“The biggest struggle is trying to know what people expect from you. That’s the biggest challenge. In terms of the writing, there were no struggles whatsoever. The only challenge was trying to make sense of everything we had written over the course of 18 months.” While many bands and artists suffer from ‘Difficult Second Album Syndrome’, Ritzy Bryan, lead singer of the Joy Formidable says there were no struggles writing their second offering, ‘Wolf’s Law’.
The Joy Formidable have always written on the road. While they’ve been pretty busy touring almost non-stop throughout 2012, their mobile studio has been well-used for “lots of dabbling and experimenting and trying new things.” The band have played around using more piano in their music and Ritzy has been writing on her own. She says one of the main differences between their first and second album is how much experimentation the trio managed on the road. “I embrace that the new album is different, but it still has all the intent and the passion that is signature of a Joy Formidable record.”
Much of ‘Wolf’s Law’ was recorded in Portland, Maine, while the band were on their 18-month tour of debut album ‘The Big Roar’. Morning turned to night and there weren’t many daylight hours seen, but the band dedicated their time there to recording and “crawled through the night.” “It was a happy accident why we ended up going to Portland, Maine. It was the only week off we had in November and that’s where we logistically were. But it was a really great location for us. It reminded us of back home, where the band started in north Wales. It was very rugged and isolated, in the middle of this wood in a log cabin away from it all, with no phone signal and no fucking wi-fi. It was such a contrast to touring and being around people all the time.”
Unfortunately, the band’s recording experience wasn’t a totally happy occasion. “We went into the studio so fired up about finally making this album and literally within the first week my grandfather passed away, quite quickly and unexpectedly. It was just a weird thing to try to balance, that complete sense of grief seeping into what started off as an exciting period. ‘The Turnaround’ is definitely about celebrating him and people like him, and it’s a different take on a lot of stuff that he used to listen to and love, so I definitely have a bit of a soft spot for that closing track.”
Ritzy came across the phrase ‘Wolf(f)’s Law’ while touring. It is a medical rule written by 19th-century German anatomist Julius Wolff, “about how bone is able to adapt after stress and breakage” and the phrase connected with Ritzy at the time. She has been estranged from her parents for a long time, but while touring, could begin to see the first steps of reconciliation. “We were just starting to wrap our heads around it and we were getting to grips with the fact that life is just too short to waste on tension and sadness.”
‘Wolf’s Law’ also has a layered meaning. Nature has always played a big part in the Joy Formidable in terms of metaphors in songs and the band had been reading about mythology and what the wolf represents in indigenous cultures in the States, so the phrase was perfect. “We are fascinated by how the wolf especially is a different symbol in different cultures. In some it is celebrated and a great thing to see a wolf, in others it is really ominous and something to be feared because it will bring bad luck to a tribe.”
The Joy Formidable have always been a band who are difficult to place in a genre. Obviously, many have tried and the trio have been described as anything from shoegaze to rock, indie and everything in between. Ritzy however, doesn’t mind the ambiguity. “The exciting thing about being in a band and the exciting thing about being an artist is definitely not becoming formulaic. It has never really been about genre for us, it’s always been about the songs. “We have got a defined, clear sense of who we are and I think once you have that, the genre becomes less and less important. You can be brave and turn your hand to whatever you feel like.”
Having only just released their second album, the Joy Formidable have already started writing again and have a few secretive collaborations up their sleeve. “There’ll definitely be something. We have been doing a few collaborations… a few different things. I can’t really go into them right now but they’re definitely in a completely different genre.”
Not only do the Joy Formidable get placed awkwardly in genres, but also often get compared to other bands, simply because they have a female lead singer. “The female question is quite interesting because it shows that maybe, we are a little bit limited in terms of women and women with guitars. However, I think the comparisons unveil some of the laziness of people and it shows how people think in such a limited way. I think what’s funny is the scope of references we hear these days.
“I like the idea of just celebrating everybody for who they are, what they’re making, and their own originality. But we’re not going to change that overnight.”
The more minimalist sound of bands like the XX and Alt-J may be popular at the moment, but would the Joy Formidable ever consider stripping back their big sound? “Oh god no. For us it’s not a game about fitting in, or following the trend. It’s not rebelling for the sake of rebelling either, but it’s about being truthful to you and the music you want to make. You can’t control whether or not people connect with it, you have to let it be what it’ll fucking be. We believe in the music we’re making.
“I find it quite refreshing that our music stands out, confuses people and shakes things up. That’s just the way it is, the music that we’re making, and the band we want to be. We are puppets to nobody. We have always been completely at the creative helm of everything we want to do, and that’s getting rarer.”
Despite such a busy 2012 schedule (JLS, take note), Ritzy sounds genuinely excited to be touring again. “You have these recordings that you have produced, but when the three of you come together and the songs come to life and change again and you find out new things about the tracks, that’s really special.” With no plans to head back to the wilderness, wi-fi-less-ness hideout of Portland Maine just yet, The Joy Formidable are once again on the road, albeit just until March.
Words by Rachael Hogg
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The Joy Formidable's second album ‘Wolf’s Law’ is out now.
Catch the band at the following shows:
24 Nottingham Rescue Rooms
25 Leeds Cockpit
26 Glasgow Oran Mor
28 Manchester Ritz
1 Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall
2 Sheffield Leadmill
4 Brighton Concorde 2
5 Exeter Phoenix
6 Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
8 London Roundhouse