The Joy Formidable
Live @ O2 Academy 2 Oxford
March 21, 2010
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman

“With a sound that melds the huge expanses of their native Mold countryside to the hectic nature of their new domicile, The Joy Formidable create a music that is by turns sublime and gothic, punctuating passages of sheer beauty with shards of dissonance and anger, a new loud quiet dynamic for a new decade. Having sold out multiple UK tours throughout 2009 and taken to the road in this country in support of the likes of Editors, this self-contained band, recording studio, label and design company in one has also made their mark across the globe. Touring Europe with The Temper Trap and visiting the US with Passion Pit, where support dates were supplemented by their first two headline US shows, both sold out and the subject of high praise amongst the cognoscenti of New York City and the US music scene. Now, The Joy Formidable return to home ground for their most extensive UK tour to date, including their largest ever show on these shores, at London’s Electric Ballroom. Already high on the list of bands to break through amongst those in the know in the first year of this new decade, The Joy Formidable continue to hold their futures firmly in their own hands.” OFFICIAL BIOG EXTRACT

As a devoted TJF fan – who I love deeply both as a band and as people – I was over the moon to once again be able to catch up with the trio in Oxford, seven dates into The Joy Formidable’s Spring 2010 Headline Tour. Where, after a scintillating show, I chatted to Ritzy and Rhydian over a few beers in the group’s dressing room from 11pm ‘til Midnight, about how they’ve successfully managed to catch lightning in a bottle with their tremendous sound, releasing music with a personal touch, along with a whole lot more music-related trivia…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.As a band, you’ve had a very organic growth and natural development, but have you been surprised at how much you’ve managed to achieve whilst remaining as an unsigned act, and what has been the best thing that someone has ever said about The Joy Formidable?
Rhydian: “Oh God, that last bit is tough, but…”
Ritzy: “Well, I suppose there’s two sides to it you know? I think we’ve always been quite relaxed about it – there’s never really been this conscious effort, like, ‘Right, come on, we need to do this and we need to do that.’ So on one side, it’s been relaxed, we’ve said, ‘Let’s just do it, let’s keep the quality good, enjoy it, keep the songwriting consistent’…”
Rhydian: “Yeah, head down, work hard and you know that eventually people will come to you.”
Ritzy: “But then I suppose, there has been a conscious element, because obviously when you don’t have a big machine behind you, you don’t have a lot to fall back on – you have to really watch yourself and you maybe just have to be a little bit more careful along the way. Or, I don’t know, maybe even if you are with a machine, you still need to be careful, but maybe you just end up becoming more blasé because you think somebody else is in control of it (laughing).”
Rhydian: “I mean, we’ve certainly been focused you know…”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “And I don’t think the unsigned thing really matters, because we’re at that stage now, where we’re talking to people about putting out the next record and it’s not a big deal to us. Like you said, it’s been such a steady growth, that we’ve just been concentrating on what we’re doing, heads down, and with that, I think all of the usual traditionally glamorous elements of it go out the window really. It should just be about writing great songs, being a great live band and I think you trust that over time, that that filters through and people come to you. So with that though, I don’t think much surprise comes you know? I think just with each gig, when people come and talk to you and the passion they’ve got and knowing all of our songs, those are the little things that mean a lot to me, do you know what I mean?”
Ritzy: “Definitely!”
*I remark that TJF have a very loyal fanbase*
Ritzy & Rhydian: “Oh yeah (both smiling)!”
Rhydian: “I can’t think of any one review or anything like that, where I’ve gone, ‘Oh wow!’”
Ritzy: “I seem to remember the more comical kind of reviews to be honest, because we like having a good old chuckle about them. There was a 5 Star review, but I got called ‘A whelp, a witch and a petulant something’ (laughing).”
Rhydian: “Yeah, and our sound was once described as ‘Lady Gaga and The Proclaimers’, which was a source of entertainment (laughs heartily)!”
Ritzy: “We like having a good chuckle over the funny ones (laughing).”

2.When discussing groups, some music critics have argued that three-piece bands are able to deliver ‘the purest form of musical expression’ i.e. guitar, bass, drums. Would you agree with that?

Ritzy: “Absolutely (laughs heartily)!”
Rhydian: “Oh yeah, for sure (big smile)!”
Ritzy: “The purest form of musical expression (big smile)!”
Rhydian: “I think one things for sure, you can’t hide behind anything, you have to really have a connection, because it is so empty and everything has to really work, you can’t fluff anything…”
Ritzy: “No, you have to get your sonics bang on don’t you I think, because like you said (looking at Rhydian), you’re quite exposed.”
Rhydian: “Like every line, everything has to almost mean something I think.”
Ritzy: “Work together, yeah.”
Rhydian: “Because you can’t hide under any noise or anything like that, and with that – along with everything else that we’ve got going on – I think that adds to how focused you have to be about it you know? I mean, I really like the fact that we’re a three-piece and there’s definitely been moments where we’ve gone – because on the recordings there’s a few layers and stuff – ‘How can we do that?’ But it just doesn’t feel right to get someone else in to play certain layers. I think we always have to remain as a three-piece, because that’s where the connection is. As long as it’s interesting, on occasion, we’d prefer for it to be a little bit emptier than the record and allow it to be different.”

3.In relation to this, one of my great idols, Anton Corbijn once said: “Jeff Buckley showed that the human voice is more powerful than doing something great on the guitar.” Would you also agree with this?

Rhydian: “Absolutely, yeah!”
Ritzy: “Yeah, I think it’s an amazing medium! You know, it all depends on your connection with a song and that doesn’t necessarily go with all singers and with all songs (laughing). But, I think if you’ve got a real personal connection with the songs that you’ve written and the songs that you’re singing, then I think that’s very easily exposed.”
Rhydian: “I think it depends what your message is, but generally, obviously with Western music, the voice is a big thing and that’s where the soul if you like, mainly comes from – it’s meant to be the main core of the delivery of a song. So yeah, I couldn’t agree more. But having said that, I’m a big believer that not every voice has to be technically perfect either, it’s utterly about the soul! Because I wouldn’t say that we necessarily come from a really technical background, in terms of our voices you know, but it doesn’t bother us whatsoever. It’s about touching people!”

