Interview – Joy Formidable Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd and Matt Thomas
-by Ria Nevada
A flurry of nerves kicked in right before I entered the Rickshaw Theatre for my interview with all three members of the Welsh group, The Joy Formidable. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the dream-pop group, who are known for their rambunctious live show.
But the band was as down-to-earth as could be. As soon as they entered, they spoke animatedly about their drive down from Calgary, their upcoming show supporting Brand New at the Wonderland Ballroom, and their excitement about being back in Vancouver.
Founding members Ritzy Bryan and Rhydian Dafydd eloquently described how The Joy Formidable emerged from the dredges of the past outfit, Sidecar Kisses, and how drummer Matt Thomas saved the day with his upbeat (pun intended) and energetic presence. It seems like all things have fallen into place for the indie-rock group; band chemistry is solid, their first LP The Big Roar is a critically acclaimed hit, the fans keep rolling in, and there’s plenty more for us to hear in the near future.
Ria Nevada: Firstly, welcome back to Vancouver! You arrived just in time for our very late, but great summer. Have you had the chance to explore the city at all?
Ritzy Bryan: Sadly not this time. We were very fortunate to be here in July for two weeks and we did some writing. We were staying in Port Moody. We kinda just wanted to get away from it and have no phone signal for a fortnight. So we figured Vancouver would be a good place for that. [laughs] Because we were here obviously, when was the first show here? At the Media Club? We’re talking…
Rhydian Dafydd: God, I don’t know.
RB: We’re talking last year? Middle of May.
RD: Was it?
RB: I think it was even before that because it was… anyway, it was fucking a bit of a while ago. And when we were here last, we were, unfortunately so in and out. But just as a first impression, really, really smitten by the place.
RN: Out of sheer curiosity, what prompted the change from the band name Sidecar Kisses, to Joy Formidable? Both epic titles, I must say.
RB: Oh, totally different bands.
RD: One’s a completely different setup really. That was essentially the dregs of the band we used to be in, where me and the drummer I suppose mainly were the songwriters and Ritzy joined as a guitarist. So it was a completely different feel.
RN: So it was a complete reformation?
RD: We escaped all of that because we had a very difficult time. So we went back to North Wales, me and Ritzy, and sort of started discovering the joys of writing again. We’d had, like I said, a hard time, so that was really the first time we started writing together. It was very different.
RB: We can’t really talk about Sidecar because it makes us a little bit sick… [Rhydian fakes a barfing sound, everyone laughs]
RN: On the subject of band names though, picking a name must be one of the fun parts about forming a band. Were there any other options that you guys were toying around with?
RB: I think when we went back to North Wales and we started writing, I think it was the last thing on our mind really. We were writing just a lot, and you know, we weren’t too set on how our band was gonna sound, nothing was overanalyzed. We were just experimenting. So the band name kind of came just very naturally, you know. We always say it could have been just like a song title. We weren’t dissecting names too much because nobody needs to do that. But it just felt really right and it seemed to evoke a lot…
RN: It wasn’t like picking an adjective plus noun…
RB: No nothing like that. It was very natural. And you know, like I said, it’s difficult to exactly define why a name feels right. But there’s symbolism in it, and there’s meaning there for us as well, without going into it too much, I think as long as a name’s got a bit of ambiguity it’s good. Nobody should go into a dictionary to find a bad name.
RN: So you guys officially formed the band in 2007, is that right? Around that time?
RB: We left the last band in 2007, or a bit later. Matt’s been with us for about 2 and a half years [puts arm around Matt’s shoulders].
RN: Joined the happy family?
Matt Thomas: Yeah, close to two and a half years now.
RD: It’s like a life time.
MT: [laughs] It feels like we’ve been in this band forever!
RN: But since then, you obviously had quite a number of singles out there, and the EP A Balloon Called Moaning. But with all the hype, did you feel a lot of pressure to churn out an LP?
RB: No, never any pressure. The sort of evolution of this band, and sort of the way we’ve grown has always felt just really right. It’s not being fast-tracked, it’s not been overnight,and it’s not been frustrating either. It just feels right. We’ve got no regrets. I’ve really liked the way we’ve done things. It’s been a little bit kind of untraditional, and I think some people, depending when you came across the band, is a bit confusing because it’s like they’ve had this EP, then this live album. But for us, who have been there from the start, everything has made complete sense.
RN: Yeah, it’s gone it’s own course instead of like, “This is a step-by-step process to being a rock star”.
RD: It’s constant writing too.
RB: It’s definitely followed our rules, you know. And those are the only rules that matter. That’s the whole point of being in a fucking band, is because you know, you don’t have to do things to a time scale.
RN: You don’t have to clock in a 9 to 5 or anything.
RB: Absolutely,. So I think we very much carved our own journey, if you like. And I’m really pleased with it. It’s been a little bit strange in places.
RN: And you two [Ritzy and Rhydian] have talked about how Matt brings in some metal percussion to your “dream pop” sound.
MT: Fucking yeah!
RN: So Matt, have you brought out the metalheads out of these two?
RD: I don’t think we needed any encouragement.
RB: Who’s to say that a double pedal belongs to metal?
MT: Exactly! That’s the thing.
RB: Since when did they take ownership of that, eh?
MT: Exactly. Why can’t we just play the double pedal everywhere?
RN: The double pedal belongs in any place, any genre.
MT: Exactly. Classical music doesn’t have enough of it. That’s for sure!
RN: They should integrate it more into Klesmer…
MT: That’s it!
RN: So are you all from North Wales?
RD: No, me and Ritzy are.
RB: I’ll let Matt say where he’s from because I always seem to get it wrong.
