Sloss Fest Spotlight: Talking with The Joy Formidable

Photo credit: James-Minchin

Photo credit: James-Minchin

By Lindsey Lowe Osborne

Full disclosure: I’ve never seen a Joy Formidable show, but man would I put money on it being an amazing one. (You yourself can catch them this month at Sloss Fest on July 16–17. I just had a baby, so we’re missing it this year, but let me know if I was right and the show is amazing.)

Composed of Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan, bassist Rhydian Dafydd, and drummer Matthew James Thomas, the group formed in North Wales in 2007 and is currently based in London (Thomas replaced the original drummer, Justin Stahley, in 2009.) Bryan and Dafydd originally played together in a band called Tricky Nixon, which later reformed into one called Sidecar Kisses. The Joy Formidable’s debut EP, A Balloon Called Moaning, was released exclusively in Japan in 2008, followed by a U.K. release in 2009. “I’ve always written and played; it was big part of my childhood and a big part of who I am,” Bryan says. “When I met Rhydian, the connection was unique. It changed it from being a pastime to something bigger, more life changing.”

The band’s hallmark energy—what I am assuming will make for an unforgettable live experience—is something they’ve worked hard to translate to their recorded albums. To that end, they decided to self-produce their third record, Hitch, which follows 2011’s The Big Roar and 2013’s Wolf’s Law. “We realized we needed to build a space and do it ourselves, go back to being three people in a room again,” Bryan says of their decision to strike out on their own. The making of the album was deeply personal as well.

“I had [an epiphany] during the making of Hitch,” Bryan says. “I was living in North Wales, and it brought back a lot of memories, some good, some not so good. One of the songs on the new album made me realized that I’d spent a third of my life living with some level of depression—and it really jolted me. I’ve been a lot more proactive since then in finding help and understanding it. Letting go and living in the moment has become a lot easier and I’ve noticed the difference, even on these first tours back. I feel much freer. It’s fine for it to hurt, to finish a record feeling exhausted. We needed a good purge.”

They also began their own label, C’mon Let’s Drift, and built a team of support around the new record, which included opening a recording studio called The Red Brick. Now, they’re touring to share Hitch with the world, though Bryan admits that that can be intimidating.  “We wanted to capture the freedom and the excitement of our live show with Hitch. You can hear the room on Hitch; it feels like an album that was written in one place with the tape running. And as for sharing it—I love making albums, less excited about sharing them,” she says. “I’m very proud of our new album. I love the studio that we set up and the fact that we recorded this one just the three of us—I think it says a lot about the way we work together and the chemistry we have musically and as friends.”

Moving forward, Bryan says she has another album in mind and would like to add a live album to the band’s repertoire. But their favorite part is what they’re doing now—touring and playing music live. “I like the spontaneity of playing live and the interaction with the audience. Every day is different; you get thrown lots of wildcards and I love that—the quickness, the chaos,” she says. “Recording is more reflective. It has lots of spontaneity too, but with longer moments of concentration, of intensity. Some days go slow, others hurtle by. I guess both are unpredictable in different ways.”

As for the music itself, she says all she can do is put it out there—what listeners choose to do with the gift is up to them. “I write from personal experience and it’s sincere; I like to write stories too, but from a perspective that I understand, from something that I’ve felt,” she says. “I’d like people to feel something, but I can’t control that connection and I wouldn’t want to.”

Upcoming Events

  • 7/6: Black Lips at Saturn. For fans of Harlem and The Strange Boys.
  • 7/26: Michael Franti & Spearhead at Avondale Brewing. For fans of O.A.R. and Citizen Cope.
  • 8/2: 311 at Iron City. For fans of Sublime and Sugar Ray.

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