4.How many vocal takes do you allow yourselves when recording?
Ritzy: “Well, the new record is very reflective of this, because I didn’t re-track any of the vocals hardly at all, no.”
Rhydian: “I’m really against that as well.”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “Generally, I prefer for something to be imperfect and instinctive, and that it says something.”
Ritzy: “The vocals were sang in on the demos and a lot of the time, they were being written in my head as they were coming out, so yeah, there’s definitely elements where they’re stumbly, but that’s where you capture it isn’t it? So I’m not a big believer of re-tracking and if you don’t get it in the first or second take, then fuck off (laughs heartily)!”
Rhydian: “I remember reading an interview with Thom Yorke and he was the same, like limit yourself to the first few takes and if it doesn’t work, then leave it.”
Ritzy: “It’s never meant to be overanalysed.”
Rhydian: “No. Because some people do hundreds and hundreds of takes, I think that can work with certain things, but there’s something so kind of soul-orientated to just a voice, that you have to be very careful. Or, you step away from it and then come back to it and try it again in a couple of takes.”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”

5.Similarly, when producing, how important is the balance between unprocessed rawness and studio polish to you?

Ritzy: “I think it’s always quite a difficult balance to get you know, because I think the way that we record, is maybe a little bit different to some bands, because we kind of…”
Rhydian: “We sometimes write as we’re actually recording.”
Ritzy: “We sort of write as we go along, so it can be very spontaneous, layering and then the vocals, or whatever the order happens to be, because the order can be different. So I suppose sometimes there is that…”
Rhydian: “It’s not always guitar, bass, drums, then the vocals.”
Ritzy: “No – not at all! And it’s not like a live recording either, where all of a sudden it’s the three of us in a room.”
Rhydian: “No.”
Ritzy: “And that’s the moment captured. So, I think from that, sometimes when you go from that demo stage, to actually, ‘OK, we’re going to capture this properly,’ it’s really difficult to try and relive or rediscover that vibe. Sometimes it works, you put it down right I suppose and you capture a different vibe and that’s absolutely fine.”
Rhydian: “We’d much prefer for something to be soulful and be utterly noisy and horrible…”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “Than for it to be polished and homogenised and boring and dull, it’s all about being interesting. Some songs (pausing), it was like when we were doing the album, some songs would be quick and other songs we worked and worked and worked at, up to the point of feeling insane, but they’d really worked by the end you know? That’s not necessarily polish, it requires a different kind of focus I think, and we wanted the album to be a bit of a journey and I think that comes through. You need those moments where it feels like it’s just you laying down in bed, playing your guitar and singing along. Whereas with other songs, it’s like a real bold statement and it’s bombastic, but you’ve worked a long time to hammer that message home.”

6.What computer software do you use to record?
Rhydian: “We use Nuendo 3 by Steinberg, just because we’re used to it.”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “It just so happens to be that that’s what we’ve used all along.”
Ritzy: “It’s just familiarity isn’t it (looking at Rhydian)?”
Rhydian: “Yeah, and it feels like everything is secondary to the process, because we’re so used to it – that’s the main thing! If you were changing software all the time, I think you’d be spending all of your time trying to figure out all of these little nuances, whereas we prefer just to be free (laughing)."
Ritzy: “Yeah (smiling).”

7.Have you had many ‘happy accidents’ in the studio in terms of musical ideas / directions?

Rhydian: “Absolutely (without any hesitation)! I think Austere came about like that – that’s a really good example, because when we were writing back in Wales, we were just fiddling around with a vocal hook. Ritzy was messing around, doing some falsettos…”
Ritzy: “Oh, we were totally pissing around (smiling)! I was jeering him on, I was sort of saying, ‘What’s your highest falsetto?’…”
Rhydian: “And that was the basis of the whole song!”
Ritzy: “Yeah, that was the basis of one of the top lines.”
Rhydian: “We were like, ‘Shit, that sounds quite good’ and we’d never written anything like that before you know, like that kind of really high falsetto thing. We said, ‘Yeah, let’s just do it, let’s forget everything for a minute’ and it was kind of like just rewiring our songwriting structures and everything.”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “Saying, ‘Yeah, let’s just try something different.’ In a way, that was kind of the starting point for The Joy Formidable, just working in a different way, because I think we’d been so used to working in a set way with the bands we used to be in (Tricky Nixon, Sidecar Kisses), that it felt a lot more experimental from that point on I thought.”
Ritzy: “Yeah, well I suppose we hadn’t really written together from a starting point had we (looking at Rhydian)?”
Rhydian: “No.”
Ritzy: “If it could ever be described as working together. It was more like you or another member of the old bands bringing something and me just doing guitar licks over it, and certainly, that wasn’t something that completely satisfied me, I have to say. So it was really nice to suddenly be thrown in together…”
Rhydian: “We were just having fun with it basically, yeah.”
Ritzy: “We experimented and pissed about a lot in those 6 months didn’t we (looking at Rhydian + laughing)? And, we didn’t go out very much.”
Rhydian: “I think ‘happy accidents’ are actually the best way of (pausing), you could say ‘happy accidents,’ but you know, when you try an idea over and over again, then you go, ‘Oh my God, it’s not working, how many times have we done this in the studio?’ Then you come back after 10 hours of trying to get it right and it doesn’t sound good, and you go, ‘OK (exhaling a deep breath), let’s try this’ (clicking fingers), then you hit on it!”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “Those are the best ideas, because they’re instinctive and they’re simple (laughing). It’s funny.”

