The Joy Formidable is putting the independent back in indie, big time. Not only did the Welsh rock trio self-produce their upcoming third album, but they recorded it in the studio they recently built in North Wales, and it will be released on their own label.
Unsurprisingly, then, album number three, which is due for release in early 2016 and sure to be titled Hitch, took a full calendar year to make. “We wanted to challenge the idea in the music world that everything has to be done quick; we didn’t want to churn it out,” says singer and guitarist Rhiannon Bryan, who goes by the snappier nickname of Ritzy. “The last album took three weeks to make and this one took twelve months, and that doesn’t reflect badly on either record.”
Bryan is chatting from Utah, where she says the band is, “just pissing about,” meaning they’re kicking back. But vague description or not, it doesn’t sound like a vacation: “We finished the record in July, then we mixed it, and it’s mastered tomorrow,” she adds excitedly.
Though proper touring for the new album is set to begin in January, the trio was itching to get out and play. A summer round of festival appearances runs into a fall tour that brings the band back to New York City, this time as part of the 2015 CMJ Music Marathon line-up. “This is our first CMJ, so don’t really know what to expect,” Bryan says.
Fans can expect to hear plenty of new material in the band’s sets: “We’ve been debuting new songs from the record and also new songs that aren’t on the record,” says Bryan. “We’ve written such an awful lot of songs this past year or so. We’ve been playing ones like ‘You Taught Me’ — which we did for a Welsh charity album — that aren’t on the new record.”
Being off the road and out of sight in remote North Wales meant adjusting to a quieter rural life, and a completely different environment to the giddy lifestyle of performing night after night — or opening for the Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney, two live highlights in the band’s six-year career. “We’re back in the old seat, as it were,” Bryan says, chuckling, clearly pleased to have a tour schedule in front of her. “We missed being out on the road. We’ve never been off tour for so long before. We’ve usually only ever taken a couple or so weeks off,” she says. “We” includes bandmates, bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matthew James Thomas.
There are, of course, no regrets, because the time away was exactly what they needed, even if it took some discipline to change up the routine and carve out such a huge chunk of time. “We had to be strong about taking the time and allowing this record to breathe. And we could do that because we didn’t have any pressure from anybody else.”
Forming their own label imprint, C’mon Let’s Drift, resulted in taking off that external pressure, even though Joy Formidable is partnered with seasoned indie, Caroline Records. “There’s a lot less anxiety; we love it,” the 29-year-old says. “We met like-minded people and we have complete creative control. Nobody understands your album and the music you’ve made better than the people who made it.”
On a personal level, the band weathered the breakup of Bryan and Dafydd. “Yeah,” she says gently of the dissolution of their romance, which happened eighteen months ago. “That can be good or bad, and all that emotional aspect shows in the tracks.”
If their change-ups and massive projects weren’t enough, the band also started a vinyl singles club featuring new songs entirely sung in Welsh. “Welsh is Rhydian’s first language and it’s my second. I was interested to experiment and find out what exactly is my Welsh lyrical voice,” Bryan says. “It distracted us from finishing the record, but it felt right that we did it. We were heartened when we heard that fans who couldn’t understand a word of it still felt connected to the songs.”
Add in that Joy Formidable wrote and recorded a film score for Greg Jardin’s fantastical short film, Floating, and recorded and released their own interpretation of Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise’s Twin Peaks theme, it’s no wonder that the follow-up to The Big Roar (2011) and Wolf’s Law (2013) took so long. “The soundtrack to that series is just superb,” Bryan says of David Lynch’s iconic TV show. “Matt and I are big Twin Peaks fans. We’d be in the studio, do some work, then watch Twin Peaks. It’s such an evocative atmosphere. We felt like we could put our spin on it. It was a nice distraction. I think we all have overactive minds.”
The distractions are gone now, and it’s time to return to the road — and the Joy Formidable couldn’t have picked a better place to plug in and get back to work.
The Joy Formidable plays Brooklyn Bowl, October 15. For ticket information, click here.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 12, 2015