Photo courtesy of The Joy Formidable
After making most of their albums on the road, Welsh alternative-rock band The Joy Formidable finished up their fifth studio album Into the Blue planted in Utah due to the pandemic. Program coordinator Meghan Hockridge recently sat down with two thirds of the band – Rhydian Dafydd and Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan – to talk about how this change of pace shaped the album for the better, their music club, and more.
The Joy Formidable also shared a super fun and energetic home concert with us! Hear them perform their new album’s title track “Into the Blue” and more by pressing on the video below, visiting our youtube channel, or tuning in to Weekend Live on Sunday, August 22nd at 9 p.m.
HOW ARE YOU GUYS DOING TODAY?
Rhydian Dafydd: Very well, thank you. Extremely busy. We have a whole bunch of online shows we’re doing as part of our music club. And so we just had one recently and that always requires a bit of preparation. We’re also working on our music video. So we’ve got a whole pile of things over the past few weeks that’s made it quite a busy time. And now we’re having a bit of a respite for a couple of days. But yeah, we’re here in our studio in Utah at the moment.
*dog jumps on Rhydian’s lap*
RD: Alright Jack! we’ve got our foster Jack with us, we’ve been fostering a lot of animals since we’ve been obviously not touring a lot.
Ritzy Bryan: He’s our 19th foster, a lot of them were puppies. We like dogs here at The Joy Formidable.
GOOD TO KNOW! SO I ACTUALLY WANTED TO ASK YOU A LITTLE BIT ABOUT BEING IN UTAH. YOU HAVE THIS BRAND NEW ALBUM COMING OUT IN A LITTLE BIT THAT WAS WRITTEN IN NORTH WALES BUT THEN COMPLETED IN UTAH. WHAT WAS IT LIKE WRITING THE SONGS IN ONE SPACE AND THEN BRINGING THEM TO LIFE SOMEWHERE ELSE? DOES THAT KIND OF CHANGE THE MENTALITY AROUND THEM AT ALL FOR YOU?
RB: Well it was quite unexpected! We literally just came back here to pick up some gear. We wanted to be here for like three weeks and then we were going to finish the record in North Wales. But that was like right in that March period when everybody was going into lockdown. So we thought it was a bit more conscientious for us to just kind of stay where we were instead of traveling.
It’s strange, it’s almost like in all the chaos that was going on around us, a real period of uncertainty, I felt like we’ve at least had some time to reflect and grow. All our albums in the past, we’ve always kind of been doing them on the road. And I think there has been something that’s been a little bit more transformative almost by the very fact that we’ve been in one place.
From an aesthetic point of view, we didn’t really want to release the album last year. There was something about it that just didn’t feel right. I think it’s because this band has always been so connected to the touring side of things. So we didn’t want to release it last year even though it was ready.
And it’s kind of grown since then because, well, we just kept writing! I think it’s given this album a certain vibe or energy that it maybe wouldn’t have had if it was released last year. Or if we were in our usual kind of mindset, which is normally we have way too many things going on at once. Which is great because we like a little bit of uncomfortability and a bit of chaos, but I love this album that we’ve made, so obviously on some level it’s been positive.
YOU GUYS ACTUALLY TOUCHED ON THIS A LITTLE BIT, BUT WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS ALBUM BRINGS TO THE TABLE THAT MAYBE YOU HADN’T EXPLORED IN YOUR OTHER ALBUMS.
RD: I suppose obviously you’ve always got the lyrical aspect, which is a huge part of this band, and I do think you’re in a different place each time. Each album catalogs a different chapter. And so I think in terms of what’s being written about, it’s about embracing the unknown, you know? Self-reliance, self-compassion and kind of how you can’t control the outside world. And of course it’s made us think of many things in the wider sphere of what’s going on with Covid and unrest socially, and feels like we’re coming to a precipice in many ways. But it was more written I think from a personal standpoint, first and foremost.
