North Wales based rock band with a bit of pop and punk mixed in, The Joy Formidable, are a trio who are positive and encouraging, which makes their performances all that much better and highly engaged with their audience. With Ritzy on vocals and guitar, Rhydian on bass and Matt on drums, this band makes for an incredible smooth flow of music and creativity in the studio and with their live performances. Although playing for quite some time, as most bands do, they really broke through with a large audience that continues to draw legions of fans, in 2011. With this astounding growth in audience and their music, the band has toured with such renowned musicians as Foo Fighters and The Black Keys. They also perform at numerous high-profile festivals, including Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, and dozens more. The New York Times referenced their show at Terminal 5 as “an artful dissonance of style…a gleeful riot.”
The Joy Formidable’s most recent album, Wolf’s Law, won rave reviews with critics and fans alike. Wolf’s Law touches on global and political issues with honorable nods to late activists, and touches on Native American mythology and practice. As of yesterday, July 17, they have released their EP The Silent Treatment, with the video for the title track premiering on RollingStone.com Check out the video by clicking HERE.
While at Forecastle Music Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, we caught up with the trio backstage on their bus, where we drank a beer together, chatted about their music, their fans, touring in Europe and the US, trashy films and crap TV, plus much more. Read on to discover more about this indelible band:
How are the US audiences versus the European audiences referencing you guys’ reception to your music?
Ritzy: It’s difficult to say because I think we have quite vocal audiences in Europe and in North America, which I think probably goes against the stereotypes. When you’re touring, you see so many different sides of the world, and literally throws out every stereotype you maybe had or thought there could be. So I think that maybe Europeans in the UK are a little bit more reserved, but I definitely think we have a fan-base that’s loyal and always had an open relationship with our fans, and I think because of that they’re there because they’re passionate about the music, they get the band. So we tend to get the same amount of heckling…
To Matt: There has been a recent trend of heckling you on stage…
Matt: Well, easy target. I can’t even move, I can’t get up.
They heckle you that bad?!
Ritzy: No, no, they heckle him nice things like “Take your shirt off,” stuff like that.
Matt: Well, I’m not sure if that’s nice, but…
Rhydian: (referencing taking his shirt off) I don’t need an excuse, I just take it off anyway.
Rhydian (expanding on audience differences): You have some audiences that are quite polite and actually listen more-so than the rowdy bunch. So, it varies in that respect as well.
You guys are frequent on the festival route. What do you like best festivals and the intimate club/gigs you perform, and which one do you prefer?
Ritzy: I think there’s a definite difference with the kind of spontaneity with a festival. You’re not quite sure; I mean, we try, when we can, to spend as much time as we can during the day, take a look at the stages, get a vibe of the atmosphere of the festival you’re about to play. But, even then it’s kind of difficult to gauge, and the weather’s unpredictable (as we’re experiencing today). But, you know there’s normally a good atmosphere, people are up for it, people are having a few drinks, they’re ready to let their hair down.
Rhydian: That’s the thing about festivals. That’s the spirit of it I think I enjoy.
Ritzy: The freedom, yeah…
Rhydian: It’s always about people coming together, collective, with different types of music. You know, it’s that kind of thing that’s great about festivals. Yeah, you get that spontaneity, that chaotic element, you don’t always know how it’s going to sound for you on stage, or whatever. So you have to embrace that, flying by the seat of your pants kind of thing, which is cool. It doesn’t actually phase us; we do enjoy it. It’s the spirit of a festival that I like.
Ritzy: Which you can have in a really intimate, kind-of sweaty, rock complacent as well.
Rhydian: I prefer the smaller shows in some respect to that. But, it’s your show, isn’t it, as opposed to a whole collective of different types of people getting together, different types of music. That’s the thing about it for me.
Ritzy: I think it’s just nice to have the variety. I think we’ve been kind of lucky as well this year. We’ve gone from playing some really big headlining shows of our own, to a little run of intimate shows, because we wanted to play some new material, in some unusual, quirky venues. Then you go out and do some big shows with The Black Keys at festivals. I don’t think the approach ever changes. The type of band you are, that doesn’t change depending on the size of the stage, physical space, who’s in the audience, whether they love it. I know, for me, the main thing is that they have some sort of reaction to it. I’d rather people hate us and boo us than just be apathetic, with no discourse. But, that never happens, so that’s a good thing (laughs).
