GIITTV get in-depth with The Joy Formidable 2

GIITTV get in-depth with The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable tell us about what to expect from the new album, what it was like to be holed up in the woods for weeks with one fowl (or not, in Matt’s case). About their prowess at pillow fighting and roly-polies. And about chaining support bands in dungeons, and Ritzy’s alternative career on the sex chat-lines..

I caught up with the band when they were in the UK before Christmas. Tonight was Manchester Arena, opening for Muse, but I’d also had the privilege to see them play to 160 people a week before that, at Hendre Hall in North Wales. I say ‘privilege’ because that had been such an intimate gig. It certainly didn’t set out to be a fan-only affair, but being such a tiny venue, and the way the word spread, it turned into a night with old friends. Hell, I’d even been queueing outside with none other than Ritzy’s dad John. After the Hendre gig, the proximity of home meant that the band were keen to skedaddle – in Ritzy’s case, to nip to her mum and dad’s house and catch up with an ailing family doggie. I was finally going to have the chance to catch up with the band tonight in very different circumstances, where shortly after we’d spent a happy three quarters of an hour chatting, the three of them totally ripped it up in front of 10,000 Muse fans.

Backstage at the Arena, being a democratic kind of band, even I got fair shares of their rock ‘n’ roll ‘rider’, consisting of a banana and a bottle of water. I sat on the sofa with Ritzy; dad John was there again, along with one of Ritzy’s best friends, sitting on the sofa opposite. Rhydian got to perch on an arm while Matt nipped back and to, doing whatever a drummer has to. 

GIITTV – so tell me about the album..
Ritzy –  There’s a lot of breadth to it. It’s definitely intricate. It still has all the intent, and the passion and the energy…the boldness of The Big Roar. We’ve really enjoyed being ambitious with the composition, and the instrumentation, and the influences…

GIITTV – Who writes?
Rhydian – It’s generally me and Ritzy. And then we will discuss ideas with Matt,  about where we can take things in terms of percussion and other areas. We don’t have just one way. I think what’s different from the first album is that we’ve simplified it (this time) and made it very much about the song. Whereas with The Big Roar, a lot of it was about building layers, creating a picture. Even the production itself was a writing tool. Whereas with this one, it’s been written on an acoustic guitar and voice, or a piano and voice. It really was all about the song and the melody. And then we fleshed out the songs around that afterwards.
Ritzy – Some songs we kept really simple like that, and then others we’ve orchestrated. Some are very rocky, some very heavy, and they’ve lived side-by-side.
Rhydian – It feels very focused. There’s no hiding behind anything. It’s very functional. Not layering for the sake of layering. Not that we did that for The Big Roar, but the message feels a lot more focused on this album. It was actually quite a difficult time when we were writing the first album, quite frustrated, on top of each other. Because we’ve always had our own studio, although that’s essentially our laptop and a few other bits and bobs. But at that time, we had our place in London and it was just so chaotic (it turns out they’ve now decided to cut loose the North London flat, given just how little time they have spent ‘at home’ in the last year). We were frustrated and claustrophobic almost. But this one you know, it still has a lot of the intent and aggression. Amongst other things that happened personally our in lives, that made things feel clearer and more focused, more harmonious. The recording process was like that as well. We had a month in Maine. It was just really fruitful when we were writing – there were songs coming out of our ears. We almost couldn’t get enough down
Ritzy – It definitely felt like a nice fresh beginning to the recording process, because we’d been writing a lot on the road in the 12 months while we’d been touring The Big Roar. That’s quite chaotic. You have lots of threads of things that you written, they’re not fully realised. I think we were really hungry to get back into the studio. We finally went to Maine and it was the absolute ultimate in solitude, isolated, and a great place for inspiration. The natural world, being able to lose yourself in something creative. I think it was a perfect combination of just being really excited and hungry, to consolidate all these little threads of songs. In that sense it wasn’t a difficult writing process, it was just very quick, very easy. It was the same as The Big Roar in capturing the moment, but I think the circumstances of this one just made it feel more focused.
Rhydian – just being out there in the middle of nowhere, being close to nature as well, really tied in with what the album is about. It’s about reconnecting spiritually and looking to nature. Those simple and really important ideas.
Matt had wandered off but crossed the room at this point so I asked him what it was like being stuck in the middle of that intensity with “these two” ?
Matt – I wasn’t actually there (laughter all round) They said ‘we’re going to go and track guitars and vocals’ and I was like – Nah!
Rhyd – It’s quite a weird process (writing). Me and Ritzy started off the band in our bedroom in North Wales. We’d get ideas down there, then we’d go to Justin who was our drummer at the time (Justin Stahley, Matt’s predecessor, remains good friends with the band, but decided when the non-stop touring kicked off in earnest around 2009 that it simply wasn’t the life for him)

