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The Joy Formidable

All the small things (Interview by Nina Glencross)

By • Apr 10th, 2013 • Category: features

From featuring on Twilight soundtracks to touring with some of the biggest names in modern rock, this small but mighty Welsh trio are proving, gig by gig, that with a sound as huge as theirs, size doesn’t matter.
Speaking to Nina Glencross at Glasgow’s Oran Mor, before the explosive performance which takes place only hours later, bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas talk about the inspiration behind new album ‘Wolf’s Law’, why rock trios are so powerful and what they really thought about that Lonely Island collaboration.

Nina: So the new album ‘Wolf’s Law’ is inspired by nature in all forms, how did this inspiration come about?
Rydian (Dafydd, Bass): There was a lot of turbulent times, difficult times in all manner of ways with the first album, The Big Roar, and I think, even though there’s not utter resolve in all those difficulties, there’s definitely, I don’t know if it’s because you lose people, obviously as you grow up. There’s been quite a few people, friends and family, that we’ve lost in this time, it really makes you question what’s important and that thing of reconnecting with yourself and asking those big questions.
Like I say, there isn’t an utter resolve there but there’s that desire to have some kind of resolve. For instance, Ritzy was estranged from her dad for quite a few years, her parents went through a long, drawn out divorce and I think they’re trying to remember what’s important and still have a relationship and that is just one aspect that it seems like this album talks about, reconnecting, talking about what’s important and all these things with nature seem to somehow seep into it.
We seem to concern ourselves with fluff and materialism and things that actually aren’t that important and we’d like to champion real, decent stories and things that have some permanence as well. I don’t think it’s a case of viewing it like inspiration, I think we just feel like these things have been part of our lives over the past couple of years and you just naturally talk about it.

N: I heard a lot of it was written on the road, how did that play a part in the creative process?
R: Yeah we’re always writing on the road, off the road, wherever. We live and breathe it every day and I think, because of that, it never gets stagnant. You feel things, you get ideas, even if they’re tiny little ideas, each and every day.

N: The album itself was recorded in Portland, Maine. How was the recording process over there?
R: It was great, we couldn’t write quick enough! We actually had some ideas anyway, some pretty fully fleshed out songs, other snippets of ideas and some songs we started writing in Portland, Maine but we had a wealth of ideas and we couldn’t write and record quick enough. It just came about really quickly. We were there for a couple of weeks in November and then we went back for a month in January and we felt like we were on fire. It was a nice contrast to being on the road because that’s obviously very chaotic and you just get snippets of time but we just wanted to lose ourselves. We were in a fucking log cabin in the middle of nowhere and it was perfect just being utterly consumed by the songs.

N: Like the first album, you produced this record yourselves again, so it seems like it’s quite important for you to have that creative control. Do you have quite an independent DIY ethos for the band in general?
R: Yeah, I think we know what we want to achieve. It’s not out of being precious or egotistical, we’ve always done things ourselves and we make our own decisions about what and how we play. The choices you make with your sounds, production, it’s all part of it for us. It’s the same with the artwork, we’ve always done that so it just feels utterly natural. But it was definitely handy to have a mixer there, through Andy Wallace, to actually have some objectivity as well because when it comes to the mixing side of things, you’ve got to be careful that you’re ears don’t get tired, so as part of our creative process, it felt good to step away and have a really good collaborator at that point. We were very happy with what he did as well.

N: With a lot of your music videos I’ve noticed you like being out in an open space. When it comes to music videos, how involved are you in the ideas, concepts, treatments etc, do you have the same DIY approach?
Yeah absolutely, right from the start. It doesn’t really make sense to us to give our music over to someone else to come up with visuals and stories to go with it. I think even though we’re absolutely not adverse to having collaborations with people, it has to speak to us as if they utterly understand what’s going on and that their visuals really say the same story as the lyrics or enhance it in some way. That’s what we did with Martin Wittfooth who did the album artwork. But yeah we’ve always been very involved with the videos, to our detriment sometimes. We’ve had some really hard days filming.
N: Yeah, like in the video for ‘This Ladder Is Ours’. You’re covered from head to toe in dust!
R: Well, that was a doddle compared to some of the others.
Matt (Thomas, Drums): Yeah, some of them have been terrible. We’ve been rained on so much, I’m surprised we didn’t get pneumonia on one of the video shoots.
R: With ‘I Don’t Want To See You Like This’, that was just insane. It’s a long story so I won’t bore you…

