"When there's so much change happening at once, it can be quite double-edged..." hmv.com talks The Joy Formidable
On the surface, the last couple of years might seem to have been quiet for Welsh alt-rock trio The Joy Formidable, releasing only a couple of Welsh-language singles and a brilliant cover of the theme tune to David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Behind the scenes however they've been busy; they've changed labels, brought in a new manager and relocated back to their home town in Wales where they've built their own studio, in which they've been assembling the follow-up to their 2013 sophomore album Wolf's Law.
That new album, Hitch, was eventually announced late last year with its first single 'The Last Thing On My Mind', a lament on everyday sexism and the objectification of women that was accompanied by a tongue-in-cheek video featuring, accordingly, lots of naked men.
The band's third album arrives in stores this week and we caught up with singer Ritzy Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd to talk about the new record, why they've decided to ditch the bright lights of Los Angeles in favour of a sleepy Welsh town, and their hectic touring plans for the year ahead...
So Hitch is out this week, when did you start working on it?
Rhydian Dafydd: “I suppose instantly after the last one really, we're always writing. With this one though we did a lot of writing as soon as we were off the road, we knew that we wanted to move to north Wales and set up our own studio, so we did that and just disappeared for a bit really. But we're always writing and we wrote a lot of songs for this record. We don't see it in chunks, it's an ongoing daily thing really.”
Ritzy Bryan: “Yeah, the background to this album has been us moving back to Wales and building our own studio, so there's quite a live aesthetic to this record. We've been in north Wales for about 12 months altogether working on it. Some albums are recorded more quickly but there's been quite a relaxed approach to making this record, we just wanted to take our time and wait until we were happy with it, and we're really proud of it. There wasn't really any pressure on us in terms of time and there were a lot of tracks that came out of those sessions.”
Were you producing it yourselves again or did you get someone in to help?
RD: “No, we produced it ourselves. We've always produced our records, in fact we've done pretty much every part of this record ourselves apart from mixing, we got Alan Moulder to do the mixes. We have a very clear vision of what we want with each recording and that's just the way we've always done it."
How has having your own studio affected the way you've approached making Hitch?
RD: “I think what it was more than anything is just the fact that you can leave all your equipment set up in there and there are no time constraints, you're not on the clock or anything. But even then, we kind of had that in a way already, we have a very modest mobile recording set-up that we take everywhere so we can always catch inspiration at any time. But just having all the gear set up the whole time, like Ritzy said, that's helped to capture what happens with the band live. Even all the kind of outtake moments and mistakes, all the things that happen at live shows, we wanted to be able to capture all that chemistry.”
Does one of you take the lead with writing? Or does everyone chip in with lyrics and stuff?
RD: “It's mainly me and Ritzy, but I don't think there's really any formula as such, whatever happens happens and each song is different. Lyrically it's usually me and Ritzy, but on an album that could be all Ritzy or all me. There's a combination of both on this album. But in terms of how we form ideas it could come from a jam or something one of us has started on just an acoustic guitar, it's nice to challenge yourself and be stimulated in different ways, you know?”
What kind of album is this lyrically? Your previous records have tended to have themes running throughout them...
RB: “Yeah, I think there's a lot about change on this album. Over the last 12 months we've been through a lot of changes - moving back to north Wales, changing our manager, changing our label. Also this is the first record Rhydian and I have written since not being in a relationship anymore, so a lot of the lyrics talk about the emotional things you go through when there's so much change happening at once, it can be quite double-edged. There's a lot of freedom and excitement that can come from that, but also trepidation and feeling a little bit lost."
RD: “I think love is a pretty big theme on the album as well. But there has been a lot of change and I think the three of us just wanted to regroup, let the music do the steering, you know? Simplify things. You come across things in the music industry that can make you cynical and we wanted to try and get away from all that, just have the three of us in a room.
“I think with all of that change going on it makes you question big things, with me and Rhiannon not being together anymore, but we're really happy and if anything we feel more solidarity as a group. So there's been heightened spirits in that sense, and a sense of intriguing and new adventures coming up. So even though we were recording for an entire year, the record feels really vibrant, there's a pace to it and the sentiment is that there is a future, there is a tomorrow. That's partly why we called the album Hitch, it's a reference to hitch-hiking.”
Have you had a chance to test out the new material live yet?
RB: “Yeah, we have been dabbling, we just finished doing some London shows and yeah, we've been trying out the new songs. Obviously we felt a little bit like we didn't want to preview too much just yet but we'll be back in May after the album is released. The new stuff is great live though, like I said we've tried to capture that on the record so this album has its roots in the live side of things.”
RD: “There are a lot of shows coming up too, we're heading to South America next.”
RB: “Well, we're having a little break first, but then we're off to Peru.”
You're doing Lollapalooza out there this year aren't you?
RB: “Yeah, we are, but we're also going to do some of our own shows too I think. We wanted to do some little shows outside of that because Lollapalooza is quite expensive for a lot of the people who live there, so we've been trying to sort out a couple of little pub shows of our own.”
So do you know what you'll do next after the touring is done yet?
RB: “At the moment we're happily bracing ourselves for a very long touring schedule, after South America we're going to the U.S, then back to the UK and Europe, then festivals in the summer. So we're all really excited for that, after 12 months in the studio it kind of makes you hungry for it again, it's the complete opposite. But like Rhydian said we're always writing in this band, always dabbling, so we'll soon have our heads in something else.”
RD: “It's quite peculiar, you release material and once the album is out you're kind of sat with those songs for the next couple of years, so after a while you're always looking to the next thing. But we've always spontaneously released things as well, not even singles from the current album, all kinds of stuff, so we like sharing those things with people as they come along.”
Hitch is available in hmv stores and online now, you can preview and purchase it at the top of this page...