The Joy Formidable May be “Big,” But they’re NOT a Spectator Sport

The Joy Formidable photo 2

Since their inception, about half a decade ago, I’ve always considered Wales’ The Joy Formidable to be the rebelliously hip offspring of arena rock… They know how to write brilliantly poignant pop tunes that appeal to fans of Pixies and The Smiths (and gain critical acclaim from the likes of NME and Pitchfork)… But they also know how to conduct a Rock N’ Roll spectacle that can entrance a room of several thousand… without ever coming off as even slightly contrived or “cheesy.”  Since 2010 they’ve rocked Philly venues such as Kung Fu Necktie, Johnny Brenda’s, The North Star Bar, and Union Transfer, with songs of their 2011 debut, The Big Roar.  However… It’s been a little more than a year since the 215 has experience the Welsh trio.  This Saturday, 4/20, the band returns to Union Transfer for a [insiders tell me] pretty-much-almost-sold-out show (which includes immediate support from Philthy’s recently profiled Blood Red Shoes.), which… with Steven Patrick’s recent tour cancellation… I’m predicting to be the best thing the city sees all month… if not year.

The Joy Formidable photo 1

Earlier this year The Joy Formidable released their sophomore effort, Wolf’s Law.  The album was actually conceived of on this side of the pond… in Casco, Maine… Bassist Rhydian Dafydd and singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan (who are partners in more than just music) retired to this snowy and secluded town in early 2012.  While the two say that the town was a little scary, a little too-reminiscent-of-a-Stephen-King novel, that it was not only a great experience, but quite conducive to writing an album.  I recently got a chance to chat with Rhydian about how they wound up in Maine and how it played into their creative process.

“We were there because of touring, but the touring fell through, but we decided to go and it was perfect.  It was ideal for writing songs.  We love being on the road, but it was great being able to focus on all of these ideas we had.  It came together very quickly… It reminded us of home: very green and fresh, with rolling hills.”

Wolf’s Law is notably less confrontational and aggressive than their debut, which was written and recorded amidst quite a bit of personal turmoil… while Wolf’s Law allowed the two songwriters to lose themselves in the kind of existential reflection that can be found when existing in a contemporary take on “the self” and “the elements.”  The album has been well-received not only by critics, but by the bands fans, which is what they seem to care most about.  Rhydian, who seems far more interested in the art of creating an album than simply being able to write singles, characterizes the feedback he’s gotten as being, “No bullshit, no hype – people are invested in the whole album, not just a couple of songs.”  He also tells me that the best thing that’s happened to the band since the album’s release is being able get out and create a new live experience of the band: “We’re excited to play these new songs for people.  It’s all about the music with this band, so the highlight is getting back on tour and playing these new songs for people.”  However, if you’re expecting to simply sit back and be entertained this Saturday, that’s not exactly what The Joy Formidable has in mind.

“Anyone who has been to our shows knows we give it our all.  We like conversation.  We like to get people involved.  It’s not just a spectator sport.  We like to challenge our audiences to really be part of the experience… We like to challenge people.”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.