Sometimes the greatest developments arise from the conventional getting torn apart. For The Joy Formidable, all the comforts they held dear for most of the last decade were tossed aside in the making of their latest album. In the last couple of years, the Welsh trio has dealt with the end of a romantic band relationship, a new management group, and a new label, but somehow have come away stronger. Their latest album, “Hitch”, is one of the most energizing rock albums of the year and will be released in Canada on June 17th. Their longest and most diverse album yet, The Joy Formidable sound more energized than ever, and are currently on tour in the United States and Canada. We reached lead singer Ritzy Bryan in her hotel room in Cincinnati:
Northern Transmissions: Whereas “Wolf’s Law” was written and recorded abroad, it sounds like the band was fully recharged by recording back in Wales. What was it about the familiarity of returning home that shaped this album?
Ritzy Bryan: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we were able to build our own studio in North Wales. Even though it was only a modest studio space, it was still ours and I think that gave us the freedom to record as much, as often, and as nocturnally as we wanted to. We’ve always been very much at the helm of the production of our records, but this time we were also able to engineer and mix it ourselves with a new studio. We had all the freedom in the world, so we were very detailed in making sure that the record sounded like the album we wanted to make, and this record took a little while to come together compared to our other records.
NT: I read that it took you a full year to make this record, that sounds like a pretty long time to make an album. Were there any changes in direction on the album?
RB: I wouldn’t say there was a change of direction, I think it had more to do with the wealth of material we had from writing lots of songs in those sessions. We had so much good material by the end of the recording, and there are a lot of things that we’d probably like to share down the line as well. I think we were really at peace with how long the album took to make. Before these sessions started we were on the road for practically six years with very few breaks. We always made records in tandem with touring which got exhausting, so I kind of feel like individually we needed to recharge and regroup to have a different kind of connection musically again. It took a year, but we were happily distracted at the same time as we were making this record; we launched a Welsh 7’’-single collection in that time and built a whole studio. We kind of felt we could take a long time making this album as long as we were constantly evolving musically, and that’s a better place to be than taking less time and just churning out the same old shit.
NT: It sounds like you guys were really busy, and “Hitch” is your longest album yet at nearly 70 minutes; was there anything left over for another album?
RB: I think we had enough material left for three albums haha. I think we’re going to finish off another album soon; we always like the spontaneity of releasing new stuff and we don’t want to get too stagnant. It’s one thing to take your time setting up and reconnecting, but I think that the next year will be a busy one for us with all the material we have left over. We’re quite excited about the stuff we’ll be sharing over the next twelve months.
NT: Why did you choose “Hitch” as the album title and what does it mean to you?
RB: I think there’s a real driving sense on this record. There’s a real feeling of being free, alive, and moving on this record… even though it’s probably the steadiest record we’ve ever made in the sense that we were holed away in our studio. I felt the album really had that feeling of moving and the freedom that maybe comes with “hitching” a ride somewhere else. I suppose it’s also a joke between ourselves, because we’ve had a lot of changes internally between the last two records. It’s the first record we’ve made since Rhydian [Davies, bass] and I split up romantically, we changed management, and we changed labels. I think that maybe there was an expectation from outside that we’d find it hard to recover and still be a band, but the truth behind it is that we probably felt the strongest and the most excited about making this record than we’ve ever felt. So it wasn’t a “hitch” haha.
NT: You touched on your separation from Rhydian between the recording of the last two albums. That could have broken up some bands, but instead it sounds like you came back stronger. How were the two of you able to put your personal lives aside in recording the new album and did it influence the songwriting on this record as well?
RB: I think some of that comes with time, and a lot of it comes from our background as people and as band members. Even as partners, the music always came first; it’s kind of the thing that always monopolized our individual lives and our relationship. Maybe some people would be different and need some time apart and space, but what helped us was actually proving – not just to the two of us, but to Matt [Thomas, drums] as well – that this is fine, this is just another chapter, this is actually better for us individually and as a band. I think that actually coming together and facing our situation really head on in the most direct way you could possibly do it helped us recover. I wouldn’t call it a break-up album, but a celebration of friendship that can be lasting even when things change, and the album really celebrates coming together and being able to get through things with tenacity.
NT: The album’s been out for a few months now, what have you discovered in some of the new songs from playing them live that you didn’t first feel or realize in the studio?
RB: I think that with this batch of songs they all had a live-esthetic in the studio anyway. I think the writing process especially on this album was very much about testing everything and the live feel of the songs. A little bit of figuring out had to be done because there are only three of us up there and on the album it sounds like the room is full. The performance of every instrument is really vital on this record, and I think we just enjoyed the way these songs fit in with our older stuff. Obviously not to the level of someone like Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, but I definitely felt on this record that now we have a lot of choices and freedom with playing live and we can change the sets up quite a bit, so I’ve really loved touring this record.
NT: And finally, what are your five favourite records?
1. Van Morrison- Astral Weeks
2. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead
3. Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker
4. Santigold – 99¢
5. John Martyn – Solid Air
Interview by Stewart Wiseman