How was touring with The Black Keys?
Ritzy: We had a handful of dates with them. They’re really nice guys; we had a good time with them.
The single, The Leopard and the Lung, it was said to be inspired by the activist Wangari Matthai, referencing nature, social issues and Native American mythology. Can you talk about that a little bit, and where the inspiration comes through in your music?
Rhydian: Wangari Matthai was a female activist from Kenya, so that song talks about her and the inspiration behind it; such a strong force. She basically took on the government over there and she’s dead now, and singlehandedly tried to further women’s rights and nature’s rights, I suppose as well. It was just something that really touched us. I remember when we were writing the album, we were reading about her. So, there’s quite a lot of points like that seep into the album. I wouldn’t say it’s directly about nature, but we are big creatures of nature, coming from where we’re from. We often find inspirations in that. Not just in the romantic element of it, but also in how out-of-touch we are. We feel like sometimes society is out of touch with itself spiritually and in nature. You know, it’s an attempt on occasion in the album to kind of be like, “Hey, let’s not forget this,” because let’s face it, we live in a society that’s all about aspirations, and we sometimes forget about things that really make people happy and that are really important; things like talking about Wangari Matthai we feel is important, rather than singing songs about nothing, you know. All the songs mean something to us.
Ritzy: I definitely think the flip-side of celebrating her, that there was almost this guilt that a lot of tenacious characters through history that we don’t celebrate enough. We’re not showing our young women people like Wangari Matthai, who was really an incredible woman, and I also think there’s almost frustration that sometimes we do celebrate mediocrity and everyone now pushing to be a celebrity.
Rhydian: Not just that, it’s often transparency and vacuousness as well.
Matt: It’s like bathing and writing a song about a pair of trainers, I suppose.
Rhydian: Yeah, there’s a time and place for everything.
Matt: Come and check out my new trainers; you know they were made in a sweatshop.
Rhydian: There’s a place for everything, but you don’t actually hear much of the (in our eyes) important stories. There’s this obsession with fluff.
Since you guys tour frequently, what has been your favorite gig, thus far? The best hands down?
Rhydian: That’s always a hard one. Do you mean this year or in general?
In general, yeah…
Ritzy: We did a show in South Wales at the Millenium Stadium, which was just superb space, and we played a show with Paul McCartney. It was in Wales, which is where we’re from, and he’s pretty iconic, isn’t he? He’s written some alright songs, let’s face it (laughs). It was a very special night, and his show was so good. He was very down-to-earth, and he welcomed us there that day, and I think moments like that, when you’re a new band, and you’re thinking about your career ahead, and still being up there for the right reasons, and still it all being about the music. He demonstrates that. The Foo Fighters demonstrate that, you know, as a sort of a collective of “This is what’s important.” We had a really good day, the camaraderie was really nice backstage.
Rhydian: It’s always really hard to choose, as well, because we’ve got a lovely fan-base, and you hear stories all the time about them coming to the show, and them telling you directly, how your music has changed their lives and stopped them maybe from committing suicide even; there’s multiple stories like that, so it’s hard to choose. In that respect, every show is something meaningful. Not just because of their stories. It’s about connecting with people. In a way, the next show is something that we’re always looking forward to.
Nodding towards Matt: Do you have anything to say? You’re the jokester of the group (laughs).
Ritzy: She’s got you sauced, eh.
Matt: In terms of gigs, we’ve done so many. It’s always changing it, isn’t it. You have an amazing gig, then you’re thinking wow, don’t know how are we going to top that one. Go back awhile…Japan was really nice.
Wow, did you have crazy fans there?
Matt: Yeah, which is strange because we hadn’t really been going that long.
Ritzy: It was a very early tour for us. Very sweet. Lots of gifts.
Matt: They would meet us off the plane, and obviously they must have known that we had to travel by train to get to where we were going. So, they were meeting us at the stations and then somehow they knew which hotel we were going to.
