Happy happy joy joy: The Joy Formidable interviewed

Serendipity has played a big part in the history of pop music. The chance encounter. The accidental riff. That strange coming together of graft and divine inspiration that leads to the angelic and life-affirming.

So it may be for The Joy Formidable.

Overlooked in many of the 'Tips for '09' polls, the recruitment of new drummer Matt Thomas sees a promising act turn into a potentially great band. Were they not so fiercely independent, Vaughan Oliver would be begging to cradle their work in his art.

Unlike many of their British contemporaries - who seem content to trade on a single gimmick - TMJ appear as the complete deal: pheonix-like in the face of heartache, each and every day is a new and blessed opportunity. Even the name (that seems clumsy and awkward at first glance) promises hope. They are a lift for wearied bones.

We sat down with Ritzy Bryan (guitar/vocals), Rhydian Dafydd (bass/vocals) and Matt Thomas (drums) prior to their appearance at Carlisle's Brickyard with what seems - in retrospect - to be a particularly mundane series of questions. Next time we need to remember to ask about love, danger and jumping off rootops into the dark.

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So you’ve had a few days break and tonight is the first date of the second leg of tour. You seem to have been pretty far north. Did you manage to avoid the snow?

Ritzy: We were up as far as Inverness. We seemed to be one day in front of it all. There was a band playing the same venues but the day after and all their dates were cancelled.

Rhydian: I get called The Plough ‘cos I just drive!

Ritzy: The amount of time I’ve had to prise my fingers from the dashboard. He just has one direction: straight ahead. We did do one crazy detour via Loch Ness.

Rhydian: Amazing scenery. Crystal lakes.

Were you pleased with how the first dates went?

Ritzy: The reception has been brilliant and the audiences great. No disasters – apart from almost breaking my coccyx in Liverpool.

Rhydian: She’s always tripping over something. She can’t wear heels.

These dates are in support of the A Balloon Called Moaning mini-album, EP …

Rhydian: It’s a body of work.

Ritzy: We’re just calling it an eight-track. It’s not a definitive release, more a snapshot of where we are material-wise.

I saw that it sold-out on pre-orders alone.

Ritzy: We’ve been blown away actually. We wanted it to be quite a limited release and make it special so we did the box set and gave it quite a bit of time and attention. Every copy is individual.

We’re told people want everything for free these days but if you offer something interesting, they’ll still lay down their money.

Rhydian: We’re not adverse to making our tracks available for download but when you do an actual physical product, it’s a way of actually separating yourself from a lot of other artists.

Ritzy: We’ve been very lucky with Pure Groove who are very forward-thinking and have a good creative direction to them and have let us have a free hand.

Was that ‘special’ record something you grew up with? The idea of lying on the bed staring at the sleeve.

Rhydian: I’m still a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to that kind of thing. It’d be a shame to lose that.

Ritzy: And I’m just a complete hoarder ‘cos I come from a family of collectors. We actually sat down and counted my Dad’s vinyl collection and it was nudging towards 10,000 – which is just obscene!

So music was a constant?

Ritzy: I don’t think there was ever much silence.

You’re on tour in the middle of this financial meltdown but you’re finding people are still prepared to come out and support bands?

Ritzy: We try and give people value for money. Because we do a lot of stuff ourselves we can keep costs down. And people still want a bit of escape.

You’re going out with Howling Bells soon. Are they friends or people you feel an affinity with?

Rhydian: It was through our agency but it was a tour we were kinda pitching for because we are fans.

Ritzy: Someone wrote a blog about us and also about them. Then he met them and said ‘You should check out this band…’ And then it turned out we shared some contacts. It came together really well and we’re very happy to be supporting a band like them because we dig what they’re doing.

When you started, was it with the intention of having a certain sound or was it a case of you making a racket as this is what came out?

Rhydian: It was something that grew. We were experimenting back in north Wales.