N: Going from the studio to the stage, how do you guys find this contrast? Obviously playing live for you guys is such a different experience, you’re all so animated onstage and have a great connection and presence. Matt even has his drums up front so you can all share that experience. So is it quite a stark contrast or are you just as energetic in the studio?
M: As far as I know, I think he’s mostly asleep in the studio! We put as much energy into everything we do. Sometimes it’s not right to be crazy while you’re recording stuff because you might get a bad song but we do put as much effort as we can into everything we do, I think that’s generally the way we operate. We always try and improve, try and get better and better. It doesn’t matter where we are, we could playing to two people or 1000 or 20,000 people, it doesn’t matter. We’ll still try and be better than our last show and hopefully just keep progressing.

N: I’ve often noticed that with rock trios there is this chemistry onstage. They feed off of each other so much more and just generate a lot more power with fewer members and you are definitely one of those bands. What do you think it is that makes rock trios so powerful?
R: It’s good that you picked up on that. I think when it is done right, it’s true, it can be very powerful. Because you’re quite naked, it makes you very aware of the space and how things are relative to each other. I think for something to have a lot of impact, it also needs, for us anyway, to have those quieter moments and you can really push and pull with the dynamics and the tension. I just think it makes you really aware of what you’re doing because it is very stark, you can’t hide behind anything. Sometimes it can be a bit easy to fall into a four or five piece band and almost hide behind the layers. It’s hard to hear what’s going on sometimes but you can’t do that so much with a three piece so it really makes you focussed about every single thing that you’re playing and it’s a really nice challenge actually. We always enjoy deconstructing the studio stuff and put it into a live context.

N: Speaking of powerful trios, you played the O2 in London last year with Muse. Unfortunately you had to miss the first night but on the second night you were ace. Ritzy commented on the size and scale of the venue, but how did you guys find playing a venue that size? From the stage, did you feel overwhelmed at all or did it give you that extra boost of confidence to really put on show and make enough noise to fill the place?
R: Never overwhelmed. We’ve actually done a lot of stadium gigs now and I think we actually really embrace it and enjoy it. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and have done right from the start anyway but I think everybody deserves your full passion, like Matt was saying, whether it’s two or a million people. When you write something that you stand behind and you think people deserve to hear the stories, it’s not as if we’re asking for acceptance from people, it’s more that we can’t fucking shout loud enough for people to hear. I think we love playing on all stages, they all have their different challenges but variety is good.

N: You just started this second leg of your UK tour last week in Liverpool so it’s early days yet but how has the tour being going so far? How has the new material gone down with audiences?
R: It’s been really, really good so far. We had a UK stint before then we went to Europe so this is the second leg. It’s been nice to play songs off the new album and see how they grow because they naturally do grow into different beasts live anyway.

N: Any new live favourites so far?
R: We haven’t played every single song off the new album yet so it’s still early days but maybe ‘Cholla’, I don’t know. It varies and that’s what’s nice. We’ve actually got a really diverse audience and they all pick up on different things.
M: Yesterday in Leeds, people were going nuts for ‘Silent Treatment’, weren’t they? Clapping their hands, we’d never heard that before.
R: Yeah, last night was a really good one actually, Leeds know how to party. Glasgow’s got some competition tonight!

N: Are you looking forward to playing Glasgow tonight? Any fond memories of playing in Scotland in the past?
R: Yeah definitely! We’ve played Oran Mor before and many a time in King Tuts. There’s some great venues around here.
M: The Art School, that’s in Glasgow isn’t it? Played there.
R: Glasgow definitely has a good heritage of all kinds of guitar music. Not just guitar music. I feel like there’s definitely a real discerning kind of listener over here. It’s not just about what’s the fucking latest trend or anything like that. I do feel like people go out and seek new music so it feels like a real vibrant culture, for us coming and playing here.

N: So just before returning to the UK, you mentioned that you played some European shows, including some with Bloc Party. How did you find that?
R: It was good fun as well, they’re lovely guys to tour with actually, and the crew were all nice. I mean, it was very brief, it was only six shows or something like that but yeah it was good fun. Nothing beats playing to your own audiences, they want to hear every song, not just a couple they might’ve heard on the radio or whatever. But still, it’s nice now and again to play to utterly new audiences and I do feel like the Bloc Party audiences generally had their ears open. Some of the support slots we’ve done, people just really didn’t give a crap, almost about the main act apart from a couple of songs that they know so to get to a support slot is almost like the door is shut and those are a bit frustrating but the Bloc Party shows were good.