GIITTV – you talked at the time about going walking on the hills to find your voice?
Ritzy – I think it was more to blow off the arguments. Things were more tempestuous then, more push and pull… So we’d go and blow off steam in the Clwydian Hills.
Rhydian – That’s generally the dynamic of our writing though. It’ll be me and Ritzy, then we’ll introduce the songs to Matt and go from there.
Ritzy – Being in Maine, now that was interesting. We didn’t see another human being for about 3 weeks did we? We got snowed in. We had just about enough food. We made a lot of fucking meals out of one chicken…got resourceful with one fowl! It’s like Stephen King country up there – in fact he lives a couple of hours away. It’s a huge State and he lived what they call ‘up the road’ in Maine!

GIITTV – Yes, I’ve experienced the Great North Woods. Near North Conway?
Ritzy – Yeah, we were close to there. Before we went to do it, we were thinking this could either be fucking great or like The Shining. Originally, it was meant to be Florida, it was just going to be wherever the tour ended. I’m sure it could have been quite a different album? It’s difficult to say…

At this point Rhydian said something about it not being a bad thing to be locked up and go a bit crazy, a bit mad.
GIITTV – I really wasn’t going to ask this, but do you have to be a bit crazy, does it go with being creative?
Ritzy – No….no….definitely not. That’s one of those questions everybody asks. It almost up there with the bane of my life –  ‘What’s the most rock ‘n’ roll thing you’ve ever done’
GIITTV – Oh dear, I so nearly asked you that very question a few years back. But when you saw me, you said “Thank fuck it’s somebody we know, and you won’t ask us stupid questions about the most rock ‘n’ roll thing we’ve ever done!” Cue more laughter all round.
Ritzy – It’s this whole stereotype about what is to be a creative person. People always insist you’ve got to be like ‘this’, or one way or another..
Rhydian – A lot of great minds, a lot of creative minds, have dabbled with drugs. But it wasn’t necessarily just about the drugs or the alcohol…
GIITV – I didn’t ask you about drugs, Rhyd!
Rhydian – What I’m saying is the people can answer that kind of question, and all you’re finding out is how much they’ve partied. It doesn’t really mean that they have got anything to say necessarily…
Ritzy – And the answer is we’re all fucking crazy…

GIITTV – You seem to be picking up influences – tell me if I’m extrapolating too much – I’m thinking of (new album track) Cholla, and non-English-language culture in America?
Ritzy – Native American culture, sure yes. I think we’ve always liked stories. I think a lot of that comes from the Welsh upbringing. And then the legends, the landscape. How we all fit into some bigger picture. I think it just made sense though, with us having spent time in the States, especially in Southern California and in the desert. Like I said the other night, I definitely felt we had some sort of affinity with those strange landscapes. How expansive it is. It gets you thinking about things a little bit differently, in terms of the macro and micro.
Rhydian – The Native Americans were really in tune with nature
Ritzy – I’m determined never to romanticise that. I want to make that very very clear. I was talking to somebody the other day. It doesn’t have its roots (for me) in that. I’m interested in anthropology, I’m interested in history, stories and mythology. The fantastical and the surreal. There are a lot of cultures that have very interesting and very different elements to what I’ve grown up with and been exposed to.

