The Joy Formidable on the 10th Anniversary of Their Debut EP | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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The Joy Formidable on the 10th Anniversary of Their Debut EP

10 Years and Still Moaning

Nov 14, 2019
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Time really does fly when you're having fun and making great records. Which is something The Joy Formidable can testify to. Formed in the North Wales border town of Mold back in 2007, they've earned a reputation as one of the most consistent and engaging live bands over the past decade, while releasing four critically acclaimed albums in the process. The latest of which, AAARTH, came out last year.

This year has marked an anniversary of sorts, as its 10 years since the trio—founder members Ritzy Bryan (vocals and guitar), Rhydian Dafydd (bass and vocals), and drummer Matt Thomas who joined in 2009—released their first EP, A Balloon Called Moaning. Earlier this month, the band reissued the EP along with a bonus disc where each of its eight songs was reworked acoustically and in Welsh.

They also embark on a tour later this month that starts in the UK (Manchester) before heading over to Canada and the United States, where they recently played the Pasadena Daydream festival as guests of The Cure.

Under The Radar caught up with bass player Dafydd who was only to willing to reminisce about the band's early days while looking forward enthusiastically to the next instalment of The Joy Formidable story.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): It's 10 years since your first EP [A Balloon Called Moaning] came out. Did you expect to be sat here a decade later talking about the career The Joy Formidable has experienced since?

Rhydian Dafydd: I doubt it very much really! We very much like being in the moment and still enjoy making music 10 years on, which is key I guess. I suppose we don't think too much about what's coming up. It's whether we still have that creative fire and I think we certainly do. It's a great feeling to still have that love and respect for each other as well. God knows what we were thinking when we started out! We're just happy to be in a pretty functional band. We played together in various guises before and went through various members and dysfunctional stuff. So when we finally got Matt [Thomas, drums] on board it felt really special and it still feels like that now. When we get up on stage there's lots of chemistry between us. I'm very proud, as I think we've had a bit of an odd trajectory looking back. We've carved our own path and never played any hype game of being media darlings or anything like that. We've fought really hard in getting our music and vision out there and obviously with that you go through various labels and management. So at times it has been a struggle, but the music has driven us forwards. That's the thing that keeps us going. It's actually quite tough these days for bands to sustain themselves so I'm very happy we're still here doing this.

Do you think The Joy Formidable opened the door for a lot of Welsh bands to get their music heard outside of Wales? For example, when you started, festivals like Focus Wales and SWN were just in their infancy so a lot of underground Welsh acts struggled for any kind of international recognition.

I hope so. I think we did to some degree. It definitely needed an injection, which it's now had. So I guess we just need to keep on going with that and pushing Welsh music to a wider audience. We felt it growing up in this part of North Wales. It was pretty tough. It's a border town so it was quite hard to get unification between everybody. There's a real range of people here, which is great, but when it came to playing shows it was quite tricky apart from the Tivoli in Buckley when we were growing up. That isn't quite as active now and so many things have changed. So it's important to get everybody together and keep that network going strong. That's why we wanted to put on our own festival. There's so much talent in Wales, so you want to try and inspire other artists and make them believe anything is achievable whether you're in the arse end of nowhere or not. That doesn't just apply to Wales either. It can be any small town or rural area that's outside of the main tour circuit. There are all kinds of opportunities out there and it's important to instil that in people any way you can.

The 10th anniversary edition of A Balloon Called Moaning came out earlier this month [November] and includes a bonus CD of all the songs reworked acoustically in Welsh. Was that something you'd always planned to do at some point or another?

It came at a really nice time actually because we'd been doing the odd song in Welsh here and there, but we wanted to do a bigger body of work. So this provided us with the perfect excuse to do it and we really enjoyed it. It's acoustic, which made sense as well as we've just finished an acoustic tour. It's something we've dabbled in quite a bit over the past couple of years, changing how we present some of the songs so it keeps things interesting for us as well. It's my first language and Ritzy's second so it seemed quite appropriate to do that. It was nice to challenge ourselves to rearrange the songs in Welsh as a literal translation doesn't always work. It doesn't always sound poetic so you have to rethink how to get the message across which ended up being a really enjoyable process.

The 10th anniversary tour kicks off later this month [22nd] in Manchester, which is one of only three UK shows before heading over to Canada and the United States. Will there be any more UK dates added?

There'll definitely be more next year. I guess this is quite a niche little release so it makes sense for us to only play a handful of shows. After this tour, we'll be going away and working on our next full-length album so there will be some more UK shows coming up.

We've already touched on the first Gwyl Aruthrol / Formidable Fest earlier which takes place in Cardiff on 23rd November. Will it become a regular annual event?

We'd love to do it again so we'll see how it goes. We're very excited about Formidable Fest and it's a really great line up so fingers crossed it's a success. We'd like to bring it to North Wales as well with the first one being in Cardiff. Having done the Aruthrol series on our own label as well this feels like an extension of that. If we can give back to the scene in any way by drawing attention to the great stuff that is happening in Wales that's a bonus. Not just music but also a bunch of Welsh visual artists [Elinbach, Twinkle, Gloom, and Gus Payne] who'll be painting live in one of the rooms on the night as well. There's all kinds of amazing talent in Wales and if we can draw attention to that in any kind of way we absolutely will. We're also raising money for charity [The North Wales Wildlife Trust] on the night as well so it is very Wales centred. But not just about Welsh bands. We've got Blood Red Shoes from Brighton on the bill as well. They haven't played Cardiff in about six or seven years, so it will be nice for them to sample what's going on in Wales too. 

