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Interview: The Joy Formidable

Welsh indie rockers the Joy Formidable released critically acclaimed debut LP The Big Roar in January, and will perform at the Duke Coffeehouse tonight with the Lonely Forest and Mona. Recess staff writer Jeff Shi spoke with bassist Rhydian Dafydd about their new album, their touring schedule and the songwriting process.

Why did your LP The Big Roar take so long to release?

Well, we’ve been real busy, and it just happened that we haven’t taken a very traditional path and we celebrate that. We’ve been touring incessantly for the past year and a half or two years. To be honest, A Balloon Called Moaning was kind of a happy accident, just a collection of songs we had at that point. But we always had in our minds an idea of a more proper debut album, and that’s what The Big Roar was.

How do you guys feel all the touring time has changed you as a band? I know a few of your older songs have been tweaked for the full LP, especially “Whirring.” Was that a conscious, stylistic change?

Not exactly: you know, on A Balloon Called Moaning, Ritzy (Bryan, vocals and guitar) and I played a lot of the drums ourselves. Adding Matt (Thomas, drums) added a new dynamic to our shows that we really wanted to capture on the new record. But we’ve never been really interested in sticking to a particular kind of style or genre: I think there’s a lot of different directions throughout the album. The main thing for us has always been trying to capture the story, and the souls of what the songs are about, really.

On that note, what were those overall directions and concepts you had for the full album?

We record everything ourselves, so a lot of the music is really immediate and spontaneous. But it’s also a very personal process, and the songs range from being really intimate to being social commentary or being really joyous. We just wanted to make sure it was all very truthful to ourselves—empathetic, without being indulgent.

I watched the official, revamped “Whirring” music video recently. It’s really chaotic, with its rapid vantage shifts and blurring colors. How did that concept come about?

It was really quite a process. We always have our own ideas to try out. To be honest, we’ve had tricky experiences with videos before. A lot of them have real fantastical elements and often they don’t work out, whether it’s a budget issue or just not having the right director to click with. We’ve always reveled in the charm of these kinds of weird, stylized videos, and there’s always a world that we have in mind to create. But this time around, our director, Christopher Mills, was quite an individualist and he was really about collaborating with us. It was a really good experience.

How has the tour been so far? Is this the first time you’ve toured America this extensively?

We hadn’t been in the States in too long, to be honest. It’s all kind of blended together—we did the U.K. for a couple weeks, Europe for a couple more, then we came straight here to do South by Southwest [Festival in Austin, Texas] to start our U.S. tour. We’re really looking forward to getting out to new places and meeting new people; we’ve done the coasts before, but we’ve never really dug into the Midwest or the South before. And then we really get to look into some of these up-and-coming bands in these local territories, as well, which we really enjoy.

What are we looking at in the future for The Joy Formidable?

Always being busy is the way we work. We’re writing in the van, and writing lyrics, thinking about the next album and new songs—it’s just kind of our lifestyle. We’ll be going on more legs of this tour after this one, and we’ve got some festivals in the U.K. and Europe, then yet another leg in the U.S. But we’re making sure to squeeze in some more writing and remixing whenever we can.

So what is the songwriting process in general like for the band?

It’s mainly me and Ritzy, but we certainly jam ideas out in rehearsal with Matt and we like to change things up to keep ourselves stimulated. Sometimes it’s just me bringing ideas to Ritzy or vice versa; just one lyric, one melody, whatever. It always comes back to making sure we get across the feelings and stories at the core, and our songs take shape around that.


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