8.As a songwriting partnership, what do you consider to be some of the great songwriting partnerships in the history of popular music?
Rhydian: “Ooh…”
Ritzy: “I think definitely Morrissey and Johnny Marr for me, that would be quite a main one.”
Rhydian: “I very rarely actually mention The Beatles, but it’s got to be Lennon and McCartney at some point. Fucking hell, that’s a pretty amazing dynamic!”
Ritzy: “Yeah (laughing), that’s got to have a mention frankly (laughs heartily)!”
*I joke maybe just as a footnote in rock ‘n’ roll history*
Ritzy: “Yeah (laughs heartily again)!”
Rhydian: “It’s one of those things, you never reference The Beatles, because it’s so big and it’s so done, that you think…”
Ritzy: “It’s taken for granted almost isn’t it, yeah.”
Rhydian: “Other collaborations, I don’t know, there’s so many isn’t there?”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “But iconic ones, in terms of two people (pausing), I’m struggling at the moment. Can you think of any (looking at Ritzy)? You’ve caught us off guard (laughing). Oh (suddenly), actually, the Manics…”
Ritzy: “I was just gonna say the Manics (big smile), yeah!”
Rhydian: “I think that kind of dynamic, is actually a big rarity.”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “It’s a pretty amazing dynamic and do you know what, I don’t know of that many bands that work to such a fluid kind of success. Because Richey couldn’t play that well apparently could he? He was just very, very lyrically-based and James put his words to music. I mean my God, that’s quite a fascinating way to work and along with Nicky’s lyrics, it shaped the Manics’ sound, because it’s so distinctive isn’t it?”
*I joke that it’s usually me who brings up the Manics in most of the interviews that I do, so I’m glad that this time around, it’s Ritzy and Rhydian who have mentioned them, because otherwise it may look like it was me yet again*
Ritzy & Rhydian: (both laugh)
Ritzy: “No, definitely the Manics!”
Rhydian: “They’re great man (smiling)!”

9.Returning to The Beatles for a moment, John Lennon’s most cherished songwriting experience, was when he felt “possessed” by it. Is this the same for you?
Ritzy: “Absolutely (without any hesitation)!”
Rhydian: “Definitely!”
Ritzy: “I think obviously, because we’re close and because we’re a couple and because we record in our bedroom, I think it can become utterly consuming…”
Rhydian: “Just utterly life-consuming, yeah!”
Ritzy: “There isn’t anything else, but happily so.”
Rhydian: “We were talking today, about how we’ve finished the album at last! Because sometimes, the recording process for us can be quite (exhaling a deep breath), exhausting. Because it’s all in our bedroom and you can’t escape and all of these things, and yet we’ve just finished it and Ritzy’s going, ‘I’m really looking forward to getting back in the studio!’”
Ritzy: (giggling)
Rhydian: “And I’m like, ‘Are you mad?’”
Ritzy: (laughs heartily)
Rhydian: “We’ve only just fucking come out, and I’m fucking going insane man (laughing)!”
Ritzy: “I’ve had like a new burst of writing again and I love touring (pausing), we’re going back to London tonight and I’m thinking an early morning start (laughs heartily), before I forget them! So yeah, you do get “possessed” by it!”
Rhydian: “It shouldn’t be separate to your life, and it shouldn’t be a chore.”

10.Of all your songs to date, which one has been the easiest to write and record, and which one has been the most difficult?
Rhydian: “I can tell you which was the most difficult, I think it’s Llaw = War, which is a song off the new album. Llaw means hand in Welsh, so Hand = War.”
Ritzy: “Yeah, I don’t want to be reminded about that actually, that was a fucking traumatic couple of days, I have to say!”
Ritzy & Rhydian: (both laugh heartily)
Rhydian: “We did it over and over again, to the point of insanity (laughing)! But it’s like I was saying before, with some songs, you need to do them a million times to get them right, but with other songs, you destroy them if you go over and over them again. But that one, I think deserved…”
Ritzy: “That won the prize for…”
Rhydian: “Never giving up (laughing)!”
Ritzy: “I think that’s probably the biggest fight we’ve ever had over a song as well, there was some serious…”
Rhydian: “Yeah.”
Ritzy: “We don’t tend to wrangle over things too much, because I think things are so intuitive now, that a lot of the time, both of us don’t even have to say, ‘That’s shit or that’s good’ (laughing), you know? But that was definitely a little bit of a difference. With the easiest one, I’m thinking of The Greatest Light…”
Rhydian: “Yeah, yeah.”
Ritzy: “And I’m thinking of Austere. I think they both came very quickly and very easily, yeah!”
Rhydian: “Yeah.”

11.A lot of TJF tracks have interesting titles, but are there any song titles that have stuck in your head?

Ritzy: “Song titles that have stuck in my head (thinking)…”
*I say that when I was lucky enough to interview James Dean Bradfield, he mentioned a song by the Silver Jews that he liked called, Sometimes A Pony Gets Depressed*
Ritzy & Rhydian: (both laugh heartily)
Ritzy: “Ahh.”
Rhydian: “I’ll tell you what, McClusky had a few of my favourite titles, but you know, God, there’s so many of them! So all I can say, is have a look at McClusky’s entire back catalogue!”
Ritzy: (laughs heartily)
Rhydian: “There’s a few nuggets in there, yeah (big smile)!”
Ritzy: “I’m trying to think, although I just keep thinking about The Smiths, because whenever anything comes up lyrically, I can’t help but think of them.”
Rhydian: “The thing is with song titles, I think it’s about being inventive isn’t it? And that isn’t necessarily massively long titles or anything like that, it’s how it relates to the song I think and what is derivative. It’s certainly something that we take on board, in terms of you wouldn’t necessarily associate that kind of feel with the song title you know? It’s just about keeping people on their toes.”