But, you know, there’s been some difficulties. I think the past few albums in many ways, some personally, some to do with industry, boring stuff, you know, but they teach you and that’s the key thing to take from it, isn’t it? You know, instead of, like, remaining in an unempowered mindset. So I think there’s some of that discussed on the album in terms of subject.
RB: I think I just felt a lot more open-hearted than maybe on past records. There’s always been a tenacity that runs through this. As I said, I think we’ve had our challenges and there’s always been a certain catharsis or energy to the records that’s quite defiant and that’s still running through this album. But maybe, I don’t know, I’ve just maybe felt a little bit more open-hearted. A bit more loving somehow. Like I’ve wanted to embrace things a little bit more rather than everything feeling a little bit scrappy-do sometimes.
WHEN WRITING THIS ALBUM, DID YOU HAVE THAT MENTALITY FOR IT GOING IN? OR WAS IT KIND OF LIKE, ‘WHAT CAN WE MAKE FROM THESE SONGS THAT WE ALREADY HAVE?’
RD: I don’t feel like we go into things knowing what we’re going to write about. I think it starts to make sense later, when you’ve just splurged a load of songs. And we’re always doing that anyway. For this one, like [Ritzy] said, we wrote so many songs and it was actually nice to be hauled away in a studio for quite a long time, you know? And so the sense of it all really came later.
RB: And it’s made me realize it’s almost like a bigger window of time, a bigger chapter than a usual album for us. Looking back through the album I can almost see the transformation. You know, I went through a breakup during the writing of this album. I can kind of sense that there’s this grief that’s in some of the songs, and not really understanding. And by the end of it, it’s kind of like, ‘wow, this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.’ Because I actually learned so much about myself through this whole process. And even beyond just the tiny sphere of looking at more than one little heartbreak.
So yeah, it feels like I said, longer and wider than maybe our past albums that are written kind of quite quick and intensely. And like I said, in the midst of playing live as well, this has certainly, you know, opened up the floodgates.
YOU TALKED ABOUT PLAYING LIVE A LITTLE BIT. SO THE ALBUM ISN’T COMING OUT UNTIL LATER AUGUST. DID YOU PUSH BACK THE RELEASE SO THAT YOU COULD TOUR WITH IT?
MB: No, our partners had to push it back because we were like ‘we’re still writing!’ So August just felt right to us.
I think we want to be very conscientious when it comes to going back and touring. You know, we want to make sure that it’s a really safe environment for everybody to be and enjoy and that there’s an element of freedom to still being able to come to shows. I think we’re still trying to fight against this whole, you know, where everybody’s going to have to be seated miles apart until they can actually enjoy a show. Even though we understand that we’re at that place in terms of the science and the understanding of what we’re going through at the moment.
But we’re happy because we’ve had the music club and have been very active in terms of playing live. I think maybe we are holding out for the time when we can actually come together and [it] can be a bit like the old days.
RD: But obviously there’s so much that’s out of your control. Who knows what will happen with even more lockdowns. We just don’t know.
YEAH, TOTALLY. SO WHEN YOU GUYS ARE SAYING LIKE THE MUSIC CLUB AND LIKE THESE ONLINE LIVE SHOWS, HOW HAS THAT BEEN, KIND OF TRANSITIONING TO A MORE VIRTUAL INTERACTION?
RD: Well it’s again focusing on what’s actually possible. So instead of thinking ‘this is frustrating, it’s not quite the same as live gigs,’ [it’s thinking] ‘hey, this is where we’re at.’ And so for us, it’s at least we can connect with people and we’re still able to play our songs. And we’ve been so focused on that and enjoying it. It’s a chance to go through the entire back catalog. And there are so many songs, you know, not just the albums. We’ve always done lots of little releases here and there. B-sides, one-offs, limited runs, you know. So it’s actually been fun kind of reconnecting with that actually.
