The Joy Formidable


Frontwoman Ritzy Bryan talks about the science vs. nature concept behind the band’s sophomore album Wolf’s Law, recording in Maine during the dead of winter, and the balancing act between the live show and studio recordings.

So I caught the first official show of the tour last week and thought the new stuff sounded awesome.

Oh, thanks. We’re just excited to be able to share the album and we’re having a lot of fun playing the new songs live. We’ve had a real nice welcome back to the States and I’m very happy to be back out on the road.

It seems like you got a really enthusiastic response from the crowd, too.

It was a really, really great welcome back. Enthusiastic crowd for all the shows. Santa Ana, San Diego, we had a great night in L.A., Sacramento was crazy, and hopefully Portland will be the same tonight.

At this stage in your career, two records in, you have built the reputation as this really stellar live band, and are probably more well known for your live show than the studio recordings. Is that something you are cool and happy with?

I think it depends on how people come across your band as well. Everybody has a different path to finding out about your music, or experiencing new tracks, or hearing about you. Some of our most avid fans haven’t even seen us live, either. So, I don’t know. I think we got a good balance of both.

We’re very prolific with what we’ve released. This is obviously the second album, but we’ve actually got quite a back catalog at the same time. We’ve never been daunted by doing things a little bit differently. We’ve had quite a different journey as a band. We actually released a live album before we released our debut album.

We’re in a really good place creatively. The two sides of the band are of great importance to us, the live and the recorded side, and all the things in between as well. We’re very involved in the visual side of the band. We like building the community that is infused by the live show as well. We kind of have our hands in everything that is going on around us. We’re very at peace with the band that we are and the two sides of it working together.

For this record, you wrote and recorded most of it in Maine during the middle of winter. How do you think that kind of environment impacted the record?

A lot of the record was actually written on the road. We went to Portland, Maine for a month, a week in November and then three weeks in January. That was definitely where we did a lot of tracking. We tracked a lot of vocals, a lot of guitars were tracked there, and then the rest of the record was tracked in London. I think Maine was an environment where we could have a very big contrast from being on the road, a lot of solitude. We could lock ourselves away.

The energy and focus it brought to the writing and the tracking, it led to quite an intense kind of focus, a really exciting kind of energy, because there were definitely no distractions. I doubt we would have been distracted wherever we were anyway. I don’t think that would have come into play because we were very hungry to get back into the studio and to finish making this record that existed a little more chaotically on the road for the 12 months we had been writing it and touring the first record.

It was a really beautiful location, perfect for really focusing and losing yourself completely in the making of the record. We really did fall in love with it. It felt very similar to being back home in North Wales on some level, in sense of the landscape and the isolation. That’s where the band began, so those sorts of surroundings are definitely part of the story and the inspiration for the roots of this band.

I heard you say you treated this album more like a folk album this time out. What do you mean by that?

We’re a very lyrically driven band. The way we wrote and produced the first record definitely has a little bit of a different aesthetic. The vocals feel more like a part of this mess of layers and more part of a painting, rather than being a really prevalent part of it. I think it was definitely a conscious decision to give space to the lyrics and the voice on this record. It definitely felt like we were writing about things that were more emotive. I think we were also ready to make ourselves a bit more vulnerable.

All the songs on the album had a moment when we were writing them of being stripped back completely. We’d write a lot on an acoustic guitar or piano. Some of the tracks have stayed more intimate and stayed more stripped back, tracks like “Silent Treatment” and “Wolf’s Law.” That was a signature we wanted to work into them, and we wanted to take them to different places as well. It was a different incarnation of being stripped back because of that, but I think the album definitely is very lyrically and vocally driven.

The concept of Wolf’s Law is a fairly old and obscure scientific theory about bones strengthening under stress. How did you come across that in the first place and then choose to apply that to the record?

I came across it just in something I was reading. It’s this scientific term and theory, like you described, of bones being able to adapt to different types of stresses. We’re always interested by language and imagery in language. Like many things do, it seemed to have a relevance to the tracks we were starting to write, the album we were starting to make.

There’s a lot of themes on the album. It covers a lot of ground, from personal to the observational, but it definitely felt like there was this reappearing and very biographical thread running through the album about relationships, kind of revitalized relationships trying to heal and reconnect with people you’ve maybe become separated from. In that sense, in terms of the wordplay and the imagery, it felt like something we were certainly feeling during the writing of the record.

Wolf’s Law is named after the guy who came up with it, whose name was Wolff, but you also applied it to more of a nature theme as well, like using actual wolves and the artwork and some of the lyrics. Can you talk about those inspirations?

Yeah, we definitely wanted to adopt it as something for ourselves. It captures, like you described, this balance between nature and science. Another big part of the lyrical side of this band is that we’ve always looked to nature and the metaphors in nature, and applying that to your own journey and your own philosophy almost. That’s a big part of where we come from, too.

We’ve grown up in very rural locations in Wales. That’s a big part of our imaginations, but also it’s a culture that traditionally has a lot of legends, folklore and stories in Wales. There’s a lot of animal imagery that evoke these parallels between the natural world and your own life. That’s always been a part of this band. It’s what’s informed us as people and a part of the lyrical side of this band.

The wolf is such an ambiguous symbol in so many cultures as well. In some cultures it’s something really fearful and ominous, and in others it’s celebrated. It’s a great image, and we were all fascinated by that culturally and the ambiguity. That’s some of the background of the title.

One of the songs I was really looking forward to seeing live was “Maw Maw’s Song,” which sounded epic fully fleshed out. Can you talk about how you came up with that song and the center riff at the heart of it?

Something we definitely enjoyed experimenting on this album with was the voice and the different textures you can get out of the voice, almost like an instrument. There’s sounds on a lot of the tracks on the album, and even on the first album as well. We were always fascinated with using the voice in different ways, either chorally or in distorted melodic ways. One of the things we like most is experimenting in this band. There’s something quite primal about that song, something that’s like a chant.

The background to what a maw is is it’s the gullet of a hungry, greedy animal. That track is definitely a track that juxtaposes greed in all its forms, from actual gluttony and food to financial greed and aspirations. At the same time, it juxtaposes that with the story of somebody who’s completely lost their lust for life and doesn’t have an appetite for anything anymore. That’s kind of the background to that track.

Originally appeared on Absolute Punk