The Joy Formidable are in LA when we catch up with them, adding the finishing touches to the bonus tracks for the special edition of their upcoming sophomore LP, Wolf’s Law. The trio have taken time away from touring to really get to grips with album number two, dedicating months and months to the process – scant shows were announced in the first half of 2012, save for the Clarks Originals tour and the odd festival appearance. Guitarist/vocalist Ritzy Bryan (no, not her real name, but she remains very tight-lipped on that front) takes a break from recording to have a quick chat about the new album, ‘Cholla’ and the theory behind Wolff’s Law.
Obviously, the biggest and most exciting news is the promise of a new full-length from the Welsh noiseniks. Ritzy goes over a few facts about Wolf’s Law for us; “It’s out in January, produced by us and mixed by Andy Wallace. We loved the collaboration, it’s intricate, beautiful, orchestral and intimate. We approached it differently from The Big Roar, more like a folk album – it was conceived with voice first and minimal accompaniment.”
“A breadth of instrumentation, ambitious string compositions, choirs…” is how Ritzy goes on to describe the album’s sound. “It’s coloured with Celtic and Eastern influences, to give it an epic, bombastic feel. Expect intimacy.” From the impression Ritzy gives, this is likely to be something far removed from their phenomenal debut. “It was written on the road, on tour. That can lead to chaos and threads of different songs all over the place. We took some time out in Portland, Maine, and stayed in a log cabin. Maine in January was a bit fucking crazy! It was ridiculously cold – we were snowed in and had to dig ourselves out! There were moose and bears too… but there’s no better location to lose yourself. Nature and isolation seeped into the record during the self-reflection. It’s wild and extraordinary.”
This kind of exile bears fruit of a deep intimacy, something more personal compared to the cryptic lyrics of album numero uno. Talking about what influenced the album, Ritzy responds coyly, not wanting to unveil too much. “Solitude,” she responds. “It felt like each of us had been on an interesting personal journey, and we wanted to reflect upon the year we’d had and mark the beauty of each journey. It’s very spiritual, a moment of calm in an otherwise chaotic life. We were hungry to be in the studio to make this album as well. There’s lots of symbolism from nature – we grew up in North Wales which is beautiful – and there’s an innate feeling of nature as it’s where we feel most alive.”
Given the strident natural theme in the titbits released so far – ‘Cholla’ being a cactus, for example – it would seem logical that the title Wolf’s Law was linked in some way to the canine predator’s judicial system, or something. Not so. “It’s a scientific term, which we’ve borrowed… we used poetic license. It’s from the German surgeon Julius Wolff. Basically, it’s a medical theory that when under stress, bones get stronger. It’s a motif for where we’re at. The album chronicles healing, and ultimately looks to the future with new eyes. There’s more hope than before because we were emotionally numb for a while, but now there’s a glimmer of resolution.”
The track ‘Wolf’s Law’ was the first taster of what’s to come. A slow building epic, built on foundations of mournful piano and the wisps of Ritzy’s sublime voice, mutating into a post-rock tirade of pure noise. It’s not their usual fare. “It’s ultimately a song of encouragement, trying to reawaken hope in someone you love. It’s about trying to win back moments that were lost.” The astounding video shortly followed the release of the track: “It’s an art piece. The song and video were conceived together as an audio/visual work. It shows the circles of life are constantly moving, and the passage of time. It shows every living thing’s specific journey.”
The quasi-metal riffed ‘Cholla’ is about a cactus. Sort of. “It was inspired by a trip to the Cholla Gardens in South California. It’s a symbol of something that gives life – there’s a lot of fantasic mythology about cacti. We were drawn to the stories and the legend of the ambiguous cactus. Ultimately, ‘Cholla’ is about the broken relationship between a child and mother.” ‘Cholla’ is along the lines of material from The Big Roar – huge noises, grandiose licks and oodles of energy – whereas ‘Wolf’s Law’ ignites a fuse and waits for the explosion. Is this a sign of a shift in The Joy Formidable’s sound? “We never want to become stagnant or formulaic. There’s an ambitious breadth of styles, we know who we are as artists and we like to change and swap genres, and put our hands to anything. We never feel restricted by sticking to one sound. The two snippets are a good flavour of the new album.”
Though they’ve spent a sizeable chunk of the year Stateside, The Joy Formidable have managed a few brief sojourns to the UK: in March for their hugely intimate, campfire-esque Clarks Originals tour, and for some gallivanting around Reading and Leeds Festivals. It would seem they’re aching to get back on the road. “We can’t wait, we had a fleeting visit to Reading and Leeds, but it feels like we’ve been away for a long time, we look forward to being home. There’s lots of dates to be released, and we’re excited to show off the new stuff. I’ve been getting my hands dirty making a new pedal board, it’s taken a lot of weeks to get ready! We’re especially excited to get to touring the UK again.”
The times they are a-changin’ for The Joy Formidable – an evolved direction, heightened intimacy and an expanded musical vocabulary all point towards something massive looming on the horizon. The advent of their release-bound second record and new tour means that this coming Winter will be hectic, something the band will embrace with open arms, as they’re itching to hit the road and showcase Wolf’s Law. It would seem that, true to Wolff’s Law, the intense pressure from the debut has but strengthened their core, tightened the bonds and given the notoriously difficult second album woes a stern kicking.
The Cholla EP is available now and the band will be playing at Kings College Students Union on 29 October.