OH LITTLE JOY
The Joy Formidable retreated to their tiny Welsh hometown to create new album ‘Hitch’ – and found inspiration in an unlikely place.
Words: Words: Steven Loftin.
For a band who have had the “live side really at the core of things,” taking some time off is a hard thing to do, but sometimes it’s necessary. The Joy Formidable have just done such a thing and are returning with third album ‘Hitch’. It’s the culmination of a break after a break-up and the need to take some time away from the road and touring. There’s a definite change to the band: they have the same lustrously layered sound that hits you like a freight train, but it somehow feels more natural, more mature. “We wanted to make a record that felt alive and raw,” explains singer / guitarist Ritzy Bryan, “we wanted to try and capture what we are.”
Recreating this joyful sound is something not easily done. Their time off was mostly brought forth by the separation of Ritzy and bassist Rhydian Dafydd – though, truthfully, “break” is an overstatement. Sure, they were out of public consciousness for a while, but they were still focused on music. After returning back to their small hometown of Mold in North Wales, in order to get back to basics and find the romanticism in what they do, they set up their own small studio where they had none of their usual pressures or hassles.
“There’s something about when you’ve got a live room set up and you can kind of use it any time day or night,” Ritzy states with a fondness. “I love that side of it, there’s none of the usual pressure of having to go in as a band and you haven’t got studio fees, all that kind of stuff. We had a lot of freedom to record when we wanted to, but that makes it kind of impossible to switch off for twelve months. But I think that’s what we needed, to be those three people in a room again without the live side, without any of the bullshit that sometimes arises in the industry, without any of the bureaucracy. It’s literally just been the three of us, we’d have no engineer, no producer up until the point of mixing with Alan Moulder, and I think that’s given us a lot of clarity.”
Despite the retreat, the band are quite good at being in the right place at the right time. The album artwork features what looks like a blood splatter logo forming the band’s name – the work of none other than critically lauded gonzo artist, Ralph ‘Fear and Loathing’ Steadman. “It’s a bit random,” Ritzy recalls. “We met his daughter in a pub in Mold! We fucking tried our luck and had a great conversation with Mr Steadman on the phone. I think it’s one of the most interesting phone conversations I’ve had. He played us some harmonica down the phone and then the following week we got sent some great artwork. There’s actually some more artwork that’s going to feature on the record from him.”
Visuals are always a major part of The Joy Formidable’s releases, with covers often surmising the release’s entire mood. Their debut, 2012’s ‘The Big Roar’ held a self-contained attitude. “Rhydian did the artwork so that was really natural, nobody knew the material better than him or me so it was a very natural connection.” ‘Wolf’s Law’ was the first to feature a prominent artist, Martin Wittfooth. “We were invited to his studios because we were fans, and just looked at the paintings that he kind of started. We got talking about his new exhibition and what it was about, the feel and sentiment behind it all, and it was really, really similar to the album that we were halfway through making.”
Challenging ‘the norm’ is also becoming increasingly important to the band. If you haven’t already seen it, their new video for single ‘The Last Thing On My Mind’ is full of half-naked and fully naked men, viewed “from the perspective of a heterosexual female gaze”. “First and foremost it was directed by what the song is about,” Ritzy explains. “It’s a track about a woman’s imagination. It definitely talks about women’s desire, a bit of carnal desire. It’s not utterly random in its message either, the roots of it actually come from the song’s perspective to begin with… but we knew we wanted to make it ourselves, we’ve been working on a lot of film stuff at the moment.
“In the months leading up to the video I kind of felt like every video we watched – and unfortunately you become more tolerant of seeing certain imagery of women in certain genres of music, but we were noticing it seemed to be happening with some of our peers, other guitar bands, the alternative bands. There was this random imagery of woman playing some kind of token eye candy role, and just like, fucking hell man, this is boring! There was definitely a moment of reacting to something we already knew was rife.
“We thought we’d turn the tables on it for a moment. We’re not saying that objectification is right for either sex, but it’s certainly stirred a conversation, or revealed how sometimes we’re quite conditioned to see some things.” Noting that it’s not a one sided problem, she adds: “Men are represented very one dimensionally as well, you know what I mean? In terms of having some sort of power struggle, or that they have to act in a certain way and be the ones in control, the ones that are kind of ‘sex slave to female pop protagonist’. I think it’s a huge conversation to try and open up in one video.”
Currently in LA preparing for the upcoming tour, their most extensive in years, The Joy Formidable are ready to get back to being a live band. “It’s a long time to be living out of a suitcase but we kind of live and breathe for it,” Ritzy laughs. Following the longest break they’d taken from touring in six years, and having spent the past twelve months in North Wales, it was a necessary move. “It’s good to change things up. We definitely feel like we’re hungry for going back on the road now.”