GIITTV – I was going to ask you Matt – what it like being an honorary Welshman?
Matt – Yeah...(pause) I’m not too bothered by it. I’ve lived in so many places, not just Wolverhampton. You know; if it works, then that’s fine.

GIITTV – So – what is particularly good about today?
Rhydian – Looking forward to playing our own shows. It’s great playing to other audiences, but I’m looking forward to playing our own shows again definitely. It’s been a great tour (with Muse). Definitely playing to a lot of new audiences. The shows have sold out well in advance. But we really enjoyed our two intimate shows. The one in Bangor and one in London: in that sense it’s been a real tour of contrasts. It’s been really great to do those small shows. There’s nothing better than doing that sort of thing, going back like that and seeing all those familiar faces that we’ve known over the years. But at the same time, I think we’ve always enjoyed the challenge of playing to new audiences, and trying to inject something into people who are seeing us for the first time.

GIITTV – How’s it gone with this size of audience?
Ritzy – Well it’s true that we’ve been playing to a lot of people every night. People always ask does that feel daunting? It really doesn’t. I think we had little taste of an arena tour when we were with the Foos last year.
GIITTV – I couldn’t see you being daunted. Although for a long time there was a photo on Facebook of Matt, sitting looking out cross-legged on the stage at an empty Madison Square Garden before the gig…
Matt  – Yeah, I just stayed like that the whole night. (Laughs all round, but he’s the first to tell you that it’s been a dream come true).
Ritzy – Getting up on stage for us, the approach never changes, it’s always about losing yourself, connecting with the material that you’ve written and giving every bit of you, over the course of that set. That’s the same irrespective of the venue or the size. It’s a real paradox because it always feels like it’s a two-way connection, but at the same time we are in control of what were doing on there. If the crowd are on board, fucking great, because that means were going to have a really great evening. But if they’re not, that really doesn’t bother us, do you know what I mean? It’s just going to spur us on even more.
GIITTV – How did this tour with Muse come about? What’s it like when you get asked by somebody like Muse? Because you guys have always been to my mind the ultimate strategists, or am I being unfair there? 
Rhydian joins in with Ritzy at this point, and they both agree. Ritzy carries on:  No, you’re right. Creatively, and definitely when it comes to attention to detail, yeah absolutely. I don’t think we’re too planned in other aspects though. Like the releases, and the creativity to be spontaneous, and reflect where we’re up to at that moment. It always feels like we keep ourselves on our toes, that it’s not too formulaic, in the sense that we’re not planning months and months in advance…otherwise that’s when it becomes a bit boring, or you can’t change with every twist and turn. But (to come back to your point) we never really know how these tours come about. Well that’s not true, we knew how (it was with) the Foos; very organically through him (Dave Grohl) hearing the track. I don’t really know if this (with Muse) was the same? Maybe they really, really liked your arse Rhydian?
Rhydian interjects, not to defend his bodily allure, but to tell me that these things, at this level (although he didn’t use those words) get sorted out by ‘your agent’. Although as he points out  – ultimately, the band make the choice, they heard the album, they must have liked it. But going back to the Foo Fighters, that was pretty special. He heard it in a car, and became a fan almost.
GIITTV – Looking at it from over here, it seem like you became family almost, on the Foos tour?
Rhydian – It was very strange in some ways, but the nicest fucking bunch of people in music that we’ve ever met, to be honest with you…
GIITTV – People say that about you as well
Ritzy – Oh no, we’re horrible. This is all a facade. (Dad John is laughing throatily at this) Whoever comes on as support, we put them in a fucking cellar, one ankle chained to a wall… Matt joins in to say that wherever they play in the world, they have the support band’s dressing room done out as the London Dungeon. This is a laugh in itself. The band I’d seen supporting TJF a week previously, Denuo, confessed bashfully on stage that night that they’d actually bought tickets for the gig before they realised they were being asked to play.

