In the midst of their tour behind their new Wolf’s Law (QRO review), Rhydian Dafydd of The Joy Formidable talked with QRO. In the conversation, Dafydd talked about their tour (including singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan’s sore voice), making Wolf’s Law, making previous debut full-length The Big Roar (QRO review), upcoming material (including in his native Welsh), their tradition of getting their music out there in untraditional ways, festivals from the too big to the failed, Twilight, and more…
QRO: How has this tour been going?
Rhydian Dafydd: It’s been going great, thank you. We’ve an ongoing tour now since the start of the year; we started in the U.K. in January, and then Europe, and then straight to America, South-by-Southwest, and then on tour after that. All of the shows have been wonderful. It’s been great playing the songs for the first time in all these territories – we’re excited by that. I feel like people are at the shows because they wanna be there. So it’s really fulfilling.
QRO: I heard that Ritzy’s voice is hurt?
RD: With so much touring, and we’ve had a lot of press, she very rarely gets a chance to rest her voice. Over the past few days, she’s had a bit of a cold, so she has to save her voice. Otherwise it could really affect the shows. She has to be quiet for a little bit… [laughs]
QRO: Last few times I’ve seen you, you’ve had some sort of set for the stage – couch & carpet one time, naval theme another. Do you have one for this tour?
RD: Yeah, we sorta do. We have very much projection-based, in order to keep things quite simple, to make very much about the band. It’s a good use of projections, and we have a wolf’s head as well, and we can do various things with lighting and projection on it as well. So it’s quite stark and quite simple, but effective.
It’s nice to swap things up. We’ve always taken care of all the visual side – it’s important; we’ve always had a hand in that. It’s like an extension, creatively, of what you’re writing in the songs. That’s how we view it. We’ve had a hand in every single projection that’s going up there as well, what we sense about the song.
QRO: How did making Wolf’s Law compare with making The Big Roar?
RD: I think quite different. We stripped it down to me & Ritzy writing close together with just one instrument, whereas with The Big Roar, I think it was pieced together a lot more. It was very much more using the studio, the computer, almost like a writing tool, building blocks and projections together – almost like a mesh.
The time as well. It was a really different time and space that we were writing in, which was essentially just a small little bedroom in London – it just makes for a very claustrophobic, kind of frustrating atmosphere.
Not that one, in our eyes, is better than the next. They’re literally just documents of where you’re at, at that point in life.
I think we flushed the songs out around that very core thing, of lyrics and melody, functionality, and it made, I think, it a very exposed and honest, and lyrically-driven, vocally-driven album.
QRO: After all of the success & acclaim The Big Roar got, did you feel extra pressure to avoid the ‘sophomore jinx’?
RD: You know, we get asked that a lot. It’s just something that the media concentrates on, more than anything.
We put pressure on ourselves, right from the off, to write something that we, first and foremost, can stand behind and believe in, that they said something. The rest of it is out of our control.
We never bother putting anything out there that we’re not proud of, so once we’ve gotten over that hurdle, then, I think in us, we very much know that it’s down to subjectivity. And we don’t concern ourselves with other people’s subjectivity. I think, for us, we know what we’re doing, and if it connects with people, then that’s a really special thing. But we can’t get bogged down with that stuff.
There’s been absolutely classic albums that were completely overlooked at their time, and there’s been shit albums that have been given ten-outta-ten.
And there’s great writing out there as well. The playing field is so vast that you just can’t let yourself get swayed by people out there.
QRO: Why did you include so much of A Balloon Called Moaning on The Big Roar?
RD: It was a very natural thing for us because we hadn’t a very tradition path. A Balloon Called Moaning was essentially our touring EP – the way we were getting out to people was by doing a lot of shows; it wasn’t kind of like an ‘official release’ that we made.
I think we really saw The Big Roar as our first proper, full-length, debut. Some of those songs were part of, in our eyes, a full album, where there’s peaks and troughs. A Balloon Called Moaning was a snapshot of where we were at that time.
It was a very natural thing to us. It was just weird, I think, for other people, because the way we were presented has been at different times. Some people have lived with those songs for a long, long time; to other people, the first time they heard those songs was on The Big Roar, how, in a way, we initially intended it.
We’ve always released things a little bit untraditional – we’ve done spot releases, singles, just releases to the fans, at various points. It’s just a very natural thing to us.
And I think it, ultimately, it’s down to people to catch up on the ‘proper’ history of the band, instead of always doing things in traditional channels.
QRO: Where did recorded laughter at the end of “An Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” come from?
RD: That’s Matt [Thomas, drummer]. When we were mixing in our sound guy’s house in south Wales, and he was doing his usual ‘policemen’s laughter’. Actually, it’s great – it’s a real great contrast to all this huge kinda opener that this song is. It cuts across – I still view the album in terms of nuances as well as the songs, how light and shade, in terms of all manners of ways, not just the content of the lyrics, but the sounds, the production… it’s almost like painting a picture.