One thing that's always been apparent about the Welsh music scene is the community spirit and camaraderie that exists within it. Certainly more so than any other part of the UK. Why do you think that is?

It's interesting to hear you say that, because certain parts of Scotland really gets behind their bands as well so I wouldn't say we're on our own in that sense. Why is that? I don't know to be honest. I guess a lot of bands' expectations here aren't necessarily about "making it" or whatever that means. Most of the bands we know make music because they really enjoy the creative process. So I guess when there hasn't been that much support from outside of Wales it strengthens that sense of community. Getting behind each other is an important thing. I can't speak for everywhere in Wales, but growing up in a place like Mold where I'm from was quite difficult. Things are improving, and I'm so glad festivals like Focus Wales have come along and put Wrexham and North Wales on the musical map. We need more things like that. Same with Cardiff and SWN there. We want people to be able to go to shows all across the country rather than everything be confined to one city.

You've released five split singles so far as part of the Aruthrol series, but none since the summer of 2017 with CaStLeS. Will there be any more coming out in the future?

Yes, definitely. It's been a very busy couple of years so I know we're lagging behind a little bit. We had a release in mind a while back but a lot's happened in the past two years, what with AAARTH coming out last year and also changing labels. We've been doing a subscription this year as well, so on top of the album people are also getting 10 new tracks throughout the year too. It's been pretty full on. We're going to be giving away a CD for the festival as well, and one of the bands we've got playing with us were going to be on the next Aruthrol release anyway. So we thought why not just combine it all and get a track from all the bands on the bill.

You've just played Pasadena Daydream with The Cure and also recently toured with Foo Fighters. How do you prepare for these kind of shows compared to one of your own headline sets? Is it daunting playing to an audience that aren't specifically there to see The Joy Formidable?

It's certainly not daunting. We're big fans of The Cure so it was a real pleasure to play that show in Pasadena. It was such a good bill as well, not just The Cure but every single band on that line up. There was The Twilight Sad, Mogwai, Kaelan Mikla, Pixies, and loads of others. Robert Smith chose all the bands himself and he was going out watching everybody so it was a fantastic experience all round. We've toured with Foo Fighters a couple of times now. They're a lot of fun to tour with. They treat you well and also with a lot of respect so the atmosphere and camaraderie is always fantastic. All of those were really enjoyable shows plus we just enjoy playing live anyway. We treated those shows just like any other gig but it is pretty special when you get to share a stage with bands you truly admire so we wouldn't take them for granted either.

You mentioned working on the next album once the tour is over for A Balloon Called Moaning. Are there any new songs ready? Do you have a potential release date in mind?

I don't know if we have any ready yet but we're always writing anyway so there are always lots of songs kicking about. We wanted to get the EP release out of the way first then we could fully focus and get into making the next record. It's just a constant lifestyle for us. We're always writing. It doesn't just stop when we're touring. We like to keep ourselves on our toes so at this moment in time; I don't know what the next episode will bring up. We like to challenge ourselves as artists and writers rather than put out the same formulated thing each time so we're looking forward to it.

What advice would you give to a new band just starting out?

Definitely hone your craft and play as much as possible. Never stop rehearsing or playing shows. Unfortunately, I think music has become so much about marketing in this day and age that you sometimes feel it isn't a meritocracy any more. So I guess it has become more important for bands to be aware of the business side or whatever you want to call it. What's helped is the basic principle of just getting on the music. That's what will carry you forward. It's just that very simple thing of doing it for the right reasons as well because you're on very dangerous ground if you're only doing it for fame and money. If you get a few knocks what's the thing that's going to carry you forwards? It should be about the genuine enjoyment of creating stuff together, so I'd also tell any bands just starting out to stay true to the vision you set yourselves from the outset. Take advice and listen to people by all means, but don't get swayed too much by labels or managers telling you what they think you're meant to be doing. Fuck that shit! If there isn't a label out there for you that doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. Go and forge your own path. Do you want to fit in or do you want to do the stuff you want to do? So self-belief is essential which also means committing and putting a lot of time and energy into it. It doesn't just happen overnight. You have to work for it but if you're passionate enough it doesn't feel like work. Try and empower yourselves as much as possible because it is becoming quite difficult for working class artists to sustain themselves. The Internet has obviously been such a fantastic tool to open up so many things but at the same time, there are so many people wanting to do it and there are so little places for you to get compensated for it. You could be selling millions of downloads through these streaming services yet you're receiving jack all for it. I do think a lot of artists are getting shafted. So we've got to try and turn that around, be more switched on and savvy to ensure no one gets exploited.

You've always championed new music. Are there any recommendations for Under the Radar and its readers to check out?

There's so much good stuff out there! The scene is alive and well on the underground. It's up to people to go and search for themselves. I know some of the bands playing with us at Formidable Fest have a profile already, but I would certainly encourage people to go and check them out. So that's Islet, who I know have been around for a while, Candellas and also Chroma. I'd also recommend Jakokoyak and the label he started, Peski Records.

www.thejoyformidable.com

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