12.To date, you’ve released some fantastic singles, but who do you think of as great singles bands?
Ritzy: “It feels sometimes, like it’s becoming a little bit more of a rarity nowadays – it’s either all about quick-fix songs, or it’s about the total opposite of that, which is like, ‘This is a whole album and you have to listen to just this.’”
Rhydian: “Yeah, yeah. I think it is a bit stuffy these days.”
Ritzy: “I really like the Fleet Foxes album, but I think maybe what I would think of as being a single, may not be what the majority of people would think of as a single, or maybe not what The Music Industry would traditionally want as a single (laughing).”
Rhydian: “Yeah, you’re right, because most of the songs on that album are bang on!”
Ritzy: “They are singles – they are! Who else is there (thinking)…”
Rhydian: “It is genuinely a bit of a rarity these days, it seems to be one or the other.”
Ritzy: “I think the Super Furry Animals are a great singles band and they have great albums as well!”
Rhydian: “Yeah, you have to look back to people like the Super Furry Animals, the Manics and some of those kind of bands you know?”
Ritzy: “Yeah, there’s been plenty who’ve managed to combine the two.”
Rhydian: “It’s interesting though, because like you say (looking at Ritzy), it depends on what is a single these days? Because it seems to me, if you listen to what’s on Radio 1 and all of these kind of things, that actually, the traditional single (pausing), you used to get a really homogenised kind of sound and structure, and apart from your utterly pop daytime radio programmes, it seems to me, that a lot of DJs are now making an effort to go for a bit of an alternative. So, what is a single these days? It’s so bizarre, which actually makes it quite difficult to answer that one – I don’t know. To my mind, I’ve got my own opinions and with that, I’m saying that actually, there hasn’t been many bands over the past few years that have got a consistently good album. I like a few songs, but to get a whole body of work of utter quality, I do find it difficult to think of some. Maybe it’s just because I’ve had a few beers, it probably is (laughing).”
Ritzy: “I think it’s difficult to say as well…”
Rhydian: “In the pop sphere.”
Ritzy: “Yeah, and I feel like we’ve been in a little bit of a bubble recently, because when we record, we tend to become quite bubblised, is that a word? But you know what I mean, I don’t think we listen to a lot of music, or I don’t think we connect with a lot of things that are going on outside. So it does feel like over the last 6 months, that I haven’t been exposed to a lot that’s going on and I find it quite difficult when people ask, ‘Who are you listening to at the moment?’ It feels like my ears have just started opening up again.”
Rhydian: “Yeah (looking at Ritzy), but you listen to a lot of things on iTunes – have you listened to a whole album and thought that it was consistently good?”
Ritzy: “Yeah, I thought the new Mew album (No More Stories) was great!”
Rhydian: “The whole thing?”
Ritzy: “I did, yeah, I fucking loved it!”
Rhydian: “Really? Mew then, that’s your answer (laughs heartily)! But, is there a single on there (looking at Ritzy)?”
Ritzy: “I don’t know if there were any singles on it?”
Rhydian: “But Mew are consistent, definitely.”
Ritzy: “Yeah, definitely.”
Rhydian: “That’s a given!”

13.With the b-side now sadly becoming a lost art, who do you think will be remembered as some of the best b-side bands?

Ritzy: “I think Radiohead for me…”
Rhydian: “Yeah, Radiohead.”
Ritzy: “I was a big Radiohead collector you know, and I think I like their b-sides more than their a-sides!”
Rhydian: “I actually liked Mansun’s b-sides more than their a-sides…”
Ritzy: “Yeah (excitedly), Mansun had really good b-sides.”
Rhydian: “Really good, yeah!”
Ritzy: “I think we’re going to try and make a comeback with the b-side aren’t we (looking at Rhydian)? I think the b-side to the new single (Popinjay) is going to take over the world (big smile)!”
Rhydian: “It’s going to destroy everything!”
Ritzy: “It is! It’s going to be all over Radio 1 like a dirty rash! A really feathery rash!”
Ritzy & Rhydian: (both laugh heartily)
*I mention that the Manics, Suede and Oasis are some of my other most cherished b-side bands as well*
Ritzy & Rhydian: “Yeah.”

14.From some of the music that I love, one of my favourite epic songs is Motorcycle Emptiness by the Manic Street Preachers, and one of my favourite short songs is Velocity Girl by Primal Scream. But do you have any favourite epic and short songs?
Ritzy: “I think epic for me, is I Know It’s Over by The Smiths. I keep namedropping them (laughing), but apart from that, it’s just a massive tune!”
Rhydian: “One of my favourite short songs, is the single-version of Being A Girl by Mansun, it’s just a (clicking fingers together) tiny, tiny song! It’s really to the point, but there is an extended version on the album (Six).”
Ritzy: “I think Lipstick Vogue by Elvis Costello for me, for a favourite short song.”
Rhydian: “That’s a great song! What about that Yes song you always seem to…”
Ritzy: “Close To The Edge by Yes, that’s quite an epic.”
Rhydian: “How long is that (looking at Ritzy)? About 30 minutes?”
Ritzy: “Well, it’s in about 7 parts isn’t it and it’s 23 minutes 19 seconds I think.”
Rhydian: “It’s a really good song!”
Ritzy: “Yeah (laughing).”

15.There was a recent debate about what the darkest and most uplifting albums ever recorded are. But what’s the darkest album and the most uplifting album in each of your record collections?
Ritzy: “I think The Flaming Lips for me, The Soft Bulletin, that’s definitely a full-on uplifting album!”
Rhydian: “I would say something like Grace by Jeff Buckley is quite uplifting for me. I know that there’s a lot sadness in there you could say, but it’s more inspirational, and then with that, comes a true understanding of things and that’s where the uplifting element comes for me. You kind of learn something about the artist and you learn something about yourself. It’s like the whole debate about Radiohead and bands like that, ‘Is their music depressing?’ No, I don’t think it is depressing, because if it moves you, then you come out of the whole process going, ‘Wow, that really touched me’ and you grow! That’s an uplifting listening process for me. So I’d say Jeff Buckley – Grace, for the most uplifting album in my record collection, I don’t know about the darkest…”
Ritzy: “The Holy Bible is definitely one of the darkest records ever made…”
Rhydian: “Yeah, but it’s so enjoyable!”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “You’re going, ‘Oh My God, is it dark if it’s that good, if it’s that enjoyable?’ (laughing).”
Ritzy: “Exactly! I’ve just been combing through all of my record collection in my head and I think even some of the ones that are fucking pretty sad or troubled (pausing), I don’t know, I still think there’s like an underbelly of hope and like you said (looking at Rhydian), maybe even rage, which isn’t always dark either.”
Rhydian: “I think The Holy Bible is a really good example, because it’s so sneering and it pisses on so many death metal albums, it’s fucking untrue!”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “I think the amount of angst in that album is insane, but beautifully done as well you know?”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”