QRO: Have you written any material since Wolf’s Law?
RD: Yeah, absolutely. We’re always writing; that doesn’t stop.
That’s what I was saying about traditional channels, as well. It used to be people would put out an album, and then wait a couple years, and then another album, then wait a couple of years. We never stop writing.
I think the thing is, of course, is that we tour so much, and obviously it doesn’t allow us time to do releases all the time, but we’re always, constantly thinking, trying to get put in boxes like, ‘You finished touring – that’s when you come up with the goods, in terms of writing.’ I think you get inspired, so much, by being on the road, and having variety of different places, seeing different people.
It never stops; it’s a lifestyle. We’ve got some band collaboration stuff we’re working on, we’ve got a Welsh EP we’re working on, and we’ve got some other material as well, which will be in the next release, whatever that will be.
QRO: The Welsh EP – will that be sung in Welsh?
RD: We’re working on a batch of songs in the Welsh language, yeah. It’s my first language. We’ve done a couple of Welsh songs, but it’d be nice to do something more substantial as well.
The Joy Formidable playing “Whirring” live at Terminal 5 in New York, NY on March 28th, 2012:
QRO: With all of your touring, how do you fight ‘tour burnout’?
RD: Well, I think it’s important to take in the culture of where you’re at, each time, if you can. I sometimes it’s difficult, but otherwise you can allow yourself to see the whole touring thing as Groundhog Day.
And also, I think we feel a real appreciation. This isn’t a job – not to us, anyway. We feel really touched by the fact that we stand behind what we like, and it means something to us, the songs all mean something, and us connect to people. It’s a very rewarding and special experience.
And we don’t just view it in terms of numbers. It’s not just a money-making exercise, or just wanting to be in a fuckin’ cool band or something like that – it’s about creating something and trying to have the conversation with people, trying to make people feel; I want to see people feel. That energizes you.
It’s a constant source of energy, I think, touring. We never really get burnt out. Okay, you occasionally have very little sleep – but so what? Doesn’t everybody, you know?…
QRO: What happened at POPPED! Music Festival in Philadelphia 2011 (QRO photos)? I heard you were there, but never performed?
RD: Ugh… It’s a long story, but the organizers there treated us very, very badly. It was a succession of errors that didn’t allow us to fuckin’ put on a good show that we wanted to. There’s only so much that an artist could take; we got treated very, very badly.
I don’t really want to go into it too much, because I’m not interested in slagging people off, but we never cancel shows – anybody who knows anything about this band knows that we don’t, so that was a complete anomaly. And we wanted to make it up to the fans the next time around, to do a free show, a benefit for Toys for Tots [one toy for one ticket]. I hope that’s the last we have experiences like that.
QRO: I recently saw you at South-by-Southwest in Austin. What do you think of ‘industry fests’ like that?
RD: Good question. I suppose that festival has gotten so big now, I think, that it kind of feels like a huge monster.
I think there’s some great stuff going on there, but, you know, it obviously, initially, started out putting new bands, new artists on the map. And I think you see a lot of established acts and so forth going there now – which I think is fine, as long as there’s still the focus on emerging talent.
I think it’s just inevitable with a great festival for it sometimes to grow almost too big. I kind of get the feeling that it’s maybe going down that road, but I love Austin, and I love that kind of mentality of just getting there & playing – I kind of enjoy the chaos. We’ve always had a good time there.
QRO: Have you ever seen particularly young female fans at a show and thought, “They heard of us through Twilight soundtrack (QRO review)…”?
RD: From meeting so many fans over the years, there’s definitely been people who’ve come across from the soundtrack. That’s probably the exciting thing of having our music digest in all kinds of ways, these days.
I think it’s important to have that, to have bands to feel like it’s not just radio, it’s not just one thing, because it can sometimes get a little bit stale like that. There’s some great talent out there, and it’s important to have a variety of channels for you to be discovered, I think.
QRO: Why did you all move from North Wales to London?
RD: Well, initially we had another drummer, Justin [Stahey], for about six months, who lived in London. When we were writing many of these songs, it got to the point where we were rehearsing, driving hundreds & hundreds of miles, him coming to north Wales, it just took so much time – it’s just not conducive. You just have to be in the same place. So we moved from north Wales to London.
It was more a practical thing, really. We hadn’t lived in London before, so we were excited by just the variety in that. The opportunity to do a lot of shows, as well – north Wales is getting better, but it’s a difficult place to play a multitude of shows. So I think it was more logistical thing than anything. We had a great time there.
We’re not in London anymore – we’re kind of nomads at the moment. We have fond memories…
The Joy Formidable playing “Cradle” live at Webster Hall in New York, NY on April 29th, 2011: