Analogue Music | The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

By Matt Conner

Burnout typically comes at the end of the creative process. Ritzy Bryan says she couldn't even think of creating without first working through the mental and emotional weight at the thought of new music.

Bryan, the lead singer and guitarist for The Joy Formidable, says the feeling was mutual among everyone in the band—although her colleagues Rhydian Dafydd and Matthew James Thomas were far more eager to strike up the band in an attempt to exorcise the creative demons. The initial process was "quite frightening," she admits, but from there, the band's creative juices too over and the songs began to roll forward.

The band's fourth studio album might be their best work yet. Aaarth is expansive and inventive. "I found you so I was never bored," sings Bryan on "Dance of the Lotus," and every listener to the Joy Formidable would nod in agreement. The trio's emotional synth rock is perfectly adorned with thoughtful layers and courageous accoutrements.

If you've ever been excited by The Joy Formidable's first three albums, you're going to love Aaarth. It's the end result of a band discovering, once again, their love for the music, the fans, and the craft. The industry might get in the way, but Bryan and company have learned the hard way that it's worth the effort.

Analogue: Albums that chart in multiple countries. Critical acclaim. Headlining tours of your own and you just had the Foo Fighters run. From the outside looking in, the trajectory for the band looks incredible. Does it feel magical when you're inside?

Ritzy: I think the musical side of it has consistently been something really precious and beautiful between the three of us—seeing the evolution of the music and our friendship and the way that, with each new record, we seem to discover something new in each other. As members of this band, I think that has been kind of the thing that we’ve always turned to. That’s the thing that’s powered us on throughout the 10 years we’ve been together.

I won’t lie, it can be a really kind of cruel industry.

The rest of the shit sometimes makes me want to just... you just have to buckle up, because some of it is just out of your control. I won’t lie, it can be a really kind of cruel industry. We knew that when we were getting into it, because we’re not stupid. But I think we always keep what it was that made us into this—that love and passion for creating, to keep making recordings, to keep going out there. That’s the thing that I hold very dear. I’m glad that that hasn’t escaped me at certain moments.

Analogue: Have you learned some things about how to protect that instinct?

Ritzy Bryan: I think it’s been an interesting time for that, because at the very beginning of making this record, I honestly felt that I’d lost it a little bit—all the beauty of making it. It’s the first time I felt like walking away a little bit. It wasn’t coming naturally. I kind of felt like maybe some things that were happening, along with some things that happened on the last record, seeing the strain on all three of us. It's what life deals you.

I think I’ve always turned to making music and writing—that has been a constant in my life. I could feel that all of a sudden that wasn’t there. It was kind of a peculiar, shaky moment. There was a little crossroad at the beginning of this record about whether or not we just needed to step away a little bit. I was becoming very fearful that the glue that had always kept us together maybe needed a little bit of time to come back.

We were quite bold with our decision. We said, 'Well, we’ll go to the studio. We’ve got some things that we could start working on. Let’s give it a couple of weeks and see what happens, and if it feels too emotional or if it doesn’t feel like it’s bringing us together, then we’ll reflect and maybe step away for a little bit.' That was quite frightening, kind of starting off like that. But once we got going, we realized we still had a lot to say, and things started to come back. I feel like they came back even more earnest and special again than they maybe had previously.

So yeah, you just have to kind of sometimes take a little bit of a leap, and I’m glad that we did with this record.

Credit: Tim Hiatt

Analogue: I’m curious about that first moment you realized that things felt shaky, that maybe you needed time or space away. When you told the others, was that a shared feeling, or was that more on you?

Ritzy: I think they were more ready to turn to music as a solution, whereas I was wondering whether or not it was going to do me any good. I was wondering whether or not I needed to pack up and hide for a little while and get my shit together. No, I think they were maybe more ready to count on making music to be a little bit more of... I don’t like using cliché words like salvation, but I think they could see that maybe it would be more healing for them. I was a little bit more worried that it would be this nail in the coffin.

When we make a record, it’s a very emotive process for me. I kind of feel it sometimes opens up a lot of boxes that aren’t very comfortable to open, and it can definitely bring on real elements of melancholy. It’s not always therapy for me. It kind of is at the end, but at the beginning, it’s not always that healthy. Every album we’ve made, I feel like it really kind of spreads you thin. That's not to say that it’s not a beautiful thing as well but it’s never that comfortable.