16.Did you always plan to release a limited edition live record (First You Have To Get Mad), in-between your debut mini-album and full-length long player?
Rhydian: “I don’t think we ever planned it, no, not really.”
Ritzy: “I don’t think we do an awful lot of planning, I mean if you look at A Balloon, that was kind of an accident, and these are all good accidents, because we weren’t flippant in just shoving it out there, but they’ve all kind of been a little bit accidental. A Balloon came out because there was a Japanese version and people wanted to hear it, so we thought, ‘Fuck it, we’ll put it out.’ Then we sold out the Garage, so we thought this could be quite a good opportunity just to capture it really, for posterity I suppose.”
Rhydian: “In a way, I think that it was a little bit pompous and bombastic of us, because not that many people have heard of us and yet we’re going to do a live album, because A. It’s quite essential to The Joy Formidable experience if you like. And B. It’s not usually what you really do – you do a live album three albums in or something, and so it was partly maybe about keeping things interesting as well you know?”
Ritzy: “I think it was a little bit ambitious and I mean you know, I love what we captured with the live album, it’s so truthful – the fucking amp blowing up and all that. Like we said, we didn’t really protect ourselves with much of a safety net (laughing)! What you’ve got on that album, is what happened and what the evening was. That could be seen as a little bit brave or a little bit stupid, but…”
Rhydian: “No, I think people are scared now of having honesty, like accidents and things going wrong. But God man, if you go back to every iconic artist that had the space to do it (pausing), unfortunately, not many bands have the space to do it these days, but we don’t care…”
Ritzy: “I’m with you (looking at Rhydian).”
Rhydian: “We do gigs occasionally, where it’s really quiet between songs and it feels uncomfortable, but who cares. It’s just about feeling natural and people are there to see you play music – we don’t have to fill the space and we don’t have to provide entertainment all the fucking time!”
Ritzy: (laughs heartily)
Rhydian: “It’s nice to keep people on their toes though, do you know what I mean?”
Ritzy: “Yeah. I guess what I was trying to say, is that I’m not scared of being brave, because that’s all we ever seem to do. But, I think that a lot of people will be scared of being judged when something goes wrong you know? Everybody these days is all about tactics, because they’re so fucking scared about getting dropped.”
Rhydian: “That’s exactly what I’m saying though, yeah.”
Ritzy: “Yeah, and I guess what I’m saying, is that we just wanted it to be driftwood and to capture a moment. It’s a souvenir for us, as much as anything else and we’re really proud of it! Plus, not many people bootleg these days – I’m constantly asking people to send in bootlegs of our shows, because I just like kind of keeping them. So more bootlegging (big smile)!”
Rhydian: “But people share files a lot though don’t they (looking at Ritzy)?”
Ritzy: “Yeah, but they don’t record whole shows as much.”
*At 11.35pm, The Joy Formidable’s Tour Manager Jonny enters the dressing room*
Jonny: “(looking at Ritzy & Rhydian) We kind of need to roll now, there’s 1 person left in the venue.”
Ritzy: “Is there? Oh, we’ll be alright for a little while.”
Jonny: “We’re going to load out then.”
Ritzy: “Are you sure?”
Jonny: “Yeah.”
Ritzy: “OK.”
Rhydian: “We won’t be long.”
Jonny: “That’s cool, that’s cool.”
Ritzy: “We really enjoy Steve’s questions!”
Jonny: “I can tell (laughing)!”
Rhydian: (laughing)
*I say thank you to Ritzy & Rhydian for allowing me to have some more with them*
Ritzy: “No worries (smiling)!”
Rhydian: “They can load out.”
Ritzy: “It’s amazing, we don’t have to load out now – whoo-hoo!”
Ritzy & Rhydian: (both laugh)

17.Can you reveal any details about new TJF material – musical direction, song titles etc. – and when can fans expect the album to be released?
Ritzy: “Well, I’m happy to tell you a little bit about the album…”
Rhydian: “We don’t want to reveal the album title just yet though.”
Ritzy: “No, but it’s 11 songs (pausing), or is it 12 songs? I can’t remember (laughing + looking at Rhydian)?”
Rhydian: “I think it’s now 11 songs that we’ve decided on. But A. We’re really happy with it, and B. For me anyway, it feels like I was saying before, like a real big journey and I think there’s gonna be a few surprises. It’s funny, because with some of the gigs recently, we’ve dropped a few new songs in here and there, and I think it kind of catches people off guard and that’s something that we really embrace you know? Like I said before, we want to keep people on their toes, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not a massive departure from A Balloon Called Moaning, but it feels a lot more substantial to me and this is just looking back on it retrospectively, it’s not a conscious thing. It’s quite sumptuous, it’s quite a journey and I think it requires a bit of listening work you know?”
Ritzy: “No, it fucking doesn’t (looking at Rhydian).”
Rhydian: “No, but what I’m saying is – it’s not experimental – but compared to the tastes of maybe today, it’s not, bang, bang, bang, there you go, single after single. Every song I think, is really good and we’re really proud of it, but it really does feel like an album. It’s not just a bunch of songs thrown together, do you know what I mean?”
*I remark that I remember reading that TJF were considering including some songs from A Balloon Called Moaning, so wondered if this was still the case*
Ritzy: “Yeah, there are 2 that have crossed over, The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade and Austere, just because I don’t think we ever expected (pausing), A Balloon was not a debut album for us. I feel like the new album for me, is everything that I wanted to put across in the first album. But in saying that, that meant bringing over some stuff from A Balloon as well, because that feels very relevant. It’s quite strange to include Austere, because it was the first song that we ever wrote together, so there’s a real sense of a beginning and then obviously what we’ve done since that time.”
Rhydian: “I think there’s a lot more going on dynamically with the album.”
Ritzy: “We should mention Matt as well, because it’s the first album with Matt on it (pausing), well, Justin wasn’t on A Balloon either, but it’s captured a lot of what Matt has brought rhythmically to the band, which I think is important.”
Rhydian: “Yeah, you’re right, it is!”
Ritzy: “He’s added so much to our live dynamic and I’m really happy that we’ve managed to capture that on the album.”
Rhydian: “We’ve been listening to it a lot in the van over the past few days, well, the past few weeks – referencing it and all that kind of boring stuff, to make sure that we’re happy with how it sounds and stuff. It’s a lot angrier in places and yet, like I say, it’s a lot more dynamic – it’s quieter, it’s sadder and I think there’s a real sense of a journey like I said.”
*I joke that they’ve sold it to me!*
Ritzy & Rhydian: (both laugh heartily)
Ritzy: “Our manager Joel, was talking about a September release date for it, but ideally, we would like to release it in the next couple of months.”
Rhydian: “Yeah.”

