The Joy Formidable managed to find their way on to many ‘Hot Tips for 2009’ lists, and, despite the weather, this summer has proven to be a hot and happy one for Ritzy, Rhydian and Matt, playing their way across the festival trail as well as getting ready to support both The Editors and Passion Pit in the Autumn. Dan caught up with TJF at Hop Farm Festival in Kent.
‘I was amazed by people’s ability to dance on a massive cock!’ That’s not the sort of first answer you normally get when you’re interviewing a band, but then The Joy Formidable are no ordinary band. Matt’s response was actually in reply to a question about a gig they played at The Great Escape in Brighton when, for some bizarre reason, the dance floor had a rather phallic shaped podium right in the middle of it.
The first time I saw TJF I was amazed by their intensity and raw power, but how does a band from the historic town of Mold in North Wales generate such a sound? ‘Mold is quite a repressed place and music is a great way to escape and I guess to rebel against the repression…but not necessarily in a conscious way. There isn’t really an obvious scene in North Wales which means that anything goes and so the writing hasn’t felt restricted for us.’ states Ritzy, and Rhydian agrees completely.
‘We don’t have to follow a legacy. Like if you grow up in Manchester then you listen to and follow a particular type of scene, such as Oasis. We had a mixed bag and so there were no rules for us. It would be nice if we could put North Wales on the map as South Wales has a large metal scene, Mid Wales has bands such as the Super Furry Animals and then North Wales is just lumped in with Liverpool.’
Throughout the conversation it is clear that a youth in Mold played a huge role in the music that they produce today. This sense of belonging to a small town rather than a huge city has also impacted their strongly independent stance. ‘We aren’t signed up to a permanent label. Financially it is a struggle but it has its pros and its cons…we have very strong opinions about where we want to take this and so being independent allows us to do that, but it would be pretty nice to be able to have a budget so that we could maybe push things a little further. But if you have a look throughout the history of music then lack of resources always brings creativity.’ explains Rhydian.
‘Yeah, we have to pay for everything ourselves but we don’t really mind. It’s about the creative side and not the money. In modern music a lot of bands don’t have a connection with the fans, but bands wouldn’t be there without them.’ Matt adds. Ritzy follows on seamlessly from the end of Matt’s sentence, ‘Absolutely, we are truthful about everything we do. The process isn’t watered down at all…you don’t really have to go through many people before you’re actually talking with the band!’ I can testify for this myself, having received a response directly from the band when I requested an interview. These guys really do practice what they preach. And it’s not just chatting with the band – this interview took place between the hours of 1am and 5am, and it’s fair to say was fairly alcohol fuelled.
However, for a band the size of The Joy Formidable it’s simply not possible to do everything between the three of them. Fortunately for TJF they receive fantastic support from their band manager, Joel. ‘He really is our fourth member. He’s been involved from the start and I know it’s a cliché but it feels like a family. All of us have a real love of the band and the music and that’s all that should matter. There are so many levels within the band and Joel wants to look after the band in a business sense but importantly he gives a shit and we all get on really well.’ explains Ritzy.
Rhydian adds, ‘There is so much more to it than money. It’s been a long road which has been slow going and involved a lot of hard work and if Joel was just in it commercially then he’d have dropped out a while ago! We have all grown together and we’re constantly building on the fan base, by which I don’t just mean the number of fans. A fan base is a natural process and we just get our heads down and believe in what we’re doing and people connect to that. The downfall of bands is where they are concerned about money and the amount of fans, but we believe we’ll get fans by just switching off from trying to attract people and just sticking to what we do.’
This certainly is a refreshing approach to hear and a long way off from massively publicised ‘manufactured’ bands of today that seem to grace the radio stations, TV channels, magazines and whatever else on a near constant basis.
Whilst speaking to the band it is clear that Matt has fitted in perfectly since replacing Justin as drummer. Matt doesn’t like us talking about it but for a moment Ritzy gets a little bit sentimental: ‘It would have been so easy to have not got this extra level of dynamic from anyone else. Matt is crazier and more surreal than anyone of us but I can’t imagine anyone else having joined us…it’s just been so easy and natural.’
The strong relationship that is present between Ritzy, Rhydian, Matt and manager Joel is a stark contrast from what Ritzy and Rhydian went through in previous band Tricky Nixon. The conversation takes a bit of a different tone when talking about Tricky Nixon – evidently it really was a difficult time for the both of them.
‘In Tricky Nixon it was me and the drummer that did the writing’ Rhydian explains, ‘Ritzy was the latecomer to the band so she wasn’t involved with the writing, but over time it became clear that neither of us were happy with the situation. Basically, the drummer in that band was a very controlling character, and was obsessed with Ritzy so the whole thing disintegrated. Ritzy and me felt a connection but because she joined late it was a really difficult dynamic. It became evident that we needed to do it ourselves, and it became clear through his actions of violence that we had to screen ourselves from him and move back to Wales. We almost had to get an injunction against him, but looking back on it now it was so obvious we should have got out before we did.’ Ritzy had been fairly quiet on the subject of Tricky Nixon, but now she adds ‘We can see the injustice now, but it wasn’t really clear when we were actually in the situation. In the long term I guess it’s been good for us and it definitely helped us to mature’.
Rhydian makes it clear that that is all in the past now, ‘Yeah, we’re quite controlling about things now and we’d never let ourselves get in that situation again. We won’t be fucked about anymore.’ This sad past obviously hit Ritzy and Rhydian hard, but the clean break was what they needed and allowed them to strike up a creative writing relationship together, as well as their own personal relationship.
Rather than becoming self centred and introspective about their own music, TJF get excited talking about discovering new bands, and have had some stellar support. Not confining themselves to scenes, like their own music, I get the feeling that their iPod playlists border on exploratory. ‘When we headlined The Borderline we had Kite and The Citadels and we’re a lot louder than both but we really like them so we’re pleased they supported us. At our next show at The Garage we’ve got Twin Atlantic who are on the heavier side. I don’t like the side of things now where there just seems to be so many scenes. It’s evident from the path we’ve taken that we’re not concerned about being part of a new scene, we just get on with it. People keep telling us that they have problems trying to fit us in a genre, but that’s a compliment to us because all of our favourite artists are dynamic’ states Rhydian. Matt follows on with his thoughts, explaining that ‘We really don’t like labels or categories. Why do people need them? Surely music itself is enough of a genre!’
In February of this year TJF released a mini-album entitled ‘A Balloon Called Moaning’ which was intended as a snapshot of their material so far, and can be downloaded for free from their website. Rhydian explains the thoughts behind it, ‘We try not to be orthodox. It’s good to be different and creative in the way that we record and the way we put material out there. I guess we’re against doing the usual!’ So how do they think that their new album will differ from A Balloon Called Moaning?
‘ABCM has a particular feel about it and I don’t think that the new album will be a massive change from it but I think it will be a bit more dynamic. That’s the way I feel about it anyway,’ states Rhydian. Ritzy has a similar view ‘ABCM was pre-Matt and he has brought a lot to the band and I hope the new album will capture that. With the new album I don’t want a massive change either, just a natural progression. There will be some overlap with the new album and ABCM. It was for the fans so that they could have something substantial and the new album will be an extension of that, but there will be a little bit of a twist and a few changes’.
With the full length album in the pipeline the future is looking good for The Joy Formidable, maybe it won’t be too long until North Wales is known for a band of its own…