When I first saw the Welsh-born duo of Ritzy Bryan and Rhydian Dafydd – better known as The Joy Formidable, and later completed by drummer Matt Thomas – it was in a basement in Brighton as part of 2009’s The Great Escape festival. Since then, the unassuming but charismatic trio have been quietly taking over the world; and they haven’t even released an album yet.
With three US tours and a number of European, Australian, and UK tours already under their collective belt, The Joy Formidable are one of those bands; doing what they do best, to people who dig their music, on their own terms.
And so it was I came to be joined by Ritzy and Rhydian (Matt was having a pre-gig nap) on the last date of their headlining the NME Emerge tour, a few months away from their debut album, and having just signed to Atlantic Records.
“You don’t really notice what’s going on, it’s like being in a bubble” Rhydian intones in his actually quite subtle Welsh accent, when I ask the pair about their relentless touring schedule and their inexorable rise up the bill. Ritzy agrees: “It’s all felt right, and at the right time. We’ve done things a bit topsy-turvy; releasing singles, EPs and live albums before a proper one. The only thing is maybe it’s tipped slightly to the point where the last year has been completely filled from start to end.”
The Joy Formidable are down to earth about it all. “You never manage to achieve everything in one day. It’s more being at peace with knowing that you’ve always got tomorrow!” Rhydian stresses, to which Ritzy nonchalantly exclaims ‘but bring that on! It makes for an interesting day to day.”
Speaking of day-to-day, these guy definitely live for playing live. As they rounded off their final set of the tour that night with plenty of crowd surfing and epic riffs, I got the distinct impression that previous audiences were probably treated to much the same.
I ask if they feel that by concentrating on touring so much they have the dreaded hype machine. “It’s all about having fun.” Rhydian answers, “we’re not influenced or swayed by the business aspect of it, ultimately what matters to us is putting out releases we’re proud of.”
“Any hype of bands…the legacy of a band only comes to light through time anyway. You can’t say how influential or great a band is within six months or whatever. We feel like we know what we’re doing and how important it is to us, and that’s the main thing.”
Of course, the reception of their debut album will be a big point of anticipation for them both in the coming months. What is the significance of it being titled ‘Big Roar,’ and how important is it to them to make a statement of intent?
Ritzy jumps in, and though she later hints at not wanting to ‘dissect the imagery too much’ she’s nevertheless happy to give some insight into the theme behind the whole thing. “There’s a lot in the name. It references the sonic of the album but also, Big Roar is the longest wave in the world; it normally happens in the Amazon.”
Which turns out to be a bit of a childhood fascination for the effusive vocalist.
“I’m obsessed with it! It’s been with me from when I was a very, very small child. You have some idea of where you want to travel, to hike…and for me it’s always been the Amazon.”
Rhydian elaborates: “We’re big lovers of seeing new places and we feed off nature. We grew up in North Wales, in the hills you could say…being surrounded by bugs sounds like heaven…and my hell…”
“I think I’m a bit of a hermit’ Ritzy goes on, “I’m always on a quest to find the most remote place, the least inhabited landscape! The Amazon would tick a lot of those boxes”
“Amazonian tour!” Rhydian proposes.
Whilst not quite as exotic as that, TJF seem to have buddied up with Passion Pit a fair bit on their US tours. How did that come about?
“We’ve done a lot of touring with Passion Pit! Quite coincidentally the week they invited us on their tour we had been tweeting and blogging about their Chunk Of Change EP, so it was really cool. Our relationship was based on mutual musical admiration, well that was the foundation for it. We hadn’t met beforehand, we just liked each others’ music.”
“We all had the right mentality about touring and we like to celebrate the event of touring. We had a lot of fun together and we really enjoyed being able to repeat the experience in different countries”
Rhydian sums it up perfectly: “Especially if you like the material. It’s tricky when you love the music of a band but they’re a bunch of cunts! Or vice-a-versa, but when you get the two it’s a great experience.”
Ritzy comments “With camaraderie, you can’t force it; but if it happens naturally you can make some great friendships”.
Naturally, there are tour stories.
…“We took Geoff from Passion Pit to this Halloween party in Southampon. It was a freshers’ party, and I don’t know how we got into it, let’s just say men and women alike were almost naked. All of our eyes were like WOAH”…
… “We spent many a drunken night with Passion Pit, and a few debauched ones. If you ever meet ask him about The Box in New York. It’s quite a secret place and they have weird shenanigans going on there…”
… “I was carrying Ritzy home like a handbag, like a little accessory”…
… “I might be a handbag but at least I wasn’t a projectile vomiting handbag”…
… “It’s not a cocktail as such, it’s just a few simple ingredients that has the power to make you almost instantly blind and fucking insane!”…
… “I woke up on the stairs with a headful of fucking chunder and carpet marks from every step on the way down”…
“We like to have a good time! It’s not all alcohol fuelled, we just like each others company.” Ritzy hastens to add.
With somewhat comic timing, as Rhydian and Ritzy tail off with big smiles on their faces and no doubt a fair few amusing memories on their minds, their manager strides in brandishing a £250 bottle of champagne, who explains it’s just arrived courtesy of the label.
The band have plenty of fun times behind them, but now it’s time to look to the future. TJF have recently released their new single ‘I Don’t Want To See You Like This’ accompanied by a quite brilliant video that features an eerie forest and some mysterious Polaroids. The concept behind it definitely benefits from some elucidation.
“It was weird” Ritzy begins, “because we went back and it conjured up a lot of nostalgia for me. I went as a child and I had forgotten about it as I was very, very young. Then, quite accidentally I chanced upon a cottage I had stayed at. It’s a very personal song as a lot of things have changed since then…”
Interestingly, the aforementioned Polaroids were all taken during the break the band took there. Even more so is the fact that they had a big hand in directing the video itself, and why not?
“We’re quite controlling in that sense” Ritzy laughs, “…much to the annoyance of all the other people we work with! The way we work and the way we write…a lot of the songs have an imaginative and a visual dimension and I really want to share that. It can be difficult sometimes.” Rhydian continues earnestly, “the entity doesn’t stop with the band. Be as ambitious as you possibly can be, and if you fail, who cares? It’s better than having regrets.”
“It should all be connected” Ritzy reinforces, “There is a story, there is imagery and the overlap between artwork and lyrics works in both directions.”
The Joy Formidable’s new album will be an important moment in their history but it is hardly going to make or break them; they’ve already built up such a solid and devoted fan base through their international touring and some of the new material is already tried and tested. Either way, as Rhydian says, the legacy of a band is made away from the pages of record critics and over a nice long period of time making people jump up and down with big smiles on their faces. It’s a good bet that TJF will go on having a lot of fun, laughing a lot, and delighting audiences around the world, whatever happens in the next six months.