Ritzy: We kind of locked ourselves away. We’d moved back from Manchester and just recorded and messed about and wrote a big bulk of material before finally sensing that there was a sound coming out. As soon as that comes together and you click everything becomes a lot easier. But it has to come from a lot of experimentation.

Rhydian: Especially recording. You can maybe have a skeletal idea but you have to be able to lose yourself in it.

So how do you work in terms of writing?

Rhydian: Matt has only been with us for the past month so a lot of that time has been about getting him up to speed on the tracks. I’m sure the recording process will change again but up until now it’s been me and Ritzy in our room.

Ritzy: It can come from anything: a lyric or a topline. A bass part.

Rhydian: Some songs are on an acoustic, others are just on the computer with a drumbeat. When you all feel ‘that really works’ you’re limiting yourself if you only ever use one method.

How did the relationship with Matt come about?

Matt: I didn’t really know them – I just saw an advert saying ‘This band looking for a drummer – these are our influences’ and that’s what drew me really, reading through the influences.

Ritzy: Bon Jovi …

Matt: (laughs) Yeah. I said ‘If you sound like your influences I’m really interested.’ They sent a link to their MySpace, I learned the songs and went for an audition. Went back for another and luckily got the job.

You’ve been thrown in at the deep end.

Matt: A little bit!

But you’re all happy and think it’s working?

Ritzy: God yeah!

Rhydian: Matt’s the craziest drummer we’ve ever met. He picked it up straight away. I think from the first rehearsal we knew.

Ritzy: When Justin left, it was just before Christmas which was a little bit of downtime so there was a sense of going ‘Oh fuck!’ We had a lot of live dates booked and a lot of other stuff going on. It was going to take a little bit of luck finding someone who was good and who loves it. Matt’s blown us away!

You had some problems with one of your videos.

Ritzy: The wanking video?

Rhydian: It was a fan that made that video and we kinda gave it our blessing because we thought it was great. It wasn’t pornography – it was much more interesting.

Ritzy: If it had been pornography I wouldn’t have minded. I’m quite up for someone doing a big porno video for one of our songs.

Matt: Only if we get Ron Jeremy in.

Rhydian: It’s so random what YouTube ban though. There’s much worse on there. People being racist and homophobic and all the video was people masturbating. It’s just their faces.

Ritzy: People keep asking if we’re in it. ‘Are you the blonde bird three minutes in?’ No – just for the record!

How important is the visual side?

Ritzy: We’ve done all our videos ourselves. We’ve got friends who’ve helped but in terms of the concepts we’ve worked very much as a team to get what we wanted. If you do music there’s obviously something you want to put across and I don’t want to give that to someone else to sort out.

Bands seem to be maybe taking more responsibility for the whole package these days.

Ritzy: I see bands getting fucked up by giving up that control to people outside the band. If you’re lucky to have a good, visionary label that’s prepared to trust you it’s a big help.

Rhydian: There’s still a lot of romanticism in the music industry. Things are changing but people still think it’s glamorous. They get this picture that everything’s still cool and you get a massive advance but you owe the label all that money. You’ve got to be creative and not lazy.

Matt: Usually you’re in a much worse position if you deal with a label. You’re just wasting money that isn’t yours.


Ritzy: Yeah, we like them! All of them this year please.

So that’s the plan for 2009?

Ritzy: Not just festivals. We’re looking forward to getting out and doing as much on the live circuit as we can but the ones we did last year were instant highlights.

Rhydian: We’re going to do a third single in May and we’ll tour around that.

Do we know what that is yet?

Rhydian: Probably “Whirring”. It’s recorded but we still need to do some work on the package. We’re going to do an acoustic Welsh version.

Ritzy: We like a bit of Welsh because it’s Rhydian’s first language. We’ve dabbled with some Welsh lyrics so the thought of doing a song really appeals. We have these conversations: “Do you ever dream in Welsh?” I think I’ve only dreamt in Welsh once ...

The Joy Formidable MySpace

Last updated: 13/07/2018 12:58:38

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