Analogue Music | The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

By Matt Conner

The distractions are necessary for a band like The Joy Formidable, but they're a distraction nonetheless.

Ritzy Bryan and her bandmates in The Joy Formidable (Rhyd Davies, Matt Thomas) are used to doing what they must to keep the momentum going, pushing and pulling the various administrative levers it takes to maintain success as a band these days. It's returning emails and ordering merchandise, scheduling tour dates and interacting with fans, checking prices on vinyl and so on. You get the picture.

With the onset of a global pandemic, however, several of these levers no longer required any attention. While no one was glad for the world to shut down, perhaps the lone upside for The Joy Formidable was the chance to focus on nothing but the music for the first time in a while. As Ritzy describes it, she was unable to wear the many hats she typically wears.

Into the Blue is the band's fourth studio LP, a compelling set that blends the raw and refined. We recently sat down with Ritzy to catch up from where we left off a few years ago, to hear how AAARTH feeds into the new album and what it was like for their drummer who was a continent away for it all.

Analogue: We spoke before your last album release (AAARTH) and the story there was about the big sonic leap you were taking. With that in the rearview mirror, do you feel like that opened the doors of what you could do on this album?

Ritzy: You’re right and I remember us chatting. It was kind of a big shake-off. We’d been feeling quite tired out by some things that’d happened to us on a purely industry/business level. You have to compartmentalize that and not let it affect your writing. If it hits you personally on some level, it’s hard for that to not affect your writing.

At the start of AAARTH, I definitely felt like things weren’t coming to me in the same way, that I wasn’t seeing life in a way that lends itself to creativity. Then all of a sudden, we pushed the doors open and something just clicked. [Laughs] I love the inventiveness on AAARTH. It’s interesting because we always said from a production and writing point of view, it felt like a collage—just a different recording process of throwing lots of paint on a wall sonically. I think we’ve had the same sense on this album.

During the shittiest of times, with the lockdown and all that’s brought, we’re in a completely different world and you have to decide what you’re going to do with it. You find something new to take from it and find some inspiration from it and adapt and try to thrive because there is no touring. I think we’ve taken that stance. So it’s an extension of the some of the life we had from AAARTH and the excitement we had to record again.

The biggest difference with this record is the fact that there hasn’t been any touring. This is the only record we’ve made where we haven’t had to leave the studio for a moment. We’re such a live-oriented band and we always have been. That’s always been a big, beautiful part of our careers, I suppose. That’s not to say that we’ve not been very busy, but we’ve not been juggling stuff like normal.

Looking back at that, I think there’s been something pretty positive about not having to wear too many hats. Sometimes as an independent artist, you have to wear lots fo hats and constantly think about the next thing. There’s something really good for us as a band to just completely focus on making this album.

"We don’t take anything personally. We’re able to be that open with each other and say, ‘I don’t think that belongs on the record.’"

Analogue: When you don’t have to wear those hats, what does that allow you to do with the songs? Can you mine for deeper subjects? Does it make it more cohesive?

Ritzy: That’s a great question and takes some thinking. I think you’re right about the cohesion. It stands to reason that if you’re in the midst of recording sessions and then you have to leave for a tour or festivals, there’s always that moment of coming back and going, ‘Where the fuck was I?’ [Laughs]

I think one of the biggest effects it’s had… you know, we have two songwriters in this band and those lines sometimes cross and blur. Sometimes we don’t even remember who wrote the song, because one of us did a chorus and an ending and the other wrote a verse. We can’t remember who brought it to the table. It’s such a weave. Then on other albums, we can tell the difference between—or at least we can tell—which ones are Rhydian’s and which are mine.

I’d say we wrote more for this record than we have for any other album, but I don’t think we give each other any allowances. I think we’ve both very naturally said that unless we’re both really feeling it and understanding and it feels like part of a bigger whole, then those songs have been chopped. We don’t take anything personally. We’re able to be that open with each other and say, ‘I don’t think that belongs on the record.’ But we’ve both been very conscious of how we wanted this record to feel—maybe because we’ve had the time with it. As a partnership, I think we’ve blended in a different way because of the time and amount of material.

It’s interesting to have you prompt me on this because it’s hard to put a finger on some of it. Sometimes you don’t have that epiphany until six months later. Everybody has been pulling their hair out because we’ve been writing. We didn’t want to sit on a record for months and months, so we didn’t deliver it until the last minute. [Laughs]

It has to feel fresh as well. Who wants to deliver a fucking record 12 months before it comes out?

Into the Blue
Into the Blue

Analogue: Do you normally work out new songs in the live setting before you put them on tape?

Ritzy: In the past we have for sure.

Analogue: So how did that feel this time around?

Ritzy: This album doesn’t have that element to it that we’ve had in the past. For example, “Hitch” was a lot of playing and performing together and then recording from them figuring out as a three-piece in a live setting for sure. But we didn’t feel cheated by not having that this time around.

Analogue: I guess I would feel nervous if I could test things out, so to speak, ahead of time.

Ritzy: I like testing things on audiences, but it doesn’t really tend to sway how I feel, I guess. [Laughs] I can’t say that I’ve noticed that much. Like I said, having the time on this record has been okay that it’s been created in some sort of isolation. I don’t think it has suffered for that.

Analogue: You mentioned Matt being back in the UK. How has that been for him?

Ritzy: I think he’s found it hardest out of the three of us because Rhydian has been here with me. We’ve probably enjoyed an even closer relationship that we’ve had on previous albums. Rhyd and I lived together while we were recording The Big Roar. At the very start of this band, we all lived together, so there’s been something, like I said, where it’s almost been like a return. Rhyd and I have been consumed making this album over the past 12 months. I think it’s been much harder for Matt and we’ve been very aware of that. There’s been a lot of communication and conversations back and forth and recording drums.

The big glue as well has been the music club, because we’ve still been doing shows through that and the way that’s evolved over the last 12 months. It’s gone in a direction that we weren't expecting either. It’s really grown. Matt has been doing these encores for the music club and they take a variety of forms. That’s all I will say about it. But it’s interesting what you do have in your power. He’s been doing lots of creative things for the Music Club, so in the way, we still feel like a unit.

VISIT: The Joy Formidable

Photo: Timothy Hiatt