18.I recently watched the brilliant film on Blur, No Distance Left To Run, which documents their 2009 reunion. But, what do you think are some of the best Music DVDs available to buy?

Rhydian: “I can think of one (smiling).”
Ritzy: “What are you going to say (looking at Rhydian)?”
Rhydian: “What do you think I’m going to say? What did we watch in South Wales?”
Ritzy: “Ahh yeah, Anvil (big smile)!”
Ritzy & Rhydian: (both laugh heartily)
Rhydian: “Have you seen Anvil?”
*I say yes, that I thought it was great but also very sad in places*
Ritzy: “It’s so sad, yeah! But it’s so fucking funny isn’t it as well? It’s like that perfect balance of something that’s so tragic, but so beautiful at the same time.”
Rhydian: “Yeah, I thought that was one of the best films that I’ve seen in the past 5 or 10 years even. Some people think it’s funny, but it’s not just funny, it’s true and it’s beautiful. Like you say (looking at Ritzy), it’s tragic and it’s got so many different emotions, it’s just fucking great and the fact that they couldn’t be any different you know? In a way, it resonates to some degree with what we do, because we work really hard at it (pausing), don’t get me wrong, we’re not as oblivious to what goes on as those guys at all. But that kind of shit is rare now man, do you know what I mean?”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “It’s just so endearing to watch people like that.”
Ritzy: “They have so much tenacity, but it’s like they don’t know anything else, so I suppose it’s that side I think, that really connected with us. Like, you just can’t let it go you know, you have to do it!”
Rhydian: “Yeah, I know, absolutely!”
Ritzy: “Despite how difficult the challenges are.”

19.Continuing with this train of thought, I know that you put a lot of thought into your promo videos, but of all your favourite artists, are there any video concepts that you wished had been yours?

Rhydian: “Oh God, there’s been some great videos man.”
Ritzy: “I have to say that new OK Go one (This Too Shall Pass), like when we were coming up with the concept for Popinjay, I was kind of saying, ‘What about if we do this video where it’s like a domino effect and everything kind of gets pushed over.’ And then…”
Rhydian: “That was done in that card bit though wasn’t it (looking at Ritzy)? It was just an expansion of that in a way.”
Ritzy: “Yeah, but when I saw that OK Go video with the domino effect, I thought I could never have done it as well as that anyway (laughs heartily). It was so fucking nailed! Again, I think for videos, Radiohead always resonates for me. Like Just, which has that sort of subliminal story-line, you kind of go (clicking fingers together), ‘I fucking wish I’d thought of that!’ And the cinematography is so beautiful, like with Street Spirit.”
Rhydian: “Yeah, UNKLE, their videos are great.”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “Bastards Of Young (The Replacements), that was such a simple video, but really influential! God, there’s so many, but again, not necessarily recently, so it’s about keeping things interesting isn’t it?”
Ritzy: “But I suppose with us not having a massive budget for videos sometimes, it’s all about the concept, making both that and the imagery really strong. I always think I Wanna Be Loved by Elvis Costello, where he’s sat in the photobooth and he’s having his picture taken, but lots of different people are coming in and kissing him…”
Rhydian: “Yeah.”
Ritzy: “It’s really visual I think.”
Rhydian: “Lola Perrin – Cloud Sky Fade.”
Ritzy: “Oh, that’s a good one, yeah!”
Rhydian: “It’s a really simple video, but the song is beautiful. I’d really recommend that.”
*I remark that’s why YouTube is so brilliant*
Ritzy: “Oh, you can see them so easily, yeah – it’s amazing!”

20.As a band with a fearsome live reputation, can you tell us about some of your most treasured instruments and effects pedals?
Ritzy: (laughing)
Rhydian: “I’d say the POG is a big one. That, and maybe Verbzilla for you (looking at Ritzy)?”
Ritzy: “Yeah, I do like my Verbzilla pedal and I like my MXR EQ as well, even though that’s maybe a little bit more boring sonically.”
Rhydian: “MXR do great pedals!”
Ritzy: “Yeah, and shit man, I don’t know what I’d do without my main guitar, because it’s been with me for so long, it’s been with me from being about 8-years-old and it’s battered to fuck! There’s actually been a few audience members who have come up to me and said, ‘I’ll buy you a new guitar’ (laughs heartily) and I’m always like, ‘It’s OK, I don’t want a new guitar’ you know (laughs heartily again)? I really love my guitar (laughing), it’s just that it looks like a load of shit though (big smile)!”
Rhydian: “I like old, crappy distortions…”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “That nobody ever likes and overlooks, because they’re distinctive. The Fulltone MOSFET that I use on my bass as well, I’ve kept that all the way through the band, it’s got a really synthetic sound to it.”
Ritzy: “We’re geeking out…”
Rhydian: “Yeah (laughing).”
Ritzy: “I like a bit of geeking out (big smile)!”

21.Do you write on the road, and does creating songs bring out different emotions in you, compared to when you perform them live?
Ritzy: “We do try out new songs in soundchecks. As to whether ‘Does creating songs bring out different emotions in me, compared to when we perform them live?’ I remember quite early on being accused of – not by any of you guys (looking at Rhydian) – allowing the live performance to be too close to how I was actually feeling personally, not just on the day.”
Rhydian: “Being too emotional about it.”
Ritzy: “Yeah, just being too emotional, that was something that kind of cropped up. I don’t think it’s changed and I don’t think it’s tamed you know, I still find it very strange how there doesn’t ever seem to be any watering down or chipping away of any of the emotional rawness I suppose, of the songs, you know when we do them live? I kind of sometimes feel, ‘Fucking hell man, is this going to be as exhausting as this all the time’ (laughing)? But, I think we all wear our hearts on our sleeve and I think we’re all quite sensitive as people, and I can’t really imagine that sort of changing if you know what I mean? I’m surprised it hasn’t, but I suppose a lot of people would argue, ‘How can you constantly have that emotional connection?’”
Rhydian: “But for me, that’s where the best bands reside anyway, they’re not a machine that can churn out everything, like great songs over and over again, just because they have a great songwriting partnership.”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it works in some cases, but I think we do wear our hearts on our sleeve and I think we need that kind of attitude of just occasionally going, ‘Actually, Fuck You!’ Because it is a bit of a rarity now (pausing), I don’t want to fucking go on about preaching that nothing has soul anymore, because there are fucking loads of great bands doing interesting things, do you know what I mean? Sometimes, being soulful can be the most boring thing, but sometimes a lie done in an interesting way, is so much more entertaining and has so much more value in a way. But I think for us, at this point, it’s about getting that voice out there you know, and we love playing live and connecting with people and telling our story. The new album feels like the truest exploration of our voice up until now, compared to A Balloon Called Moaning.”

