It’s often hard for me to believe it when bands say they have no direct influences on their sound. And when I recently spoke with The Joy Formidable’s bassist, Rhydian Daffyd, I heard a familiar refrain: “Sometimes we feel like we live in a bubble.” Yeah, yeah. Bands always hem and haw when asked to describe their sound or list their favorite artists, so I always make a point to do so, just to see how much they squirm or if they’ll play along. Daffyd predictably begged off at first, but when pressed let slip quite a few. His list caught me off guard. While I was coming from a very narrow-minded and specific shoegaze angle with a little Curve and Britpop thrown in, he lobbed “Springsteen, Costello, Orbison, and Motown” back at me. Touché.
His point was that his band didn’t have any preconceived notions about what it wanted to sound like when it began in 2007 other than wanting to be good, and that the artists that influenced it the most are the ones who focused on the songs, not image or sound. He also stressed how he and his bandmates grew up in an environment in Wales without the kind of access to new music that kids take for granted these days with the overwhelming limitlessness of the Internet. When he firmly asserted that his band’s sound is “secondary to the dynamic scope” I knew he was serious. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised by his conversational intensity, given how brazenly sharp and focused his band’s debut full-length is.
When I first heard The Joy Formidable’s “The Last Drop” off last year’s A Balloon Called Moaning EP, I knew instantly that I would love this band with its razor-sharp guitars, big booming choruses and a penchant for bombast that much of today’s trendier acts wouldn’t even know how to emulate. Ritzy Bryan’s voice cuts through the guitars with a piercing wail that recalls early 90’s Curve records, despite the fact that Daffyd claims ignorance on the subject of Curve (although he did acknowledge that I was not the first to mention the similarity). The band’s debut full-length, The Big Roar, takes the promise of “The Last Drop” and drives it to its logical conclusion on tracks like “Whirring” and “Cradle,” both of which employ whip-smart songwriting chops slathered in layers of guitars with an urgent backbone of bass.
Much of The Big Roar blurs the lines between aggression, melancholy and an underlying optimism. The in-the-red production underscores this trio’s power. Without such strong hooks, lesser bands would crumble under the weight of such sonic histrionics, but The Joy Formidable’s hooks soar amidst all the noise. It usually takes bands much longer than an EP and a full-length to achieve such swagger.
It’s so refreshing when bands find their way to people’s ears through word of mouth, instead of the tiresome hype cycle, where acts are vaulted and forgotten in the lapse of merely a semester. The Joy Formidable’s organic trajectory follows that of a band that came up in the 80’s, where the fan base grew in concert with the development of each each single or EP. It’s rare for bands to be allowed to develop naturally with the nanosecond attention spans of today’s micro-niche blog-culture.
The Joy Formidable has played the main stage at Glastonbury, one of the biggest, most renowned festivals in England, so I asked Daffyd if cracking America on that level was on the band’s to-do list. Daffyd stressed to me that commercial appeal is only “an after-thought”- that they would play their asses off for an empty club as much as for a field with hundreds of thousands of fans. The “we always give 100%” speech definitely means things are going well. I can’t imagine such enthusiasm if doors were being slammed at every turn.