The PV Q&A: The Joy Formidable's Ritzy Bryan Talks Wolf's Law +The Flaws of Corporate Greed

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Interview by Tom Lanham

“It sounds much worse than it is,” sighs Ritzy Bryan, the blonde bombshell frontwoman for Welsh power trio the Joy Formidable.

But as of last week, she, bassist Rhydian Dafydd, and drummer Matt Thomas are homeless. “Now we officially live nowhere,” she says. “We’ve literally just moved out of our little attic room in London, where we essentially recorded our last album The Big Roar—we left there and put all our stuff in storage, so I think we’ve hit a whole new level of being nomadic.”

But they have a pretty good reason: They’ll be touring for ages behind their upcoming Roar follow-up, Wolf’s Law, and exhilarating new anthems like the bass-thumping “Tendons,” the punk-fiery “Cholla,” and the orchestral experiment “This Ladder is Ours.”

“So we’ll just wait and see where we fancy laying our hats eventually,” adds Bryan. “But right now, there’s something kind of liberating about not really being based anywhere!”

PureVolume: So you started recording Wolf’s Law in Wales, but then retreated to a log cabin outside of Portland, Maine? In the frozen winter? Why?
Ritzy Bryan: Have you ever been to Maine in the dead of winter? It. Is. Intense. And it’s very beautiful and there aren’t many people around, which actually appeals to my aesthetic sometimes. But it was a happy accident, truth be told. Last November, we were touring, and the last date on the tour was meant to be in Portland, Maine. And then about a week before we were supposed to play there, that show got unexpectedly cancelled, but we just decided to stay there anyway. So the week of Thanksgiving was the first time we went to Maine—we spent a week there, and that’s where we started writing the new record. And we were just smitten by it: by its solitude, its real sense of wilderness, and the property we found, this little log cabin that was kind of quaint. So we decided to go back there in January, and it was full-on snow and freezing cold, but a fucking great place to write and lose yourself, to lose track of time and be able to reflect on the year’s worth of material that we’d been writing in the van and on the bus.
PV: How far from civilization was it?
RB: It wasn’t that far—probably 30-miles from the closest shop. But it felt like a little natural oasis, with no neighbors around. So we felt very isolated. And we had a lot of snow. Nine-feet of snow, and it lasted for a couple of weeks, so we were snowed in. And in that sense, we felt even more separated from the world, and from reality. But I’m sure there are more isolated places.
PV: How did you escape the snow drifts?
RB: Well, we kinda didn’t need to. We were rationing our food, and we had our basic supplies, so there really wasn’t any need to go out. And we were so hungry to get back into the studio because we’d written a lot on the road that we were really just consumed with the writing and recording process. So we had a lot to do, and we didn’t notice anything else since our basic needs were taken care of. And we had some good fires because we had plenty of wood. And we also learned how to make one chicken last for a week and a half. So it was all good.
PV: Was there TV or Internet?
RB: No Internet, which I welcomed. I mean, I love the chaos of this lifestyle and all that touring brings, but I was actually quite excited by the fact that there was no wi-fi. And there were only three stations on the TV, so the only thing we saw that was fairly watchable was Judge Judy. That was about it, really. No satellite TV or any of that.
PV: And you actually recorded in the cabin?
RB: We tracked pretty much everything in Maine. We tracked all the guitars and vocals, scored all the strings in Maine. Then the following month, February, we recorded the drum parts in London, and the orchestra was recorded in London, as well. But we’ve got a mobile recording studio, and the EP [A Balloon Called Moaning] was done that way, The Big Roar, too. So we’ve got a method when it comes to vocals and guitars—I think there’s a real sense of spontaneity in the way that we track them. And capturing them as they’re being written certainly seems to be the best way for us. We don’t like to dwell on things too much—we like to instantly capture their spirit.
PV: Did you interact with any wildlife there?
RB: Well, we didn’t see a moose, and I was dreadfully disappointed by that. I was really looking forward to seeing a moose, and from the way the Maine tourist board operates, you’d think there’d be one on every corner! But that was not the case: Apparently, they’re very shy creatures. But we did have some visiting wildlife. An opossum used to come at 7 PM every single night for bread and honey—that seemed to be its favorite snack. So we had a little opossum and lots of squirrels. But we heard lots of noises in the forest, because we were surrounded by trees. So we heard lots of rustles and movement, but not much beyond that.
PV: And you’d also gotten into Native American mythology, which helped color Wolf’s Law?
RB: Amongst other things, absolutely. We just happened at the time to be reading quite a few books that just skimmed the surface of some early American cultures. And that definitely seeped into some of the imagery. We came across the paintings of Carl Ray, as well, in Toronto, and we spent some time at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. So it definitely felt like our imaginations were being stimulated by some (Native American) imagery and stories and history.
PV: Any indigenous culture that’s respected the Earth has been systematically stomped out of existence. It certainly appears that—in the name of corporate greed—humanity has doomed itself to extinction.
RB: Yeah. I think there are a lot of things that we need to look into. But people don’t think it’s coming because it doesn’t work with the way we want to consume. People want to make money, and they have agendas that we absolutely need to be questioning. And we need to be questioning subjects that people tend to shy away from, like overpopulation. But there’s a cynicism, as well—that it doesn’t matter what we do now, that things aren’t going to change. But we can still make changes. Small changes, maybe, to begin with. But there has to be a general push in the right direction.
PV: What changes have you incorporated?
RB: As a band, with our carbon footprint, we always think about the way that we’re traveling. And our album is going to be printed on recycled paper, because we’re always thinking about the way we package things. So you always have to try, try and make informed decisions about the things you do, the way you act as a band, and the message that you put across. For a small band, a lot of our revenue goes to charity, and we’re always thinking like that.
PV: Have you allowed yourself any luxuries at all?
RB: I think people have a big misconception about this industry and some of its obstacles. And this isn’t a ‘Woe is me’ thing, because I feel like we have it very, very privileged. But if you’re in this business for any sort of financial gain, then you’re going to be seriously disappointed. But that doesn’t bother us because our idea of success isn’t at all financially driven. For us, the most exciting thing is, if we can still do things creatively and push that envelope and be the band that we want to be. And for us, that’s fine. There are very few people in this world that get to do what they love, but I wake up every morning and I love what I do. I can’t wait to go on to the next project, or write the next song, or play the next show. And that might sound a bit too romantic, but it’s absolutely true.

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