I asked them what they’d been up to playing such tiny shows in the states just before the Muse tour, meaning as it did that many fans were left disappointed. Even a mutual friend had to pull every string in the book to get himself into the Chicago show for instance.
Ritzy – The sentiment behind it… It becomes harder and harder to do smaller shows I suppose. Matt interjects again “only in terms of fitting our gear on the stage”  – Matt’s ever burgeoning drum kit, and how TJF theatrically decorate their stage sets, are both a standing joke. Ritzy carries on – We appreciate those intimate moments with our fan base, something special and close-up. We’ve got a lot of touring coming up anyway, which is going to be a lot more traditional in terms of venue sizes. And then again we were playing venues in the States, some of which were a little bit kind of kooky. So that was a good way to start previewing some of the tracks off the new album in a different environment.

GIITTV – I owe you an apology on a personal level Ritzy. When you were playing in Bangor, your voice was so shot, that at one point you announced to the world in general that you now had a future career in telephone sex lines. It was me perched by the corner of the stage that uttered a rather loud “Ew, no!”
Ritzy – Oh you’ve no need to apologise. I don’t think I’ve got the banter that you need in that particular choice of career. I’d be asking “And then you do what? You put what where?… Uncle Dave? Is that you? I recognise your voice…” For some reason, this is raising more than a few guffaws from the guys in the room. 

We started talking again about new album, and I made the mistake of telling Rhydian how much I loved the bass line in ‘Tendons’. His response, to general piss taking, was that he was totally acknowledged by the others to be the real talent in the band. Matt jumped in with “we just don’t know what talent yet” and in a world exclusive, we can reveal that his bandmates revere Rhydian’s greatest gifts as… plate spinning and ‘roly-poly’s (known to the rest of us as forward rolls). That led me to ask what they do to avoid road fever – take a bicycle with them everywhere perhaps, like David Byrne?
Rhyd – We definitely try to get out and walk around. It feels a bit weird when you don’t go out in the countryside for a while. We grew up in North Wales, and we miss all that. Secondly, we get stuck in a van for up to 20 hours between gigs, so you just need to stretch your legs a little bit. Seriously, we walk a lot; we try and explore the city that we’re in, otherwise it can just feel like you’re in a room, do a gig, onto the next town and same again. Then it just feels like Groundhog Day.
Ritzy – We are always curious, although it all depends on the scheduling, and that’s been pretty brutal recently. And that doesn’t leave you any time for any type of life (Ritzy clearly revels in it, given that she’s giggling as she makes this mock-complaint).
Matt – We need synthetic plants, that’s what we need! In the van, in the dressing room, we’d come in and it’d be like a jungle. That’d be amazing! Like the outside, but inside…
Ritzy – Just give you a bit of perspective as well, Matt’s just taken up origami
Matt – Except that I can’t really do much. Well I can do it, with the manual, but then I forget…
Rhyd – It gets a bit frustrating how sedentary we are. A lot of the time our only exercise is jumping around on stage
Matt – Or drunken pillow fighting
Ritzy – Yeah, we’re pretty good at pillow fighting…

So, having gained access to their darkest secrets, it was time for Ritzy to go and do her vocal warm-ups. After her recent throat infection, these sounded (being polite about it) like a cat in a tin bucket. All was well though when they hit the stage. The cavernous Manchester Arena was well on the way to filling up, ready for Muse, but it’s utterly fair to say that our threesome stopped them in their tracks. I was by now up in the ‘nice seats’ and, given that another band were headlining, it was more than gratifying to see even up here, there was yelling and stomping a-plenty for TJF. Down on the floor, the crowd was proper surging forward onto the barrier. In contrast to the joking around in the dressing room, band were on fire, playing with more than even their usual conviction. As they hit their last song, Rhydian kicked over his mic stand, then booted it right off the stage. He then repeated the performance with Ritzy’s microphone, before the two of them jumped onto and demolished Matt’s drum kit, leaving him to climb out of the wreckage. The three of them stalked off the stage leaving the ruined remnants of the drum kit, one Fender bass and one Fender six-string, all having been jettisoned across its hallowed surface. The band? Ten minutes later they were in a crew-bus and en-route for Amsterdam the next night.  


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.