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Interviews

The Joy Formidable Interview



Following a productive stint of promotional work in Paris, Welsh rock trio The Joy Collective are on the Eurostar and heading back to London. As expected, my first attempt at making contact with bassist Rhydian Dafydd is thwarted by a crackling phone connection. I’m advised to call back when he’s back in Blighty.

An hour passes and sure enough my second attempt is a successful one as Rhydian’s made his way from St Pancreas station to a nearby coffee shop. He’s in good spirits - lamenting on a successful trip away and two recent live sessions for 6music and Radio One. “It’s been pretty hectic this week,” he says with a light North Walian tone.

With their debut album, The Big Roar, released later this month The Joy Formidable are set to become mainstream darlings in 2011 with a sound that’s evolved from breezy dream-pop to swooping, stadium-shaking rock. “(The Big Roar) album has been a long time coming and we know our fans realise that,” says Rhydian.

Indeed. To some it may seem as though the band are still in the embryonic stage of their career but The Joy Formidable, and more specifically Rhydian and lead singer Ritzy Bryan, have been entwined in music since their childhood in Mold, North Wales. “Ritzy’s parents must own over 5,000 vinyl records,” says Rhydian. “I used to hang out at Ritzy’s house and listen to music there most days when I was younger. I was pretty active kid up until the age of 12 and played a lot of sport. Then I discovered Hendrix - he really opened the door for me on how amazing music can be.”

After taking in a series of Britpop bands at the Tivoli (a live music venue in neighbouring Flintshire), Rhydian and Ritzy made their first live bow with Manchester four-piece Tricky Nixon. “Tricky Nixon disbanded in a strange way,” says Rhydian, “I won’t go into details but the split did allow Ritzy and I to get back to basics, to put more focus on the music and the song writing.”

From the ashes of Tricky Nixon came The Joy Formidable and their mini debut album, A Balloon Called Moaning, a slow-burning triumph in indie circles in 2009. Three tracks from ABCM have been rebooted for The Big Roar, an album that was created without current drummer Matt Thomas. “We felt the three tracks we took from A Balloon Called Moaning still had relevance - in particular, Austere. It was one of our first records we released so we definitely wanted to keep that. Ritzy and I made ABCM without Matt, using a lot of sample drums. Now Matt’s in the band he’s been given the chance to restructure the percussion.”

Rhydian is underplaying his drummer’s contribution considerably as Matt tears through The Big Roar as though the album title has given him guidance on how to play with a blistering quiet/loud dynamic. Away from the music, being in a relationship with Ritzy has provided Rhydian with a series of questions from interviewers on what it’s like being on the road with his other half. So, are Rhydian and Ritzy the new Sid and Nancy of rock are they more akin to Richard and Judy? “There’s the occasional drama sometimes but nothing serious. Ritzy and I try not to dwell on it too much but we both know it adds a special chemistry to the band.”

One weekend in June last year, The Joy Formidable played two of the biggest gigs of their career. The first was a support slot for Paul McCartney at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in front of 60,000 fans, followed, just as equal in stature, by a slot on The Other Stage at Glastonbury. It gave the band a taste of what may lay ahead - “It was a really special weekend and we revelled in it completely. (Paul) McCartney was really welcoming - that was quite touching. Having the Manic Street Preachers on the bill as well just capped that day off for us.”

Rhydian continues, “Playing Glastonbury the following day was quite surreal - the crowd wasn’t as big as the McCartney gig but I’m not complaining. To be on playing on The Other Stage on my first visit to Glastonbury was amazing.” Consuming the high life of a rock megastar has given the band plenty of ideas of what they’d like from future live outings, “We’d love to take a goat on tour – Ritzy’s obsessed with animals so if we could have a goat as our official animal mascot on the road with us that would definitely take away some of monotony of travelling. I’m not sure how it would fit into the live performance though - maybe it could play a cow bell?” Even McCartney might struggle to get that on his tour.

The addition of a goat to The Joy Formidable’s line-up might be pushing the live set-up a bit too far (and breaking every health and safety regulation possible), but Rhydian is clear on what the band’s objectives are, “We’ve been in a fortunate position where we’ve been able to shape whatever we do as a band from the very beginning - we want to keep hold of that. We are ambitious, but we don’t ever want to chase any deals. Every release is special to us so it’s important to have control.”

So, maintaining control of their output is the priority for The Joy Formidable, but what else is planned for 2011? “The European tour is going to give us the opportunity to play songs from The Big Roar differently - just make them bigger than they already are!,” The enthusiasm in Rhydian’s voice in clear, “I’m already writing tracks for the next album – I’m really excited about the future.” So are we, Rhydian.

Michael Took