Interview The Joy Formidable: Walk With The Animals

From talking to local wildlife to playing arenas, ‘Wolf’s Law’, according to The Joy Formidable.

There’s something a little discomforting about rattling around Brixton Academy in daylight. Certainly, it starts out normally, as we weave through the safe back rooms with The Joy Formidable, pausing only to point at the massive photos of The Ting Tings adorning the walls. But as we venture into the main auditorium, noting properly for the first time the proscenium arch and Shakespearian balcony that adorns the venue, it feels a little off kilter to see it so… clean.

The Joy Formidable have never actually trod the boards in front of us, although they have been here before as audience members of course; to see Biffy Clyro and Manchester Orchestra, they excitedly tell us. The stage, currently bereft of any musical equipment whatsoever, appears huge, like it would swallow the three piece up whole, despite the evidence that we’ve previously seen with our own eyes; for this is one band that can really hold their own on massive stages.

Which is lucky, because recently they’ve had to master the art of playing far bigger venues than this. Having spent the backend of last year out on tour with Muse, the Welsh trio themselves tearing up enormodomes like the O2. “When artists are good at what they do, they can make huge venues seem really intimate,” Rhydian Dafydd tells us, as we settle down on the flight cases that have been converted into tables and chairs near the currently deserted cloakroom. “Although it depends on the particular venue, I guess. The character of somewhere like this…”
“We didn’t see another human being for three weeks.”
As he looks around the deserted Academy, guitarist and vocalist Ritzy Bryan interjects, musing, “I think sometimes some of the arenas can have quite a sterile vibe to them, unlike some of the old theatres and venues… But we’ve had the best of both, when we do arena tours, because we’ve had experience of the big stages. And we’ve recently been doing some of the smallest dates we’ve done for a long time, so we’ve really enjoyed the two contrasts. They’re both exciting.”

It was after one of those massive arena jaunts that they settled on the location to record sophomore album, ‘Wolf’s Law’. Having trekked across the States with the Foo Fighters, the band stopped for a while in Portland, Maine, and decided to head back there for the bulk of the recording. “It kind of reminded us of home in North Wales,” Rhydian muses, “Just having the country, beautiful…” “We did the drums and the orchestras, and the choirs in London,” Ritzy tells us, “But while we were out there doing most of the vocals and guitars, it was very very isolated. We didn’t see another human being for three weeks.

“I did speak to quite a lot of the animals though…” The image of Ritzy, singing out the window as cartoon birds surround her is now firmly lodged in our heads. “You always do!” laughs Rhydian. “We had a regular visiting opossum, he came at seven o’clock every night for milk and honey.” Ritzy continues, “And we had plenty of squirrels, moose; it was idyllic. It was a great place to lose yourself. Night and day blurred into one, and it was a good thing, because we had an awful lot that we wanted to track. We’d written such a lot on the road, it certainly wasn’t a difficult second album; quite the opposite really, we had too much material.”

“Until then,” Rhydian continues, “everything had been in a melting pot; the touring and recording, we’ve always done it on the road. Which is fine, because we do like writing all the time anyway, but you do need that time to get your ideas focused.”

It’s fair to suggest that they used that time wisely, with ‘Wolf’s Law’ simultaneously shredding up the house with noisy guitars, and laden with exquisitely beautiful, gentle, strings. The band are already trying to work out how they can drag a string quartet out on tour, having failed to do so whilst touring their debut, much to their own chagrin. “We will find a way!” Ritzy says, adamantly. “It was a real dream of ours to do it for ‘The Big Roar’ and we couldn’t manage to fit it together, so we’ll absolutely do the two together.” “‘The Big Law’?” drummer Matt suggests, before they all burst into laughter. “‘The Wolf’s Roar’!” Ritzy suggests, “It sort of works, we’ll have to think about that…”

In parts of the record, and without those strings, it’s hard to see how the threesome will translate the album into a live show, but apparently that’s half the fun. “That’s the challenge,” Ritzy considers, “because we never restrict ourselves when we come to the recording process, it’s always just about what the track needs, we don’t think about being only three people live. Finding the ‘live life’ of a song, they can become very different animals. And that’s really interesting in terms of the deconstruction and the reconstruction, and the way in which they work with the other tracks; we’re really enjoying introducing them into the sets. There’s some really exciting moments. There definitely comes that moment when you find where they interweave, what each song needs live. And it pushes to you think about what each of you is doing, ultimately. There’s certainly no laziness in a three piece.”
“We’re not scared of dipping in between genres.”
We point out that even Nirvana bought in Pat Smear to help out with the live sets; are they never tempted to hide someone behind a curtain and give themselves a bit of a break? “If you really can’t, physically, do justice to the song, I’d have no problem with getting someone in to do bits and bobs.” Rhydian chuckles, “But this band ultimately feels like it’s us three, so we try not to do that. That would be an absolute last resort.”

Given their past live forays though, we suspect that last resort will never happen – after all, theoretically they can rest during the quieter bits, anyway. It’s that range that’s perplexed us occasionally when it comes to the trio; with ‘Wolf’s Law’, we’re really no closer to working out where The Joy Formidable actually sit on the musical spectrum; in itself no bad thing. “I feel like we’ve had so many different references. Is it rock? Is it indie? It’s a three piece with a girl fronting it, it must be more punky?” Ritzy laughs, “We’re not scared of dipping in between genres when we write a song. All my favourite artists, they’ve been brave enough to turn their hands to pretty much anything, but you still know it’s that artist or band. The fact that it does create a little bit of confusion and ambiguity, that’s more of a sign that it’s original.”

The Joy Formidable’s new album ‘Wolf’s Law’ is out now via Atlantic.

Taken from the February 2013 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.

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