22.Fans almost always shout out song requests at gigs, but of all your songs, which is the most requested?
Rhydian: “It’s quite different each night actually, I would say maybe Whirring, Cradle and Austere, have become kind of favourites. Because the way we’ve kind of worked things up until now, is really going out there and gigging and gigging and gigging. So because they’ve been the singles, maybe that’s what people are most familiar with? I don’t know. Having said that, you come across some real strange ones…”
Ritzy: “I was going to say, I think the last time we played Oxford, we had someone shouting the whole way through the gig for us to play Crazy In Love (laughing), which isn’t even our song!”
Rhydian: “(laughing) With our songs that people shout out for, I think it goes back to that thing of not having necessarily done anything in a traditional way. At some gigs, it’s like (mock-shouting), ‘While The Flies, While The Flies,’ and at other gigs, some people haven’t even heard of it! We’ll do it at the end of the set and they’re kind of like, ‘Oh, what’s this song?’ And you know, they’ll enjoy it, but it’s really strange.”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”

23.Do fans ever tell you how they interpret your lyrics and if so, what has been the most memorable song interpretation that you’ve ever heard?

Ritzy: (laughing)
Rhydian: “Well, we did it with the Popinjay video recently actually, we invited people to do it.”
Ritzy: “Yeah, but that was more about interpreting the song really wasn’t it (looking at Rhydian)?”
Rhydian: “I suppose, yeah.”
Ritzy: “I think lyrically, because we haven’t always printed the lyrics, people have printed their own versions and I’m always amazed by just how much swearing there is in people’s new versions (laughs heartily)! I was like, ‘That’s quite interesting.’”
Rhydian: “It is quite funny actually, because it’s quite similar I suppose to the Manics in a way. I think some people don’t get what Ritzy’s singing sometimes, but those days are quite rare, you know like some of the early REM albums? You can’t fucking understand a word Michael Stipe is saying and it’s actually nice, it makes you listen more (laughing)!”
Ritzy: “Yeah.”
Rhydian: “So, I would say that occasionally, it is true for this band as well. On our Forum, we’ve had people writing out lyrics and there’s some nuggets on there (laughing).”
Ritzy: “Oh, there’s some good ones, yeah, but some are a bit strange (laughing).”
Rhydian: “But the funny thing is, some people tend to simplify the subject, because if you listen to some of the earlier singles maybe, they’ve got a happier sound about them, but if you genuinely listen to the lyrics, it’s not the case you know? Obviously, it’s the same with bands like The Smiths, it’s a very happy sound and if you didn’t know what Morrissey was singing, you would think it was just any old jingle jangle. But that is the essence of them anyway isn’t it, so it’s quite an interesting dynamic.”

24.Ritzy, I really love your duet with Paul Draper on Greyhounds In The Slips, but if you could sing a duet with anybody else, who would it be and why + are there any dream collaborations that you would both like to see happen?

Ritzy: “Oh OK, I’m trying to think collaboration-wise.”
Rhydian: “I said this recently, just a couple of days ago actually, I wouldn’t mind working with Mew.”
Ritzy: “Yeah, that would be pretty nice actually.”
Rhydian: “They’re doing something interesting, although I think occasionally, they can go into a bit too much meandering for me, but I think a pairing with them would be great, definitely! I think they’re fucking wicked!”
Ritzy: “I’d quite like to do something with Future Of The Left as well, I have to say, that would be quite good.”
Rhydian: “Yeah, you singing on a Future Of The Left song would be good!”
Ritzy: “I quite like the thought of that…”
*Matt, who’s packing away in the dressing room, does a screaming impression of Future Of The Left*
Ritzy & Rhydian: (both laugh heartily)
Ritzy: “It probably would sound a bit like that!”
Rhydian: “This is such a bummer, because I’ve thought of answers to questions like this, like what would be my dream collaboration…”
Ritzy: “Really (looking at Rhydian)?”
Rhydian: “Yeah, I have genuinely thought about it, but I’ve forgotten now.”
Ritzy: (laughs heartily)
Rhydian: “Like Bowie with Prong or something like that. I don’t know (laughing).”
Ritzy: “Let me think…”
Rhydian: “For me, the sound has to be secondary to the song, and what compliments the other is not necessarily two great singers, but I think maybe Björk with Mew would be nice – I’ll say that.”
Ritzy: “Mmm, that would sound pretty nice actually. You’ve kind of stolen my thunder…”
Rhydian: “Were you going to say that (laughing + looking at Ritzy)?”
Ritzy: “No, I was going to say Björk with Mercury Rev.”
Rhydian: “How about PJ Harvey with Mercury Rev?”
Ritzy: “There you go – or PJ Harvey with The Flaming Lips, that would be quite special!”
Rhydian: “Or Patti Smith with LCD Soundsystem (laughing).”
Ritzy: “Patti Smith with Elvis Costello.”
Rhydian: “That would be good, that would be really good!”
Ritzy: “I might just drool too much and faint.”
Rhydian: (laughing)
*I ask Ritzy if she would like to sing with Elvis Costello*
Ritzy: “I would, but I never mention that, because it just seems like the most ridiculous idea in my head (laughs heartily). You know, I’ve been such a fan of Elvis Costello right the way through…”
Rhydian: “Don’t meet your icons, you’ll get disappointed (laughing).”
Ritzy: “Yeah, exactly, I think there is that to it as well, definitely.”

