The Joy Formidable AAARTH interview
In the months after they finished touring their third album Hitch, Welsh alt-rock trio The Joy Formidable weren’t sure if they were a band anymore.
Their last touring cycle had been brutal for the trio, singer Ritzy Bryan and bassist Rhydian Davies, a couple since the band’s earliest days, had broken up, with Bryan relocating to Utah from their native North Wales to start afresh.
As well as new personal circumstances, Hitch also saw the band releasing the record on their own label. The band worked hard to take the album as far as they could, but the gruelling tour left them all creatively spent and wondering if they had a future.
Fortunately, it wasn’t the end. The band regrouped in Bryan’s new home of Utah to write and record the wonderfully titled AAARTH, an album inspired by Utah’s wild frontiers and colourful nature.
As the album arrives on shelves, we spoke to the band about overcoming writer’s block and doubts about their future to cut loose on an experimental new LP...
When did you start putting together the songs for this record?
Ritzy (Bryan, guitars/vocals): “About 18 months ago. We’d just finished touring and we were back in Wales for a bit, it started then. But we did most of the sessions out in Utah, we set up a little studio and worked through things.”
How did you want this album to move on from what you’d done in the past?
Rhydian (Davies, bass): “Hitch, our last record, was very much performance based, no messing around after the fact, just the songs. This time we were happy to be much more experimental and a lot more playful. We see this as a very colourful record, a collage. Some songs have real drums, some don’t, the guitars are cut up, f**ked around with, reversed, there’s a lot going on and it’s a very different approach. We were coming out of some weird personal experiences and we needed a reset. We needed to have fun.”
You’re a band who tour hard, are you thinking about how you can recreate songs live when you’re making records?
Rhydian: “When we record we never think about how we’ll make it work live, we just try to get down what’s in our heads and we’ll worry about it later. We see live and recording as two very different disciplines. Bringing it to life on stage in a different way is fun, it’s part of the joy.”
Ritzy: “Our last record was very live sounding, it was all about being us in a room. Taking that out on the road was more straightforward, but less challenging. Digging into these songs will take a lot longer, you’ll see a lot more layers as we tour.”
You self-produced the record, why did you decide to do that?
Rhydian: “We’ve always been involved, we’ve always co-produced, but this time we just did it ourselves and we mixed it as well. We were very aware of how we wanted to shape the songs and it made sense to just take total control.”
Ritzy: “If we’d taken all these crazy ideas and all the record’s idiosyncrasies to an outside voice, it might have pushed them over the edge. We knew what we wanted.”
A lot of bands look to producers to give them discipline and a plan in the studio, but you must not need any of that kind of guidance?
Rhydian: “We’ve always been very focused in our work. The chemistry we have is strong and we loving working with each other. We really know what we want.”
What kind of record is this lyrically? Is there a theme to the songs?
Ritzy: “A lot of it was written in quite a sad place. Between our last two records, we had contemplated whether we’d carry on, would we make another record? That stasis contributed to a bit of writer’s block, something I’d never had before, I felt flat and uninspired. Once we had time to come back together and make sense of things and decide to carry on, that gave me a shift. There are a lot of references to turning the corner, putting your life in context. It’s a very personal journey, I feel like I’m dissecting myself. It’s a diary of getting yourself together, feeling empowered and strong again.”
Rhydian: “There’s a lot of healing and resetting. This isn’t a calm record, it’s a rebirth, re-skinning yourself and enjoying seeing everything come back to life.”
When did you settle on the title?
Rhydian: “We wanted something esoteric, something playful. It feels like a scream, it ties into all that feeling of letting go and frustration. We like that it’s a Welsh word and it’s cool that it means bear. Recording in Utah, you see a lot of bears in insignia and it’s a real symbol of strength. It works on a few layers, but it also feels instinctive…”
How is your live set coming together? You’ve got four records to pick from now...
Rhydian: “We like to chop and change. That’s the best thing about having a career and a back catalogue. You can keep people on their toes and you can keep yourself amused. I don’t just want to bang out a ‘Greatest Hits’ every night. Our fans are committed, they want to hear the new thing.”
Ritzy: “Our fans know what we’re like, we like to be in the moment, to capture the vibe. In the gigs so far we’ve been dipping back into some really early ones, everything’s on the table.”
Finally, you’ve got a new label for this album in Hassle Records, how’s that all going?
Ritzy: “It’s been fantastic. This collaboration is a meeting of the minds. We’re always been very self-sufficient and we don’t need much hand-holding. This is our fourth record, we’ve learned a lot from our career so far and what we need from a label. We’ve been caught up in red tape in the past.”
Rhydian: “Last time our vinyl didn’t turn up for a year after the CD came out! That’s been sorted this time!”