Today's CP features a short version of an interview I did last week with Rhydian Dafydd of The Joy Formidable. Here's a less-abridged version. The band, which recently released its first full-length, The Big Roar, plays the Smiling Moose on Wednesday, April 27.
The Big Roar has a very big sound. How do you approach rendering your music live as a three-piece?
We're very committed to both disciplines, and we don't necessarily see them as having to work completely in tandem. I think it's nice to go and see an act live and have a bit of a spin on what you've heard on record. We don't concern ourselves too much about that as long as the songs are delivered well and the soul and the story is always there. We've toured very hard, so we've picked up that kind of intuition along the way that you really desire in a band, that chemistry. Without getting too technical about it, there's things where, for instance, Ritzy might go high on the guitar and I fill the space underneath, all these little – not saying "tricks," but things you've got when you've got that great chemistry in a band.
We don't worry necessarily about replicating the record – it would feel a bit strange, especially at this point, to bring somebody in and just fill out the sounds. It's more about what you're trying to convey – are the songs coming across?
You have some songs that are quiet, almost ambient, and some that are huge and almost have a punk backbeat. What do you look at as being the elements that tie everything together?
The soul, the story, the voice, the theme of the album – it's very powerful, emotive. It deals with a lot of personal circumstances, difficulties, and it's very open, it's not insular. That's the thread. I think lyrics and story to us is really important. The style, the genre is completely separate; it depends on what you're trying to get across.
Would you call it a concept album?
I certainly wouldn't say it's a concept album, no. But it's about difficulties, past and present, and the great stories – love, the difficulties with love, mental illness, the quest for optimism in difficult circumstances. Those are big stories that don't just concern our own lives, and that's why it's open as well. It's not self-indulgent, but it's open to different experiences. It's been a real cathartic record in that sense – it's touched on frustrations maybe more than A Balloon Called Moaning.
Who writes the lyrics?
It varies. It's mainly Ritzy, but it depends on the song, really. Ritzy sings most of the tracks, so I think that ultimately has to come from her. We always bounce ideas around and shape and make sense of a song together. But on this album it's been mainly Ritzy.
She brings out some big words that you don't usually hear in rock ‘n' roll – there's almost a literary sense to the songs.
For sure. Big readers, Ritzy especially, always have been. That's why lyrics have been a big part of this project. She grew up listening to the greats – Van Morrison, Springsteen, it all had that kind of intellectualism. Yet it wasn't insular. That's had a big effect on this band. We all jam with poetry and the natural beats your born with, and I think it's nice to mix that in, a very visceral, raw element of the band.
What's the origin of the band name?
That's always a tricky one. It wasn't too thought-out. It was words that seemed to spring to mind. Some words, some symbolism, some imagery that was ultimately really a gut instinct. I think that's where the best names come from. On paper, it doesn't really make sense, but it kind of does – those are the things that we enjoy. If anything, it's about the duality – that play between joy and frustration, difficulties and optimism. Those are constant themes we write about unconsciously. But we don't analyze it too much.
On your website, you've been doing a thing where you pick up a souvenir on tour in a certain city and do a giveaway for fans. Where did that idea come from?
I think it's just nice to keep your family involved – we've got a loyal fan base, and that's what your chasing after. You've got to keep people on their toes, and keep that connection going, and have fun with it. It's nothing more than that. It's a nice way to document the tour. It's very special for us to be in the States for so long, and it's nice to give something back to the people who are constantly coming to the shows.
Anything particularly interesting or strange that you picked up and gave away?
Oh, yeah – the last one, which was a musical bottle-stopper. Oh my God, the shop we got that from, in Albany. The guy, Steve, came to a show and invited us back to his store after the gig, and I've never seen that amount of beautiful vintage stuff. We managed to buy a couple of things. We could've stayed there for a good week, I think. It was an amazing shop.
If you run into someone who's never heard you, say at a gas station or something, how do you describe your music?
We actually are asked that quite a bit, and it is really difficult. If it's putting it down to genres, I do feel like it's difficult. It's kind of secondary; the song is the most important thing, and what you're singing about. We're certainly very committed – and I think when you see it live, people can see it as very black-and-white – I wouldn't say that it's [just] loud, but when it is loud it's very loud. But it's very fragile. It's a very broad spectrum; I find it hard to describe. I guess I'd say, come and see the band.