Ritzy: Really polite though and very sweet…but before we went on stage that night, I thought the place must be empty because you could hear absolute silence while we were waiting to go on-stage, and when we were walking out we thought there was only going to be like 10 people. But, it was full-house, so polite. Quite weird walking out on stage, then they’d clap and then become absolutely silent again. It’s awkward, isn’t it? Very sweet, listening, but that’s the great thing about touring. You get so many experiences.
Ritzy: Cultures, yeah…
What was your first concert you guys attended, and which one was your favorite?
Rhydian: The favorite concert I always find difficult, but the early one was probably something like Shed 7.
Ritzy: We had a good chat about this onstage last night. There was a young girl in the audience last night, who was only 12 years old, and she was in the front row, and I got talking to her before the show. It was only her second concert ever, and she was there with her Dad, but her first concert was Rush. I was saying, “You’re a bit cool, aren’t you?!” You know what I mean? Rush and then us, and that was pretty nice. So we ended up having this big digress on stage last night when we were talking about “What was your first concert?” and Rhydian said that his first concert was New Kids on the Block, but…
That was mine, that was my first concert…
(the band collectively laughs)
Ritzy: then you withdrew it and said it was something else, so…(looking at Matt) Yours was Fun Lovin’ Criminals…
Matt: Yeah, just because someone won tickets to go. It was quite a funny gig. I would probably would have gone to see them if I had won tickets.
We chatted about my first concert being New Kids on the Block, other boy bands, including Take That (of whom I still enjoy listening to) and Rhydian agreed that they have some good songs. We all then went on to discuss good writing in music.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has done for you?
Ritzy: Someone dressed up in a gorilla suit last night, I thought was kinda funny. That’s not the craziest thing, though.
Matt: They didn’t do that for us, though, did they…
Ritzy: I wasn’t privy to the conversation with the guy in the gorilla suit…what was that?
Rhydian: I have no idea…yeah, it was just his thing.
Matt: Why not?
Rhydian: There’s people that bring us all kinds of foods all the time. They bring us snakcs, cakes, loads of stuff from Japan, rice bowls…
Rhydian: (subtle laugh) Yeah
Matt: They keep bringing me Berry’s tea because I posted something about Barry’s tea…
Because you love it?
Matt: I do love it, but I’ve got boxes and boxes of it.
Rhydian: We’ve had quite a lot of tattoos of our artwork, yeah, there’s lots of nice stories, yeah.
Has anyone dressed exactly as the spitting image replica of you?
Ritzy: I won’t kiss and tell (laughs).
Rhydian: There’s a bunch of guys in the UK called The Special Bus Crew, and there was this one weird gig, where they all came with masks of all three of us, and they looked deformed as well. We were on stage and looking out and there was about 20 people with our faces, looking up, staring back at us. That was kind of surreal.
Ritzy: Yeah, nobody gave us the heads up either. We literally walked out like “What the?”
Matt: I wasn’t sure where Rhydian actually was, though. Was he onstage or was he out there?
Ritzy: One of the Rhydian’s didn’t look that much different…
Rhydian: No, mine looked dead…white
Matt: Not very different (laughs).
Ritzy: Mine looked orange.
Matt: Oompa-loompa (laughs).
Rhydian: We’ve got crazy, but nice fans.
What’s your guilty entertainment pleasure?
Rhydian: What, music, or…
Anything, music, tv, anything in general, what’s your guilty pleasure?
Rhydian: I’ll watch a trashy film now and again, for sure man. I’ll watch Alien vs. Predator. Yeah, you know…
Matt: Now and again?! (laughs)
Ritzy: On repeat! Just to hasten Todd.. How many times did you watch Jurassic Park last night? Not that that’s a bad film, it’s a great film, but it was on mute yesterday.
Rhydian: I could watch Jurassic Park over and over again, and I can’t do that with many films. But, that’s not all I watch, do you know what I mean?
Oh, I believe you! I know what you mean…
Ritzy: I like crappy television, occasionally. I’m a bit snobby when it comes to books; I don’t like crap magazines or books that are badly written. I feel like it’s too much time. But, yeah, I’ll watch a really crappy thing on TLC every now and again. I like Cake Wars. Is it Cake or Cupcake? I like a good Cupcake War!
Matt: Oh yeahhh!
Ritzy: I like a good Cupcake War!
Thank you for interviewing with me!
The Joy Formidable: Thank you!
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