Welsh trio The Joy Formidable returned last week (24 January) with their second album Wolf’s Law – the follow-up to 2011 debut The Big Roar. Recorded in Portland, Maine, lyrically the record – the title comes from a scientific theory by Julius Wolff that suggests bones may become stronger in response to stress – sees the group mixing elements of their personal lives and relationships with wider, more universal issues. We spoke to frontwoman Ritzy Bryan about why she’s happy to be so candid in song, whether stress really does make you stronger and much more.
How the devil are you?
“Pretty well, thank you.”
You wrote a lot of this album on the road, is it strange now to be heading out on tour again now and revisiting some of the places you wrote the songs you’re now playing?
“We can definitely pinpoint the starting places of a lot of the songs. Writing on the road is quite a chaotic way of doing things. You end up with a lot of threads. There are different starting points for every track on the album. Some of them have morphed so much from that first point of conception that they changed as soon as we took them to Portland. We had a lot of ideas on the bus and a lot of demos but when we went to the studio we stripped everything back to the bare bones. Ever song on the album was driven by the voice and lyrical side of things.”
If words were leading things, how important were your inspirations this time? You wrote a guest column for Q last year about the influence of the paintings of Carl Ray, for example.
“That’s the great thing about touring, there’s constant variation, so many people you meet. You’re constantly stimulated on the road. If you’re that way inclined and you’ve got your eyes open you can be touched by the simplest things. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. We’re always have a personal thread running through any work we make. There always seems to be that sense of the personal, chronicling where we’re at as a band and individually. This album is no different. A lot of things have been going on behind the scenes with us personally. Though it’s not only introspective, it deals with lots of other people’s stories as well as our own. But that’s what we do, we tend to open up.”
Does being on the road encourage that introspection? Do you feel isolated, in a bubble perhaps?
“It’s actually the opposite. I don’t have any time alone on the road. It’s quite unhealthy when you start noticing those five minutes of silence! What happened was when we went to the studio there was suddenly a lot of time to reflect and look back on how we were feeling on a personal level. We were in a little cabin in the middle of a forest in the winter, the snow muting the sound of everything, it was a perfect place to go and lose yourself in the record, but also have a check and a rethink about where we are and what we’re doing.”
With Wolf’s Law itself coming from the idea that bones become stronger from stress, are you suggesting that you’ve emerged stronger from the stresses you’ve endured?
“There were lots of different levels of that. When we were writing The Big Roar, I was going through a horrible family situation. My parents had this really unique divorce situation that had been stretched over ten years. It took down a lot of other relationships, not just theirs. I became estranged from them – I haven’t spoken to my father for three years. It was really turbulent, a lot of arguments, a lot of negativity, a lot of mental health issues happening in the family. It was a miserable time and The Big Roar chronicles elements of that, but again it isn’t only a personal album there are other things as well. It captures a lot of that frustration, you can tell there’s a lot of grief and loss on that record. With this record, it’s not everything has suddenly become comfortable or easy, but it definitely felt there was a bit of reconciliation.”
You’re in contact again?
“We’ve started talking to each other again. We’ve actually lost a lot of family members over the year, so there’s a general sense of not wanting to waste time any more. Life is too short for all this bullshit. You know, put our pride aside and pulled together a little bit. That sense of pulling together is something that runs through this band, we’re such a tight unit. We’re not doing this as a chase for fame, we’re passionate about what we do and sometimes we have to pull together to keep everything working. So there’s a lots of different senses of trying to reach for something a bit more hopeful and solid [on the album].”
Is the idea of applying Wolf’s Law to relationships then a positive message – you can emerge stronger – or negative? The stress will come…
“There’s lots of moments on the album where we don’t feel reconciled, you can hear the tension, but maybe the frustration on this album has shifted to observational elements rather than the personal sense. A songs like Tendons is a very poignant love song, it’s a song again about pulling together and the exceptional friendship that Rhydian [Dafydd, bassist] and I have. We’re so close, but it’s also how the lifestyle of the band and the music – all the things that brought us together – are also the things that have taken away our relationship. In almost every song there’s a reach for something positive, grabbing the moment, but at the same time the realisation that life is a bit cruel.”
After the stress, do you feel stronger?
“Erm, [laughs] We all have idiosyncratic personalities in the band and mine is I have extreme highs and extreme lows [laughs] which is fine. It’s not a bad way of living your life because you feel the moments whether they’re good or bad. It’s better than riding an easy straight line.”
You out touring again, are you looking forward to that?
“The tours are back to back, the calendar looks a little bit fucking scary! [laughs] We’re really excited. It’s an exciting period to feel how the new songs are fitting in the set. We can sense the growth to the band. It’s not something we dwell on, we’re not consciously always pushing ourselves to grow, it has to be a natural process, but it’s a nice feeling when you realised you’ve challenged yourself and you’ve come through. There’s a lot going on really. We’re half through finishing a Welsh EP that we’ve been working on forever! We keep getting side-tracked!”
And of course while you’re on the road you might come across a new inspiration?
“You’re so hungry for those moments when you out there. You’re travelling a lot and you see nothing. So those rare occasions when you get somewhere early and can get out you are really ready to suck it all up are great. You’re ready to explore!”
Finally, do you still see Paul Draper from Mansun? He made a guest appearance onstage with you once…
“Yeah man! We spoke the other day. We’re from the same neck of the woods in North Wales. I was in touch with him when we were recording the drums in London. He came down to the sessions. He does a lot of production work these days. He’s a great guy, we love him.”
For more head to Thejoyformidable.com.