Interview: The Joy Formidable

Photo by Unknown

Photo by Unknown

You can feel frustrated at whatever life has dealt you: you can feel grief, sadness, and depression. And with this band, we hope to try and transform those feelings into something better for yourself and for the people around you as well.
— Ritzy Bryan

The ladder is theirs, and it’s one they’ve been climbing for over a decade. Welsh indie rock trio The Joy Formidable had an incredible 2018, releasing their fourth studio album, AAARTH, as well as touring with huge names in rock music like the Foo Fighters. As the band celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, we've pulled this interview with lead singer Ritzy Bryan [pictured above, centre] from our archives. Check it out below!

What's it like touring with a band like the Foo Fighters?

It's a really nice vibe. It's a great atmosphere backstage, and all the way through from their crew guys and obviously, the band. They're a really good bunch, genuinely good kind people and they look after the ones that go out on tour with them. We were out with them a few years ago. Then obviously these are the rescheduled shows after Dave [Grohl] lost his voice a little bit. We always know what we're going into and it was always a really fun tour to do, so we're very, very pleased to be invited back. We didn't get the call and go "Ah, no, not that again!"

That's awesome. And after a band has been around for so long that they're still true to themselves and are good to other people. I mean, I think that's really important.

Yeah, for sure. And I think it's something that you notice more and more. We're just about to start celebrating our 10th anniversary, and it doesn't take much to be polite and respectful of the people that are doing the same thing as you. We've seen it - some of the biggest bands have definitely got that ethic. It's nice to be on the receiving end of that.

I wanted to congratulate you on the latest record. I’m going to butcher the title - hopefully, my Canadian accent isn't as harsh as an American accent - but I know that “Aarth” means bear in Welsh, so what was the inspiration for choosing that name for the record? I think it's really cool.

Thank you. I think the making of this record, it definitely felt kind of a little bit sad and shaky at the beginning. I think we kind of all felt a little bit uncertain about whether or not it was going to be the right thing for us individually to make another record, or whether or not we need to just step away from it and take a breather. And we didn't do that. We ended up kind of saying, "well, let's go for it and see what happens." And if it doesn't feel really beautiful and creative, we'll know pretty soon, and then we can always step away and rethink then. And the kind of the complete opposite happened really. I think it kind of rescued us in a way - it kind of gave us something to channel the way that we were feeling and turn it into something else, and to not linger on certain things. I think that this symbol of the bear, especially where we made it - we were in the southwest of America, in Utah, making this record - and definitely the symbol of the bear is an icon of strength and wisdom. I feel like we definitely found some new inner sense that we didn't know that we were going to have at the very beginning. I would say that that's the kind of the main image behind the album title.

As you said, you recorded it mainly in Utah. So what were some of the biggest influences from artistic, personal and as well as even geographical locations?

I suppose the early decision to go to Utah - where I live at the moment - is like a retreat, you know, where you can tap into something quite transformative. It's very beautiful, colorful and vibrant and just the landscape - obviously it's very vast. There's something just so huge about the landscape that makes you kind of question and definitely makes for some pretty sublime and reflective moments. I think to kind of escape a little bit like that, but in really colorful surroundings, added to the quite transformative feeling that was happening. It was this feeling of almost like having a new kind of breath pumped into us. I think the landscape and the location added to that. We always like to go to nature. We grew up in north Wales in a really kind of rural setting. It's just as beautiful as Wales in that sense, but the scale of it is even bigger, so something about the pure scale and the isolation of the backdrop that we had that definitely plays into the sounds. It's always difficult as the artist behind the record to completely pinpoint it - my ears can kind of view it better than the way that you can articulate it. My memories of when we were writing - what you're visually looking at the moment - are just kind of hard to actually articulate.

Yeah, absolutely. And that's cool too because as much the songs are for people that follow or support your band, you have that kind of personal, "I remember exactly what I was looking at as I wrote this line" kind of thing. It's a very intimate thing to have in your art. Like you've mentioned, you guys are from Wales. The culture between different countries around the world, it can be very subtle but also very noticeable. I've noticed that even going to the United States versus Canada is very, very close, but very, very different. It must be a little more obvious to a band like The Joy Formidable, who travels so often. How do you think being from Wales where you're from influences the music and the sound? Is it similar to what we were just talking about?

Yeah, I definitely think that element of being kind of children of nature - we're quite unassuming in that sense. I'm pretty kind of grounded and from very ordinary rural locations in north Wales. So we don't take things for granted easily. Coming from that kind of like coming from that background - we haven't grown up in some sort of a fucking bubble, like maybe you would've you grew up in certain city. I mean, I think that's a beautiful thing about touring is to experience all different places and different cultures and you just kind of realize even more that it's hard to kind of pin people, a country or a vibe down completely as well. The more traveling that you do, I just think the more that it opens up your mind to how no one culture is one thing and you get constantly surprised by people and countries over and over again. And even cities, your experience can be different every single time. I think it should be a big part of children’s experiences growing up. I think that we probably have a lot more acceptance of people if like, you know, the more that you’re traveling, the more that you're actually experiencing for yourself. It stops any kind of ignorant decision and stereotypes happening.