25.Following on from this, if a TJF ‘Tribute Album’ was recorded, which artists / bands would you most like to see cover some of your songs?
Rhydian: “Oh God man…”
Ritzy: “I’d quite like Passion Pit to do something.”
Rhydian: “I would love The Flaming Lips to do a version of one of our songs, that would be great!”
Ritzy: “Yeah, The Flaming Lips and Passion Pit.”
Rhydian: “And I’d like Slipknot to do a version of one of our songs.”
Ritzy: “Yeah, and Napalm Death.”
Rhydian: “It would only be like 2 seconds though wouldn’t it (looking at Ritzy)?”
Ritzy: “2 seconds of The Greatest Light.”
Rhydian: (humming for 2 seconds)
Ritzy: “Yeah (mock-shouting for 2 seconds).”
Ritzy & Rhydian: (both laugh heartily)

26.And if there’s ever a TJF ‘Tribute Band’, what do you think they should call themselves?

Ritzy: (laughing)
Rhydian: “Well, we’ve thought of one already. Our manager Joel, we constantly say The Joel Formidable, because he’s a closet musician.”
Ritzy: “Ahh (big smile). When we rehearse…”
Rhydian: “Every rehearsal, he comes in and has a bash on the drums or the guitar.”
Ritzy: “Yeah, we kind of swap with our manager and let him take over one duty, and then it’s The Joel Formidable for one song (smiling), before we send him off.”
Rhydian: “Yeah, that’s the perfect tribute act I think. We should let him support us on our next tour and we’ll actually play with him, barring you (looking at Ritzy), and that’ll be The Joel Formidable (laughing).”
Ritzy: “I’m quite happy to be out of it to be honest (laughing), that sounds like a good idea (laughs heartily)!”
Rhydian: (laughing)

27.What have been some of your personal highlights so far?

Ritzy: “Um…”
Rhydian: “Pohoda Festival in Slovakia (looking at Ritzy)?”
Ritzy: “Yeah, but I find it difficult to say Pohoda, and I don’t think we should say it, because it was so tragic the way it all ended.”
Rhydian: “Yeah, the way it ended, but the way it started was good. It was a really great Festival, but unfortunately – we were like 10 minutes away from going to the Festival – and we got a call saying that the tent had come down. It held about 5,000 people or whatever and 2 people died. It was such a tragic end to a really nice Festival wasn’t it (looking at Ritzy)?”
Ritzy: “Yeah, that’s why I’m saying it’s quite difficult to choose that. Because before that happened, we’d had a wonderful time – we saw Patti Smith and all these different bands (pausing), we were there for the whole weekend and we were playing on the actual last day. So, I think we actually felt like we’d become so involved with the Festival and we’d enjoyed it the whole way through, but it was just really weird that we didn’t get to play it and that it ended so sadly.”
Rhydian: “Yeah.”
Ritzy: “It was a freak storm, so everybody got evacuated. The point is, I hope it doesn’t end up not happening, because they were talking about never being able to do it again. But the actual atmosphere of that Festival was so, so beautiful and so peaceful and everybody was having such a good time! I think that part of it was a highlight."
Rhydian: “There’s been so many other highlights, seriously, but there are a few things that I remember in my head over the past year-and-a-half, and that’s touring with Passion Pit – they’re such nice guys and it was so vibrant, so up and good fun! Leeds And Reading, that was a really memorable Festival experience for us.”
Ritzy: “Oh yeah, definitely! I think because it was like the first show (pausing), we were so new when we did the Introducing Stage, to within in a year playing on the Festival Republic Stage to a full-tent! There was something quite (pausing), we felt quite jubilant about it! We were kind of like, ‘Ooh (excitedly), this is nice!’ And I think Japan…”
Rhydian: “Yeah, you’re right there.”
Ritzy: “Just because there’s a massive cultural shift in the way that things are done.”
Rhydian: “Japan was insane!”
Ritzy: “And to actually be able to get over there doing the thing that we love, that’s got be celebrated!”
Rhydian: “I think it’s partly because of the label we had over there, Rallye…”
Ritzy: “Oh yeah!”
Rhydian: “Who are an independent label, but they really took care of us. Not in a kind of frivolous way, money-wise, but the label boss is such a nice guy, so passionate about music. But yeah, it’s such a different culture and obviously, you’re trying to take it all in, but it was such a great experience you know?”
Ritzy: “Yeah, they’re great highlights to have (big smile)!”

28.Lastly, are there any Joy Formidable tracks that you think of as companions to each other + is there a song that sums up where you are right now?

Ritzy: “The companion thing is quite interesting, I’m trying to think of what kind of came close together – I’m thinking of Austere and Cradle I suppose, they feel like they’re part of the same pod almost.”
*I mention The Smashing Pumpkins songs, 1979 and Perfect, which are linked sonically, even though they were recorded years apart, as are the promo videos for each track*
Ritzy: “Oh, OK.”
Rhydian: “Yeah, yeah.”
Ritzy: “I don’t think anything consciously has become that, but I suppose the timing of the splurge has kind of covered those songs.”
Rhydian: “I think each song actually feels a little bit separate for us, because we’ve wanted it to feel different you know? I mean, I’d say if there’s any kind of partnership, it would be from the listening experience of the album. There’s an interlude on the album and what’s followed by that, is actually considered. So those two together, are maybe where the partnership element comes from? I don’t know. In terms of a song that sums up where we are right now, I think maybe there’s a song on the new album and it’s called (looking at Ritzy), I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this?”
Ritzy: “Yeah, go on.”
Rhydian: “Yeah? OK, it’s called, I Don’t Want To See You Like This. That for me, feels like maybe it’s a song that kind of bridges…”
Ritzy: “Or that captures the whole thing now (looking at Rhydian)?”
Rhydian: “Yeah, it’s kind of where we’re at now. It’s experimental and yet it’s sad and it’s poppy – it’s so many things and it feels like a real development from the last album, and yet it’s really loud and exciting too!”
Ritzy: “Yeah, for me as well, it definitely does capture quite a lot of what we’re about!”

A very special thanks to Ritzy, Rhydian and Matt, and to The Joy Formidable’s Tour Manager Jonny, for all of their time and help.

Oxford Set List

Greatest Light
Last Drop
Mag Glass
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
While The Flies

“Turn the dial, Chime along, Chime along”

Read Steve's earlier Joy Formidable interviews here and here

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?