Analogue: Do you think that tension that you’re describing is almost necessary for the artist who’s going to do this for a long time, like wondering if you’re going to do it is a part of actually doing it?

Ritzy: Yeah, I kind of do. I look back on all our records, and they seem very much a part of where we were at that given time. I can remember the stories, the chapter behind every record that we’ve made. So I definitely feel like we're very driven by what is going on, what we are feeling, where we are at, what we have been listening to. Every album has that moment of its own.

It’s not like we have this formula, like this is the way we make records. That’s kind of the exciting thing. We have a very, very intertwined songwriting partnership as well that’s quite intense. There’s a lot of complexity with where we’re both at and what we both want to bring, what we’re driving, what it is that we want to say.

Credit: Tim Hiatt
Credit: Tim Hiatt

We kind of work that out with every record with the production and the way that we do things. Obviously we’re always very involved. We’re all constantly producing the records and we mixed this one as well because we made it. It was so particular that we felt like we couldn’t really give it to anybody else to mix. We might as well keep driving ourselves over the edge with it instead of inflicting it on somebody else.

Analogue: That's fascinating to me, because you said you wanted to keep it to yourselves so you didn't "inflict" it on someone else, but I'd think there almsot has to be a confidence to this, right? To keep things all to yourself implies a "we believe enough in ourselves to handle this and no one else." Was that not at work?

Ritzy: Yeah, I think definitely both of those things pushed it forwards. We were so close to it as a body of work and knew exactly what was going on, so I think we definitely were confident that we could do it. I think we really had the energy for it as well.

There are certain moments within records like Hitch, which was very performance-driven. We had long days of being in the live room, playing and jamming on some of these songs, and the tape was always running. By the end of all that playing and all that working out and the making of Hitch, we felt like we didn’t have the energy to mix it. But definitely by the end of this one, it was such a vibrant process with Aaarth, we were ready for it. There's almost like a playfulness to the production as well that kind of seeps in.

Some bands, they make a record and then fucking burn out by the end of it. It’s kind of the reverse. We burned out before we started in a way.

You mentioned confidence. I felt like once we got going, there was more of a sneer to it like, 'We’re fucking doing this now.' We were kind of undone at the beginning of making the record, and then making the record actually kind of tied us back together and we had the energy to see it through. Some bands, they make a record and then fucking burn out by the end of it. It’s kind of the reverse. We burned out before we started in a way.

Analogue: If the songs are more personal, how do they feel in the live setting?

Ritzy: I kind of love the way they’re mingling with a good song from our back catalogue. We’ve been revisiting so many things on this tour, as well, because we haven’t toured in the States in a little while. We haven’t seen this necessarily as a complete tour of the record either. We’ve kind of felt like it’s almost been like an exploraty tour. We’re coming up on ten years together. Aaarth is definitely taking up a big part of the set, but I kind of feel like we’ve been revisiting a lot of our back catalogue. It’s been a celebration of more than just the new record—almost being like seeing how everything works 10 years on together. It’s kind of cool to think of and definitely something to celebrate.

Analogue: Are you guys celebrating in a particular way?

Ritzy: I think when you’ve had moments where things have felt a bit on the edge and a bit fragile, there’s a real kind of a tenacious edge to this band. I do want to celebrate the fact that we are still passionate about music. We’re still a really tight unit. We’ve seen a lot together. Like any friendship that’s tight like family, I feel like we’ve just seen and done a lot together. We've been through some big life moments together, and there’s been this kind of soundtrack through it all as well.

So I’m definitely up for celebrating the way that we’ve kept on going. I guess I said this at the beginning, but we have a lot of love for each other and the love of actually making music in this band. I’m ready to celebrate that. We haven’t let the bastards grind us down, even though there have been a few moments where they came close. I’m not going to lie. That’s definitely worth having a couple of shandies.

Analogue: If you weren’t doing this, what would you do?

Ritzy: I don’t think I could ever stop writing. I love writing. I write a lot of poetry, and I play a lot. It doesn’t have to stop. The element of sharing it and putting it out there as kind of a commercial thing is kind of the struggle-y part. I’ve also been doing a lot of work with animals. That’s a nice contrast to the game that is music sometimes. It brings a little bit of simplicity into things. I like having something like that as an anchor. I think that’s really important. I think doing something that’s quite compassionate and hands-on is a good thing for me to have in my life as well as making music.