturally, We don’t like to overthink anything and there’s no machine telling us what to do either. I’ve just been really enjoying the lyrical side of my second language. It’s a different type of exploration and it feels new. When you’ve been a lyricist for most of your life because, even when I was little, I was like always writing. So, to all of a sudden, be given another instrument to play around with is how I kind of feel with the Welsh language. 

I love songs that, when I first hear them, just stop me in my tracks and “Whirring” was, and still is, one of those songs. Did it do the same to you when you recorded it?
No, In fact, I probably had bigger moments with other songs, But I understand why a lot of people really like “Whirring” and it definitely still feels very relevant to us as a band. It’s definitely not like our version of “Creep” where we’re like, “Oh, fuck me I have to play that again:” It’s interesting what connects with people, right? But when I go back to that record, I still feel like “Greatest Light” feels like it’s the first time I’ve played it every single time or “The Ever Changing Spectrum of a Lie”. It would be horrible to be so sick of some of the tracks that you’ve written. 

If you could only listen to one record, what would it be? 
What, ever again?? In this moment it would probably be Grace to be honest by Jeff Buckley.

What are your influences? Who did you listen to when you were growing up?
A lot of The Holy Bible [by The Manics], a lot of Van Morrison, John Martin, Elvis Costello, Nick Drake. Just a lot of really unique voices was more my background.

So you now live in Utah? How did that happen?
Well, I bounce a lot. Half a year in Wales, half in Utah. Why Utah? It’s like a more dryer version of Wales really! When I’m off the road, I need to go to places where there’s nature, where there’s open space and where I can lose myself in something else like the outdoors. So, it’s two worlds really. Wales is beautiful for doing that but it’s a lot of wetter than Utah. And I just went there on a whim, to be honest, and it just worked out, which is nice. I thought I’d only be there for a year and I’ve ended up staying for nine.

Like you just mentioned in the acoustic show, the music industry is very different now. A lot of people are making money and it’s not the artists but you guys have been very creative in things like the pre-show and also the TJF club. What do you think should happen to make it more artist friendly?
I mean, I feel like we need to change every single side of being a musician and every facet of the industry. Elements of the live side need updating and obviously the streaming world needs a bomb underneath it and then just start again. 

I would love to see more bands have their own centralized thing; like ours is a club. And it’s obviously based off our website and we have our backstage and our vault and things like that. I would love to see that become more universal so all bands are bringing their fan base to them rather than spread across however many social network platforms that don’t really do very much. I mean, they get eyeballs, but they’re not really doing that much else in terms of supporting the business side of your band.

So yeah, it needs a lot of updates. And the optimistic side is that hopefully Covid has kind of shaken it so much that there’s the potential now to try and rebuild certain elements of it. I guess we’re all gonna have to get involved as musicians and speak out. And it’s quite hard to speak out cause it’s not really as sexy as making music and you’re like, “Oh, but we’re not making any money” whereas they are like “Oh shut the fuck up. You’ve got a great job. You’re traveling the world”.  But, what if bands are worrying about going on tours that they can’t really sustain? We are out for 80 days and look at how much everything is inflated between the van, petrol and everything.

And that’s the problem when you talk about it because it’s a beautiful thing that we get to do. But everybody should be rewarded for what you create and what you put in and the effect that you have.

Someone is trying to get a campaign started to disband Ticketmaster because of the fees that they charge.
Like seriously, it’s disgusting how like they’re bringing in pricing based on demand.  There’s two things happening. There’s only gonna be certain people that can afford to go to fucking concerts and there’s only gonna be certain people who can afford to make music. You’re gonna have to have a level of income, wherever that comes from, that allows you to go and do this.

So you’re gonna end up with a very homogenized fucking voice, aren’t you? In terms of the storytelling, It’s gonna only come from one perspective. It’s not gonna be necessarily a working class perspective so yeah, there’s a lot to fix. 

What would be on your signature pizza and what would it be called?
Well, I do like big fat portabella mushrooms, so I’ll probably get some of those on there. And I really like pineapple pizza; I know people don’t like that. And, some olives, And then we could call it, we’ll call it a “Madarch”, a good Welsh name. 

What’s next for The Joy Formidable? 
Rest probably! Definitely a lot more with the music club. Next year, we’re still trying to figure it out. I dunno if I want to go back out on tour and do some acoustic shows like we’ve done in the past because we haven’t done that for like four years now. We’re definitely gonna be writing when we get back in December. We’ve been saying that we’ve got solo projects coming for ages, but I keep getting completely distracted. 

I wanna get into doing some big hiking things as well, so I’m gonna get trained up for doing some stuff so I can properly take off to 14,000 feet and disappear into the clouds.

But I think we’re kind of quite open at the moment. The main thing for me is adapting. I want us to keep happy and healthy and being able to sustain this and feel good about it. And so we might have to dance a little while things are figuring themselves out. It’s gonna be interesting to see if touring on this level is a good thing. Does it need to be different? We’ll see how we feel after everything is finished but so far, the feelings have been lovely.

The Joy Formidable are a Welsh alternative rock band comprised of lead vocalist and guitarist Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan, bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matthew James Thomas. They released their fifth album Into The Blue in March 2021.

You can find out all about tour dates, merch and the TJF Music Club at their website and follow them on Instagram and Twitter for all the latest news.

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