Ahead of third LP Hitch, The Joy Formidable discuss gender imbalance and the importance of independence.
So you've got the new album Hitch coming up, and you announced it with "The Last Thing On My Mind". Why was it chosen as the lead single? Was it important that this was the first track most people heard?
Rhydian Davies: I think it captures a driving essence, a swagger, and a stomp that I think runs through quite a few of the tracks on the record. To us it also has an element of freedom, which I think the record deals with. It felt like a good opening track and an introduction for what's to come, but it is only one song – there's only so much you can introduce with one song.
Can you tell us a bit about the song?
Ritzy Bryan: It's a song that talks about sexual desire, freedom, the carnal imagination... I suppose that was the background, making the video that we did; we always like to have our music and our videos to have a connection, but I think we kinda wanted to make a statement with the video as well.
The video has been a bit of a talking point. Can you just give us a brief idea of what your aims were?
Davies: Purely to rebalance the representation a little bit more. We're getting sick and tired of seeing that power dynamic – women represented in music videos in a particular way, often with the power lying with the man; It's become so normalised to see women are scantily clad or naked, and it's just a bit boring. It's damaging as well. This is one attempt in an objectification sphere – as we said in the statement to go with the video, we don't condone objectification, but as it's very much out there... quite heavily... and we thought something needed to be done to readdress the balance. It's just one thing, but we need to keep that conversation going.
There are some great dancers in the video – were you trawling YouTube to find the clips? How did you decide if something should go in?
Bryan: I think when we made it, it exposed exactly the point of why we were trying to make the video. It's difficult finding footage of men in a sensual way that is also a 'gaze', as in you're watching them from the perspective of a heterosexual female. It's hard finding any clips of men being naked and vulnerable in a heterosexual way.
I've loved the conservation we've had around it – we've had some great positive comments about it and understanding the point that we were making, and some comments that really show that so many people are conditioned to gender stereotypes. They can't believe that a woman would ever want to watch images of men or would find that kind of thing sexy, and there's no way that women would ever watch porn...
It seems telling in a way that you could cram all these clips into one music video.
D: We were struggling at one point. We had to broaden our search! We were searching for just the most random things to try and find what we wanted.
B: For instance, if you're Googling 'male gaze', you get a lot of photos of the gaze on a female behind... the total opposite: someone perving on a woman's arse.
Has gender imbalance had a big impact elsewhere on the record?
D: Not necessarily with the imbalance of gender roles, but there's all kinds of imbalances that are explored on the record.
I've seen it described as 'the sexiest record yet' – in what way?
D: I think the sexiness comes from an element of freedom, and I don't know where that fully comes from, but perhaps it stems from the fact we've had a lot of changes since the last record. We're different people now, we've got different management, me and Ritzy aren't together... there's been a lot of changes.
We regrouped, just the three of us, back in North Wales, and simplified everything. In doing that, we felt a sense of freedom. We let the music do the driving again; there was no interference. It was exactly what we wanted.
B: I think it's the confidence. That's the root of sexiness, isn't it? Everything else blurs if you've got the confidence and there's an energy to things. I definitely feel that running through the record; there's a definite sense of being very much in control and musically confident. It's a big part of being sexy.
Matthew Thomas: I think it's the raunchy rhythms and bluesy riffs.
It's recorded and produced by you, written at your own pace, you've made the videos yourself... what impact has the high level of control had on the record?
D: We knew that we wanted to capture what we did live, so we built our studio so that we could record at any time and capture all the moments, including mistakes...
B: I didn't make any mistakes...
Thomas: The first mistake you made was turning up...
D: We've always been at the helm with each record, so it hasn't differed too much. We've done even more with this record though – we did everything except the mixing. We want every album to have its own flavour, and sometimes when you work closely with a label and so forth they often want to rehash, but we don't want to rehash. We've grown as people since the last record and we think that this shows something different to The Joy Formidable – it's the most spacious, and like Matt was saying about the grooves, there's a really rhythmical element to the record... there's a sense of always moving. It's almost like it should be listened to while you're on the road, y'know?
Has the label change had much of an impact?
B: They've been great with just letting us get on with it. There's a real sense, when you're working with other partners, that everything is about timing and time restraints, and overthinking. The label we're working with now has completely left us to our own devices. I think that's the biggest difference.
D: We wanted to get away from all the bullshit. There is the odd bit of bullshit you have to deal with when you're dealing with the business side of things. We just wanted to get the three of us in the room and just it all be about the music, and get this record done, and be extremely proud of it, and have nobody chiming in...
T: We've always done what we want, but now we can do it quicker.
Hitch is released 25 March on their own label C’mon Lets Drift in partnership with Membran. Listen to it below.