MT: [laughs] I’ve lived in many places!
RN: So were there any local musical styles and acts influence your current sound?
RD: I wouldn’t say any genres, no, because we’re big fans of all kinds of stuff. But it was quite a weird place growing up in North Wales. You know, we had Welsh language music, we had English language music, all sorts really. But it was quite enclosed, so we didn’t have that many kind of actual live gigs coming through. There was once place, which we always mention called The Tivoli. And I think that had an effect on us. I mean, we’d get really excited when a good band came through, and lots did. So there was a real passion for the live sort of stuff. That was just a general thing. Not any really particular sound. I mean we’ve all got very varied tastes. So there’s good music and bad music. So I don’t think there’s really any influence, I don’t know about you [to Ritzy].
RB: Not in terms of local. There’s a lot of talent in North Wales, but I think for a long time it struggled to actually stump a scene that maybe been’s heard by a wider audience. There’s not a huge amount that comes from our area.
RD: It’s more the fact that there hasn’t been many direct references from where we’re from. So in a way, we had nothing to kind of, oh right let’s point that to scene. Not that we wanted to do that, because we’ve always felt in our own bubble. But actually growing up, there hasn’t been a hell of a lot of bands right at the very north where we are. So it’s quite nice to just experiment and create your own sound.
RN: So do you feel more of a surge of inspiration now that you’re in London, or still trying to keep in that bubble?
RD: Yeah, moving on and being in new places, just all these things that keep you alive. Variation is the spice of life. You know, I don’t think that any one place gives you really any more inspiration than the next. It’s the fact that you absorb whatever you see wherever you go.
RN: And you guys have been touring all over the world now. And you guys seem very comfortable on stage, very energetic. No one can disagree that you guys put on an amazing live show. So how long did it take you to get to that level on stage? To lose your inhibitions?
RD: Oddly enough, pretty damn quick.
RB: Having been in that previous outfit and seeing how a shitty dynamic can just affect your creativity, I think it really stuck out how good the chemistry is. Because when you’ve been through something that’s really shitty, you appreciate when something’s extraordinary. We went to school together, but maybe the way we met seems a little bit…
RB: Bit boring! It does! It does! You know, if I’m honest. But the actual connection, is anything but. It was instant almost, immediately. When we were auditioning drummers, I was losing the will to live until you [Matt] walked through that door.
MT: And then you were sure you wanted to die! [laughs]
RN: He was surrounded by a shimmering light!
RB: He came through the door with a big aura around him!
MT: I just farted that’s all! [laughs] I came in and said, “So you’ve got sticks and a drum kit right? With cymbals? Oh, alright, see ya!”
RB: You were the only that came through the door that wasn’t wearing industrial headphones. But that’s where it comes from really. We don’t rehearse a lot. We rehearse just enough so you just build on it. But you would never want to get to that point where it’s just fucking repetition and it all becomes stagnant. And I think we like to keep each other challenged and the variety to kick in, especially when you’re doing, you’ve got get real with it. You are playing some of the same songs every night, so I think it’s vitally important that you do everything you can to sort of keep yourselves a little bit frightened.
RN: And on your toes, like you never know what’s around the corner,
RB: Yeah, and a little bit of danger.
RN: So, speaking of more additions to the band, I read this interview you guys did with Welsh Arts, and Ritzy talked about her love of animals, and wanting to take a goat on the road with you guys!
RD: Yup, that sounds about right.
RN: Any animals manage to sneak their way into this North American tour?
RD: Any animal will do I think. All creatures of nature, especially where we grew up, in North Wales. That’s why we’ve enjoyed so much the drive through Jasper towards Calgary from Edmonton, and back down here. It’s awe-inspiring. I think it had a big effect on us growing up and the kind of writing is this constant need to dream and escape and the vastness is just an important thing to us. Anyway, I digress.
RN: Have you guys been to Victoria?
RB: No not yet.
RD: My cousin lives there actually. She should come over the show, but no I’ve never been.
RN: Well, they had all these bunnies running around, like everywhere. But apparently they took them all away and brought them down to Texas. So I was gonna say, you missed out on the bunnies. That would have been a nice addition to the tour.
RB: The’ve probably eaten them all in Texas. They’re probably on the barbecue now!
MT: Maybe they’re happy. Gone down to Texas to get some sunshine!
MT: How many bunnies are we talking about?
RN: We’re talking hundreds or thousands.
RB: That does sound like heaven to me. I prefer bunnies to people.
RD: Animals are a bit simpler, yeah.
RN: Not so fickle, like us human beings. So I also read that you guys are constantly writing songs on the road. Any new unreleased tracks that you’re completely excited about? And might it make its way into your set tonight?
RB: I think we’re just gonna take our time. The great thing is that we’ve obviously got a big back catalogue. Because even now, there’s songs in the set that maybe people haven’t heard. So the set has plenty of variation. I think the important thing for us with this next record, I mean, as much as I’ll say is we’re definitely going to have another out next year. I think we just wanna lose ourselves in the process of making it, and just experimenting on it and taking the time. No pressure.
RN: Deadlines be damned.
RB:No deadlines, absolutely.
RD: Yeah, forget that. I mean, we’re always writing anyway.
RB: We just need to make sense of where it’s all sitting together. There’s a lot of new threads. But it’s gonna take a little while longer to see how that all fits in with our body of work. And even if we want to do another album, we might do a double album, we might do an EP, we might…
RD: Absolutely. Who knows?
RN: That’s exciting, and I can’t wait to hear whatever comes from you guys. So with that, thanks so much for talking to us today at The Snipe! I’m really honoured.
RD: Thank you!
The Joy Formidable in Vancouver concert photos: