How can a 3-piece indie band from England create the sound of an orchestra of angels so effortlessly? To me The Joy Formidable sounds like one of those great 4AD bands of the late eighties; ethereal yet intense in the same breath. Think The Breeders with a “we’re not kidding” twist. Singer Ritzy Bryan’s voice soars while thrashing you with guitar riffs that reach through the speaker to grab you. Bass player Rhydian Dafydd throbbing bass alternates between lulling you to a peaceful sleep and then forcing you onto the dance floor. All tied together by the “this’ll sound great in a stadium” epic beats of drummer Matt Thomas. It’s a “joy” to watch a band as versatile as TJF. Ritzy shares her secrets and plots world domination with us:
TDOA: We tell many tales of bands struggling to get noticed and yet you’ve managed to do it several ways. Can you talk us through the concept of releasing your first album as a free download? Who came up with the idea, how many downloads have there been, do you see yourselves doing this again in the future?
TJF: We’ve certainly never focused on getting noticed, our attention has always been on the music and I’m still a Romantic in that sense; that great songs will prevail. The free download was an alternative format to what we’d already released (the poster CD and the ltd boxset), call it an option for different listening habits. Things are changing and we’re happy to embrace that, but we’ll never relinquish the physical product, I’m too much of a collector myself, and we’ve always put a lot of love into our artwork, vinyl etc. As for doing it again in the future, I won’t discount it, but we only do a little bit of forward planning at a time; it makes for a more exciting life.
TDOA: There’s been much discussion in the media about the ‘death of the major label’, because bands essentially operate as their own record labels. Do you prefer operating in this manner or do you see advantages to eventually joining a major label?
TJF: We’re very content with our situation, we have all the creative control and we’re just about self-sustaining on a financial level. We’ve been fortunate to work with some fantastic Indie labels , and the team around us are superb. I suppose our aim has always been to work with people who are passionate about the band and understand the vision, and if we had this assurance from a major label, then who knows.
TDOA: Obviously you have a good relationship with NME since they hosted the distribution of the free download. How did you become associated with NME?
TJF: I think they heard a copy of Austere and wanted to do a piece about the band. Quite simple really.
TDOA: You’re appearing at the Leeds Festival at the end of the month. You’ve performed there and at Reading before. How different is it for you to perform to these larger crowds? Do you fear a loss of intimacy?
TJF: We do like getting up close and cosy with our audiences but festivals are great and the atmosphere is generally exuberant despite the physical distance. I don’t worry about losing a sense of intimacy, because at the moment we can control that. Over the coming months, we’re headlining our biggest show to date at the Garage in London, alongside a warm-up show in a 100 capacity venue and stripped-down instore for around 60 people and we’re looking forward to them all.
TDOA: While researching for this interview, I came across a Sidecar Kisses video. Can you tell us about that band and you transitioned into The Joy Formidable?
TJF: Sidecar Kisses were an old band that Rhydian and I were in. Very different dynamic, we were unhappy on so many levels but it’s a long story. After fleeing SCK, we spawned The Joy Formidable, began writing together for the first time and felt a huge surge of relief!
TDOA: The production values on your record are tremendous. Did you write any of the record in the studio or were the songs already complete?
TJF: We produce everything ourselves and the studio is in our bedroom so, many of the tracks have evolved in different ways. It definitely lends itself to quite spontaneous bouts of recording , rather than having to plan songs and arrangements and then take them into the studio. We’re trying to organise ourselves a bit better because we had so many songs saved with random names, when we came back to them we were having to plough through several “bumhole”, “satan” and “beluga” files; it’s a nightmare.
TDOA: Your live shows look to be wild and unscripted, while your recordings clearly have so much thought put into them. Given this, do you prefer playing live or recording in the studio?
TJF: They are both as important and enjoyable to us. We’ve always valued variation, and you need a break between them both to move your thoughts ahead.
TDOA: SXSW in America listed you as appearing there in 2008, but obviously you didn’t perform there. Were you invited and then opted to stay in England to tour? If so, can you tell us why and if there are plans to play in the U.S. this year or next?
TJF: From what I remember we were invited, but we couldn’t afford it and we couldn’t get any funding. And as it happened, the Welsh tour we’d been planning ended up getting moved and coinciding aswell, but we’d love to tour the U.S , I lived in DC for 2 years and I really miss it. I’m hopeful we’ll be over in the not too distant future.
TDOA: To your credit, the videos you’ve released are each unique entities. From the ‘banned’ video of Austere to the beautiful Chwyrlio, each has a very different feeling. Can you talk about the production of each of your videos, including who directs and storyboards them?
TJF: To us, the visual element is an extension of the music, and we’ve always taken a very keen interest in the videos we release. The banned Austere was a fan video , and we’ve always welcomed them. That’s how we met Judderman, who did our Chwyrlio video. The official videos we storyboarded and directed ourselves with a few friends and having that control is important, it makes for a truer connection between the band and the viewer. I’m sure people would argue that on a technical level, our videos are a bit naive, but lots of hours and sweat went into them and hopefully that’s the charm.
TDOA: You toured with White Lies. When we interview Peter Hook, he mentioned a conversation he had with them, in which they claimed to have never heard of Joy Division despite the obvious influences. The question of influences is something we frequently debate. Do you think bands are hesitant to discuss their influences for fear of damaging their credibility?
TJF: I think the relevance that people put on a band’s influences is excessive. The media in particular always needs a point of reference, they’re ” the next (fill in the gap)” or they’ll name drop comparisons.
I’ve found some of the write ups about TJF quite funny, how they’ll talk about a Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine resemblance, but these are bands that I’ve only just started listening to in any depth, probably because they’ve been cited. I’ve had a copy of Loveless for 10 years, but I’ve barely listened to it. But I’m glad I have now! But anyway, I think we’re the least hesitant band to talk about our influences, we have so many and they are so varied. Only the other day, Matt was interviewed and he mentioned Jamiroquai and Jazz fusion – now there’s no career preservation tactics in that is there!
For more information about The Joy Formidable, visit their website at: http://www.thejoyformidable.com