RB: We’ve had to adapt, haven’t we? I mean, it’s like, you know, of the arts in general, it was one of the first industries that was closed. And it’s maybe going to be one of the last to actually reopen. We already had the music club we started in 2019. And I think what’s been one of the positive things of this year, at least, is how it’s evolved. It’s grown a lot! We’ve got a lot more creative with it because we’ve had a little bit more time on our hands in terms of being able to bring different things to it. So I mean, I think I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t think it replaces actually being able to connect with people properly, but I certainly think we’ve made the best that we could have out of what’s been quite a difficult situation.
RD: We can’t rush into opening things up again, we’ve got to do it in the best way possible.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE POINT IN MAKING THE RECORD? WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE STEP IN THE PROCESS?
RD: I really enjoyed being in one place for a little while actually. It feels like a sort of studio album in that sense of really immersing yourself in the experience. I really appreciated that. Like Ritzy said, we’re very used to touring a hell of a lot and grabbing a few weeks here and there. And we kind of did immerse ourselves with the hitch album than we did the one before last. But this one felt maybe even more so like that.
RB: I think like you said, maybe having a little bit of not trying to juggle too many things. Actually, you know, we had a little nest outside the studio window last spring and we were trying not to disturb them! ‘Keep it quiet, they might be fledgling!’ There’s a certain intensity that comes from recording. But I think when you’re in it ,and there’s the stories that you want to be told and the sounds that you want to experiment with, sometimes it was quite nice, occasionally, to still see the outside world.
RD: Yeah, we hadn’t had much of a breather the past ten years with the band. We absolutely love touring, you know, so that’s fine, no complaints. But it was like, ‘oh right. This is what it’s like to let go a little bit!’
RB: I got a chest of drawers and not just a suitcase!
TEN YEARS IS A LONG, LONG TIME TO GO TO BREAK! WHAT IS ONE SONG THAT YOU ARE MOST EXCITED TO GET TO PLAY LIVE IN THAT FULL NATURAL LIVE SETTING WHEN THAT’S POSSIBLE AGAIN?
RB: Oh, I haven’t thought about this. All of them really. But I mean, I really like what’s going to be the next release. It’s a song called “Chimes,” probably because, you know, the guitars are pretty fun on it! So from a live perspective I think that one.
RD: Oh I’ve got a few: “Gotta Feed My Dog” and “Sevier”. The album has quite a rhythmical side actually. So I’m really looking forward to that and sort of jamming that with Matt, our drummer. He’s in the UK at the moment, so we’ve still been able to do live online shows. But, you know, nothing will beat us getting into a room together and bringing that to life, especially when it’s very rhythmical.
RB: It’s not quite the same recording drums remotely is it?
RD: You don’t quite feel the power!
RB: Better for your ears!
WHAT IS ONE SONG THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF, OR ALSO MOST EXCITED FOR PEOPLE TO GET TO HEAR JUST IN GENERAL?
RD: Ritzy, you’ve mentioned “Interval” before?
RB: Yes I do love that track.
RD: I’d probably say “Gotta Feed My Dog.” Again, it’s a fun, heavy track. And I think it’s the kind of song that you want to hear in a live setting. So I’m looking forward to sharing that. “Left Too Soon,” the last track as well. But it’s very difficult to choose when it comes to, like, your babies. You know, they have a different function and they all say something different about where you’re at that time.
RB: I think “Gotta Feed My Dog”. You know, It’s probably the most playful of the album. You know, it’s got a little bit more of a cheekiness, basically saying that you don’t really need to spend time with the people because your dog is at home!
RD: Oh cheers Ritz!
RB: Wrote that after spending 12 months with him!
THOSE ARE ALL OF MY QUESTIONS! WAS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU GUYS WANTED TO ADD?
RD: With the music club, shout out to everyone who’s supported us over the past year, it’s been fantastic and really appreciated. And actually, I think getting that message out more and more is important for the artists as well. Not just during covid, but artists were kind of getting squashed for a while anyway. And I think that the lockdown was a little bit of the nail in the coffin for some. So I just hope that this highlights how important it is to support artists directly now because it’s really saved us this past year.
The Joy Formidable’s fifth studio album Into the Blue will be available starting on August 20th.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.