N: So you’re finishing off the UK tour at the Roundhouse in London and then it’s straight over to Texas for SXSW which I bet you’re looking forward to. What are the plans? Any more bike shop performances?
M: Generally, I was to eat as much BBQ as I can.
R: That’s the priority!
M: And secondary is the shows, really, for me. It’s just unfortunate we’ve got to do them! I’m just going to be full of BBQ going “Awww, do we have to?” No, it’s going to be exciting, we’ve got some great shows lined up, we’re actually playing a BBQ joint, as a side note.
R: It’s hard not to in Texas.
M: It’s supposed to be the top BBQ joint in Texas, so that’s exciting.
R: Austin’s a good music place as well. Last time we were there, we played like 10 shows in about four days, it’s pretty crazy over at SXSW. Have you ever been?
N: No, I’ve always wanted to go though.
M: As a band, it’s very difficult to make an impression unless you play the right shows at the right time. The first time we played there, we were very lucky in the shows we got and the buzz we had around us at the time. We played just a few shows and, from that, people still talk about them now and we’re like “Well, you should watch us now, we’re even better! We were shit back then!”

N: Then it’s straight into a full on tour of the US and Canada after that. Are there any contrasts between touring the UK and the US?
R: Generally no and I think luckily no as well because the audiences we tend to attract are people, like I was saying, who generally are there because they want to be there. I’ve never felt like we’ve been part of any hype machine or a singles kind of band where people just want to hear a song or two, I feel like people are there for the entire show. Everybody is pretty enthusiastic, pretty much everywhere we go I feel like we have a pretty loyal fanbase.

N: You’ve recently made some announcements about some summer festivals, US festivals like Shaky Knees and Firefly. What is it about festivals and particularly all these smaller festivals that you enjoy most compared to your own tours?
M: Again, it’s playing to a different audience. A lot of people that go to festivals are there sometimes just because it’s a festival. Maybe they want to see one act there and they’ll just chance upon you playing. It’s like a melting pot of music depending on the type of festival it is. You could go to a rock festival, you could go to a really random festival that’s got loads of different things on, like Glastonbury for instance. You’ll be walking around and suddenly think, “Woah! I really like oom-pah music today!” and then you’ll go and watch Radiohead or something. So it’s a good way sometimes to be introduced to new music live as well. That’s what I’d say anyway, anything to add to that?
R: No, you’re right, you chance upon things and, like Matt says, you might come across a different audience there. It’s all about the variety again, isn’t it?

N: One thing I have to ask about is the Lonely Island collaboration. Recently Lonely Island sampled ‘Whirring’ in one of their recent singles ‘YOLO’, so how does something like that come about? What did you think of the end product?
R: Yeah, how did that come about? I don’t know. They did get in touch with us and we didn’t mind. We actually enjoyed putting our music in different contexts and seeing what kind of creative output will come from it. I think in this day and age, it’s important for people to digest your music in all kinds of ways. We get asked how we felt being on the Twilight soundtrack or being on this movie or whatever. I just think that the way people listen to things is very different now and the days of it just being radio, it’s hard for some bands and it’s important that you try to seep into people’s consciousness in different ways. I thought it was a fun track, we used to watch some of their early videos.
M: You know what’s quite interesting is the latest news about Adam Samberg is marrying Joanna Newsom. Maybe we could borrow her as a harpist one day. We’ll get in touch!
R: That should’ve been in the contract!
M: We didn’t know he was marrying her then though, did we?

N: So touring and playing festivals is taking you up to the end of June so far. Without giving away too much, can we expect any UK festival appearances from you guys this year?
R: Yeah, I think so. I mean, they’re all getting sorted out now so it’s hard to actually officially confirm something but we’ll absolutely be playing UK and Europe festivals and just touring for the rest of the year. There’s talk of another big, almost stadium kind of tour as well, towards the end of the year.
M: Not our own, obviously! We can’t play stadiums quite yet!
R: We’re going back to Australia hopefully. There are plenty of places that we still want to go with this album as well.

The Joy Formidable’s album Wolf’s Law is out now

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