That’s all you strive for when you’re in a band - is that you are in the moment when you’re playing those songs live that you’re not worrying or thinking. You’re just enjoying the three of you on stage, and that this moment in time is uninterrupted: there’s no bullshit.
— Ritzy Bryan

You've been touring pretty much since the band started, which as you said, is coming up on 10 years. I know you did take a break for about a year from 2017 to 2018. Was it challenging to kind of incorporate new songs into the live show or are you kind of so far into it that it's second nature to you?

I think we still don't take things for granted either. I think definitely from my perspective, kind of getting back up on the horse, there's always a little bit of like trepidation towards anything like that. That's probably the longest hiatus we've ever had from touring. And obviously, we'd just been through something pretty intense, you know - the making of this latest record. I think I'd be lying to myself and you if I didn't say that it's hard sometimes taking a little gap from things and makes you question when you're going back into it. The timing of this tour and everything, I think it's been really important for us to just kind of be at it. We haven't really stopped since we started about 10 days ago. It's been really kind of chaotic, even after doing this for 10 years. I think this first week of touring is probably the most 10 days we've ever had as a band and I could kind of tell it was going to be like that on paper. So from going from not very much to that, it takes a minute to adjust. When you're doing it, and you're in the moment- that's all you strive for when you're in a band - is that you are in the moment when you're playing those songs live that you're not worrying or thinking. You're just enjoying the three of you on stage, and that this moment in time is uninterrupted: there's no bullshit. It's just the truth right there between us and the people that have bought a ticket to the show. We've been really enjoying it. 

That's totally fair. So it’s unfortunate, but it’s pretty rare that I actually get to interview a female musician - I would say nine out of 10 of my interviews are with male musicians. Do you feel like being a female musician influences the perspective of your storytelling and writing or is the basis of gender completely irrelevant when it comes to the creative process?

I mean, that's a very interesting question. There's a big part of me philosophically that likes to just strip it down to the human experience and obviously [what] I'm feeling. That connection between all of those - gender aside - can be a really fucking important and compelling part of music. So I think that plays into it. But I would certainly say that there are probably moments I've written about in the band, just from my own experiences, probably come from having or from seeing things from a female perspective as well. I'd say that it's important to kind of celebrate that element of this band. I kind of feel really hopeful about having more women in this industry. And I mean, not feeling like it's an angle either, you know - just that naturally, there are so many talented women out there. And it's really kind of seeing that ratio really change so that there's a lot more representation, not just, you know, incidents of writers and artists, but also instrumentalists, songwriters, crew people - just more balance across. I think it would be great to see. I really kind of stopped feeling it. Every year [I'd] kind of gear up more and more, you know, on the days where people just assume that you're kinda some fucking hang along with the band when you arrive at the venue. I definitely feel like that those days are changing to what they were even just a few years ago. I think if more women want to and feel like they want to be a part of this industry and they go for it and they have all the support and ability to do it, then it'll be a great thing to see that statistic change. You know, and even at festivals being represented more. Certainly, I'm very, very used to kind of playing festival bills and being one of only a tiny, tiny amount of women in bands.

It can be argued that all music does tell a story, obviously, but there's something about your lyricism and your band that really fascinates me. I guess ultimately what would be the message that you hope people take away from your music and The Joy Formidable as a whole?  

I think certainly there's always been this kind of real feeling of no matter what happens, there's always this sense of optimism in this band. And it's not some sort of fucking kind of dummy optimism, it's like that real hope that you can really believe in whatever it is that you're looking for in life. For me, the main thing in life is that I just want to be happy, be able to create and be surrounded by good people. I wish that across the board in terms of for other people. So I think there's always been this message of pulling together in adversity and to know that the progress comes with optimism. You can have all the other things, all the other negative feelings as well. You can fucking feel as angry as hell. You can feel frustrated at whatever life has dealt you: you can feel grief, sadness, and depression. And with this band, we hope to try and transform those feelings into something better for yourself and for the people around you as well. And that's a very kind of personalized feeling of this band. I think definitely on this album is that there's more universal message of that because it was written in a chapter in our [human] history that kind of feels a little bit unraveled, people feel a little bit divided on maybe just some of the basics like kindness and the moral element to life feels like if our world leaders aren't always projecting that. In general, a message of not giving up and to never stop being good to yourself and the people around you. I think compassion and kindness can do a lot for yourself, and just life in general.

AAARTH is available now on all major streaming platforms. Be sure to catch the band on their upcoming 10 year anniversary tour in a city near you!